JMC : Witness of the Gospels / by A.S. Barnes

2. A Collection of Sayings of Christ

The next document which has left its traces must have been a collection of the Sayings of our Blessed Lord. There is reason, as most of you, no doubt, are already aware, to believe that some such collection of the Words of Christ was one of the earliest written documents produced by the Christian community, and that it was connected with the name of the Apostle St Matthew.

Nucleus of Gospel of St Matthew

This collection seems, indeed, to have been the nucleus of the Gospel which now bears that Apostle's name; being combined, for the purpose of producing a continuous narrative, with the Gospel of St Mark; which here again provides the foundation upon which the rest is built, just as we have already seen to have been the case with the Gospel of St Luke. The question then at once arises, and is of great interest, whether the collection of Sayings of Christ which was used by St Luke is or is not identical with the one which is incorporated into the Gospel of St Matthew. Here again we have a problem on which scholars in the past have held opposite opinions; but we seem now to be approaching a general agreement that they cannot have been the same, but that the collection used by St Luke must have been of a much more rudimentary character than the other. There is no need to suppose that the two collections were wholly independent of one another, but the document used by St Luke was perhaps an earlier draft, in a less ordered and literary form than it afterwards assumed.

Its Probable Structure

The recent discoveries in Egypt of certain collections of "Sayings of Christ," though these are of much later date and of extremely doubtful authenticity, may yet serve to suggest the probable form of such a collection in the first century. It would consist of a series of utterances, for the most part more or less proverbial in character, written down without any definite order or connection, and without any clue being given to the circumstances under which they had been originally spoken. These disconnected sayings, useless in that form for the purpose of a continuous narrative, and yet far too valuable and authentic to be allowed to perish, St Luke seems to have taken one by one, and to have made inquiries, as was, no doubt, still possible to do, as to the time and occasions when they were originally given to the world. He then worked them into the narrative, giving to each as far as he could its own appropriate setting and connections -- a setting, however, which in not a few instances we find to differ from that to which they are assigned in St Matthew.

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