Scrutinizing the Case for Q: Why Luke Sidestepped the Baptism of Jesus by John

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by Neil Godfrey

Jesus Resurrecting the Son of the Widow of Naim (oil on canvas) by Bouillon.
Jesus Resurrecting the Son of the Widow of Nain (oil on canvas) by Bouillon.

Michael Kok is addressing the arguments for and against Q on his blog where he explores the “history and reception of New Testament writings”. In his latest post he raises the question of whether Luke knew Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Unfortunately his comment policy does not encourage responses from outsiders hence this post.

My own view is that Q is too easily dismissed with assertions like “it is only a hypothetical document” and “Occam’s razor suggests Luke knew Matthew” without actually investigating the arguments in its favour. The questions debated by those who are more aware of the arguments also can often by narrowly focused; historical inquiry ought to begin with a clarification of the broader context of the evidence being evaluated.

I argue below that an anti-Marcionite agenda explains well the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s baptism scenarios.

Before comparing the Gospel of Luke with anything it is worth clarifying what we understand by that Gospel and the scholarship surrounding its genre, its development and its appearance in the historical record. If we find the arguments of Joseph Tyson plausible then we begin with the probability that our canonical gospel emerged in two stages: first a proto-Luke; followed by a heavily redacted treatment of that earlier document to give us our Luke-Acts. Tyson does not dispute Q, by the way, and his model does have “Luke” use Q and Mark, but at the same time he brings together a wealth of other scholarship relating to the question of Luke’s development and emergence in the record that is of relevance to Kok’s discussion.

It is relatively uncontroversial to suggest that an early form of the Gospel of Luke began at 3:1, which has been described as “a very good place to begin a gospel”:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene . . . .

This is also the place where Marcion’s gospel began. Marcion’s gospel did not include the John the Baptist narrative, however. The opening verse was followed with Jesus’ entry into the world (probably starting at Capernaum) preaching the gospel.

For readers not familiar with Marcion: The Marcionite “heresy” flourished in the early/mid second century and taught that Jesus was sent by a Higher God than the lesser Creator God of the Jewish Scriptures. Marcionite teaching held that the Law and Prophets had nothing to do with the true Messiah and were in fact given to the Jews by a fickle god and prophesied of some other earthly messiah of relevance to the Jews only and who was of no account beside the Son of the Highest God.

Although the “tradition” of the Church Fathers held that Marcion’s gospel was a mutilated form of the Gospel of Luke we really don’t know whether or not the original form of Luke contained the baptism episode. The “proto-orthodox” had a motive for arguing Marcion deleted the passage; Marcion had a motive for arguing his gospel was the original one. (One can explore more deeply the related evidence on either side at this point but I am skimming the surface of the argument for the sake of a relatively short blog post.)

If the subsequent stage of the Gospel of Luke was indeed an anti-Marcionite embellishment (as Tyson and several other scholars have argued) — and the evidence for this canonical version of Luke only makes its appearance after the mid-second century — then it is surely safe to conclude on chronological grounds that the “canonical redactor” did indeed know of the Gospel of Matthew.

Further, it is surely relatively safe to think that our redactor had an interest in shaping the baptist scenario to rebut Marcionism.

The question to ask then is whether canonical Luke functions as an anti-Marcionite document, and in particular to ask whether the treatment of Jesus’ baptism functions the same way. If so, does the suggested political context (anti-Marcionite) explain Luke’s differences from Matthew’s baptism scenario?

I think a case can be argued that they do indeed.

Both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew present Jesus as the one who came either to replace or spiritually fulfil the law. Mark’s Jesus was witnessed by the Law (represented by Moses) and Prophets (represented by Elijah) but clearly stood apart from them both as the very Voice of God’s Son — as is confirmed at the Transfiguration. Matthew’s Jesus continued this symbolism: Jesus was witnessed by the prophets (typified by John as Elijah) but stood apart from the prophets as the unmediated Voice of God’s Son and embodiment of the righteous loving nature of God himself (as per the instructions in the Sermon on the Mount).

That is, in both earlier gospels, Mark and Matthew, Jesus was set apart from the law and prophets, being witnessed by the law and prophets. Marcion may not have been comfortable with his form of Jesus being prophesied by the Jewish scriptures, but he certainly would have been pleased with a Jesus who was clearly and distinctly set apart from and above and beyond the prophetic scriptures.

After removing all associations of John the Baptist from Elijah (Luke’s Baptist no longer wears the tell-tale clothing of Elijah) the Gospel of Luke takes one more step and depicts Jesus himself as an Elijah, albeit at the same time one “greater than Elijah” of course. John, meanwhile, is relegated to the backseat with the explanation that he was not the Elijah but one who came in the “spirit and power” of Elijah (Luke 1:17).

Only in Luke’s gospel do we find Jesus explicitly emulated against Elijah. When he and his disciples were making their way through Samaritan territory they were met with inhospitable locals. The disciples wanted the old Elijah to act:

52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them [as did Elijah]?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village. — Luke 9:52-55

Luke’s Jesus compares himself explicitly with Elijah in his sermon in Nazareth:

25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. — Luke 4:25-26

And he follows up Elijah’s Zarephath miracle with the raising of another widow’s son from the dead:

11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” — Luke 7:11-16

Jesus’ ascension to heaven depicted by John Singleton Copley

The same gospel concludes with Jesus departing the scene the same way Elijah departed, by being taken up into heaven. Jesus, being a greater Elijah however, did not need a chariot for the ascent.

All of these points about Luke’s identification of Jesus with Elijah are taken from Michael Goulder’s Luke, A New Paradigm. Elijah is not the only prophetic figure Jesus is identified with in this gospel and there are further arguments for the Elijah-Jesus identification but I am trying to keep this post brief.

The point is that our canonical Luke portrays Jesus as a prophetic figure in the “OT” tradition. The origins of the Church go back to Jesus the Prophet in the mould of the Jewish prophets of old. The beginning of his career was also entwined with the Temple, in Jerusalem. Recall his circumcision and blessing there, and then his boyhood exchanges with the Pharisees there. The author of canonical Luke-Acts is grounding the Church — and its founder Jesus — in the Law and the Prophets as distinct from beyond the Law and Prophets.

I suggest few stronger anti-Marcionite barbs could be constructed.

The final author or redactor of the Gospel of Luke was satisfied with neither Mark nor Matthew as the most effective way to meet his anti-Marcionite polemic.

With respect to the little scenario of the baptism of Jesus the question of Q is lost from view.

We have no way of knowing if the first (pre-Marcionite) version of the Gospel of Luke betrayed any Matthean influence.

The canonical redactor of the gospel, however, has arguably removed all past hints that Jesus was a potentially Marcionite figure who came after the Law and Prophets to replace or supersede them both. Rather, Jesus was the embodiment of those very Prophetic Scriptures. Take that, Marcion!



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31 thoughts on “Scrutinizing the Case for Q: Why Luke Sidestepped the Baptism of Jesus by John”

  1. The problem with Q is that the Q hypothesis is grounded on the assumption of historicity. It was devised to explain how Luke and Matthew came to have sayings of Jesus that Mark didn’t have. If Jesus didn’t exist, Q is undermined totally; likewise, Q cannot be invoked as evidence of historicity since that would be question-begging (a point missed by pretty much every historicity proponent).

    Basically, the arguments for and against Q are only interesting in a context in which historicity is assumed or proven. As such…yawn.

    1. Not necessarily. It is a matter of explaining some of the literary similarities and variations of the synoptic gospels. If Jesus did not exist, there is another question of explaining the character, purpose and possible sources of the different sorts of sayings attributed to him. These matters are of interest to some people of a curious disposition, whether religious believers or not. Have a good sleep.

    2. Q makes the historicity of Jesus more likely because the original ideology that can be found in Q after reconstruction resembles closely similar teachings by Krishna, Shiva, Buddha and other more purely mystic teachers.
      Given the very different type of ideology of the Christian authors of the NT, it does not make sense that they were the ones who authored Q or would have copied it from an external source if they did not think the material belonged to a historical Jesus.
      Besides that, there are two quite different types of Jesus in Mark, the one who behaves like the teacher with power of Q and the more passive Jesus of the Christian passion story.
      The author of Mark would not invent this inconsistency by himself if there was no historical base to the older Q-type of Jesus.

      So even if there is no need to ground Q on the assumption of historicity, it does not seem likely that christians would otherwise have accepted the sayings of Q and the odd dichotomy in the behaviour of the Markan Jesus.
      And that they heavily edited the sayings proves that the christian ideology was uncomfortable with the ideological content of Q.

      1. You realize you are attempting to analyse a document that, even if it existed, is currently completely the object if “reconstruction” by scholars, and, as such, subject to their biases?

        1. Subject to biases as if every interpretation of evidence, but the amount of freedom to reconstruct the text is closely held in narrow limits by the evidence and nature of the hypothesis itself.

      2. Krishna? Buddha? How about something with a slightly higher prior probability and go with well known sayings in the Judeo-Greco-Roman culture? No need to fantasize make-believe scenarios inspired by our personally favourite spiritual proclivities.

        1. You are missing the point. If you closely examin the spiritual philosophy of the core Q sayings, it has nothing to do with Greek culture nor with Judean culture nor with Roman culture. If you closely examin the spriritual philosophies of Shiva, Krishna and Buddha, you will see that they likewise have nothing to do with hindu culture. They all teach universal techniques and truths about how to gain self-realisation (in Q this is called the ‘Rule of God’).
          So it is rather the fantasy or delusions of many researchers of Q which project scenarios that Q must have sprung forth from specifically Judean of Greek or Roman ways of thinking.
          Spiritual philosophy is about univeral truths such as how the human mind can expand faster, it is more like a science of the mind. Science does not depend on cultural differences. The person who initiated Q is clearly not a buddhist or a hindu but someone with a Jewish background, but the philosophy he teaches is very universal and has nothing to do with any religious culture. The christianity which is grafted onto Q however is quite different, it cannot be called spiritual philosophy and it does not understand nor does it respect the content of the original Q sayings.

  2. As David points out Q is nothing more than an attempt to explain overlapping material in Matthew and Luke on the understanding (not a mindless one) that the authors of Luke and Matthew did not know of each other’s gospels.

    Mythicists have had no problem accepting Q — G. A. Wells and Earl Doherty for example. (Probably others but I am unable to double check at the moment.)

    All Q indicates is that there was a common set of sayings attributed to Jesus. Historicity of Jesus (and historicity of the sayings as those of Jesus) is a separate question. Compare the Sayings Gospel of Thomas. Few people believe those sayings genuinely belong to the historical Jesus. Why should we presume historicity of the sayings in Q to Jesus without additional argument?

    The questions raised by the Q hypothesis are serious ones that deserve to be addressed. It is not good enough to flippantly toss them aside because “Q doesn’t exist” or some such mantra. If we are going to reject an argument then it is a good idea to understand it first and the problems it attempts to address and those it raises.

    I personally think the effort to address the baptism question raised by Q is well worthwhile. The resulting accounting for the differences is a fascinating suggestion, I think — even if it is my own.

      1. Price denies that the Q1 source is a reliable source for the historical Jesus, because Q1 simply shows a common cynical tang and therefore does not imply a single sage existing behind it.

        1. Whoops! That should read “Price denies that the Q source is a reliable source for the historical Jesus, because Q1 simply shows a common cynical tang and therefore does not imply a single sage existing behind it.” Price obviously means “Q1,” not all of “Q.”

  3. Ehrman makes some interesting comments about the genealogies of Jesus that make me wonder if Luke is correcting Matthew:

    “The first thing you might notice is that Matthew’s occurs where you would expect a genealogy of someone: in the context of his birth. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Joseph as the first verses of his Gospel (A long aside: Matthew calls it the genealogy of Jesus, but as you read it you’ll notice that in fact the last person in the genealogy is Joseph, and that Matthew is quite explicit that Joseph is not related by blood to Jesus, since Jesus’ mother conceives as a virgin. And so the genealogy ends by saying that Jacob was the father of Joseph who was the husband of Mary from whom Jesus was born; so this isn’t really Jesus’ genealogy, it’s Joseph’s – and so presumably that of Jesus by adoption maybe?) Anyway, back to my point: Matthew’s genealogy is given at the time of Jesus’ birth. But oddly enough, Luke’s is given after Jesus is baptized as an adult in chapter 3. What a strange place for a genealogy. But I’ll explain the placement in a later post. Here I simply note that the two Gospels put the genealogies in different places. (Luke too gives the genealogy of Joseph, who only “supposedly” was the father of Jesus, as Luke indicates, 3:23). Second difference: Matthew starts with the ancestors and traces the line up to Joseph, from father to son; Luke starts with Joseph and traces the line back from there, from son to father. Third, BIG, difference. Matthew’s genealogy traces the family line back to Abraham – the father of the Jews. Luke’s goes much further, in fact, he goes all the way back to the father of the entire human race, Adam! That’s quite a genealogy. My aunt is very proud of having produced a genealogy of my family going back to the Mayflower. The *Mayflower*?!? That’s *nothing*. Here’s a genealogy that goes back to Adam, as in Adam and Eve!! Even more than that, we are told at the end of the genealogy that Adam was the Son of God. And so in a sense Jesus’ lineage is being traced back to God himself, so that he is his “son” by direct descent. (As, I suppose, if one pressed the logic, we all would be….)
    Scholars have long recognized the significance of this third difference for each of the Gospels. Matthew is often seen as the most “Jewish” of the Gospels and wants to stress above all Jesus’ Jewishness. And so his genealogy is traced back to the father of the Jews, Abraham. Luke wants to stress that Jesus’ salvation goes to all people, both Jew and gentile. And so his genealogy traces Jesus’ family line back to the father of everyone, Jew and gentile – Adam himself. A fourth difference is the one I’ve noted on this blog before: the genealogies are actually at odds with one another. In one Joseph’s father is Jacob, in the other Heli ; in one his grandfather is Matthan in the other Matthat; in one his great-grandfather is Eleazar in the other Levi and so on… . The differences go all the way back to King David. In Matthew’s Jesus’ line is traced through the kings, including the “son of God” Solomon, David’s son (see 2 Sam 7:14); in the other it is traced through another son of David, Nathan. Why this difference? It’s hard to say, but probably neither Matthew nor Luke had reliable information available about Jesus’ paternal ancestry, and so had to come up with names themselves, or possibly their respective sources did, and they simply traced Joseph through different Davidic lines. But the two cannot be reconciled. And I should stress, it is not that Matthew is giving Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is giving Mary’s, as people have sometimes claimed. Read them for yourself: they are both of Joseph.”

    Beyond what Ehrman says, Luke seems to be correcting Matthew’s inclusion of the shady women: Tamar (became pregnant by her father-in-law, Judah), Rahab (prostitute), Ruth (and woman and a Gentile) and Bathsheba (cause of David’s moral failure).

    1. Another interpretation of Luke’s variant genealogy and one that I think is supported by much else in Luke is that Luke is stressing the Jewish origins of Jesus so emphatically that gentile conversions do not appear until Acts — the point being to ground “proto-orthodoxy/catholicism” into Jewish roots, contra Marcion.

      Matthew’s nativity account and his genealogy incorporate gentiles from the outset. Luke (or the canonical redactor of a proto-Luke) removed gentile presence from the early years (and pre-years in the case of the genealogy) for his political agenda.

      As for Luke flipping the switch to push the line through Nathan rather than Solomon — the most satisfactory explanation I have read for that is by Ingrid Heljm. See ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Reviewing chapter 11, Luke’s Sophisticated Re-Use of OT Scriptures.

      Ancient genealogies (and not just biblical ones) did not rely upon “reliable information” — another instance where Ehrman is letting his readers down with apologetics by even suggesting this when he surely ought to know better — but were regularly modified and updated for political purposes. They were political statements.

      1. Are the genealogies considered part of Q? It seems awfully serendipitous that Matthew and Luke would BOTH all of the sudden decide to include genealogies.

          1. It seems very unlikely that Matthew and Luke would both include genealogies out of the blue (since there is no genealogy in Mark or Paul), unless Luke was cribbing off of Matthew.

            1. It seems very unlikely that Matthew and Luke would BOTH include ‘genealogies’ OUT OF THE BLUE (since the genealogies are not a part of ‘Q’ and there is no genealogy in Mark or Paul), unless Luke was borrowing from and editing Matthew. I mentioned this to Dr. Mark Goodacre and he agrees that this is a good point.

    2. In Luke’s Genealogy, Joseph is the only name without a Definite Article. This makes him not part of the actual Genealogy and shows Heli was the Father of Mary.

      Luke’s Nativity is told form Mary’s POV and Matthew’s from Joseph’s.

          1. I am “accusing” nothing. Fundamentalist and uncritical apologetics of the type you have been espousing are not welcome here.

            (Your repetition of the significance of the absence of an article is nonsense. The absence of an article in many manuscripts does not mean the genealogy is about Mary instead of Joseph, as common sense and the slightest acquaintance with koine Greek grammar both tell us.)

  4. Re Sayings, I think we must distinguish between (1) parables, (2) ethical assertions, (4) repartee, (5) apocalyptic announcements, (6) exorcism or miracle commands, and (6+) others. Some of each could nevertheless have been uttered by the same one “real person”. Who knows?

    There are alternatives to Q &c. It may please Occam but it is not necessarily reasonable to set the three existing texts in a single line of direct interdependence.

  5. Thanks Neil for alerting me to this post. I will try to add a link to it when I get around to editing my post. I especially like the parallels you are drawing between Luke’s narrative and Elijah. I do have some hesitance about entering Marcion and an alleged proto-Luke into the equation that I express at the blog (https://jesusmemoirs.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/cautions-about-marcions-gospel-and-the-synoptic-problem/) and provide a bibliography of scholars for and against this theory (https://jesusmemoirs.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/marcions-gospel-a-bibliography/). I have been blogging the Synoptic Problem over the last month and tried to be fair to the classic arguments for and against Q; some of your commenters may find today’s post about Luke’s lack of “M” material interesting based on the discussion that has come up about the genealogies.

    1. There were many episodes in the gospel of Mark that you would think the gospel of John would have included if John had read Mark, but many argue there are still reasons to think John read Mark.

    2. Re your post cautioning against the Tyson-Knox hypothesis:

      — the date of Marcion: I don’t understand how this point undermines the general thesis of a proto-Luke (a proto-Luke does not entail a Marcionite authorship)

      — re Markus Vincent’s views: Again I don’t see how the date of Mark or Matthew affects the thesis of a proto-Luke. I’m quite comfortable with a first century dating for the earliest forms of the gospels. I don’t subscribe to Vincent’s theories.

      — Marcion’s gospel: We don’t really know what was in this gospel or how closely it might have adhered to a proto-Luke; but internal evidence in Luke itself points to a two stage composition (e.g. the confusion over the Nazareth-Capernaum details, the addition of the nativity section, etc) — and the first appearance of Luke in the external record comes at a time of controversy with Marcion.

      — It certainly would help if there was an unambiguous allusion (can an allusion be unambiguous?) to Marcion, but I’d mostly like to see a grappling with the evidence we do have and an acknowledgment where assumptions are filling in gaps in the conventional wisdom.

      Which of the titles in that bibliography do you believe contains the best case against the Tyson-Knox hypothesis re Luke — or against any form of a proto-(pre-Marcionite)-Luke?

      In your more recent post you seem to take Bauckham’s view that the gospels are of the “bios” genre. Do you have posts where you take on the arguments against that view?

      1. It is fair enough that the first two points aim to refute Vincent’s take in particular rather than the much more defensible Knox-Tyson line. The last two points were cautions about whether there is a widely agreed upon reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel from all the alleged fragments that we have before we compare it to the text of canonical Luke and whether there is anything in canonical Luke-Acts that necessitates reading it in reference to Marcion rather than competing scenarios. As for the bibliography, you might be interested in Christopher M. Hay’s response to Klinghardt’s case for a proto-Luke taken over by Marcion in ZNW and the painstaking work of Dieter M. Roth. As for genre, I do not have anything at the moment but I had reviewed some of the literature on the old Mark blog. Best wishes,

        1. I agree that we have little reason to have strong confidence in reconstructions of Marcion’s gospel (I have read most though not yet all of your bibliographical references along with others dedicated to Marcion) but we can have more confidence in some key components of Marcion’s teachings. That is where we see Luke-Acts narrative and saying details that appear to be a strong polemical response to those Marcionite beliefs. Given that our canonical Luke-Acts does not appear in the record as a canonical text “according to Luke” until well into and beyond the second century, I don’t think it is unreasonable to hold to the view that our form of Luke was a response to Marcionism.

          Of course there are other details to the argument, but indications that the canonical form of the gospel and Acts were earlier runs against the evidence that earlier they were not considered “canonical” — and of course there were narratives about church origins that directly contradicted the Acts account in Justin.

          I see your posts are just hitting the very broad arguments for and against so I might pass up further comment on those. My interest is in the nitty gritty of the details within the texts and the array of factors that form the background knowledge that ought to also be called upon in any analysis.

  6. It is worth looking at a Gospel synopsis where the columns are ordered John-Mark-Luke-Matthew, paying particular attention to the relationship between John and Mark, when the Markan text doublings have been taken into account, and the relationship between John and Luke, especially noting where some of the passages in Luke appear to fill in gaps in the Johanine narrative.
    This is left as an exercise for the interested reader, there is not enough room in this text box for me to post the synoptic table and derive the obvious conclusions from it.

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