Can you defend the Resurrection? – Part 2

“Today there are people who talk about Q as though it’s a gospel. Q, as I see it, is not a gospel, it’s a hypothesis.”    ~ Dr. Elaine Pagels

In my last blog I quoted three arguments that Muslim apologist Abdullah Kareem makes in his online article, “The Resurrection Hoax,” as to why the resurrection is not an historical fact, but a legend which developed over time. Here are Kareem’s claims:

CLAIM 1:  The oldest versions of Mark’s gospel do not give an account of the resurrection.

CLAIM 2:  Matthew and Luke relied on the “Q” Source to write their gospels and to change Mark’s gospel to make it match their accounts of the resurrection.

CLAIM 3:  Paul’s account of the resurrection does not match the gospel accounts.

Last time we discussed Claim 1.  This time we will look at Claim 2.

New Testament critics often bring up the “Q document” as a reason to caste doubt on the eye-witness testimonies of the gospels, and to suggest a conspiracy by the disciples and other early Christians to make up parts of the Jesus story, particularly the resurrection.


The “Q” comes from the German word quelle, which means source.  The theory is that there was a collection of the sayings of Jesus, and perhaps some of his acts, and that Matthew and Luke used this collection in writing the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Q document theories are many and varied.  

Basically, the Q document is a hypothetical answer to a question.  The question is:  Why are there some passages in Matthew and Luke which have the exact same wording and do not appear in Mark.  Some scholars say this points to another source of these sayings, which they call the Q document.  

In studying this issue the most interesting person that I encountered is Eta Linnemann, a German Protestant theologian who studied under Rudolf Bultmann.  She originally held her teacher’s view – that the Bible is not historically reliable – until a conversion experience in 1977 when she renounced her former views and asked readers to burn her previously written books.


In Linnemann’s Trinity Journal article “The Lost Gospel Of Q—Fact Or Fantasy?” (Spring 1996) she explains the origin of the Q document theory by saying that “Schleiermacher (1768–1834) got the modern ball rolling” by twisting a quote of Papias.  The 2nd century Bishop of Hierapolis Papias had characterized Matthew’s oracles or writings or sayings as having been written in the Hebrew style.  According to Linnemann, Schleiermacher twisted the word translated as oracles or writings into “sayings” only, whereas “Unfortunately for Schleiermacher, <logia> here means ‘what the Lord Jesus said or did,’ not just ‘sayings.’ ”  

Because understanding the source of the Q (quelle or source) theory is critical to understanding it, let’s look at Linnemann’s account of the next step in the development of the Q theory:

Christian Hermann Weisse (1801–1866), founder of the two-source theory, was the first to build on Schleiermacher’s error (Stoldt, History and Criticism). Contrary to Schleiermacher, Weisse claimed the sayings source as a source for Luke’s gospel as well, misusing Schleiermacher’s authority, who had argued the opposite.  And so the infamous Q made its debut in the theological world. 


The only Q document that exists is the one that contemporary scholars wrote by extracting the common verses between Matthew and Luke, not found in Mark.  John S. Kloppenborg wrote Q Parallels: Synopsis, Critical Notes, and Concordance in 1988.  This is the simplified, but technical reference of the  Q sayings.  In 2000, Kloppenborg then collaborated with James M. Robinson and Paul Hoffman on what is considered the definitive edition of Q,  The Critical Edition of Q.

Many New Testament scholars believe that the Q theory is a sound one.  But even if Q ever did exist, it does not necessarily follow that the gospels accounts are conspired.  Kareem’s claim that Matthew and Luke relied on Q to write their gospels does not mean that Matthew and Luke altered the historical accounts or twisted the truth.  Kareem’s suggestion that Matthew and Luke altered Mark’s account has no basis in sound scholarship that I could find.

I highly recommend the article “What is the Q ‘Gospel’? The Gospel According to ‘St Q’? by James M. Arlandson from his series called Historic Reliability of the Gospels (which you can find here) that examines various theories of Q and provides good recommendations for further study.


IF the Q theory is true, Arlandson suggests a scenario something like this:

The Q document was a collection of Jesus’ sayings that originated in Galilee.  They did not focus on the crucifixion and the resurrection, but they simply focused on Jesus’ teachings.  Q could have been written, oral or both.  The narratives about Jesus’ death and resurrection originated in Jerusalem where they occurred.  The word spread after the events occurred. Travelers from Galilee and other outlying areas heard of Christ’s death and resurrection when they journeyed to Jerusalem on pilgrimages.  When the gospel writers wrote their gospels, it was in keeping with the Greco-Roman historical method and was not considered unreliable historically to use reputable accounts of Jesus’ sayings or of his deeds, including both Q and the crucifixion and resurrection narratives.  Matthew, being a disciple of Jesus and an eye-witness to many of the events, verified the material.  Mark wrote under Peter’s supervision. Peter was very capable of determining the reliability of the accounts, since Peter was in the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. The sayings and deeds could also have been verified by many eye-witnesses who were still living at the writing of the gospels.


The Q document is a theory meant to explain the common passages in Matthew and Luke.  We do not have an actual copy or fragment of Q as far as we know.  The only Q is the one compiled from extractions of Matthew and Luke by contemporary scholars.  Even if Q did exist at one time, that does not mean that the gospel accounts were conspired or are historically unreliable.


If you were in a discussion about the Q document with Kareem, or someone else with the same position, remember to ask them to explain the warrant for their claims ~ WHY is their claim true?  Listen to their explanation, and then interact with the reasoning behind their conclusion.  An argument that the gospels are conspired because of a hypothetical document is just not a strong argument.

~ Betsy McPeak

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