“Q” (from the German word Quelle which means source) is a hypothetical source that both Matthew and Luke used for the formation of content within their respective gospels.
Q is referred to as hypothetical because it no longer exists in extant form although most New Testament scholars believe that it once did. This is likely given the near word for word agreement between Matthew and Luke where in places they record the same events and words of Christ. There are a large number of Christ’s teachings and stories shared between the two gospels, some of which are derived from Mark 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 that Q,
“must 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 is clear that given that Matthew and Luke’s authors use Q as a source it must predate the authorship of their gospels, and therefore cannot be dated later than 80 AD (roughly the time Matthew and Luke were written). According to the historical method the earlier the material is in relation to the purported events it describes the more weight it tends to carry. Scholar James Dunn says that Q is dated to the 40s or 50s AD, and therefore predates all four gospels (3).
Miracles and Exorcisms in Q
Historians have discovered that Q includes both miracles and exorcisms that 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).
What attestation in Q suggests is that Christ was believed to be a miracle worker at an early period, and that it wasn’t a late belief arising many decades or centuries later due to mythological embellishments or fabrications. Christ’s miracles must therefore be taken seriously if one wishes to understand him in his fullness. 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 Christ’s well-known healing of the Roman centurion’s servant. When the centurion heard of Christ he sent some elders of the Jews to request the healing of his servant. Christ agreed to this but while on the way the centurion again sends some people to tell him not trouble himself. Why? Because the centurion did not consider himself worthy to have Christ under his roof, and rather 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)
At one point in the gospel story John the Baptist, in the midst of persecution, doubts that Christ was really the one sent by God. He 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 to 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.”
According to Q, Christ really believed that he had healed the blind, deaf, lame, lepers, and even raised the dead, all of which took place while he preached the good news.
Christ casts out a demon and is accused doing so in Beelzebul’s name (Q = Matthew 9:32-34/Luke 11:14-23)
On this occasion a man was possessed by a demon that Christ casts out of him. According to the narrative many of the witnesses marveled at Christ’s power while others 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 one true, good God of Israel but from the devil or some evil, demonic force. Knowing their thoughts, Christ challenged them on this accusation and showed their mistake in attributing his power to Satan.
What provides further confidence in this event is that it is also attested to in Mark’s gospel (3:22-27). As such, two early and independent sources attest to Christ’s exorcism which gives it a fairly weighty historical probability.
Christ affirms the existence of demons, and what happens to them after exorcism (Q = Matthew 12:43-45/Luke 11:24-26)
Christ said 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.”
One could debate the details of this text, but it is clear that Christ believed demons existed, that there were numerous such entities with varying degrees of evilness, and that that they could be expelled from human beings (presumably possessed by the demon). Christ therefore did not only accept demons as a supernatural reality but was also actively involved in expelling them from human beings.
As already noted, Q is a valuable source and one that is frequently cited by historical Jesus scholars in their historical reconstruction of Christ’s ministry. As stated, given Q’s earliness Christ’s miracles and exorcisms cannot be deemed late fabrications, and they must be considered carefully and responsibly by those wishing to reconstruct the Christ of history.
[Blog Article first published 06/05/2015. Edited and republished 04/27/2019]
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.