Notes on the Sayings of Jesus

All these sayings are poetic aphorisms. Two-thirds of them exhibit parallelism in one form or another. As this is a primary characteristic of Semitic poetry, an origin in the Greek language can be ruled out, whereas an origin in the Aramaic language is highly plausible.

id label comment
A1 Beatitudes The opening clause: "Blessed are you poor" must indicate one of the primary concerns of the editor. It matches perfectly the concern of James, Peter and John (Gal 2:9-10a), to which Paul responded not only with words (Gal 2:10b), but also with deeds (2Cor 8 & 9; Rom 15:26). It clearly indicates the Sitz im Leben of the logia: a collection of Jesus' sayings edited by James et al. in Jerusalem.
Matthew replaced "poor" by "poor in spirit", moved the saying about those who mourn into second place, and the saying about the meek into third place, in order to establish in the first three places those blessings which have the clearest allusions to Isaiah 61, c.f. [Davies & Allison, Matthew, I (1988) 437]. He also composed two of his own blessings (Mt 5:9-10).
Luke omitted the middle three blessings in order to leave four blessings to which he then added four matching woes.
Luke's "leap" (6:23) appears to represent an inferior translation of the Aramaic for "rejoice" or "be glad", rendered more accurately by Matthew (5:12) according to M.Black.

Most significantly, the original order of the blessings as now set out is supported by the one-to-one relationship between the blessings and the woes, forming yet another series of links:
1. kingdom of God // kingdom of God
2. hungry // plate
3. mercy // mercy
4. meek // (the opposite) choosing places of honour
5. pure in heart // (the opposite) unmarked graves
6. mourn // burdens, c.f. the people of God mourning because oppressed [Davies & Allison, Matthew, I (1988) 448]
7. prophets of old persecuted // prophets of old persecuted
A2 Salt Mark reflects the original Aramaic with "loses its saltiness" (Mk 9:50). The phrase in Matthew and Luke (literally "becomes foolish") is a mistranslation.
A3 Lighting a lamp The saying "presupposes the typical , one room Palestinian peasant's dwelling" [Davies & Allison, Matthew, I (1988) 477].
A4 Law Mark naturally detested this recognition of the resilience of the Jewish law, so he transformed it into a saying about the resilience of the words of Jesus (Mk 13:31).
A6 Hand/eye In the logia the sentence about the hand preceded the sentence about the eye, as in Mark. In Mt 5, Matthew has reversed the order so that the sentence about the eye immediately follows the lustful gaze of Mt 5:28.
The word "hell" translates the Greek γεεννα, which in turn transliterates the Aramaic word for the Valley of Hinnom, which contained a vile rubbish tip and became a metaphor for hell.
A8 Love enemies Sending rain is better matched with making the sun shine, rather than making the sun rise (Mt 5:45). Matthew's "rise" was probably a misunderstanding of an ambiguous Aramaic word, c.f. [Davies & Allison, Matthew, I (1988) 555].
A10 Teacher/disciple Luke has retained the more original version of the saying. In Mt 10:24-25, Matthew has conflated this logia saying with its parallel 'Ruler/servant'.
A11 Be like a child A Semitic original may lie behind the Greek of "become again like", c.f. [Davies & Allison, Matthew, II (1991) 758].
A12 Eye of needle The second half of the first section opens with a criticism of the rich (Mk 10:25) to complement the blessing of the poor which opened the first half.
A13 Speck/eye Creed noticed that the 'speck in the eye' is less well placed in Luke than in Matthew [Drury, The Parables in the Gospels (1985) 128].
A15 Pearls/swine Both Mark and Luke rejected this patently anti-Gentile saying.
Matthew's "what is holy" is a mistranslation of the Aramaic for "ring" (M.Black).
A16 Two gates The parallel with 'Two masters' based on "two" is dependent on the Matthean version here being more original than the Lukan version, as argued by Schulz and Guelich [Davies & Allison, Matthew, I (1988) 695, n1].
A17 Good tree The reference to "evil" fruit (Gk πονηρος, c.f. Mt 7:17) looks strange. This word may have been chosen by the editor of the logia in order to produce three consecutive sayings referring to good and evil (A17, A18 and A19), just as the following three sayings use the verb "do". Luke understandably preferred to describe the fruit as "rotten" (Gk σαπρος , Lk 6:43).
A18 Good treasure "the mouth speaks" is a Jewish idiom.
A19 Ask With a sayings source which, unlike Q, has no Temptation story and no preceding prayer mentioning bread, it is now obvious that Luke's 'egg' and 'scorpion' are original. Matthew almost certainly altered them to 'bread' and 'stone' respectively in order to match the bread and stones in Mt 4:3. Mark's version in Mk 11:24 is merely a summary of this logia saying, probably to save space.
A20 Golden rule This and the next two sayings were all about doing. Bearing in mind that the previous three were all about good and evil, the assembly of three sayings about doing looks like the work of the editor of the logia. Consequently the Lukan positioning of this saying in the middle of his adaptation of 'Love enemies' was due to Luke, and not his source.
A21 Disowned The original saying probably comprised something like Mt 7:21 plus Lk 13:26 plus Mt 7:23//Lk 13:27. Luke's repetition of "I do not know where you come from" suggests he has added one of the scenarios. He seems to have added the shut door scenario to blend in with the narrow door in Lk 13:24.
Note that there is no explicit punishment for the offenders. "depart from me" is enough to denote their status, in contrast with that of Jesus' followers in the parallel 'Thrones'.
A22 Rock/sand The message is clear and memorable. In the synoptic gospels, this final saying in the first section of the logia became in Matthew the final saying in the Sermon on the Mount, and in Luke the final saying in the Sermon on the Plain.
B1 Following Jesus I take Luke's "but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" as part of the original saying. There may be a parallel between "bury" and "proclaim" for they look similar in Hebrew. The saying in this longer form makes a fitting start to the section on mission.
Matthew omitted the clause because he had moved the saying out of its original missionary context.
In a dramatically imaginative re-write, Mark transformed the second stanza of this saying into the story of the call of the first disciples in Mk 1:16-20. "Follow me ... leave [your father] ... proclaim the kingdom of God" became "Follow me ... they left their father Zebedee ... [to] become fishers of men". Mark also made use of the 'Follow me' theme in the call of Levi (2:13-14) and the story of the rich young man (10:21).
B4 Instructions "heal the sick" is present in both Mt 10:8 and Lk 10:9. But it could not have been in the logia, firstly because the saying C5 rules out Jesus' use of miracles ("no sign will be given..."), and secondly because there is no indication in the logia that Jesus himself had been a healer.
The kingdom of God is described as "getting near", rather than "near" as in the preliminary reconstruction of parts of B4 from doublets, because in its context in the reconstructed logia it is clear that the coming of the kingdom/Son of Man is time-related (B7).
"salute it" (Mt 10:12) makes a nonsense of "peace" in the next verse. Luke's more literal translation "Peace be to this house" makes sense of the following verse.
B5 Sheep/wolves Was it Matthew or was it Luke who retained the original order of this saying? "I send you out" should arguably come before 'Instructions' as in Luke. However the verse as a whole has the emphasis on the danger rather than on the sending out. The Matthean order is better because the saying then provides a context for being hated (Mt 10:22). It also better retains Luke's order of the woes assuming the pairing is correct. Matthew's (and the logia's) "Go nowhere among the Gentiles ..." (10:5b) indicates the sending out. Luke, having rejected this anti-Gentile text, had to move Sheep/wolves forward in order to achieve a sending out between Harvest and Instructions.
B7 Through all ... Israel This saying closes the mission within a mission which started with "Go ..." at the beginning of 'Instructions' (Mt 10:5b). Mark adapted this saying for his Gentile audience: "the gospel must first be preached to all nations" (13:10).
B8 Formal defence The mention of synagogues here, and also in saying D4, is consistent with the association of Jesus and the original apostles with Galilee. For the only certain evidence for synagogues in Israel ca. 30 CE to 70 CE is in the north of the country.
B9 Nothing hidden That this more substantial saying was presented in the logia as three stanzas, is supported by the observation that the central stanza is framed by "do not be afraid" in its first and last line. With regard to the sparrows, Matthew's "two sparrows ... a penny" is to be preferred to Luke's "five sparrows ... two pennies" [Fleddermann, Q: a Reconstruction and Commentary (2005) 570].
B10 Division This saying inspired Mark to create his own rather different version in Mk 13:12.
B11 My disciple? "Whoever does not take up his cross" is not necessarily a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus. It may be simply a metaphor for self-discipline, or it may hint at the early Jesus movement's anti-Roman stance.
B12 Save/lose The parallelism here is both antithetical (between lines 1 & 2) and chiastic ("save ... lose ... lose ... save").
B14 For/against The reference to gathering and scattering is an allusion to 'Harvest', with which it forms a frame. Note that Mark alters the default to "for", in line with his more optimistic attitude.
C1 Kingdom come! It is unusual to attribute Mt 6:7 to an early sayings source, though D. R. Catchpole does attribute Mt 6:7-8 to Q [Catchpole, JTS 34 (1983) 423]. "debts" (Mt 6:12) is an Aramaic idiom for "sins" (so correctly in Lk 11:4).
The synoptic usage of this saying seems to have been as follows. Luke omitted the sentence criticizing the Gentiles (Mt 6:7), but otherwise retained the most faithful version (Lk 11:2-4).
Mark, perceiving and wishing to hide the messianic focus, transformed it into a statement on forgiveness in prayer (Mk 11:25). Matthew made his own addition to the logia saying (Mt 6:8), but then remembering the Markan adaptation, incorporated that as well, expanding it with its converse (Mt 6:14-15).
C2 Called/chosen The description of the followers of Jesus as "few", as in A16 and B3, confirms the allocation of this saying to the logia.
Paul's threefold repetition of "not many" (1 Cor 1:26), together with his threefold repetition that "God chose" (1 Cor 1:27-28), suggests that he may have been reacting against the preaching of someone at Corinth who used this logia saying to disparage the calling of others (non-Jews?).
C4 Caesar/God To any good Jew, the primacy of the obligation to God would have been clear. But for any who were still in doubt, the fact that this saying was in parallel with a saying about the primacy of the law would have settled the issue.
C5 Request for a sign For the meaning of "sign" (Gk σημειον), see e.g. Jn 2:11, and c.f. 1 Cor 1:22. This saying, by virtue of its presence in the logia, indicates clearly that the earliest written testimony did not claim that Jesus performed miracles.
C6 What you see Only Matthew has και τα ωτα υμων οτι ακουουσιν (Mt 13:16), which completes the parallel with the second verse. But the parallel theme "eye(s)" supports the view that this phrase was not original, and most Q scholars take the phrase as Matthean redaction. Matthew has probably added the phrase to match the seeing and hearing in Jeremiah's words echoed a few verses before in Mt 13:13.
C7 Womb Luke uses the Greek word φυλασσω ("comply with") in reference to the Jewish law in Ac 7:53. It is thus an indication of the saying's Jewish (pre-Christian) origin.
Mark seems to have adapted this saying and made it into a story in Mk 3:31-35.
C9 Millstone According to Mark Goodacre [Fatigue in the Synoptics NTS 44 (1998):45-58], there is no referent for τουτων in "these little ones", and Luke is suffering from fatigue whilst editing Matthew. But "little ones" probably referred originally (and in the logia?!) to Jesus' disciples [Davies & Allison, Matthew, II (1991) 228-229]. In the logia the adjacent sayings are addressing the disciples. In Luke this saying is prefaced by
ειπεν δε προς τους μαθητας αυτου , suggesting that Luke has correctly understood the meaning of "little ones" here. A similar understanding is indicated by the addition of the phrase "who believe in me" in Mk 10:42.
C10 Ruler/servant This seems to be the only case where Mark has reproduced the original saying (in Mk 10:42b-44) substantially more faithfully when editing the logia than either Matthew or Luke. Note the typical dig at Gentiles in 10:42b.
C11 Humble exalted The parallelism here is antithetical, and also chiastic ("exalts ... humbled ... humbles ... exalted").
C12 Some standing ... The clause "Truly [Aramaic 'amen'] I tell you" serves to emphasize the dramatic presentation of the theme of the section, which is the coming of the kingdom.
The phrase "taste death" is a Semitic idiom (M.Hooker).
When editing the logia, Matthew and Luke both rejected the saying on which Mk 9:1 is based, for by their time it was clear that the prophecy of the kingdom of God coming with power had not been fulfilled. Mark made it look as if the prophecy had in some way been fulfilled in the Transfiguration, and in that context the later synoptic writers could accept it.
C13 Weather signs This saying corresponds to a Palestinian environment, where clouds from the west have come over the sea and thus bring rain, and winds from the south have come over the desert and thus bring heat.
C14 Mustard/yeast I originally had this as two sayings. However the fact that two other man/woman pairings (Lk 17:34-35 and Mt 12:38-42) are clearly together within a single saying, confirms that the editor of the logia would have treated Mustard/yeast as a single saying.
C15 Sheep/coin I had at first thought that 'Coin' would have been a separate saying, if indeed it was in the logia at all. However the double parallel with 'Pearls/swine', and the fact that 'Sheep/coin' is another man/woman pairing (see on 'Mustard/yeast') confirms it as a single saying as far as the structure of the logia is concerned.
C16 Two masters The Greek word here translated "wealth" was a transliteration of the original Aramaic word.
C17 Mulberry tree Mark's "mountain" (Mk 11:23) is probably an adaptation to indicate the temple mount [Hooker, Saint Mark, 270].
C18 Treasure in heaven This seven-line stanza is a beautiful example of chiasm. The first and last lines refer to treasure, the second and sixth lines to moths, and the third and fifth lines to thieves. The middle line contains the phrase used here as a label for the saying, i.e. "treasure in heaven".
Mark took the phrase "treasure in heaven" from this logia saying and wrote a story around it - Mk 10:17-22.
C19 Food & clothing This saying fits neatly into three six-line stanzas, in each of which the first line refers to worrying and the last line provides reassurance.
C20 More given This is a triplet in Luke. The version in Lk 8:18 was taken from Mark. The version in Lk 19:26 was taken from Matthew whilst adapting the parable of the Talents (Matthew in turn had taken it from the logia). Lk 12:48 is Luke's direct adaptation of this logia saying.
C21 Thrones The words "God's kingdom comes, and" constitute the only really speculative piece of reconstruction in the whole of the logia. "in the new world" ( εν τη παλιγγενεσια Mt 19:28) is a Greek concept with no Aramaic equivalent. It is therefore uncertain what logia phrase, if any, it replaced. The most likely guess is that it was a reference to the coming kingdom of God (the theme of section C), and that the apparent contradiction as to whose kingdom it really was (God's or Jesus') contributed to the different formulations in Matthew and Luke. These could have come about in the following way. The 'Similitudes of Enoch' has parallels to the idea of a representative of God sitting on God's throne (J.C.Fenton). However, it seems that Matthew and Luke may not have appreciated this, for each tried in his own way to remove the apparent anomaly of someone other than God sitting on the throne of God's kingdom. Matthew replaced "When God's kingdom comes" by "in the new world", thus not bringing attention to the oddity of the Son of Man sitting on the throne in God's kingdom. Luke introduced the explanation that God had assigned his kingdom to Jesus. On the whole, Matthew's version appears to have been closest to the original saying.
Mark saw the saying as a reward for the twelve, so replaced it with an equivalent saying rewarding all who make sacrifices for the gospel (Mk 10:29-30). As with 'Kingdom come!', Matthew adapted the logia saying (Mt 19:28) then appended the Markan equivalent as well (Mt 19:29).
D1 Hinder entrance According to Gnilka, [Matthäusevangelium 2 (1988) 283], "Matthew has preserved the picture better, for the 'entry' corresponds to the kingdom, not to the key of knowledge" (my translation). Luke wanted to put the woes in the context of a dinner arranged by a Pharisee (Lk 11:37f.). By simply moving the first woe ('Hinder entrance') to the end, he achieved a sequence in which the most relevant woe ('Clean cup') came first.
D2 Clean cup Luke's "give alms" is a mistranslation of an Aramaic word. Matthew has correctly translated it as "cleanse" (Wellhausen).
D3 Tithe mint This six-line stanza is chiastic. "these" in the fourth line refers back to "justice and mercy and faithfulness" in the third line. "the others" in the fifth line refers back to "tithe mint and dill and cumin" in the second line. "blind guides" in the sixth line is a description of the Pharisees, mentioned in the first line.
D4 Seats/greetings This is the only one of the seven woes which Mark included. The phrase "in his teaching" (Mk 12:38) hints that he was selecting from a set of sayings.
D5 Unmarked graves The majority of scholars think Luke's "unmarked graves" was closer to the sayings source than Matthew's "whitewashed tombs".
D6 Burdens Except in the passion story, Matthew and Luke both present the Pharisees as the main opponents of Jesus. But it appears that Luke wanted to make sure the lawyers were portrayed alongside the Pharisees (Lk 7:30; 14:3). So with Fleddermann I take "Pharisees" to have been original, both here and in D1.
D7 Memorials The reconstruction has two seven-line stanzas. Each stanza is at least partially chiastic. The theme of both, as indicated in their fourth (central) lines, is shedding the blood of the prophets. In the first stanza, the third and fifth lines refer to relatives (ancestors/descendants), and the second and sixth lines end with "prophets". In the second stanza, the third and fifth lines refer to scope (town to town/Abel to Zechariah), and the second and sixth lines deal with murder.
Luke's "you build" is a mistranslation of an Aramaic word. Matthew has correctly translated it as "you are their sons" (M.Black). "I send you prophets ..." seems somewhat strange on the lips of Jesus. Perhaps Jesus is meant to be speaking on God's behalf (Stendahl), or perhaps it refers to Jesus sending out his apostles (Fenton).
D9 Look he is ... The "they" in Lk 17:23 has no referent. In the logia it referred back to the false prophets of the previous saying, but Luke omitted to mention them and forgot to adjust the "they" accordingly.
D11 Vultures Even CrEdQ has the saying in this, the Matthean order, which perfectly matches the Matthean order of the parallels 'My disciple?' etc..
D13 Taken/left There is synonymous parallelism between what is written about the two men and what is written about the two women.
D14 Watch/thief This warning to be ready for the coming of the Son of man provides a fitting end to the sayings collection. Paul alluded to the saying in 1Thess 5:2,6.