“Q” (from the German word Quelle which means “source”) is a hypothetical source that both Matthew and Luke’s gospel authors used for the formation of content within their respective accounts.
Q is hypothetical because it no longer exists in extant form although most New Testament scholars believe that it once did. It likely did exist given the near word-for-word agreement between Matthew and Luke in places they record the same events and words of Christ. There are a large number of Christ’s teachings and stories shared between these two gospels, some of which are derived from Mark’s earlier gospel and some of which are not (1). The instances where there is near verbatim agreement in respect to the sayings and events of Christ found in both Matthew and Luke (but not in Mark) suggests that Mathew and Luke had access to some other shared material. New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman explains that Q,
“[M]ust at one time have existed (since Matthew and Luke appear both to have had access to it), that was written in Greek (otherwise Matthew and Luke could not agree word-for-word in places – in Greek — in their non-Markan sayings material), and that contained almost exclusively (or exclusively) sayings of Jesus” (2).
It is not clear if Q was a written source, multiple sources, or an oral tradition, or some combination of these. It is clear, however, that Q is a valuable material for historians wishing to look at the early evidence for the historical Jesus. It also seems that given Matthew and Luke’s authors use Q as a source it must predate the authorship of their gospels. It cannot therefore be dated later than 80 CE (roughly the time Matthew and Luke were written). According to the historical method, the earlier the material is in relation to the events it describes the more weight it carries. Scholar James Dunn says that Q is dated to the 40s or 50s CE and therefore predates all four gospels (3).
Miracles and Exorcisms in Q
Historians find that Q includes miracles and exorcisms Christ was believed to have performed. Theologian Christopher Price explains that,
“Mark does not stand alone in his early attestation of Jesus as a miracle worker. The so-called “Q” source, widely regarded to have been used both by Luke and Matthew despite some present day dissenters, also provides us with attestation of Jesus’ miracle working. Q, although generally considered to be a sayings source, narrates Jesus’ healing the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Furthermore, Q contains several statements attesting to the fact that Jesus was a miracle worker, including Jesus’ statement to the disciples of John the Baptist’ inquiry as to whether Jesus was the messiah: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Matt. 11:4-5. See also Matthew 10:1-8; 11:20-24; 12:22-32 par. Accordingly, although demonstrating no interest in “playing up” Jesus’ miracles, Q nevertheless provides independent attestation of Jesus’ miracle working” (4).
Attestation in Q suggests Christ was believed to be a miracle worker early on and that this component to his person wasn’t a belief arising decades or centuries later due to mythological embellishments and fabrications. This early testimony means that Christ’s miracles must be taken seriously if one wishes to understand him historically. The following miracles and exorcisms are found within Q material:
The healing of the centurion’s servant (Q = Matthew 8:5-13/Luke 7:1-10)
The first miracle is the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant. When the centurion heard of Christ he sent some elders of the Jews to request for the healing of his servant. Christ agreed. While on the way the centurion again sends people to tell him not trouble himself. Evidently the centurion did not consider himself worthy to have Christ under his roof. Instead, the centurion requests for Christ to say the word and have the servant healed from where he is. Christ obliges and when those who had been sent by the centurion returned to the house they found the servant well.
Christ affirms John the Baptist’s question (Q = Matthew 11:2-6/Luke 7:18-23)
While experiencing persecution, John the Baptist comes to doubt that Christ was really the one sent by God. John sends some of his disciples to Christ to ask: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Christ’s response was not to condemn John’s doubt but attest to his own feats, which included supernatural healings. Christ explains this to John’s disciples and instructs them to,
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
Here Q suggests that Christ really believed he had healed the blind, deaf, lame, lepers, and raised the dead.
Christ casts out a demon and is accused of doing so in Beelzebul’s name (Q = Matthew 9:32-34/Luke 11:14-23)
A man is possessed by a demon that Christ casts out of him, which led many witnesses to marvel at Christ’s power. Others, however, accused him of casting “out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.” The accusation was that Christ derived his supernatural power over the demons not from the true God of Israel but from the devil or some demonic force. But Christ challenges them on this accusation by attempting to show their mistake in attributing his power to Satan. This event is also attested in Mark’s gospel (3:22-27), which means that two early and independent sources attest to Christ’s exorcism.
Christ affirms the existence of demons and what happens to them after exorcism (Q = Matthew 12:43-45/Luke 11:24-26)
Christ explains that,
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
Although one could debate what the details of this text mean, it is clear that Christ believed demons existed. He also believed that there were many such entities with varying degrees of evilness who could be expelled from people. Christ did not only accept demons as a supernatural reality but was also actively involved in expelling them from human beings.
1. Bock, D. 2010. Who Is Jesus? Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith. p. 16.
2. Ehrman, B. 2015. Q and the Passion Narrative. Available.
3. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making Volume.
4. Price, C. 2004. The Miracles of Jesus: A Historical Inquiry. Available.