What About God? A Critical Review of “Q, the Earliest Gospel”


The Q hypothesis is an attempt to give the reason for the literary similarities contained in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. John Kloppenborg’s book, “Q, The Earliest Gospel,” addresses the mystery of the literary relationship of these gospels, presenting a number of hypotheses. Kloppenborg asserts that the best explanation for the literary dependence of the three gospels is that Mark and the theorized Q source were used as material for Matthew and Luke.[1] This hypothesis assumes a Marcan priority and the existence of a lost document, called Q, that has been reconstructed with material found only in Matthew and Luke and not in Mark. Kloppenborg’s suggested explanation seems to leave God out of the explanation, relying solely on human action and chance alone to shape the development of the gospels and why the theorized Q source has not been found.


Kloppenborg presents an introduction to many of the popular explanations for the synoptic problem. This book is not meant to be exhaustive of all possibilities, as new ones may be made every day, but he does present the most viable ones according to modern scholarly research. The explanations provided are explained through methods that are simply redaction by human hands and sheer chance in history. Because Matthew and Luke contain most of Mark’s material, but Mark does not contain the majority of Matthew’s, nor Luke’s material, he asserts either Mark combined material from the other two or Mark’s material was used to write other two.

Kloppenborg presents four possible lines of transmission that result in the three synoptic gospels. The first two models are linear; thus, Matthew or Luke was used along with Mark to create the remaining gospel. In either of these linear transmissions, the agreement between Matthew and Luke is mere coincidence.[2] The fourth model requires the conflation of Matthew and Luke to create Mark; but, this complex line of transmission requires two gospels to be in possession of Mark, which is a less possible situation than other models. This, combined with the omission of details from Matthew and Luke, and Mark deviating from agreements between Matthew and Luke, this model becomes increasingly less likely.[3] In the third model, Matthew and Luke both copied from Mark, and supported in that information that Matthew or Luke disagree with Mark is never agreed upon in Matthew and Luke.[4] A Marcan priority then appears to be the most reasonable model for literary transmission.

When analyzed, it can be found that Matthew and Luke share about 4,500 words that Mark does not contain.[5] To explain this, a second source is posited, known as Q. From this source, Matthew and Luke are suggested to have gained the additional material they agree upon. This conclusion, the two-document hypothesis, is presented as the most reasonable explanation by Kloppenborg. Examples of literary dependence are analyzed and shown how the two-document hypothesis makes sense of how the gospels of Matthew and Luke were made possible.  In doing so, Kloppenborg suggests that the Q source was not invented for the sake of invention, but out of logical necessity.[6] This conclusion is well supported through his analysis of agreement in verb use, particles, word order, and vocabulary lend that the simplest and most reasonable explanation as presented is a Marcan priority, two-document hypothesis.[7]  


Kloppenborg fails to give credence to the possibility of divine orchestration as the means to the development of the canonical gospels. Instead, he argues against this possibility by citing that other writings were lost, such as the first epistle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, thus he assumes such epistles were as important as the writings that were not lost.[8] This reasoning ignores that these writings may have been mere Christian writings, but not guided by the Holy Spirit, and not meant to be preserved as prescribed by the will of God. While the first letter to the Corinthians would be interesting to read, it is fully possible that it did not contain any information of great importance for Christians in the universal church. If Kloppenborg finds it important to explain why the synoptic gospels agree in many aspects, but not all, then I argue it is of utmost importance that God is considered in the equation, recognizing He is sovereign over all and will preserve His Word for the church.

Patterson’s Analysis

Stephen J. Patterson’s review of “Q, The Earliest Gospel” is positive towards Kloppenborg’s book. He provides a brief overview of the topics contained within; however, he provides little in terms of critical analysis. Although he speaks of the portions that would be considered questionable by many Christians, he does not opine on those parts, but only provides language that leans toward objectivity, if not in agreement with Kloppenborg.

One might expect Kloppenborg’s use of the Gospel of Thomas as support for the possibility of the sayings-gospel as problematic. As that writing is non-canonical, I would argue that it is not a trustworthy source to form conclusions from, but Patterson is silent on this. Similarly, he does not say whether he supports Kloppenborg’s opinion regarding James D. G. Dunn’s answer regarding why certain documents may not have been preserved. Overall, the review made for a more enjoyable read than the actual book as the Q hypothesis seems to be an answer to a problem that does not truly exist in the first place.


            The true question that should be asked is whether there is truly a problem with the synoptic gospels. While I admit holding presuppositions that the Scripture is God’s Word, written by human authors as influenced by the Holy Spirit, and preserved under the sovereign authority of God, I find that the problem and solution to be an example of tautological argument. The Q source hypothesis exists because the problem of the synoptic gospels was created, but the problem is not really a problem at all. Instead, other reasonable explanations exist that do not remove God’s providence from the equation, and as a Christian, my view, no matter what evidence may suggest, cannot invalidate His sovereign authority. Instead, I must continue my research as to find the missing information or how I am misinterpreting the data, for He is God and I am not. He is perfect and controls everything, whereas I am imperfect and prone to mistakes.

[1]. John S. Kloppenborg, Q, the Earliest Gospel (Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition), 2.

[2]. John S. Kloppenborg, Q, the Earliest Gospel (Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition), 7.

[3]. Ibid., 8.

[4]. Ibid., 8

[5]. Ibid., 12.

[6]. John S. Kloppenborg, Q, the Earliest Gospel (Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition), 20.

[7]. Ibid., 4.

[8]. Ibid., 100.

Gordon Bland
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Gordon Bland

I am a seminary student working toward my M.Div. While I grew up Pentecostal, within my first semester of seminary, I came to a different understanding of the Word and theology. I am now Reformed Baptist. #1689 I love teaching others about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, for it was Christ that transformed me. For a number of years, I was a militant atheist and substance abuser. If God can change me, I know he can do the same for you! I am but a wretch, yet He still chose to give me grace. He truly is amazing and deserves all our praise!

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