The nature and background of the logia

"The omission of Aramaic is one aspect of a general failure to see the Q material within the culture in which it was produced."
M. Casey, "An Aramaic Approach to Q" (CUP, 2002, p.185)

  1. Distinctive characteristics

    These sayings contain no significant narrative elements. Most are, or contain, aphorisms. There are similitudes, but no full parables.
    The document's Jewish background is clear from its references to God, prayer, the law and a variety of Old Testament heroes. Also it has slighting references to Gentiles (Mk 10:42; Mt 5:47; 6:32; 10:5). There would be no time for a mission to them (Mt 10:23). The most important theological concepts are the kingdom of God and the coming of the Son of man. There is no trace of the theology of Paul.
    The author had a special interest in praising the poor (Lk 6:20b) and denouncing the rich (Eye of needle). There is no reference to miracles. [1]
    The frequent mention of obstacles, the default of "against" in 'For/against', and the references to "few" (Mt 7:14; 9:37; 22:14) suggest a minority struggling against powerful rivals. Thus the logia matches a scenario of Christian Jews under threat on one side from more orthodox Jews, and on the other side from Pauline Christians.

  2. Date of composition

    With neither a mission to the Gentiles, nor any Pauline influence, nor any hint of the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the logia must have been published ca. 40-45 CE. Confirmation can be sought in the evidence that some of Paul's rivals possessed copies of the logia and were using them in their preaching at Corinth.
    There is also a clear reference to the logia in 1 Thessalonians:
    "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night ... keep awake" (1 Thess 5:2,6, c.f. "Keep awake ... day your master is coming ... time of night the thief was coming" in saying D14).

    As 1 Corinthians was written ca. 55 CE, and 1 Thessalonians was written ca. 50 CE, this evidence is consistent with a date of ca. 40-45 CE for the logia.

  3. Language

    Q is generally considered to have been written in Greek. However it does not follow that the logia should be assumed to have been in Greek. Many of the passages which are widely quoted as showing extensive linguistic agreements (e.g. Mt 3:7-10 // Lk 3:7-9; Mt 12:43-45 // Lk 11:24-26; Mt 23:37-39 // Lk 13:34-35) were not in the logia. Neither was the Temptation story, so the fact that its quotations are dependent on the LXX [3] has no bearing on the language of the logia.
    An Aramaic source also seems to be essential to explain several apparent translation variants, e.g. "leap" in Lk 6:23 as an interpretive rendering of an Aramaic word correctly translated as "rejoice" in Mt 5:12 (sic). [4]
    The definitive argument that the original language of Q was probably Greek is set out by Kloppenborg. [5] However with a distinctly non-random set of pericopae removed from Q, Kloppenborg's conclusion does not necessarily carry over to the logia. For absent from the logia are Q 11:20 and 12:42, which contain the two cases of αρα, and also Q 7:24 and 11:14 which contain the only two probable instances of genitive absolute. Kloppenborg used both of these observations to support his conclusion regarding Q. These and other factors could well sway the balance towards an Aramaic original for the logia.
    Aramaic would also help to explain the demise of the logia as a distinct document. For as the geographical centre of Christianity moved westwards, so its proportion of Aramaic speakers must have decreased.

  4. Place of origin

    Acts presents a picture of James the brother of Jesus, the leader of the Christian Jews in Jerusalem, as an authoritarian leader sending out written instructions for Gentile converts (15:19 f.) and even telling Paul what to do (21:23 f.). Paul writes about false brethren sent to "spy out our freedom" (Gal 2:4) and indicates that even Peter had to toe the line (Gal 2:11-12). It is therefore unlikely that an important document by Christian Jews published in the decade 40-50 CE could have originated anywhere except in Jerusalem under the authority of James. The document's rural background (birds, flowers etc.) is adequately explained by the strong Markan tradition of Jesus' Galilean origin. Naturally Jesus' original disciples knew his sayings better than anyone else. Also their first language is usually taken to have been Aramaic.
    For confirmation of the connection with James, we turn to the document itself. The logia sayings open with "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God". [6] This beatitude looks distinctly odd as an opening for the sayings collection. Why the poor? However in Gal 2:10 Paul wrote: "only they would have us remember the poor". Clearly a concern for the poor was extremely important to James, Peter and John, the pillars of the Jesus community in Jerusalem. Moreover we know this was not just a casual remark, for Paul put a lot of effort into organizing and delivering a collection for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor chs. 8-9; Rom 15:25-26). Placing "Blessed are the poor" at the beginning of the collection of Jesus' sayings was an appropriate way of expressing this special concern.

  5. Conclusion

    The logia was a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus and thus belonged to the same genre as the extant Gospel of Thomas. Its theology was centred on the kingdom of God and the coming of the Son of man. It contained four distinct sections, in each of which the sayings were carefully arranged, thus inhibiting major editorial revision.
    Finally Acts and Galatians are united in their testimony that James was the most authoritative figure in the early Jesus movement. Consequently we can be sure that this collection of sayings could not have been issued without his authorization.

    For the identity of the editor of the logia, go to the next page on this site.


1. "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.
2. c.f. D.C.Allison, The Jesus Tradition in Q (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity, 1997) 55, n.244
3. U.Schnelle, The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings (ET, London: SCM, 1998) 187
4. J.S.Kloppenborg Verbin, Excavating Q: The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000) 77. In criticizing this suggestion of M.Black, Kloppenborg apparently misses Black's point that mere redactional preference would not have been enough to cause Luke to break the parallel with χαρητε. Kloppenborg also casts doubt on Luke's knowledge of Aramaic (Ibid,75-76). However when editing Mark and replacing τον καναναιον (Mk 3:18) by τον καλουμενον ζηλωτης (Lk 6:15), Luke showed that he recognized καναναιον as a transliteration from the Aramaic, and that he knew how to translate it into Greek.
5. J.S.Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) 51-64.
6. The majority of scholars rightly take as original the Lukan "poor" rather than the Matthean "poor in spirit".