Is Q Still a Hypothesis? Francis Watson Asks the Question…

In our weekly New Testament seminar, it was a pleasure to have our own Francis Watson presenting on the Gospels (as he now is working on a large project involve, especially, non-Canonical gospels).  He chose a very interesting topic with the title: ‘Is Q Still a Hypothesis?’.

The Synoptic Problem is neither an area I am well schooled in, nor is it actually an area that I find interesting.  But, Prof. Watson did a good job of making the discussion relevant to a wider NT audience.  There were rumors that Watson was going to criticize the majority-scholarship opinion that Q was a real document and that we have all but laid out what it involved and how it was used as a source.  Watson, though certainly criticizing Q-ists (is there a name for Q groupies?), was, more importantly, making a point about method.  Watson argued that we have simply taken Q as law and have settled for reading the Synoptics as an open and shut case of Q+Mark+some redaction = Matthew and Luke.

Watson’s goal was to show that a hypothesis is something that needs to constantly be tested against the evidence (i.e. Synoptic texts) and is never really going to be historical fact given the materials we have to work with.  In order to jostle Q free from the high place of security in which it stands, Watson looks at how some Matthew and Lukan passages make sense if we perceive them through the eyes of the Luke-knew-Matthew (and Mark) model.  Again, Watson was not saying he absolutely favored the Luke-knew-Matthew model over the Q hypothesis (though it seemed that he was implying so much).  Rather, it was a methodological concern that we have forgotten that Q is just a hypothetical solution.

One of the overriding concerns with the Luke-knew-Matthew theory is that Luke, then, would seem to be doing some strange and sometimes ‘irreverent’ hacking away at parts of Matthew (like the Sermon on the Mount).  But, Watson points out that in order for a new gospel to be written, it must make its mark in terms of fresh perspectives on the gospel-story, distinctive themes, or insightful alternative comparisons.  Also, Luke does, in fact, have some very different emphases than Matthew, and Watson surmises that this may lie behind such ‘unusual’ editing.  Again, Watson is not trying to argue for Like-knew-Matthew over Q.  Rather, his master-argument is that we need to study each passage of the Synoptics with both of these two theories being tested (and others?), and not just settle for one solution that mostly fits and leaving it at that.

I enjoyed when it came to question time, because I knew Dr. William Telford was going to be there and that he would champion the cause of Q!  And he did!  His concern, similar to Kuemmel’s, was that, if Luke really did have Matthew to work from, why so much editing?  Why so many changes?  He especially pointed out the very different features in the early chapters (birth narratives, geneaology) and the passion narratives.  Why deviate so far?  At this point everyone looked at Watson as if to say….’just walk away.’  But, no!,  he in fact had a reasonable answer.  Even though the content of Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives are strikingly different, the frameworks for them are parallel- a similarity that seems extremely unusual if they did not know either one’s.

I really did  not think I was going to benefit much from this discussion, but I did.  Indeed, it made me think more about issues of authorship in Paul’s letters.  In fact, one might write a paper entitled ‘Is Pseudonymity in Ephesians still a hypothesis?’  One might ask – was it ever a hypothesis!?  What I think we can take away from Watson’s cautionary statements applied, mutatis mutandis, to Pauline authorship, is that we must let the hypothesis of ‘this can’t be Paul writing here’ still be a hypothesis and continue to test authenticity as a theory as well – at every passage and statement.  Some have treated it as an open-and-shut case, but it is still just a theory!  Actually, I don’t think Watson would like my comparison here, but I do think his methodological concern is applicable.