Thursday, March 17, 2005

Questioning Q and me

Dr. Anthony Harvey has written an online review of Questioning Q, edited by Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin. Many of us have been introduced to Q, a theoretical source (along with Mark) behind Matthew's and Luke's Gospels. The Q theory has been around for two hundred years and has very nearly become "gospel" for NT scholars, Dr. Harvey notes:
Yet the theory still has opponents. Is their position no longer tenable? Or might it be the case (as these authors argue) that the very success of the Q hypothesis has made its proponents oblivious of its vulnerability; indeed has made them lose the habit of seriously engaging with contrary arguments at all?

This collection of essays by eight American and British scholars is a serious attempt to have the question reopened. They recognise that abandoning Q would be nothing less than a paradigm shift for New Testament studies. But at the very least their arguments demonstrate the fragility of the hypothetical structure that is taken as established by the great majority of scholars. Their project is a wholesome reminder that, despite two centuries of labour and ingenuity, the origins of our four Gospels still remain beyond the reach of any certain knowledge.
How does a scholarly book like Questioning Q relate to transforming sermons? In a couple of ways. First, as Dr. Harvey suggests, Questioning Q is a reminder that the Word of God eludes much of the dissecting, categorizing, and packaging to which we try to subject it. We must avoid the temptation to be arrogant in approaching the Scriptures.

Also, it's a reminder that we should be preaching the Word of God, not human theories about the biblical text. I've heard sermons mentioning the "gospels" of critical studies: Q, JEDPR, second and third Isaiah, etc. Some of those sermons were interesting to my mind, but I don't think they did much to transform my heart. Textual, redactional, and form issues have a place in teaching, sometimes even in the local church. But those relatively few minutes of Sunday morning where the congregation waits for the preacher to open the Word of God to their hearts is not the time for Q. It's the moment "to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." That kind of change comes not through our best efforts, but only through the living Word of God.


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