Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Text of the Common Sayings Tradition

If you didn't catch my last blog post on the Common Sayings Tradition, you can read it here.

The Common Sayings Tradition is a hypothetical very early source of sayings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. It has been collected by comparing the Q Gospel (a source found within the Gospels of Matthew and Luke) and the Gospel of Thomas.

Both of those sources – Q and Thomas – are “sayings Gospels;” that is, they are made up of sayings of Jesus, rather than biographical accounts of his life. The 37 sayings they have in common have been dubbed the Common Sayings Tradition by scholars Stephen Patterson and John Dominic Crossan, who have gone on to assert that these sayings represent a very early thread of Jesus material, and may well be the closest we can come to knowing what Jesus actually said and taught.

Since it does not appear that any prominent source on the Internet has ever published a written text of this hypothetical source, I have decided to create one myself. To compile the list of sayings, I have used Crossan’s references, given in Appendix 1 of his 1998 book, “The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus.”

Of the 37 sayings in the CST, 18 of them have not been redacted in either Q or Thomas (meaning that the two texts stayed true to the original CST source). This doesn’t mean, of course, that the Q version and the Thomas version of these sayings are exactly word-for-word the same. Among these 18 sayings, I have tended to go with the simplest version, because the original oral tradition that would have produced these sayings would have been based on simple word formulas. Only 7 of the 37 sayings have been redacted in both texts. When one text redacted the CST, but the other did not, I have used the non-redacted material in creating my reproduction. In the case of the 7 sayings that are redacted in both sources, I have given the sayings in both forms.

Of course, no implication is intended that this is a complete list, or that anything not found in the Common Sayings Tradition is, by definition, not an authentic saying of Jesus.


1. So I say to you: ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

2a. [The kingdom of God] will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, “Look, here!” or “Look, there!” Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

2b. The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.

3. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.

4. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Don’t do the things you hate.

5. When you go into any region and walk about in the countryside, when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal the sick among them.

6. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

7. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

8. [The kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.

9a. For this reason I say, if the owners of a house know that a thief is coming, they will be on guard before the thief arrives and will not let the thief break into their house and steal their possessions. As for you, then, be on guard against the world. Prepare yourselves with great strength, so the robbers can’t find a way to get to you, for the trouble you expect will come.

9b. But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

10. You see the sliver in your friend’s eye, but you don’t see the timber in your own eye. When you take the timber out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend’s eye.

11. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

12. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, nor does one put it in a hidden place. Rather, one puts it on a lamp stand so that all who come and go will see its light.

13. If a blind person leads a blind person, both of them will fall into a pit.

14. One can’t enter a strong person’s house and take it by force without tying the man’s hands. Then one can loot his house.

15. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you? And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

16. Woe to the Pharisees! They have taken the keys of knowledge and have hidden them. They have not entered nor have they allowed anyone else to enter.

17. Whoever has something in hand will be given more, and whoever has nothing will be deprived of even the little they have.

18. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

19. Grapes are not harvested from thorn trees, nor are figs gathered from thistles, for they yield no fruit. Good people produce good from what they’ve stored up; evil people produce evil from the wickedness they’ve stored up in their hearts, and say evil things. For from the overflow of the heart they produce evil.

20a. From Adam to John the Baptist, among those born of women, no one is so much greater than John the Baptist that his eyes should not be averted. But I have said that whoever among you becomes a child will recognize the Father’s kingdom and will become greater than John.

20b. I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

21. A person cannot mount two horses or bend two bows. And a slave cannot serve two masters, otherwise that slave will honor the one and offend the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.

22. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

23. Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

24. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

25a. Two will recline on a couch; one will die, one will live.

25b. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.

26a. I am the one who comes from what is whole. I was granted this from my Father.

26b. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the son, and anyone to whom the son chooses to reveal him.

27. Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”

28a. Fortunate are you when you are hated and persecuted; where you have been persecuted, they will find no place [of rest]. Fortunate are those who have been persecuted in their hearts: they are the ones who have truly come to know the Father.

28b. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

29. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

30. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

31. Seek his treasure that is unfailing, that is enduring, where no moth comes to eat and no worm destroys.

32a. Why have you come out to the countryside? To see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a person dressed in expensive clothes, like your rulers and your powerful ones? They are dressed in expensive clothes, and they cannot understand truth.

32b. What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”

33. Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

34. Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Don’t you understand that the one who made the inside [of the body] is also the one who made the outside?

35. If you have money, don’t lend it at interest. Rather, give it to someone from whom you won’t get it back.

36. The Father’s kingdom is like a woman. She took a little leaven, hid it in dough, and made it into large loaves of bread.

37. The Father’s kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, “I love you more than the ninety-nine.”

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