Introduction

Most of what the four canonical gospels share is derived from a common source1, either Mark’s gospel or a lost work of which Mark is the earliest extant descendant. Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus personally.” “The only difference between The Da Vinci Code and the gospels is that the gospels are ancient fiction while The Da Vinci Code is modern fiction.
Dawkins, 2006

Most of the scientific community errs on the side of caution when trying to answer the ‘why anything’ question, on the basis that their discipline better suits them for answering the ‘how anything’ question. Yet the secular world is increasingly being influenced by champions of atheism that are often noted biologists and cosmologists who seek to answer this ‘why’ question by proposing that over a very long time period, a series of potentially improbable random events all came together at the right time to give rise to what we see around us.

Dawkins refers to a ‘common source gospel or a lost work of which Mark is the earliest extant descendant’. This hypothetical original gospel is known as ‘Q’, from the German Quelle, meaning ‘source’. It is often referred to by scholars as ‘lost’. Not a single fragment of it exists. Nor is there any contemporary reference to it: indeed, it was not until 1900 that the Q theory came into being. So, instead of being lost, Q may be imaginary. That is the conclusion I have reached. The ‘empirical’ Prof Dawkins compares the Gospels to The Da Vinci Code; it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that it is the hypothetical Q, not the Gospels, that resembles Dan Brown’s fatuous thriller. Moreover, he has not even grasped the outline of the Q theory. Those academics who believe in Q (mistakenly in my judgment) have never claimed, as Dawkins does above, that Mark descends from it. They believe that Q inspired those passages in Matthew and Luke not drawn from Mark. Also, they do not suggest that John is derived from Q. Five minutes’ research would have told Dawkins this.

If Q was a major source for Matthew,2 as it has been proposed, why does he make no reference to this source, directly or indirectly? In his Gospel we find 141 verses – 13 per cent of the total – that contain quotes from the Old Testament or allude directly to its content. If Matthew and Luke were heavily dependent on a common source or sources (there are variants of the Q hypothesis that involve more than one ‘lost’ author), one would expect to find these authorities peppered across the Gospels in support of witness testimony, rather as the Old Testament authors are.

Reading the Gospels, I can find no apparent quotes from or analogies to unidentified material. Seen in this light, much modern New Testament ‘source criticism’ and ‘form criticism’ emerges as highly speculative. Indeed, the whole body of such work would appear to me to have been a 200-year diversion into a very long cul-de-sac of epic proportions. Let us take a look at this disastrous wrong turn taken by scholars. This diversion begins with what is known as the Synoptic Problem – though I prefer to put inverted commas around ‘problem’, as I don’t believe that one exists.