Matthew WAS "Q"


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east of Raleigh, NC, USA
This is a repost of probably the best write-up I've given of a theory I myself came up with, which seems to explain the "Synoptic Problem" to my own satisfaction.

To summarize the question it addresses, Bible scholars for several hundred years have noted the remarkable similarities in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Supposedly, Matthew wrote first -- but over 90% of Mark's Gospel is virtually identical to Matthew's, including passages with identical wording in Greek, as though Mark had taken Matthew, chopped off the Infancy Narrative and the Crucifixion/Resurrection passage, eliminated the majority of the teachings passages, and tacked on a new Crucifixion story -- a truly bizarre procedure. This has led people to think that Matthew took Mark and modified it. Then there are a number of "teachings" passages found, sometimes verbatim and sometimes in quite different contexts, in both Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. Scholars have advanced a mysterious, and missing "Q" document of Jesus's teachings to account for these similarities. But why would "Q" vanish without a trace or even a reference to it in the rather extensive collection of post-Apostolic writings, if this were true?

Obviously, something is fairly bizarre here.

My thinking on how the three Synoptic Gospels came to be, therefore, is as follows:

  • The early Christian historian Papias said that "Matthew first recorded the logia of Jesus in the Jewish language."
  • The Gospel According to Matthew does not meet this description, being a narrative of Jesus's life into which His teachings are inserted, largely in five long sermons with characteristic themes (the Sermon on the Mount is the first of these; the Discourse on the Last Days of Matthew 24-25 is the last).
  • There are striking similarities between the Gospels According to Mark and Matthew, over 90% of the former being strikingly similar, including a large amount of identical wording, to about 60% of the longer Matthew.
  • Mark is traditionally supposed to have written his Gospel largely on the basis of the memoirs of Peter about Jesus after Peter's death. His gospel is, by comparison with the others, "short on talk and long on action" (though of course that in no way demeans the teachings of Jesus he records or his particular focus).
  • There are also striking similarities between Matthew and Luke and between Mark and Luke. It's almost unquestioned by scholars liberal and conservative alike that Luke depended on Mark for a "frame story" of Jesus's ministry.
  • The fact that Matthew and Luke share a large number of pericopés (short utterances, ranging from a pithy sentence to an extended parable) not found in Mark, but place them in radically different points of His ministry and sometimes in contexts forcing different meanings on them, different points Jesus is making by them (compare the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25:14-30 with the Parable of the Pounds in Luke 19:11-27), has been a factor in having textual scholars hypothecate a document they call "Q" (from the German quelle meaning source) for the teachings these two gospels share.
  • There is no evidence for the existence of Q other than the very fact that Matthew and Luke share these teachings and use them in ways that show neither depended on the other unless one was prepared to reject most placements for teaching used by the other while both retain the Markan "frame story." A document of this importance about Jesus could reasonably be supposed to have been preserved by one or more churches or at least referred to by early Christian writers.
  • On the other hand, what Papias says that Matthew compiled describes what scholars hypothesize as Q far more than it does the First Gospel which bears Matthew's name.

So I see the following sequence of events:

  • Matthew Levi (as a good Levite would) collects the teachings of Jesus for easy reference. Many he would himself remember; he had also access to several of the other early disciples, in the Twelve and beyond, to assist in refreshing his memory.
  • A free translation of this collection into Greek is made for the Greek-speaking Christians outside the Hebrew/Aramaic area. (We assume a "free" translation rather than a strict verbatim one because of extensive reference to the Septuagint and some wordplay in the Greek Matthew and Luke manuscripts that doesn't work in Hebrew or Aramaic.)
  • Mark compiles his "life and times of the Son of God" narrative based on Peter's recollections, as previously suggested.
  • Luke researches for an accurate book on Jesus's life and thought. He interviews many surviving eyewitnesses, but depends heavily on the two manuscripts that provide the best concentrated dose of "Jesusiana" available at the time -- Mark and the collection of sayings Matthew made.
  • Either the original Matthew collection grouped Jesus's teachings by subject, the Greek translation did, or the next step did. In any case, an unknown editor took a manuscript of Mark, adapted it slightly to better fit Jewish piety, and inserted Matthew's teachings into it, placing the topical groupings of teachings on five occasions when Jesus was known to have preached on the subjects in question.

    (This is not contrary to proper literary ethics at the time -- a writer was supposed to supply dialogue or discourse that was not preserved or that was likely to have been what was said at a particular time, similar to our use of indirect quotation -- if I say "Brian said, 'Scripture teaches us that...', I need to accurately quote the exact words he says, but if I say "Brian said that Scripture teaches us that...." I can supply my own words so long as I accurately report his meaning, and the reader will recognize the difference. The assumption was that in a day without tape recorders and stenographers, nobody would have the exact words said but the author was entitled to supply a "reasonable facsimile" that accurately paralleled what might have been said and accurately reflected the thoughts of the person it was ascribed to.)
  • Circulation of the original Matthew collection was superseded by the new book, which after all contained all the Matthew stories, but put them in the context of Jesus's life. It was called after the Apostle who had originally made the collection, and constitutes what we have today as "Matthew's Gospel."
Let me see if I read you right - you still accept the notion of the Gospel of Mark as being a progenitor of the Gospel of Matthew - but then shift the name of Matthew onto "Q" on the basis of the Papias reference?
I see it as a perfectly feasible idea. How would it concern itself with disparities within Luke but especially John after?
I see many small groups with different ideas in the Early Church. The Gospels were for different churches were they? If one church wished to use their own tradition and amend it to Matthew they may not have actually had an original Matthew tradition to work from but instead another!
More or less, you have it.

The Gospel of Matthew, as we have it, draws on Mark. But the book written by Matthew Levi was actually what scholars refer to as "Q," not today's "Gospel of Matthew." Later an editor took the Matthew collection of logia and Mark, and, using Mark as a frame story, inserted the logia sorted topically into five long passages placed as sermons and a number of individual teachings, into it to produce the present "Gospel of Matthew."
I'm inclined to trust Luke more as to when and in what context Jesus said particular passages that are reported but placed in different contexts in Matthew and in Luke.

The first four verses of Luke, dedicating the book to Theophilus, indicate that he was well aware that the stories about Jesus current in his day included both wheat and chaff, and that he was using the best historiography available to him to sort them out and report only what Jesus could reliably be confirmed to have said and done and in what order.

However, all four Evangelists had their own particular axes to grind -- Matthew was out to show Jesus as the promised Messiah fulfilling the Jewish prophecies, Luke, to show Him as the compassionate missioner to the outcasts of society, and John, to show Him as the Active Power (logos) of God incarnate in human form.
Darn it! Just lost my post!


Thanks for the clarification - I had tried writing a reply at lunchtime here, but I just couldn't focus straight. Bad night with the kids again (think: teething).

As for the topic - I'm under the impression that Papias is not the most reliable of person's to use for reference. In which case, are there any other pointers you can use for your hypothesis?

Also - how much have you considered the idea of discarding the whole notion of either a "Q" text or a "Q Matthew"? I'm curious whether you would consider the idea of multiple sources being used to construct the Gospel of Matthew about the frame of Mark.

I'm also curious how well the Gospel of Thomas can fit into all of this. Usually "Q" and the Gospel of Thomas seem synonymous with each other, but offhand I'm not actually sure how closely the content of the "scholar's translation" fits in with the synoptics - specifically The Gospel of Matthew for this discussion.
I like the idea, Polycarp. I'd always heard that Mark came first, and was incorporated almost wholesale into Matthew, who used it as a historical framework for his collected teachings. Yours seems to make more sense, and explains the otherwise odd inconsistency of Papias.

In my hard-line fundy days, I always mistrusted the idea of "Q." Reminded me of the old saying about how the Illiad wasn't written by Homer, but by a different blind Greek with the same name. Even so, it is horrifying how precious little of ancient literature has survived. How much remains of the writings of Aristotle? Sappho? Aristarchus? Even--ahem--Polycarp? The library at Alexandria burned, not once, but three times, taking with it until treasures of literature. Maybe the last time, when Cyril's thugs did away with Hypatia, some early Christian texts were caught in the general destruction.

Or . . . I can easily imagine that another document about Jesus' life and ministry is still awaiting discovery, sealed inside a pottery jar hidden in a cave outside of Jerusalem.

But it's fun to see how neatly the peices come together in your proposal!
Polycarp -

If you'd like more information on the Q issue - and assuming that I'm not patronising you - then I can certainly recommend a look at the following site for more information in developing your ideas:

The Lost Sayings Gospel Q

A wealth of resources are listed, though the The Contents of Q section may be especially useful.

Hope that helps.
I would presume that for one it would give a distinctly Jewish origin to the traditions of the early Christians in the first place. The issue of opening to the Gentiles would follow after the original Matthew tradition.
That is the way the early church is believed to have developed so a Q following from a Matthew would be a sensible indicator of that inference. It would also place the teachings of Jesus as teachings far back to the very beginnings of belief itself which is a very important point to make, especially with current criticisms leaving a gaping wide gap between the death of Jesus and the first recorded Gospels.
I agree with Dave the Web. With the idea that Mark was a collection of sayings from which Matthew drew his source material came the tradition that Mark was in fact compiled no later than about 50, and possibly as early as 45 . . . meaning within the living memory of many who'd known Jesus personally and who'd heard him speak. That means there'd be plenty to jump up and shout, "He's NOT the Messsiah! He's a very naughty boy!"

Unless the stories or healings and miracles and wonderful sayings were in fact unimbellished truth.

There are numerous instances in the existing Gospels that Higher Biblical Criticism holds were later amendations. A good example: "For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen" given as part of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 does not exist in the oldest manuscripts, and is completely absent from Luke's version in Luke 11. The farther back we can establish reliable textual evidence--the earliuer the manuscript, the more we understand what was written down first and what happened to it as it evolved into the Gospels we know, the better our understanding of the *historical* Jesus, as opposed to the blond curls and baby blue eyes of modern popular myth!
Polycarp, have you thought of asking brian to put up your ideas on his articles section? Maybe I'm being presumptuous but I thought it could be a good place to display it.