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Fallacies at the Heart of Q
 

This is an introduction to some fallacies that cause Q to be more popular than it might otherwise have been. Five common viewpoints at the heart of the acceptance of Q will be stated and I will then attempt to explain why each of them is fallacious. This is an introduction to the relevant issues -- fuller exposition is available in "A Monopoly on Marcan Priority? Fallacies at the Heart of Q", Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers 2000 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), pp. 538-622 (reproduced on this site -- click on the title).
 

  1. "Marcan Priority is the Same Thing as the Two-Source Theory"

  2. "Luke does not feature any of the Matthean additions to Mark in triple tradition material"

  3. "The Q material appears in large thematic discourses in Matthew but in an artistically inferior arrangement in Luke."

  4. "The Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark are too minor to make the case against Q"

  5. "Luke's versions of Q passages are often more primitive than Matthew's. This fact necessitates the existence of Q."
Summary


1. "Marcan Priority is Identical to the Two-Source Theory"

Many scholars and students of the New Testament labour under the misapprehension that the theory of Marcan Priority necessitates believing in the existence of Q, but this is a fallacy.

 


2. "Luke does not feature any of the Matthean additions to Mark in triple tradition material"

It is commonly said that Luke appears to be ignorant of Matthew's additions to Mark in material shared by all three Synoptic Evangelists, something that is held to be particularly problematic for the idea that Luke knew Matthew as well as Mark. In his recent full scale defence of the Q theory, Christopher Tuckett, for example, says:

"Luke never appears to know any of Matthew's additions to Mark in Marcan material. Sometimes, in using Mark, Matthew makes substantial additions to Mark, cf. Matt. 12.5-7; 14.28-31; 16.16-19; 27.19, 24. If Luke knew Matthew, why does he never show any knowledge of Matthew's redaction of Mark? It seems easier to presume that Luke did not know any of these Matthean additions to Mark and hence that he did not know Matthew." [1]
There are two things wrong with this:
  1. The passages listed do not make the case. Matthew 14.28-31, for example, is a Matthean addition to Mark's story of the Walking on the Water (Mark 6.45-52 // Matthew 14.22-33), a story that does not feature in Luke at all. Luke cannot be expected to include Matthean additions to Marcan stories that are wholly absent from his Gospel. The other passages mentioned by Tuckett are those so strongly marked by Matthew's own redactional interests that we will hardly expect Luke to feature them. After all, when we look at Luke's use of Mark, we see that Luke tended to include the "Luke-pleasing" elements in his source. The same is likely to have been the case with his use of Matthew.

  2. Even more importantly, we need to observe that Luke does indeed feature many of Matthew's additions to Marcan material. It is not the case that Luke "never shows any knowledge of Matthew's redaction of Mark". Take, for example, this excerpt from the preaching of John the Baptist. The Matthean additions to Mark, which feature also in Luke, are in red.

    Matthew 3.11-12 Mark 1.7-8 Luke 3.16-17



    11. "I, on the one hand,
    baptize you in water for
    repentance, but the one
    who is coming after me is
    stronger than me, the
    shoes of whom
    I am not worthy
    to untie.




    He will baptize you in
    holy spirit and fire. 12.
    His winnowing fork is in
    his hand and he will clear
    his threshing floor and he
    will gather his wheat into
    his granary, but the chaff
    he will burn with
    unquenchable fire."

    7. And he preached,
    saying,


    "The one
    who is stronger than me
    comes after me, the
    thong of whose sandals
    I am not worthy, having
    stooped down, to loose.
    8. I baptized you in water
    (cf. Matt. 3.11 // Luke
    3.16),

    but he will baptize you in
    holy spirit."








    16. And John answered,
    saying to all,
    "I, on the one hand,
    baptize you in water
        but the one
    who is stronger than me
    comes after me, the
    thong of whose sandals
    I am not worthy
    to loose.




    He will baptize you in
    holy spirit and fire. 17.
    His winnowing fork is in
    his hand and he will clear
    his threshing floor and he
    will gather his wheat into
    his granary, but the chaff
    he will burn with
    unquenchable fire."

It seems more than clear -- Matthew's additions to Mark here appear, almost verbatim, in Luke. And this is not an isolated example; others include the Temptation (Matt. 4.1-11 // Mark 1.12-13 // Luke 4.1-13) and the Mustard Seed (Matt. 13.31-2 // Mark 4.30-2 // Luke 13.18-19). Why, then, is this particular argument still repeated by Q scholars? On the whole, the following reason is given:

The Explanation: Mark and Q must have overlapped. Where there is a lot of agreement between Matthew and Luke in triple tradition material, this is due to their knowledge of Q versions of these same passages.

The Problem: This theory of "Mark-Q overlap" amounts to an admission that there is indeed a good deal of agreement between Matthew and Luke in several triple tradition passages. Or, to put it another way, such passages give us evidence that Luke does indeed feature many of Matthew's modifications of Mark.

We thus have a second fallacy at the root of the common acceptance of the Q theory.

 


3. "The Q material appears in large thematic discourses in Matthew but in an artistically inferior arrangement in Luke."

It has long been held that Luke's order constitutes the best evidence for the existence of Q. For while Matthew has Q material as part of his fine, artistic arrangement of Jesus' discourses into five major blocks, Luke has the same material scattered throughout his Gospel. This is held to be uncongenial for the thesis that Luke had read Matthew. R. H. Fuller, for example, wrote:
"Matthew has tidily collected the Q material into great blocks. Luke, we must then suppose, has broken up this tidy arrangement and scattered the Q material without rhyme or reason all over his gospel -- a case of unscrambling the egg with a vengeance!" [2]
There are two fundamental problems with this pervasive view:
  1. By implying that the Q material all appears in Matthew's five major discourses, it misrepresents the evidence. The double tradition often falls in Matthew outside of his five major discourses, in Chapters 3-4 (John the Baptist; Temptation); Chapter 8 (Centurion's Boy etc.); Chapter 11 (Messengers from John); Chapter 12 (Beelzebub etc.); and Chapter 23 (Woes against Pharisees). Moreover, large parts of the five major blocks (Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25) are made up of Marcan and other non-Q material, e.g. the Marcan parables in Matthew 13. The major oversimplification of the evidence detracts from a proper appreciation of the issue. Q material is broadly distributed in both Matthew and Luke, and if Luke used Matthew, he has taken Q material from a variety of contexts, and not just from the five blocks.

  2. Further, the idea that Luke's ordering of this double tradition is "artistically inferior" is nothing more than a dubious value judgement based on outmoded ideas of what he was attempting to do in composing a Gospel. Luke was not a "scissors and paste" editor, and contemporary literary criticism of Luke has tended to pronounce in favour of his artistic ability. Moreover, we need to ask whether there is anything in Luke's Gospel that gives us the signal that its author was trying to do something special or different in the ordering of his Gospel. Indeed there is such an indication - Luke begins his Gospel with a statement that he is going to write an account in order and, even more strikingly, he seems to combine this statement with a direct criticism of the predecessors (like Mark and Matthew) who have attempted to draw up narratives before him (1.1-4).

It is no longer acceptable to say that Luke's ordering of double tradition material is artistically inferior to Matthew's. The argument is based on a faulty premise compounded by a dubious value judgement informed by assumptions that need no longer (arguably should no longer) be ours.

 


4. "The Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark are too minor to make the case against Q"

For some time now, Q sceptics have been drawing attention to the Minor Agreements as the Achilles Heel of the Two Source Theory. If Matthew and Luke redacted Mark independently of one another, the key premise behind the Q theory, then we should not expect to see the number and quality of Minor Agreements that in fact we do see. In an attempt to counter the force of the Minor Agreements, Q theorists have recently gone on the offensive, claiming that the Minor Agreements are also problematic for Q sceptics. Tuckett makes the point with characteristic clarity and force:

"The fact that the Minor Agreements are so minor makes it very hard to believe that Luke has been both influenced positively by Matthew's text in such (substantively) trivial ways, but also totally uninfluenced by any of Matthew's substantive additions to Mark. Undoubtedly the Minor Agreements constitute a problem for the 2ST, but precisely their minor nature constitutes a problem for Goulder's theory as well." [3]

This statement illustrates a real difficulty arising from the fact that Q sceptics have so often stressed the Minor Agreements. In the attempt repeatedly to point to a concrete difficulty for the Two Source Theory, Q sceptics have inadvertently given the impression that the best evidence in their favour is only "minor". But this is a trick of the light and Tuckett's statement is based on a fallacy. Part of the fallacy we have seen already: it is simply not the case that Luke is "totally uninfluenced by any of Matthew's substantive additions to Mark". On the contrary, Luke regularly includes Matthew's substantive additions to Mark, but these tend to get placed into a special category of their own labelled "Mark-Q overlap". On the Farrer theory's assumptions, there is a sliding scale of Matthean influence on Luke, from pure triple tradition passages which feature Minor Agreements, to Mark-Q overlap passages which feature major agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark, to double tradition passages where Luke is dependent solely on Matthew. We might represent this scenario graphically:

Continuum graph

Here the horizontal axis represents the influence of Mark on Luke and the vertical axis represents the influence of Matthew on Luke. Triple tradition passages featuring Minor Agreements are simply one point on a continuum, at the other end of which are the pure double tradition passages. In between the two are the so-called Mark-Q overlap passages, those which feature substantial agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark. One might even expand the graph to note that the number of minor and major agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark vary greatly -- one could plot individual pericopae at points along the continuum. I hope that the point is clear, however, and the point is this -- Minor Agreements are indeed troubling to the Two Source Theory but they are only troubling in so far as they are one element in a broader spectrum of evidence, all of which is conducive to the Farrer Theory.

 


5. "Luke's versions of Q passages are often more primitive than Matthew's. This fact necessitates the existence of Q."

The argument from "alternating primitivity" is a key element in the standard case for the existence of Q. For if sometimes Matthew and sometimes Luke has the more primitive wording in the double tradition, this might well seem to be a sign that both were dependent on a prior document. However, there are major difficulties with this apparently straightforward argument. The difficulties can be divided into two categories: (a) problems with the means by which scholars arrive at the conclusion that Luke's material is more original than the Matthean parallels and (b) problems with the assumption that greater primitivity in Luke would necessitate the existence of a Q document.

(a) The conclusion that Luke often witnesses to the more primitive Q wording is based in part on fallacies exposed by Michael Goulder:

(i) Self-Contradiction in the Reconstruction of Q: One of the principles in the reconstruction of Q is that language characteristic of Matthew is unlikely to have belonged to the original wording of Q. Again and again we see it argued that "this expression is characteristic of Matthew's redaction, so it is unlikely that it stood in Q". So where Matthew and Luke have different wording in a Q saying, and where Matthew's wording is particularly characteristic of his writing, it is concluded that he and not Q is responsible for those Matthean elements. Michael Goulder has pointed to a major problem for this principle by drawing attention to Q passages in which characteristic Matthean expressions are present in both the Matthean and the Lucan versions, including famously Matthean expressions like "O ye of little faith", "Weeping and gnashing of teeth", "And when Jesus had finished these sayings". Since Matthean expressions like this are clearly present in Q (on the assumption that it existed), there is a major question-mark over the principle of reconstructing Q on the basis that its style is not Matthean. In short, the notion that Luke often features the more original Q wording is based in part on a fallacy in the way that this "original wording" is calculated, incorrectly assuming that Q's style was not Matthean.

(ii) The Lucan Priority Fallacy: The calculation that Lucan forms of Q sayings are sometimes more original than their Matthean counterparts is also based on a feature of Luke's style. Luke is a subtle and versatile writer with a large vocabulary and a tendency to vary his synonyms. Matthew, on the other hand, has a more pronounced, easily recognisable style, and he does not have so rich a vocabulary. It is consequently much less straightforward to judge Lucan redactional activity than it is to pick out where Matthew has edited sources, and it is correspondingly easy to jump to the conclusion that an apparently 'un-Lucan' form is a 'pre-Lucan', Q form. Again and again one sees in the literature claims that a given word is "un-Lucan and therefore pre-Lucan", claims that artificially reinforce the notion that Luke's version is more primitive than Matthew's.

(b) But we need also to go to the next step. Let us say that we were to find a Lucan form of a Q saying that appeared on solid grounds to be more original than its Matthean counterpart. Would this witness to the existence of Q? Usually the answer to this question is affirmative, but we need to observe that this too is based on a fallacy. Strong signs of greater primitivity are only a difficulty for Luke's literary knowledge of Matthew if we are prepared to deny the role of oral tradition in Gospel relationships.

The point is this: Luke's literary knowledge of Matthew and Mark is likely to have interacted with his knowledge of oral traditions of some of their material. This makes it inevitable that, on occasion, Luke will show knowledge of some more primitive traditions. Take, for example, the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6.9-13 // Luke 11.2-4), one of the key examples of a supposedly more primitive Lucan form. Would we not expect Luke to have been familiar with a version of his Lord's own prayer before he had come across another version of it in the Gospel of Matthew? We would only be surprised to find such evidence if we were determined to deny Luke's knowledge of oral traditions.

We can see the same principle at work in Luke's use of Mark. We do not always automatically accord priority to the Marcan version of traditions they share. In the case of the Eucharistic tradition, for example (Matt. 26.26-29 // Mark 14.22-25 // Luke 22.15-20), Luke appears to have more original elements over against Mark -- we even have an independent witness to this in Paul's epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11.23-26). If we can see some more primitive elements in Luke's triple tradition passages, not withstanding his literary dependence on Mark, we should not be surprised to see the same thing in traditions shared with Matthew.

In short, the difficulty is that scholars have routinely confused issues of literary priority with issues over the relative age of traditions. The theory of Luke's literary dependence on Mark and Matthew does not necessitate the assumption that his material is always and inevitably secondary to Matthew's and Mark's. Just as most of us do not deny the likelihood that Luke interacted with oral traditions when he was working with Mark, so too we should not think it odd that he might have interacted with oral traditions when he was working with Matthew.

As usual, we will do well to pay attention to what Luke himself tells us he is doing in 1.1-4. Does not he imply that he has been engaging carefully not only with those who have undertaken to write narratives (1.1), but also the things that have been "handed down by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (1.2)? If we take this seriously, we have a picture of an evangelist who is critically and creatively interacting with both traditions and writings of "the events that have been fulfilled among us". The time has come to distinguish properly between direct literary use of a prior text and knowledge of oral traditions, both of which are key in the composition of Luke's Gospel. Since practically all scholars accept that Luke was familiar with oral traditions of Jesus material, it is quite reasonable to assume that some of these traditions will have overlapped and interacted with his direct knowledge of his written sources. It is quite reasonable, in other words, to dispense with Q.
 


Summary

Q's essential premise, Matthew's and Luke's independent use of Mark, is based in large part on arguments which at first hearing sound plausible but which on closer inspection turn out to be flawed. It is not acceptable to speak of Luke lacking Matthew's additions to Mark in triple tradition (fallacy 2), nor will it do simply to repeat the dubious value judgement on Luke's order (fallacy 3). The Minor Agreements are only "too minor" to be significant if they are viewed outside of the larger continuum of agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark (fallacy 4) and the argument from "alternating primitivity" requires both dubious assumptions about the reconstruction of Q and the failure to recognise a distinction between literary priority and the relative age of traditions (fallacy 5). Least acceptable of all is the simple equation of Marcan Priority with the Two-Source Theory, thereby eliminating the challenge from the Farrer Theory (fallacy 1).
 


Notes

1. Christopher Tuckett, Q and the History of Early Christianity: Studies on Q (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), pp. 7-8.

2. Reginald H. Fuller, The New Testament in Current Study (London: SCM, 1963), p. 87.

3. Christopher Tuckett, Q and the History of Early Christianity, p. 28.


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This file was first published on 4 July 2000 and last updated on 4 March 2002
© 2000, 2001, 2002 Mark Goodacre
[email protected]