Several respondents on the blog have asked me whether I would consider Q to be a lost Gospel that is still lost. My answer is direct and emphatic: yes I do! And to the question, also asked several times, if I had one lost Christian writing that I could have turn up tomorrow, what would it be? – again, unless someone imagines that there was once something like Jesus’ lost autobiography (!), my answer is: Q!

Some members of the blog may not know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Q, so let me explain. In the nineteenth century, some NT scholars became obsessed with the question of why Matthew, Mark, and Luke agreed frequently in so many ways and yet also have so many differences. These three are called the Synoptic Gospels (as opposed to John) this because they do indeed have so many stories that are the same, often in the same sequence, and often with precise word-for-word agreements, so that you can put their stories on the same page and they can be “seen together” (which is what the word “Synoptic” literally means. The theory that emerged among these scholars is what I call the “four-source hypothesis” (some scholars call it the two-source hypothesis, but I find that confusing, because these same scholars think there were four sources!).

According to this hypothesis, Mark was the first Gospel written (that’s the theory called “Markan Priority”), and Matthew and Luke both copied it for a large number of their stories, sometimes keeping it exactly the same and sometimes changing it.   But there are a number of traditions found in Matthew and Luke not found in Mark – e.g., the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes.  Most of these traditions are sayings.  Obviously Matthew and Luke didn’t get these from Mark, since he doesn’t have them.  And there are reasons for thinking that Matthew didn’t get the stories from Luke or Luke from Matthew (this is debated, but it’s the view most scholars have).   That leaves basically one option: they both must have gotten these traditions from another source, which no longer survives.  That is the source scholars call Q.  It was made up mainly of sayings of Jesus.

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