What is Q?

The Q source (also known as Q document, lost sayings of Q or just Q) is a hypothesized concept used by biblical and New Testament scholars to suggest a non-existent manuscript as the source of common material (logia) found in the gospels Matthew and Luke but not the Gospel of Mark.[1] John S. Kloppenborg, James M. Robinson and Burton Mack, according to Michael Licona (Research Professor of the NT), refer to the Q source as a “sayings gospel” or “Q gospel” with Mack particularly overreaching by concluding that Q is wholly different, in fact alien, from important events recorded in the canonical gospels like the resurrection.[2] The Q document is thought to be constituted of the sayings of Jesus called logia. Source criticism supporting Q also generally supports Markan priority, or the position that Mark was the first written of the canonical gospels. Accordingly if a tradition or particular logia is found consistent with all three synoptic gospels then Mark is considered the source not Q. Therefore not just Q, but Q and Mark were source material for Matthew and Luke which is why depending on the variation of argument it is referred to as the QM theory.

Q Criticism

Some type of prior source finds itself alluded to within the New Testament book Luke 1:1-3. The author of Luke is familiar with writings that antedate his, and perhaps the entirety of the New Testament. The author states his familiarity of an “account of things” that was “handed down” by those from the beginning who “were eyewitnesses and servants of the word”.

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; Luke 1:1-3 (NASB)


Dated to around 40-80 AD[3] the context of Q is within early Christianity and is thought by some scholars to have possibly been written by Jesus Himself. Others contend that Q isn’t literature at all, but rather prior oral tradition allowed the same material to present itself.[2] Q scholarship in the realm of Kloppenborg and Mack usually precedes with a fictional Q community surrounding the document thus from within this community is how Q not only emerged but became viewed as of primary theological importance and even the source material of Matthew and Luke.

During the late 1800’s Heinrich Julius Holtzmann (May 7, 1832 – 1910), a German Protestant theologian suggested there was one source behind the traditions found within the Synoptic Gospels. Although Holtzmann did not formally name that source Q he can be considered the one who did formally begin the trend in scholarship with the publishing of his book in 1863. Since 1900 positing an unknown source for the common material in Mathew and Luke has become substantial and to this day receives wide support in scholarly circles.

Q was coined by the German theologian Johannes Weiss (1863 – 1914) in reference to the German word Quelle which can mean “source”.[4]


Significant advancement in scholarship has been done since. In particular and most recent by Maurice Casey deriving, in part from his Aramaic studies, a Q consisting of more than one document and written in Aramaic. According to Casey the gospels of Mathew and Luke did not use this Aramaic Q, but derived their writings from two different Greek translations of an Aramaic source. An idea originally put forth by Julius Wellhausen (1844 – 1918) a German biblical scholar. Casey’s work was made possible because of the few Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1948. Casey argues since the Greek translation used by the writers is of a later date than the extremely early Aramaic source behind Q, his conclusions then contribute to the study of the historical Jesus. In 2002 Maurice Casey published a monograph entitled An Aramaic Approach to Q Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. On page 2 it elaborates on what his arguments and findings suggest;

It implies that Q was not a single document, and that Luke did not take all his Q material from Matthew; I shall argue for both of these hypotheses in detail. It means that we can meaningfully discuss whether a passage such as Matt. 11.28 –30 is to be described as part of Q; it is not found in Luke, but we could discuss whether it was in the same documentary source as Matt. 11.25–27//Luke 10.21–2, whether Matthew added it, whether Luke knew it or whether Luke left it out. It also means that our evidence for Q is found in Greek; it does not specify that this is, or is not, how it reached the evangelists. I shall argue that some parts of Q reached both evangelists in the same Greek translation, and that other parts are due to two different translations being made, whether by the evangelists, their assistants or by more distant sources.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1An Aramaic Approach to Q Sources for the gospels of Matthew and Luke (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series) By Maurice Casey, pg 2.[1]
  2. 2.0 2.1The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael R. Licona; pg. 212. IVP Academic, 2010.
  3. Early Christian Writings Homepage
  4. Q By Encyclopedia Britannica

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