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Daniel Wallace on Manuscripts of Q

There’s a great moment in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the book, not sure about the movie) when the truly incredible synthesizer on the ship is trying to produce tea. The results? Something almost, but not quite totally unlike tea.

Daniel Wallace asks whether manuscripts of Q still exist, and prefaces his answer with:

A favorite argument against the existence of Q is simply that no manuscripts of Q have ever been discovered. No more than this bare assertion is usually made. But a little probing shows that this argument has some serious weaknesses to it.

He does make some good points regarding the likelihood that Q would continue to be copied if it was absorbed into Matthew and Luke as well as the scarcity of manuscripts dating from the first or even early second century. Thus, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. One always needs to qualify that little line by noting that if there is an event that would definitely leave evidence, and that evidence is absent, that absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence.

Having now tried to attain a record for the use of “evidence” and “absence” in a single paragraph, let me move on to the technical content. Dr. Wallace presents us with eight papyri containing just portions of the gospel of Luke and suggests it’s hypothetically possible that at least one or two of these are actually papyri of Q.

He continues by presenting all the reasons one might reject that hypothesis with respect to a particular manuscript, and what happens next might be described as the case of the mysteriously vanishing evidence. One manuscript of these eight remains after the sifting, and Dr. Wallace’s conclusion hardly seems conclusive:

Altogether, the evidence thus far presented can hardly be said to build confidence that any missing Q fragments have actually been discovered.

You know, that’s what I thought before I read his post, so what’s this “has serious weaknesses” thing of which he speaks?

I do not absolutely reject Q myself. I have simply become less and less confident that it existed. I started on this path reading the works of William R. Farmer, and most recently when my own company published Why Four Gospels? by David Alan Black.

I still feel that the redaction theories for Mark that I’ve encountered are less than convincing. But my confidence in Markan priority and the existence of Q has still been seriously weakened.


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  1. Mike Aubrey says:

    One would wonder why we have manuscripts for Mark at all considering how much of Mark is subsumed by Matthew and Luke. And since that’s the case, its quite difficult for me to understand why Mark would continue to be copied, but Q would not.

    1. I think the nature of Mark provides the largest difficulties for any view. It’s just an odd book, in my view.

      But I think a major difference between Mark and Q would be that Mark has more of its own material, unless, of course, Q also had more material that was never copied. We are, after all, reconstructing the contents of Q from what is quoted. Still, with the small number of early copies of Mark, I would find it unsurprising to lack early copies of Q.

      Still, the evidence Dr. Wallace brings in this post does not advance the case, in my opinion.

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