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8.4 Q and The Narrative Gospels

Mark wrote his version of the Gospel just after the war, and after the final writing of the Q3 addition dated around 75 AD. Mark’s Gospel can then be dated between 75 and 80 AD. Mark and his followers thought that the destruction of the Temple was what the Jews deserved as their leaders did not follow God’s orders and, in addition, the synagogues had rejected the Jesus movement. Mark wrote his history of Jesus to give the impression that all Jewish leaders had rejected Jesus. For this reason he described Jesus’ crucifixion as the result of a plot by the Jewish leaders to get rid of Jesus because he had challenged their religion, law, and authority. This he was able to do because the Jerusalem establishment and Temple did not exist anymore.

Q was very useful to Mark as it had already put Jesus at the hinge of an epic-apocalyptic history. It also included prophetic predictions, the announcement of the final judgement, and it contained a large number of other themes useful to his Gospel. The figure of the Son of Man and the notion that the Kingdom of God would only be revealed when He (i.e. Jesus, according to Mark) would reappear, created some difficulties to Mark. Other themes contained in Q such as the John-Jesus duality, the figure of the Holy Spirit, the description of Jesus as the all-knowing being, the notion of Jesus as the Son of God, as well as his apocalyptic predictions taken as his instructions to his disciples could be used in a very powerful way.

Mark had to recast the stories he found in Q. As an example he changed the roles of John and Jesus. Mark tells us that John knew his role as Jesus’ precursor, he invented that he baptised Jesus, and this event is used to introduce Jesus to the readers as the son of God endowed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus appearance in Jerusalem had to take place in an important occasion, to result in a big disturbance that would justify his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Mark described four groups of participants. The people who listened to the preacher Jesus and appreciated Him as a healer. The Jewish leaders that realised that Jesus had to be destroyed if they wanted to keep their power, but they did not see that he was the king-to-be. The disciples who were instructed about the future Kingdom of God but did not understand the implications. The fourth, and last group, composed of the demons knew what was going on but were forbidden to tell. Mark left out most of the Q1 instructions as there was no place in his story for Jesus instructing people in the ethics of Jesus movement. Moreover it was the mythical Jesus who had to be killed, and not the Jesus known to his movement. This mythical figure of Jesus, a king-to-be challenging the authorities, had to be killed, whereas the justification to crucify him because he was teaching Q1 would have been more difficult to explain. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus teach the Sayings only to his disciples, and Mark is very careful about which ones to mention, as he does not want to give to much importance to Q. He really wanted to present Jesus as a martyr for the Kingdom of God, not as a sage. Now there are two important texts among the Jesus people: Q and the Gospel written by Mark.

Another group of Jesus people followed the Gospel of Thomas that describes Jesus as a sage. For this group, Jesus’ teaching allowed the individual to withstand the society pressure to conform. These people did not accept the later apocalyptic pronouncement and they went their own way. They also believed that Mark’s Gospel was nothing less that a betrayal of Jesus, since Mark’s group viewed itself as a determinant factor in the course of human history. The Coptic Gospel of Mark is a translation of a Greek original written in the last quarter of the first century. It contains many sayings of Jesus. Compared with Q, one-third of the saying in Thomas’ Gospel have their equivalent in Q, and 60% are from the Q1 layer. This shows that this Gospels has its roots in the early stages of the Jesus movement to which it was closely linked. Later on the Thomas tradition became more independent as shown by the use of dialogue to present the sayings, the reference to Jesus’ disciples is often collective, a large part of the teaching has no parallel in Q and, finally, some of the sayings are presented in riddle-like form. This text was written as a revelation document available, and understandable, by the people of Thomas community which is different, and separated, from the Q and Mark communities.

About 85-90 AD Matthew put Mark and Q together, although his sympathies were with Q. It is probable that he belonged to one community of the Q tradition. The members of this community must have gone on with their studies and had accepted the Gospel of Mark. This is shown by the fact that Matthew presents solutions to many issues still open for the people of Q, at the Q3 stage. Matthew accepted the basic plot of Mark’ study and made it his own in his narrative Gospel. He gave less importance to Jesus’ martyrdom and softened the presentation avoiding unnecessary reference to violence, self-sacrifice, social and political conflicts. In this writing Jesus is a patient teacher and his description, as Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah and child of Wisdom, is not over stressed. Moreover the disciples are normal intelligent people who understand Jesus’ teaching. Matthew introduced more Q Sayings in his narrative than Mark. For Matthew, Jesus’ teachings, including those taken from Q, are fully compatible with the Law of Moses. For him Jesus fulfilled the promises and predictions of Israel; the destruction of the Temple was only the end of an epoch and the new congregation of Christians (called ekklesia or assembly) was in line with the Jewish legacy. Matthew’s Gospel announced the Christian literature of the second and third centuries AD. It became the preferred Gospel, and the more cited as the source for the teaching of Jesus, although he is highly selective. In particular the Q1 Sayings have lost their strength. Jesus is still recognised as the teacher-founder of the church but the apostles, bishops, and theologians, and not only Jesus, became also the guides for the churches that tried to codify their teachings as the Didache shows. Matthew buried Q in the fiction of Jesus as a Jewish sage.

Luke, who wrote at the beginning of the second century AD, found Q attractive. He tried to trace the beginning of the Christian movement from the time of Jesus throughout the period during which the apostles were founding churches. For him the Church was true to its founders and their teaching. For Luke, to be a Christian meant joining a congregation after being baptised following repentance for the previous sins. A Christian had also to accept the doctrine. Israel had their prophets and Jesus made it possible for the Gentiles to belong to the people of God as preached by the apostles. Luke did not bother about apocalyptic issues, Messianic questions, political confusion, or resentment towards the Pharisees. Luke wanted the Church to find its right place in the Roman world, and that it did not threaten it. Luke used openly Q and Mark’ writings for his own Gospel, but his presentation of the transition from the Jewish religion, to the Jesus movement, to Christianity as we know it to-day, is all his own. For Luke, Jesus was a man who “went about doing good” because the spirit of God was upon Him. Luke integrated Q in his Gospel as an explanation of the past beliefs that help understands Jesus, the prophet-teacher. He used Mark’s Gospel where it suited him, in the same way as he used Q. The importance of the teaching of Jesus lies, not in its all-time relevance, but to remind us that he was a great teacher and a prophet who enlarged the congregation of the people of God to include the Gentiles, and to facilitate the birth of the Church.