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Some implications of the Gospel
of Q
for modern Christianity

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Two quotations, giving two very different interpretations of the impact of the Gospel of Q on modern-day Christianity:

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. They generally reject it as a liberal fantasy. Thus, the remainder of this essay will largely describe the liberal Christian point of view. 

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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 stages:

bullet 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

bullet 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.
bullet 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.

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Comparing beliefs about Q by conservative and liberal Christians:

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

bullet 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.
bullet 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.

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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.

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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 them down. 

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover Burton Mack, "The lost gospel: The Book of Q & Christian origins," HarperSanFrancisco, (1993). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  2. book cover Marcus Borg, Ed., "The lost gospel Q: The original sayings of Jesus," Ulysses Press, (1996). Read reviews/order this book

  3. book cover 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. book cover J.S. Kloppenborg & John Verbin, "Excavating Q: The history and setting of the sayings gospel," Fortress Press, (2000) Read a review/order this book

  5. book cover 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: 
  7. Eta Linnemann, "The lost Gospel of Q: Fact or fantasy?," at:
  8. "Hillel the Elder," Wikipedia, as on 2017-APR-30, at:
  9. "The Gospel of Q," The Nazarene Way, at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Most recent update: 2017-MAY-26
Author: B.A. Robinson
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