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bullet"[The Gospel of Q]...should bring an end to the myth, the history, the mentality, of the Gospels. But nobody's going to want to read it!" Burton L. Mack, Professor of the New Testament, retired. 1
bullet"As co-conspirator with the Gospel of Thomas to undermine the whole Christian faith, Q is nothing but fantasy. The same goes for the literary shuffling used to discern various layers in it. Such totally subjective arrangements, depending on dubious suggestions about the historical background, amount to novelistic trifling with early Christian origins." Eta Linnemann, "The lost Gospel of Q: Fact or fantasy?" 7

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We normally describe each element of Christianity from both a liberal and conservative point of view. Sometimes, we toss in beliefs from the very early Christian church during the 1st and 2nd century. We will deviate this time. Because the Gospel of Q is of no real significance to conservative Christians, we will restrict the remainder of this essay to a liberal point of view. 

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Review of the Gospel of Q:

Theologians have observed for many decades that two of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, and Luke) have many points of similarity. In fact, the writings have many dozens of phrases and sentences that are identical. This observation led to the theory that both gospels were based largely on an earlier document, which has been lost. It is called "Q" meaning "Quelle," which is German for "source." Various liberal theologians have been able to reconstruct the gospel. Some feel that it was written in three stages:

bulletQ1, written circa 50 CE, which described Jesus as a Jewish philosopher-teacher.
bulletQ2, written during the 60's CE, which viewed Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet. 
bulletQ3, written during the mid 70's during a time of great turmoil in Palestine. Jesus is described as a near-deity who converses directly with God and Satan.

The authors of the Gospels of Matthew (circa 80 CE) and Luke (circa 90 CE) wrote their books using text from Q, Mark and their own unique traditions. The author of the Gospel of Thomas also used portions of Q1 and Q2 in his writing, but seems to have been unaware of Q3. This gospel was widely circulated within the early Christian movement but did not make it into the Christian Scriptures.

This essay continues below.

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Beliefs about Q by conservative and liberal Christians:

As with so many aspects of Christianity, religious conservatives and liberals take opposing views about Q:

bulletReligious conservatives tend to ignore the Gospel of Q and its surrounding controversy. Some believe that the book does not exist. They believe that God might have caused Mathew, Mark, and Luke to write similar passages when he directly inspired the gospel authors. Others say that the Gospel of Q may have existed but is unimportant. They regard the four gospels of the Bible as God's word -- inerrant, infallible, and totally sufficient for the needs of Christians. Even if Q existed, it can be of little importance today. At most, would have been an early gospel by some unknown Christian group. It would be one of the many dozens of such partially heretical documents that were rejected when, under God's guidance, Christian leaders assembled the New Testament from the many dozens of documents that circulated within the early church.
bulletReligious liberals tend to embrace the Gospel of Q as giving precious insight into the very early Christian movement. Portions of it appear to have been written circa 50 CE, making them earlier than all of the books of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), with the possible exception of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians and 1 Thessalonians. Further, the book might have been based on an earlier oral tradition. Unlike the canonical gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), Q might have been written by actual eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry. It might be the most accurate record of Jesus teachings. Its earliest parts were written before many magical, supernatural beliefs were imported from other religions and superimposed upon early Christian beliefs. Q does not contain stories of the virgin birth, miracles, salvation, speaking in tongues, apostles, clergy, the Eucharist, heaven, hell, and dozens of other topics that later played major roles in Christian belief. More details.

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What Q Tells Us about primitive Christianity:

The importance of Q is staggering. The interval from the death of Christ to the writing of the first parts of Q1 was probably only about 20 years. The next Gospel, Mark, was not written until another 20 or more years had passed. Although Paul wrote his Epistles during the 50's and early 60's, they contained very little material on Jesus' sayings and activities. Thus, Q1 gives us a much better understanding of an early, non-Pauline Christian movement: their preoccupations, beliefs, and developing theology. Q1 implies that essentially all of present-day Christian beliefs were unknown to the immediate followers of Jesus. The concept of Jesus as Lord or as a member of the Trinity was completely foreign to their thinking. God was very definitely a single entity -- the Jehovah of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The followers of Jesus who wrote Q might not have been able to survive into the 2nd century CE with an almost completely undeveloped theology. For Christianity to survive and grow, a complete Christian theological structure was needed. This requirement was met by Paul, the writers of the four canon Gospels, and other Christians who provided the writings which became the official New Testament canon. After the gospels of Matthew and Luke were written, Q became redundant. The contents of Q was now available in the new gospels, along with much other material. The original gospel would no longer have been used; it disappeared from the face of history.

Assuming that Q did exist, one is led to the belief that most of modern-day Christian beliefs and rituals have little or nothing to do with the beliefs and teachings of the immediate followers of Jesus. If we could enter a time machine and travel back to the late 40's CE, we might track down the author(s) of Q1. They would belong to a primitive Christian movement that regarded themselves as devout Jews, and who followed the teachings of Yeshua, a philosopher teacher. If we could travel back even earlier, we might find the same early Christian group who had the same beliefs and practices, but who passed them on orally; they had not yet written them down. 

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  1. Burton Mack, "The lost gospel: The Book of Q & Christian origins," HarperSanFrancisco, (1993). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Marcus Borg, Ed., "The lost gospel Q: The original sayings of Jesus," Ulysses Press, (1996). Read reviews/order this book
  3. J.S. Kloppenborg, Ed. "Conflict and invention: Literary, rhetorical and social studies on the sayings gospel Q," Trinity Press, (1995) Read a review/order this book
  4. J.S. Kloppenborg & John Verbin, "Excavating Q: The history and setting of the sayings gospel," Fortress Press, (Scheduled to be published 2000-AUG-15) Read a review/order this book
  5. A.D. Jacbson, "The first gospel: An introduction to Q," Polebridge Press, (1992)  Order this book
  6. Wim van den Dungen, "Q1: An interpretation," at: http://www.globalprojects.org/equiaeon/jesus4.htm 
  7. Eta Linnemann, "The lost Gospel of Q: Fact or fantasy?," at: http://www.inexes.com/nt/synoptic_problem/lostq.html  

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Copyright � 1998 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Most recent update: 2005-AUG-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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