Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear Catholic.com visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Dear Catholic.com visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Mary: Secret Gospel Source?

Jimmy Akin

It’s clear that there is a literary relationship between the three Synoptic Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have many passages in common—down to the level of individual words in Greek.

Most scholars have concluded that the majority of these passages are due to Matthew and Luke copying from Mark. In the process of doing so, they both abbreviate Mark’s accounts and polish his Greek style to make it better.

But setting aside the passages that all three Synoptic Gospels have in common, there are still 235 verses shared only by Matthew and Luke.

To explain these, many scholars have proposed that both Matthew and Luke are drawing on a hypothetical common source, which has been named “Q” (from the German word Quelle, which means source).

Recently, I encountered the suggestion that it was the Virgin Mary herself who was behind the Q source, and I was asked what I thought of this possibility.

A careful reading of Luke’s Gospel reveals that the Virgin Mary was one of his sources of information. Luke signals this twice in his “Infancy Narrative,” or account of the events leading up to Christ’s birth and what happened in his childhood.

The Gospels contain subtle cues about who the Evangelists were using as their sources, and these would have been more obvious to ancient readers than they are today.

One such cue is found in Luke 2:19. After recounting the events up to Jesus’ birth, Luke states: “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” That’s a signal that Mary was the source of Luke’s information for the material we have just read.

He may have interviewed her personally or he may have gotten the information by a chain of transmission leading back to Mary, but one way or another, she’s the source.

Luke then describes several incidents taking us down to the discovery of Jesus in the temple when he was twelve years old, and he says, “and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:21). That’s another signal that Mary was the source of the information we have just read—i.e., the reason Luke has this information is because Mary kept it in her heart, and that’s how Luke knows it.

The difficulty for the “Mary is Q” theory is that these passages occur in Luke’s Infancy Narrative, and that is not part of the 235 verses that Matthew and Luke have in common. In other words, it’s not part of the “Q material” that the two Gospels share.

Further, Luke only mentions Mary remembering things in these two passages, suggesting that she was not the source of later material in his Gospel.

So it appears that Mary was (directly or indirectly) one of Luke’s sources, but that she was not responsible for the 235 verses reckoned as part of Q.

What would explain those verses? Many scholars have proposed that there was a “Q document” that Matthew and Luke drew on, but we have no direct evidence that such a document existed, and I think there’s a simpler explanation: Matthew just copied from Luke.

Matthew clearly organizes material that is scattered in different places in Luke, and with the idea of Q being entirely speculative—rather than supported by evidence—it’s easier to explain the relationship by saying that Matthew was an organizer who sequenced material from Luke than it would be to explain why Luke smashed Matthew’s careful organization for no clear reason. As one scholar put it, Luke would have needed to unscramble the egg “with a vengeance.”

I thus conclude that—if there ever was a “Q document”—it was likely just a collection of notes Matthew took while reading Luke, and Luke was itself drawn from a variety of sources.

One of Luke’s sources was the Virgin Mary, though she was not behind the so-called “Q material.”

Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!Donatewww.catholic.com/support-us

Copyright © 1996-2024 Catholic Answers