Is Matthew the author of Q?

Posted: 21st December 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

In the introduction to his commentary on the gospel of Matthew, William Barclay quotes an early church historian named Papias:

Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew tongue.

The hypothesis would be then that the narrative portions of Matthew’s gospel were edited from Mark’s account and merged with the above mentioned “sayings of Jesus” collected by the apostle Matthew. Who the author/editor of the gospel is remains shrouded, but why not consider Matthew himself as the author of Q?

  1. Nick Norelli says:

    I’d say that the best reason to not consider Matthew as the author of Q is that there is no Q! Q is the scholar’s Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. It’s a figment of the scholarly imagination with no historical or textual data to support any kind of belief in it. Q quite simply does not exist.

  2. bethyada says:

    I have read something similar previously, may have been at While I do not have a lot of sympathy for the existence of Q, if one considers some pre-gospel material may have existed that was referenced by Luke and Matthew—and that is called Q—then this could be such things as oral tradition, or written material. If Matthew did write some sayings in Hebrew then he wrote the whole gospel referring his earlier work and Mark which had been written independently, then we have an explanation for the Matthew Luke material as well as confirmation of the early suggestions that Matthew was the first gospel written, albeit the Hebrew draft not the Greek final.

    I think the existence of stories, the likelihood that Jesus probably told some stories several times, and the relatively limited choice of Greek phraseology if one is reproducing factual events; means that the existence of a Q is not mandatory to explain Luke and Matthew.

  3. CD-Host says:

    That’s kind of an interesting idea. The problem with it is:

    There isn’t a single author of Q. There really are 3 Q’s:
    Q1 — A collection of sayings which have a cynical (philosophical movement not modern meaning) bent “render unto caeser what is caeser’s”
    Q2 — A collection of apocalyptic sayings
    Q3 — A collection of narratives regarding religious disputes

    Moreover almost no one who believes in Q believes that the author of Matthew is the author of Q. So while they could believe that Matthew, the companion of Jesus, is the author of Q they couldn’t then believe he authored Matthew.

    As for Nick’s comment …. I have yet to see anyone who denies the existence of Q put together a plausible theory of the origins of the gospels. Theories like the primacy of Matthew were abandoned only when the evidence against them simply became overwhelming. 19th century scholars didn’t adopt Q because they wanted to. 19th century Christian liberals theologically wanted the gospels to have more legitimacy than the epistles, in trying to prove the authenticity of the gospels they found the exact opposite of what they wanted to be true.

  4. CD-Host says:

    Bethyada —

    The problem with the Hebrew Matthew being 1st that there are elements of Greek and Latin structure in Hebrew Matthew. I.E. the text reads like a translation from the Latin not an original. Second the are elements of medieval Jewish thought in some of the manuscripts. Hebrew Matthew is almost certainly a medieval translation from the Vulgate done by people of a Jewish background or aimed at the Jewish community.

  5. CD: So while they could believe that Matthew, the companion of Jesus, is the author of Q they couldn’t then believe he authored Matthew.

    Yes, this is what I assumed as well. Matthew as the author of the “Q” text(s), then a later editor who combined Mark’s narrative with “Q” to create “The gospel according to Matthew”.

    Bethyada / CD – I’ll have to study up more on the Hebrew Matthew. All of this is rather outside my sphere of knowledge.

  6. CD-Host says:

    El –

    I’ll push a little more here. And if it starts getting uncomfortable, feel free to ignore. Why do you need a Matthew to have written Q? I’ll assume you agree with the 3 part decomposition. And if that is the case, that Q is later redacted couldn’t it be:

    Q1 — Popular cynic sayings in the “Q community”
    Q2 — Stories about John the Baptist
    Q3 — Stories about the Q community and their conflicts with Pharisees and Sadducees?

    In other words what does Matthew add? Again feel free to ignore?

  7. I’ll be honest, CD – I know virtually nothing about scholarly work behind identifying the Q text(s). The quote in Barclay caught my eye and I threw it out here hoping to get some feedback (which I thank you and the other commenters for!). So take any discussion here with a large grain of salt.

    I would think that “to need Matthew to have written Q” would spring from desiring apostolic-type credibility to the gospel texts. Once you’ve decided that the Gospel of Matthew was edited from multiple sources, it’s natural to want to know what those sources are. If you can say that one source was Mark and another was the apostle Matthew, that’s pretty good eyewitness evidence for someone to move from a “Matthew wrote the whole thing” position and still retain a level of faith-trust in the texts.

  8. CD-Host says:

    El —

    Well one of the nice things about this theory is there isn’t much to learn. It isn’t complicated and doesn’t require much skill at all. You look for large phrases in both Luke and Matthew not present in Mark. And you make a list, like this or as a gospel. That’s it you just constructed a Q for yourself. Now you’ll find some iffy passages not in that list which you weren’t sure about and maybe some of them you included but basically you’re list will look like that one.

    As for my question perhaps I was being too opaque. Having somebody be an eye witness is useful, no doubt. The question is …. why suspect that given the contents of Q? Go through the passages tell me if that reads like a witness? As for Mark no one has him being an eye witness, even the tradition has him just recording Peter’s stories. I don’t agree but that is another topic.

  9. CD: As for Mark no one has him being an eye witness, even the tradition has him just recording Peter’s stories. I don’t agree but that is another topic.

    Really? I thought the consensus was that the naked young man escaping into the night in Mark 14:51-52 was John Mark himself.

  10. CD-Host says:

    I did misspeak a little. Even if that was Mark what I meant to say was eyewitness to the events like an apostle. Most of Mark the naked man couldn’t have been present for.

    In terms of the story, that was never the consensus AFAIK, just sort of a “maybe, maybe not”. There was a question why the story was there, it didn’t advance the plot. We now have 2 very likely reasons:

    1) It is thematic to Mark. In other words Mark makes heavy uses of symbolism and the naked man is a great symbol for the followers running “naked” (i.e. forgetting everything) concerned only about their fate.

    2) He is a left over piece regarding initiates into the secret knowledge of Christianity. There is a passage in secret Mark (very old version of Mark with additional materials) which has a passage regarding men having to be almost naked while they participated in the secret rites. The man running away in canonical Mark may be a left over piece from that theme which was all removed early.

  11. Interesting – you’ve given me even more to look up and read about. I appreciate the thoughts and insight – thanks!