Wouldn’t we feel a lot better if Jesus had written his own gospel? I know I would. You know, if he had just grabbed a pen and scroll and sat down under a Kermes oak tree on Mount Hermon and wrote the whole thing? And then signed it: “Sincerely, Yeshua.”
But he didn’t. He died around the year 30 and, as far as we know, he didn’t write anything. Many scholars think he was just as illiterate as 98 percent of the Galilean peasants around him. The first written document that talks about what Jesus said is Mark’s gospel, which didn’t get written for another 40 years! Now, that’s a long time for anybody to hold onto words and snatches of phrases without a video or an audio recorder, and then to translate them perfectly from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English.
No problem, however, if you’re a radical fundamentalist and you believe “inspiration” means exactly what it says; that God just “breathed” these words into the ears of the writers like a dictation machine 40 and 50 and 60 and even 70 years later, and they came out in red ink in your Bible. I don’t believe that, and neither do many good Christians who are leaving the church in droves because they resent being told that their beautiful biblical myths are now historical facts.
And that’s why I’m so happy I’ve discovered the Q Gospel. Some of you have read “The Lost Gospel” by Burton Mack. Mack shows us clearly these 63 verses hidden in the pages of Matthew and Luke. Q stands for the German word, Quelle, and it refers to the possibility of another written gospel or source that existed, but then was lost.
If the scholars are right about this, (and of course, many disagree) we have a text in our Bibles that goes back before the writings of Paul — maybe even to those early days before Christianity began. According to Mack, the Q Gospel was written in three sections over a period of 10-15 years after Jesus died.
If the scholars are correct, here is how it happened:
In the months and years after Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, his scattered followers began to regroup and recall his many parables and sayings, and three Jewish scribes wrote them down — probably in Aramaic — in what we now call the three sections of the Q Gospel.
Q was passed down from synagogue to synagogue (remember: the Jesus-followers were still Jews, not Christians).
Around the year 70 AD, after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jesus-Jews once again, Mark’s Gospel was written down in Greek, using other sources that were available, but not using Q. Evidently, the author of Mark couldn’t find Q.
From 80-95 AD, both Matthew and Luke were written in different places for different audiences. Both quote Mark extensively, but both also quote Q, almost word for word.
So what does this mean? Well, if this theory is correct, these 63 verses of Q (and especially the 20 verses in the first section of Q) bring us closer to the historical Jesus than all the rest of the Bible. It would seem that those early Jesus-Jews were not interested in the mythical stories of virgin births or resurrected bodies the way we are; they wanted Jesus-quotes that would help them live moral lives. Luke and Matthew pick up Q with the story of John the Baptist and his call for repentance, (Luke 3:3 and Matt. 3:1) and carry us to the parable of the 10 Talents. (Luke 19:11 and Matt. 25:14).
Instead of miracles (which appear in the non-Q verses surrounding Q) we hear challenges like: “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Take up your cross daily and follow me” and “Do not judge.” Parables fill out the rest: The Sower, The Good Samaritan, The Rich Fool, The Barren Fig Tree, The Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Lost Son, the Dishonest Manager, and finally, the 10 Talents. No Baby Jesus and no resurrection.
When I separate out these 63 verses of Q and put myself back in those days before the Christians felt it necessary to liven up their history with myth and metaphor and Midrash, I begin to imagine the historical Jesus for the first time. Now, I don’t know if I’m looking at his exact words; I’ll never know that. But I start seeing an image of a vibrant, charismatic, Jewish peasant, unafraid of his Roman and Jewish enemies and impatient with his somewhat slow and stupid listeners. He’s got a message wrapped in colorful parables and flat-out challenges. And the message is simple: “The kingdom of God has arrived. It’s inside of you; wake up and live it!” Period.
This is just a theory, mind you, but it sure gives me something to think about.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.