Category Archives: Church History Novels

Did “Q” Exist, or Not?

As I said in my last post, the weekend just passed was full of publishing tasks. I made good progress on them, but that will be a subject for a future post.

In terms of writing, one of my current tasks is research on the next book in my Church History series of novels. Tentatively titled Adam Of Jerusalem, it will be the prequel to Doctor Luke’s Assistant. All this I have mentioned before.

My plan is to have Augustus’ father, Adam, as a junior scribe in the high priest’s employ. On the night when Jesus is brought in for questioning and trial, Adam will be sent on an errand to gather members of the Sanhedrin for the illegal nighttime trial. Later, after Jesus’ death and the early growth of the Christian movement, Adam is assigned to gather information on the teachings of Jesus, with the idea that they will prove heretical, and the high priest can use them against what he sees as a threat to his authority.

In essence, Adam will be the one who pulls together the document known today as “Q”. Short for Quelle [i.e. Source], this is a document thought to have existed prior to Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. First proposed in the early 1800s, by the mid-1900s, Christian scholarship seems to have more or less accepted this as having been a true document. It’s contents, while technically unknown, are proposed to be the sayings of Jesus, that large body of teaching that appears in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. The supposition is Mark was written first. At the same time, “Q” was written, and was available to both Matthew and Luke as they wrote their gospels. Possibly both Matthew and Luke had other sources, which of course is the subject of Doctor Luke’s Assistant.

So, I’ve been researching “Q”. What I’m finding is its existence actually isn’t all that universally accepted by scholars as I thought. A lot of scholars seem doubtful to downright derisive. If “Q” existed, they say, where are the copies? Why haven’t we found any manuscripts? To that I would counter: We haven’t found any copies of any New Testament manuscripts from the first century. Once the contents of “Q” were incorporated into the gospels, to continue to copy it as a separate document would have been silly. You copy the later and more complete document, not the earlier notes that you used to write the later document. Doesn’t that seem logical?

The “Q” opponents don’t seem to think so. Some of them are almost vitriolic in their arguments against “Q”. Why? I read some other essays/papers on the existence/non-existence of “Q”. What I gather from that is that those who say “Q” existed—at least those who say “Q” existed widely, and was copied frequently and used in the early churches before the gospels were written—say that “Q” represents a purer form of Christian teaching than the gospels do. Why purer? Because it came before the gospels. Why widespread? Because if both Matthew and Luke had it, it must have been often copied and widely disseminated.

So what? you might ask. Why is this important. The proponents of “Q” say it consisted of only sayings/teachings of Jesus, not the virgin birth, not the miracles, not the passion, death, and resurrection. It presented Jesus as a great moral teacher, not the divine Son of God, the God-Man that we think of him as today. So say some of the proponents of “Q”.

This, I think, is the reason why some people are hitting back so hard against “Q”.  If you’re going to expand “Q” from someone’s research notes into a document intended to stand alone and be used as teaching, and if you’re going to say that represents true Christianity before it was “corrupted” by all this God-Man gibberish, well, yeah, I can see why other scholars would push back so hard against it.

The amount of time spent on this question, based on the large mass of documents available on it, is mind-boggling. It seems logical to me, almost intuitively obvious, that someone, somewhere, before Matthew and Luke began to write their gospels, had written some notes on Jesus’ sayings. Someone else had probably written something about his passion, death, and resurrection; so it made sense for someone else to concentrate on his teaching. Why argue against that? Why try to make it into a proto-gospel, and claim documents subsequent to it are un-pure Christianity, i.e. corrupted Christianity? It’s this larger claim, I think, that fuels those who say they don’t believe “Q” existed.

Both sides, then, appear to be over-stating things. And so the controversy goes on. Scholars are trying to use what were someone’s simple research notes and make them more than they were, which causes others to say they probably never existed.

My take in Adam Of Jerusalem will be that they existed, but they were never widely copied or disseminated, and never formed a stand-alone teaching document. Maybe that’s a middle-of-the-road position, but I think it’s a good one, and I’m sticking to it.