Some implications of the Gospel
of Q for modern Christianity:
Two quotations, giving two very different interpretations of the impact of the Gospel of Q on modern-day Christianity:
||"[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
||"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
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. They generally reject it as a liberal fantasy. Thus, the remainder of this essay will largely describe the
liberal Christian point of view.
Review of the Gospel of Q from a liberal perspective:
Theologians have observed for many decades that two of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, and Luke) have many points of similarity. In fact, their texts 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. The theory is called the "Two-Source Hypothesis." 9 The missing document is frequently is called "the Gospel of Q," where "Q" refers to "Quelle"
-- a German word for "source."
The Gospel has also been called: The Q document, the Q Gospel, the Sayings Gospel Q, and the Synoptic Sayings Source. 9
Various liberal theologians have
attempted to reconstruct the Q Gospel. Some feel that it was written in three
||Q1, written circa 50 CE, which described Jesus as a Jewish
philosopher-teacher who followed the great Jewish philosopher Hillel the Elder. He was traditionally thought to live from about 110 BCE until 10 CE). However, a person living for 12 decades in a culture when most people died during their 30's is quite improbable. 8
||Q2, written during the 60's CE, which viewed Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic
prophet who frequently talked about the end of the world as we know it.
||Q3, 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.
Q1 probably gives the most accurate description of Yeshua as his disciples viewed him. The content of Q2 might reflect another part of Jesus' message as recorded by other followers. Alternately, it may represent beliefs of the early Christian movement, with events and teachings that did not originate from Jesus.
The authors of the Gospels of Matthew (circa 80 CE) and Luke (circa 90 CE)
wrote their books using text from Q, Mark and incorporated their own unique traditions that had developed within the early Christian movement after Q was completed. 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. The Gospel of Thomas was widely circulated within
the early Christian movement but did not make it into the Christian Scriptures.
Comparing beliefs about Q by conservative and liberal Christians:
with so many aspects of Christianity, religious conservatives and liberals
take opposing views about Q:
||Religious 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 spiritual 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, and decided to include the four canonical gospels.
||Religious 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 was probably 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 nearby Pagan 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 have played major roles in
Christian belief. More details.
What the Gospel of Q may tells us about primitive Christianity:
To liberal Christians, 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
about 70 CE, after 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' actual sayings and activities. Thus, Q1 gives us a
much better understanding of the 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 the second Person of the Trinity was completely foreign to their
thinking. God was very definitely viewed as a single and indivisible entity: Yahweh as described in the Hebrew
Scriptures (Old Testament).
The Christian movement might not have been able to survive into the 2nd
century CE unless it had developed a complete theology. For Christianity to flourish, a complete Christian theological structure, including many beliefs imported from nearby Pagan religions was needed. Otherwise it may not have been able to compete with those religions. This requirement was met by
Paul, the writers of the four canon Gospels, and other Christians who provided the
writings which became incorporated into the official New Testament canon.
After the gospels of Matthew and
Luke were written, Q became redundant. By the late First Century CE, Q would have been considered heretical. The contents of Q was then only available as passages buried in the four canonical
gospels, along with much other material. The original gospel would no longer have been
used. No surviving copies exist today.
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 -- those who knew him best. 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 Yeshua's direct teachings. He was considered a philosopher/teacher. If we could travel
back even earlier, we might find the early Christian group who had the same
beliefs and practices, but who passed them on orally; they had not yet written
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
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
Marcus Borg, Ed., "The lost gospel Q: The original sayings of
Jesus," Ulysses Press, (1996). Read
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
J.S. Kloppenborg & John Verbin, "Excavating Q: The history and
setting of the sayings gospel," Fortress Press, (2000) Read
a review/order this
A.D. Jacbson, "The first gospel: An introduction to Q,"
Polebridge Press, (1992) Order this
Wim van den Dungen, "Q1: An interpretation," at: http://www.globalprojects.org/equiaeon/jesus4.htm
Eta Linnemann, "The lost Gospel of Q: Fact or fantasy?,"
"Hillel the Elder," Wikipedia, as on 2017-APR-30, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
"The Gospel of Q," The Nazarene Way, at: http://www.thenazareneway.com/
Copyright © 1998 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Most recent update: 2017-MAY-26
Author: B.A. Robinson