Understanding the synoptic gospels without Q

What’s at stake in the challenge mounted by Mark Goodacre and a few others against the hypothetical Q document?  Q is a major theoretical pillar of modern New Testament source criticism, and we can be sure there is a mass of academic ego on the line, and great stacks of painstaking research and interpretation threatened with obsolescence.  In other words, the discussion isn’t going to happen.  Because those stakes are too high.

Modern criticism is now so heavily invested in the Q-romance of an imagined “lost” gospel containing primitive logia of Jesus that any general acceptance of Goodacre’s argument might cause a crisis in NT hermeneutics.  I believe that the gospels would be just fine in the exchange, but I think it would be a long time before the failed theological ties to the imaginary Q were sorted out, and scholars became adept at re-interpreting this double-tradition as simply that portion of material new to the author of Matthew which Luke also saw warrant to repeat in his own Gospel.

I am in general agreement with Goodacre and with Austin Farrer (1955) and Michael Goulder (1989), because I think Luke’s dependence on Matthew explains the common material between them better than Q-theory.  With the object of fortifying myself in this regard, I have had Goodacre’s book, The Case Against Q (2002), home from the library since early April.  But I have been distracted by the Johannine passion, Historical Jesus, N. T. Wright, reading Kant, priority of Mark, and other interests.

In a comment I made over at Near Emmaus yesterday, however, I cited my rejection of Q in support of a point I was making about the dating of Matthew.  Well I started to feel the need for some study of the problem in depth, because I didn’t want to be hanging out there with nothing but a personal preference for Luke’s dependence on Matthew.

The last straw came this morning, however, when I sat down with Ernst Fuch’s 1960 Berlin lecture, “Jesus’ Understanding of Time” (Studies of the Historical Jesus, SCM Press, 1964, p.104).  I’ve had Fuchs’ book home only a week, wanting to give the post-Bultmann scholars of the New Quest – and Fuchs in particular – a fair turn.  However, from the first paragraph it became apparent that I could not follow the author’s thesis without possessing an utter faith in the existence of Q (a faith which I don’t have).  After four pages, I put the book down and reached for Goodacre.

I want to nail this argument now, and will post a short review series on The Case Against Q in the near future.

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5 thoughts on “Understanding the synoptic gospels without Q

  1. I’ve always been an adherent to the Q theory, mostly because I trust in the majority and experts I respect have supported this theory. But as I’ve also always said, I have no need to believe in Q, and if the proofs lean the other way, I’m more than happy to be persuaded. I shall pick you up in my reader to keep a watch for your posts on this.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, mostly because I have now found you! I see you are new, but goodness, you’ve made a great start!

    • Thank you for stopping by.

      Q is a huge factor in the majority view, and has even come out in a ‘critical edition’.

      My main objective will be to see if I can express intelligibly the argument for Luke’s knowledge and use of Matthew. Within that framework, I’m open to the possibility that there may be some common source material driving Luke’s usage, just not the standard Q.

      Thanks again for the comment.

  2. My friend John, It is becoming ever more apparent as I read through your material that we have a great deal in common. Follow my logic here. It is clear from your general approach to sacred scripture that you are not a fundamentalist, which would imply that you are also not an Evangelical. This pushes you more to the centre. A spattering of liberal protestant theologians and a lack of dogmatism tells me two things. You are not a Roman Catholic and that you are most likely a clerical student (?).

    I would be willing to hazard a guess that you are studying for ministry as a vocation of riper years (you were 23? when Pirsig published “Zen…”). You infusion of colour and texture to your theological musings would point to you not being a Presbyterian. So we are left with two possibilities. ‘Anngeister,’ I am guessing is of German origin and this would point to a Lutheran background, but… NT Wright? Don’t much love him myself but… I would risk declaring that you are an Anglican?

  3. I can’t agree with you more on the pigeon-holing remark, but we all tend to find a home somewhere on the vast spectrum of human expression – even if it is on a wide spread. Thank you for the electronic mail. You have a response.

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