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Red Letter Edition

Mahlon H Smith,
Rutgers University

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Composition

Although there is no evidence that Q had a sustained narrative framework, neither was it simply a grab bag of random sayings. Rather, judging from parallel passages in Matthew and Luke, it was composed of strings of sayings clusters, some of which were more thematically focused than others. Some sayings were merely linked by common catchwords, others by similar verbal formulae, like the so-called "beatitudes" or parables of mustard and leaven (see clusters 3.2 and 13.1 below). But none were so stable or tightly organized that later scribes, like Matthew and Luke, did not feel free to edit them when inserting them into their own narrative frames. Some clusters were obviously expanded, like Matthew's sermon on the mount. Others could be split, their elements rearranged or even inserted in different narrative contexts (for example, see clusters 3.3, 3.7, 8.1-4, and 10.1 below). The fact that Matthew and Luke distributed the contents of Q differently in their own narratives complicates the reconstruction of Q.

During the past century several proposed reconstructions were published by individual scholars. Those who undertook this task gradually became convinced that Luke probably preserved the original sequence of clusters in Q better than Matthew. Two general observations led to this conviction. First, in expanding the narrative outline provided by Mark, Matthew tended to create mega-clusters of thematically organized sayings material, often interpolating Q material into shorter blocks of similar sayings in Mark (compare for example, Matt 13//Mark 4 and Matt 24//Mark 13). In Luke, on the other hand, most Q material is distributed in smaller segments along with other non-Markan material throughout a ten chapter section inserted into the Markan framework (see clusters 6-16 below).

There was still no definitive critical text of Q in 1985 when the Jesus Seminar began its deliberations evaluating the historical reliability of sayings ascribed to Jesus in ancient sources. Moreover, the Fellows agreed early on that their mission was not to try to establish the exact original words of Jesus, but rather to test whether the basic logic of a saying was probably formulated by his mind rather than that of someone else. To accomplish this task it was not necessary to try to reconstruct the original text of Q, but rather to test whether he was the probable author of any Jesus saying preserved by Q or other early sources. So, instead of diverting attention from its central mission, the Seminar simply compared the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke below.

Q Segment Matt Luke
1.1 [Opening]    
1.2 [John introduced]    
1.3 John preaches repentance 3:7-10 3:7-9
1.4 John predicts one to come 3:11-12 3:16-17
2 Jesus tested 4:1-11 4:1-13
3.1 Jesus' sermon 5:1-2 6:12-17
3.2 Congratulations [& condemnations] 5:3-12 6:20-26
3.3a Love opponents 5:43-48 6:27-28,32-36
3.3b On confrontations 5:38-41 6:29
3.3c Beggars & borrowers 5:42 6:30,34-35
3.3d Golden rule 7:12 6:31
3.4 On judging 7:1-2 6:37-38
3.5? Guides & teachers 15:12-14 6:39-40
    10:24-25  
3.6 On correction 7:3-5 6:41-42
3.7 Source & produce 7:16-18, 12:33-35 6:43-45
3.8 On obedience 7:21,24-27 6:46-49
4 A foreigner's faith 8:5-13 7:1-10
5.1 John questions Jesus 11:2-6 7:18-23
5.2 Jesus praises John 11:7-11 7:24-28
5.3? Law & force >11:12-13 16:16
5.4 Reply to critics 11:16-19 7:31-35
6 Following Jesus 8:19-22 9:57-62
7.1 Call for workers 9:37-38 10:2
7.2 Travel instructions 10:7-16 10:3-12
7.3 Warning to Galilean towns 11:21-24 10:13-15
7.4 Delegation of authority 10:40 10:16
8.1 Thanksgiving 11:25-27 10:21-22
8.2 Seeing blessed 13:16-17 10:23-24
8.3 Prayer 6:9-13 11:1-4
8.4 Asking & receiving 7:7-11 11:9-13
9 Controversies    
9.1 Hostile powers 12:22-28 11:14-20
9.2 Binding the powerful 12:29 11:21-22
9.3 Partners & opponents 12:30 11:23
9.4 An unclean spirit returns 12:43-45 11:24-26
10.1 Sign of Jonah 12:38-40 11:16,29-30
10.2 Gentiles as judges 12:41-42 11:31-32
10.3 Lamps & light 5:14-15, 6:22-23 11:33-36
10.4 Warning to Pharisees 23:4-7,13,23-36 11:39-52
10.5 Lament for Jerusalem 23:37-39 13:34-35
11.1 Hidden & revealed 10:26-27 12:2-3
11.2 On fear 10:28-31 12:4-7
11.3 On loyalty 10:32-33 12:8-9
11.4 On slander 12:31-32 12:10
11.5 On interrogation 10:19-20 12:11-12
12.1 On food & clothes 6:25-33 12:22-30
12.2 On treasure 6:19-21 12:33-34
12.3 Homeowner & thief 24:43-44 12:39-40
12.4 The master's return 24:45-51 12:42-46
12.5 Fire & conflict 10:34-36 12:49-53
12.6 On reading signs 16:2-3 12:54-56
12.7 On settling out of court 5:25-26 12:57-59
13.1 Imagining the reign of God 13:31-33 13:18-20
13.2 On entry & exclusion 7:13-14,22-23 13:24-27
13.3 The patriarchal banquet 8:11-12 13:28-29
13.4 First & last 20:16 13:30
13.5 Up & down 23:12 14:11
13.6 The dinner guests 22:1-10 14:16-24
14.1 On discipleship >10:37-38 14:26-27
14.2 On life lost 10:39 17:33
14.3 On stale salt 5:13 14:34
14.4 Lost & found 18:12-13 15:4-7
14:5 On divided loyalty 6:24 16:13
15.1 The Torah's tenure 5:18 16:17
15.2 On divorce 5:32 16:18
15.3 On scandals 18:6-7 17:1-2
15.4 On forgiveness 18:15,21-22 17:3-4
15.5 On confidence 17:19-20 17:5
16.1 Time of the son of man 24:23-28,37-41 17:22-37
16.2 The unused loan 25:14-30 19:12-27
16.3 Israel's judges 19:28 22:28-29

In November 1989 the International Q Project (IQP) was convoked as a collaborative venture to establish a critical text of Q.  Though several Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were involved in this project, their work was independent of the JS's deliberations. The IQP's definitive Greek text and English translation of Q were finally published in 2001, a decade after this report of the Seminar's work on the sayings of Jesus was drafted. Since the Seminar's decisions were not based upon the text established by the IQP, this digital version has not been revised and updated to reflect their conclusions. But anyone who wishes to compare the IQP's text of Q can find it at the following website:

 

copyright by author 2019-2020
all rights reserved

  • This report was composed in 1991 to introduce lay readers to the results of the Jesus' Seminar's voting on the probable authenticity of sayings ascribed to Jesus in Q.  That projected volume was abandoned when the author's notes on Q were incorporated into the Jesus Seminar report on all Five Gospels (1993).  These pages are published here for the first time.

  • All gospel quotations are from the new Scholars Version Translation.

  • Hypertext links to this web page are welcome. But the contents may not be reproduced or posted elsewhere without the express written consent of the author.

- last revised 22 April 2020 -

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