Narrative Sequence in Q? Or from Mark?


In a couple or so works, Mark Goodacre has argued that the first third of Q has a narrative sequence. [He bases this on the delineation of Q in the International Q Project’s Critical Edition.] His assessment brings into question, therefore, those who would categorize Q as a “sayings source” or “Sayings Gospel”. In The Synoptic Problem (pp. 151-52) he sets out this sequence, making further comments on it in chapter 9 of The Case Against Q. The alleged sequence in Q is as follows:

(a) John the Baptist appears in the region of the Jordan (Mt.
3.6//Lk. 3.3).
(b) John baptizes people with ‘his baptism’ (Mt. 3.7//Lk. 3.7), a
baptism apparently connected with ‘repentance’ (Mt. 3.8//Lk.
(c) John preaches about a ‘coming one’ (Mt. 3.11//Lk. 3.16).
(d) Jesus appears on the scene and there is a baptism involving
the ‘spirit’ in which Jesus is recognized as a ‘son’ (Mt. 3.13-
17//Lk. 3.21-22).
(e) Jesus is led into the wilderness by ‘the spirit’ to be tested as
‘son’ (Mt. 4.1-1 1//Lk. 4.1-13).
(f) Jesus appears in a place called ‘Nazara’ (Mt. 4.13//Lk. 4.16).
(g) Jesus preaches a great Sermon (Mt. 5-7//Lk. 6.20-49).
(h) Jesus finishes his Sermon and goes to Capernaum where a
Centurion’s Boy is healed (Mt. 7.28-29; 8.5//Lk. 7.1).
(i) Messengers come from John the Baptist, asking whether Jesus
is indeed ‘the coming one’ (Mt. 11.2-19//Lk. 7.18-35).

[In this, Goodacre is followed by Francis Watson, who in Gospel Writing (p. 249), distinguishes Q from the Gospel of Thomas on certain grounds, the first of which is that “unlike Thomas, Q contains extensive narrative material (the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptations, the centurion’s servant).”]

But are these really narrative sequences found in Q? Or is it the result of Matthew (then Luke) placing Q material into what is essentially Mark’s narrative sequence? I argue it’s the latter [contrary to the Critical Edition of Q, on which Goodacre bases his narrative sequence]. (In what follows, I leave the larger questions of Q’s existence or Luke’s use of Matthew largely to the side – just so Q skeptics, like Goodacre himself, shouldn’t feel left out!)

Matthew 3:1–4.22, in which the first five elements of Goodacre’s narrative sequence occur, closely follows the sequence in Mark 1:1-21. The parallel material in this passage consists of the introduction of John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-8//Matt 3:1-5, 11); John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11//Matt 1:13, 16-17); Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:12-13//Matt 4:1-2, 11); Jesus’ arrival in Galilee (Mark 1:14a//Matt 4:12); Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of God has come near (Mark 1:14b-15//Matt 4:17); and Jesus’ calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John as followers (Mark 1:16-20//Matt 4:18-22). Matthew expands this with other material, including double tradition (Matt 7b-10, 12; 4:3-10) and material unique to Matthew (Matt 3:7a, 14-15).

The Markan sequence clearly provides the basis for the sequence in Matthew. Moreover, the triple tradition follows the sequence from John the Baptist’s baptism of many people in the Jordan (Mark 1:5//Matt 3:5-6//Luke 3:7), to John’s prediction of the coming of one more powerful than he (Mark 3:7; Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16), to Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10-11//Matt 3:16-17//Luke 3:21-22), and finally to Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:12-13//Matt 4:1-2, 11//Luke 4:1-2). The Q material which refers to John the Baptist and the temptation in the desert need not have itself included any chronological markers. Only when combined with Mark’s sequence did it receive its own sequence. Goodacre’s narrative sequence (a)-(e) is supported by Mark, but not by Q.

What is more, Matthew continues to rely upon Mark’s narrative sequence right up until chapter 8, and this accounts for most of the remainder of Goodacre’s narrative sequence. Matthew’s continued adherence to Mark’s narrative sequence is obscured by the insertion of the large sermon in Matt 5:1–7:27. But we should not let that distract us from the continued dependence on Mark’s narrative sequence.

We had examined the sequence up until Jesus’ calling of his first followers (Mark 1:16-20//Matt 4:18-22). From there, Matthew employs Mark’s statement that Jesus came to Capernaum (Mark 1:21) as his introduction to the healing of the Centurion’s boy in Matt 8:5a. Immediately before the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew had made a more general geographical description of Jesus’ teaching and healing in Galilee (Matt 4:23-25)–which he had also taken from the first chapter of Mark (1:28, 35-39). Then, shortly after the completion of the Sermon, Matthew follows Mark 1:21 in having Jesus enter Capernaum. Matthew employs the following verse in Mark (Mark 1:22) immediately after the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:28-29), describing the crowds as astounded at Jesus’ teaching. The episode of the healing of the centurion’s boy is itself double tradition, so does not appear in Mark. But Mark has furnished the geographical introduction to the healing of the centurion’s boy as Capernaum (Mark 1:22) in close connection to the the crowd reaction which Matthew places at the end of his Sermon (Mark 1:22). Mark’s sequence has therefore provided the material for Matthew’s narrative sequence, even though Matthew has altered the sequence. In addition, Mark 1:23-24 refers to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth”, a reference picked up in Matt 4:13a.

Thus while Matthew does not follow Mark’s sequence in Matt 4:23–8:5 as closely as he does in Matt 3:1–4:22, there is a good basis for attributing the later sequence not to Q but to Mark. Mark’s narrative sequence furnishes Matthew with Jesus’ departure from “Nazara” (Mark 1:23-24//Matt 4:13a//Luke 4:16a), the crowd reaction to Jesus’ sermon (Mark 1:22//Matt 7:28-29//Luke 4:32), and the entry into Capernaum to heal the Centurion’s boy following the Sermon (Mark 1:21//Matt 8:5a//Luke 7:1). Matthew certainly departs from strict adherence to Mark’s narrative sequence, with insertion of the lengthy Sermon and relocation of the account of the healing of the leper (Mark 1:40-44//Matt 8:1-4), but he also–in creating that sequence–relies on Mark’s own narrative sequence. Mark furnishes Matthew’s narrative sequence in 4:23–8:5, not Q. Goodacre’s narrative sequence (f)-(h) is supported by Mark, not Q. And that only leaves (i), which is no longer part of a narrative sequence without (a)-(h).

In conclusion, while Matthew differs from Mark’s narrative sequence in Matt 3:1–8:5, inserting material attributed to Q and other material, it has been argued that Matthew relies on Mark’s sequence in order to construct his own. By comparison with the chronological and geographical markers in Mark 1, we see that the narrative sequence in Matthew 3-8 is – far from a “radically restructured Mark” – based essentially on Mark 1. If we accept the existence of Q, there are insufficient grounds to treat it as possessing any sustained narrative progression. In this respect, Q is much like that extant sayings gospel, The Gospel of Thomas.




14 thoughts on “Narrative Sequence in Q? Or from Mark?

  1. Thanks, Deane. Yes, that’s basically my point. The Q narrative (which I extract from the IQP’s critical text so as not to be tendentious — it’s their reconstruction, not mine) presupposes elements in the Marcan narrative sequence with which Matthew is working. Note in particular that Q presupposes elements in the Marcan narrative that it does not narrate, like Jesus’ fraternizing with tax-collectors and sinners.


    • Hi Mark. Thanks.

      Yet if Matthew is not radically restructuring Mark’s sequence, but dependent on Mark’s sequence, then doesn’t that make it hard to say that Luke is following Matthew rather than Mark?

      Also to clarify, in respect of taking the sequence from IQP’s critical text: is your point here only that the critical text is inconsistent, both claiming that Q is not a narrative text and also including parts of Matt/Luke that betray a narrative sequence? Presumably this is IQP’s inadvertant error?

      And yes, I agree that there are substantive elements in Q which seem to presuppose Mark. It’s the argument from sequence I’m not so certain on.


      • Thanks, Deane. In turn:

        “Yet if Matthew is not radically restructuring Mark’s sequence, but dependent on Mark’s sequence, then doesn’t that make it hard to say that Luke is following Matthew rather than Mark?”

        My point is that Matthew is restructuring Mark but that he also shows his familiarity with Mark in that restructuring. The restructuring is clear — insertion of Matt. 5-7, the collected materials in Matt. 8-9, etc.; this is different from Matthew’s sequential following of Mark in Matt. 13-28, where the divergences in order are only minor. Matthew’s restructuring of Mark is comprehensible but also clear, I would say. And no, Luke’s familiarity with Matthew’s restructuring is clear in elements like Nazara in 4.16 and the Sermon segue in 7.1. That’s why I lay stress in the chapter on narrative transitions.

        “Also to clarify, in respect of taking the sequence from IQP’s critical text: is your point here only that the critical text is inconsistent, both claiming that Q is not a narrative text and also including parts of Matt/Luke that betray a narrative sequence? Presumably this is IQP’s inadvertant error?”

        The comparison between Q & Thomas is their point (ad nauseam in the literature). So I decided to look at Q *as they reconstruct it* and to point out it’s serious divergence from Thomas. We then have to ask the question whether the divergence makes best sense on genre-critical grounds (so Kloppenborg et al) or source-critical grounds (me).


      • That is very helpful in explaining your position, thanks Mark. I had taken your ultimate argument for Luke’s dependence on Matthew as based on the overall shared sequence, which you were maintaining was determined by Matthew (which as my post above shows, is still essentially based on Mark’s sequence). Yet I do agree that the placement of the Sermon where it is, in both Matthew and Luke (even if the shift to Capernaum may be derived from Mark), is better explained on the basis of Luke’s dependence on Matthew. There is also Luke’s sequence of choosing disciples (on a mountain or having just come down?) before his Sermon, which seems to interact with both Mark 1:16-20 and Matt 4:18-24 (the latter shortly before Matthew’s Sermon). So as I’m basically reaching conclusions you’ve already reached in more detail, I’ll leave it there.

        On a related note, what do you think is the nature of the source underlying Matthew 5:1–7:27? Mainly a large written source, or various other sources, or too hard to hazard a guess?


  2. Just a clarification–you write “If we accept the existence of Q, there are insufficient grounds to treat it as possessing any sustained narrative progression.” But that is not to say that there could not have been a narrative source for double tradition material. Under the Farrer theory, that source was GMatt itself. But there are other possibilities.


    • To clarify, I’m saying that the alleged sustained narrative sequence which Mark Goodacre observes in the IQP’s critical edition of Q in fact derives from Mark. So it shouldn’t really have been allocated to Q by the IQP.

      There is no evident sustained narrative sequence in the double tradition that derives from a source other than Mark. At most there is the insertion of the Sermon after the choosing of disciples and before the Capernaum healing – which is more likely to reflect Luke’s knowledge of Matt than anything within the source(s) underlying the double tradition.


      • Well, but the *material* belongs to the DT. And it had to appear in *some* order or other in Q. To me, all of this merely suggests that Q knew Mark, and has therefore been misunderstood.


      • I just don’t think it makes much sense of the substantial content of Q, which is mainly sayings and the like. For example, when Matthew adds the double tradition about the “brood of vipers” (3.7b-10//Lk 3.7b-9), he adds his own introduction making it Jesus’ response to Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism. But it’s not picked up in Luke, who aims it instead at the general crowds. The “brood of vipers” sayings themselves in the double tradition, then, seem to have no sure context in a reply to Pharisees and Saducees or even in John the Baptist’s baptism. It is not at all clear that anything in the double tradition knows anything about John the Baptist’s interaction with Jesus – which, after all, seems to be greatly embellished in early Christian tradition (to the point that Luke has the two meeting while each were in the womb!) This pattern of insertion of double tradition into Matthew and Luke continues throughout both gospels.

        Where the Critical Edition of Q has included some large-scale narrative sequence within its delineation of Q (as Mark Goodacre has picked up), then – in light of the dominant nature of the double tradition as short sayings and its haphazard insertion into Markan tradition by Matthew and Luke – I find it likely to be a mistaken delineation of Q.


      • There is also, Mike, further support for Matthew combining once-disparate sayings in connection with John the Baptist, Francis Watson points out that saying 46 (children of the Kingdom are greater than John the Baptist) and saying 78 (a reed shaken by the wind) in the Gospel of Thomas exist still in independent form, deriving not from Matthew or Luke but from an earlier sayings collection. It is therefore Matthew who has joined previously disparate sayings together in Matt 11:7-8; 11:9-10.

        Following a similar tendency, Matthew has incorporated the “brood of vipers” saying (Matt 3:7b-10//Lk 3:7b-9) and the “winnowing fork” saying in the double tradition (Matt 3:12//Luke 3:17) into the John-the-Baptist tradition (so followed by Luke).


      • Can’t reply to your replies, so I’m putting it here.

        Q is typically regarded as a sayings gospel, but the idea that it contained a passion narrative, for example, goes back a hundred years.

        Again, I agree that the evidence presented here suggests that a “sayings gospel Q” could not have existed, and I encourage you to present and/or publish this research. It’s definitely headed in the right direction, come what may.

        As for combining JtB sayings, look at it the other way: if double tradition combines JtB sayings, why not assume any such combination is actually from the double tradition document? It’s simply that sometimes Matthew copies what Luke does not. We already know he does this in Mark; why not in Q?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s