Before the Gospels—Anonymous individuals collect and copy the sayings and teachings of Jesus—The Sayings Collection Q, A.D. 40 – A.D. 50
Optional Yearly Reading Schedule–February 1
17. Where and How Did the Gospels Originate?
Mark—the world’s first gospel
The next actual New Testament document we are going to read will be the Gospel According to Mark. Before we do so, however, we need to backtrack and ask how Mark, and all the gospels, came into being.
Did Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John simply sit down one day and, calling upon their memories, begin to write their accounts of Jesus’ life? Or did they have other sources, even perhaps written documents, to draw on in addition to their memories? Obviously we know this has to be true in the case of Luke. We know it for two reasons: He was not an eyewitness, and he specifically tells us that he had other sources at his disposal.
To answer this intriguing question, we have to look back to a period in the church’s development before the gospels existed at all.
For many years, because it was the shortest, least detailed, crispest, and most concise of the gospels, it was assumed that Mark was an “abbreviated” form of Matthew and Luke, not so significant…indeed, according to some early scholars and commentators, almost superfluous. Augustine considered it an abridgment of Matthew and therefore not an original work of value at all.
Even among those who may not have shared that view, Mark’s very uniqueness of style—vivid, quick-paced, realistic, simple—was assumed to be a weakness. These same characteristics also gave rise to the assumption that Mark was not so skilled a writer as Luke and Matthew and John.
Both these views are now recognized as in error. The surface “simplicity” of Mark’s account belies a wealth of interconnected and progressive thematic complexity that we will scarcely be able to hint at here. The thematic undercurrents are so richly woven together that after a lifetime’s study, I am continually amazed at what I continue to discover in Mark’s gospel.
Mark is now also universally recognized as the first gospel written. Equally certain is that both Matthew and Luke based their accounts on it. Mark’s stature in the canon has thus risen over the years to such a level that it is now seen as the primary and foundational gospel. Without Mark, it is possible that Matthew and Luke—coming later at a time when many eyewitnesses were gone—might never have been written at all, or would not have been nearly so complete. The fourth gospel will be considered separately.
When, where, and why was Mark written?
Theories abound about when Mark was written. As interest in Mark’s preeminence among the gospels has grown in the last hundred years, these theories have expanded.
Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons c. 175-195) stated that Mark composed his gospel “after the departure of Peter and Paul.” This has always been presumed to mean after their deaths, which most agree took place during the persecutions of Nero in Rome between 64 and 68. Along with the fact that Mark makes no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70, this argues for a date in the late 60s. (A tradition extant among the early church fathers said that Mark was written just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.)
The dating of Luke and Acts enters the discussion at this point. Though the majority of scholars date both Matthew and Luke in the 80s, a minority view dates Luke and Acts prior to Paul’s death, based on the inconclusive ending to Acts. The finale of Acts is so completely unsatisfactory, especially bewildering given Luke’s obvious skill as a historian, that many scholars draw the conclusion that Luke must have completed Acts during Paul’s first imprisonment in the early-60s.
Dating Acts thus in the early-60’s throws Luke’s gospel back to the late-50s or 60, which in turn forces Mark back to a yet earlier date. All this has given rise to the theory of a date for the composition of Mark in the 50’s…even according to some scholars, the early 50s.
All ancient testimony concurs that Mark was written in Rome, and probably for Gentile and Roman readers. This assumption is based on these facts—there are few Old Testament references (notably different from Matthew), Aramaic expressions are interpreted for the reader (Boanerges, Talitha cumi, Ephphatha, Gehenna, etc.), Jewish customs are explained (7:2 ff, 12:42), a number of Latin words are included (centurion, Praetorium, etc.). Along with this, it is known that Peter and Paul eventually wound up in Rome toward the end of their lives and that Mark was traveling with both during those years.
An early date for writing obviously complicates this Rome theory. Paul did not arrive in Rome until 59. Whether Peter went sooner we have no way of knowing. We can place Mark in Rome with Paul in 60 (from Col. 4:10, Phil. 24.) Obviously Mark could have arrived in Rome sooner and could thus have written his gospel in Rome some time in the 50s. We simply don’t know.
A fascinating possibility could answer these uncertainties about the date of Mark’s gospel. This is the tradition in the early church that Peter paid a visit to Rome between 55 and 60, then left to return later, in the 60s, during the Neronian persecution.
One final note possibly confirms this latter theory, or a variant of it: Nineteen tiny scraps from among the Dead Sea Scrolls have been identified as fragments from a copy of Mark’s gospel. Granted that dating methods are subject to great controversy, nevertheless these fragments have been dated to the early 50s. If accurate, it would mean that Mark’s gospel was in circulation and probably being copied much earlier than anyone had previously imagined.
The gradual recognition of biblical scholars that Mark was the first gospel written has implications far beyond mere dating. Putting Mark at the head of the line in front of Matthew suddenly creates all sorts of interpretive difficulties no one had noticed before.
The first three gospels are called the “synoptic” gospels, meaning that they share a “common view” or perspective of the life of Jesus. In simple terms, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are similar in their outlook. John’s gospel is much different in every way—in chronology, style, theology, and in the method of Jesus’ teaching John portrays.
The synoptic problem—who got what from whom?
For centuries, indeed, up until two or three hundred years ago, most biblical scholars did not analyze these similarities and differences in detail. The assumption that Mark was an abbreviated version of Matthew took care of everything.
Indeed, this was how Augustine solved the problem. He assumed Matthew to be the original gospel and Mark a condensation of it, with Luke having later depended on both Matthew and Mark in his writing. This was the orthodox position for over a thousand years, until biblical scholars began to look at the matter more closely.
The view of Matthew’s preeminent place began to change in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the development of what is called source criticism and textual criticism in biblical studies. As scholars analyzed the texts of the first three gospels, they gradually came to realize that the dependency between Matthew, Mark, and Luke was actually backwards from what Augustine had been assumed. Suddenly everything became more complicated.
An abbreviated version of the same story (Matthew first, Mark second) was easy to explain. Two independent expanded versions (Mark first, Matthew and Luke later) were very difficult to explain.
The very similarity of the first three gospels baffled source and textual scholars for years. The three books are at once too similar and too divergent. Some explanation was needed to account for both the similarities and the divergences. If Matthew and Luke both used Mark, indeed, often quoted him verbatim, what accounts for the occasional differences? And what accounts for the original material not found in Mark? These questions only scratch the surface, but they give an idea of what in biblical studies is called “the synoptic problem.”
The following quote summarizes what Bible scholars found themselves up against: “Despite the common characteristics of the first three gospels…their relationship each to the other creates a problem. When they are arranged in the parallel columns of a synopsis, there is revealed a curious and extremely complex combination of similarities and differences in their interrelationships which demands an explanation. They are very much alike at many points, and yet very different at many other points, in both narrative and discourse material. And these characteristics appear consistently and all-pervasively, in the relationships of single sentences as well as of large blocks of material. Why is this so? How are these characteristics to be explained? This is the synoptic problem.” (The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, V. 4, p. 492)
And Donald Guthrie amplifies: “The problem would be less difficult to resolve were it not for the considerable differences both in arrangement and vocabulary over many points of detail. Some sections of common material have little verbal similarity, while others are placed in different historical settings. The healing of the centurion’s servant, for instance…is not only placed in a different order…but differs widely in narration. The passion narratives of the three Gospels, while conforming fairly closely to a similar sequence, nevertheless contain many differences of detail and wording.
“In addition to the difference just mentioned, each of the three Synoptics has certain sections peculiar to it. This is particularly so in the cases of Matthew and Luke. The birth narratives of the first and third Gospels are quite different and bear very little relationship to each other, while Luke has a long section, commonly known as the ‘travel’ narrative…which largely comprises his own material. Matthew records such stories as Peter’s walking on the water and the coin in the fish’s mouth, which neither of the others contain. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is related only loosely to Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, which is much shorter, although some of the omitted material occurs elsewhere in Luke in scattered contexts…
“Whereas the three Synoptics often agree in sections common to them all, Matthew and Mark often agree against Luke, and Luke and Mark against Matthew, and sometimes, though more rarely, Matthew and Luke against Mark. These are the basic details which constitute the problem.” (New Testament Introduction, pp. 122-23)
Matthew’s and Luke’s curious dependence on Mark
Comparing the story of the feeding of the five thousand in all three gospels shows that it is told not only in the same way, but with many of the exact same words. This may not seem so astonishing on the surface of it. But in the world of the first century, with so many dialects and languages swirling about the Mediterranean world, and given that Luke was a Gentile, that Mark was a Jew from Jerusalem, and that Matthew may have been a Galilean from Capernaum, the common vocabulary all three use on so many occasions would be impossible had all written independent original works. All three may have grown up speaking different languages. They came from different cultures. Their entire methods of writing and syntax and vocabulary would be different.
We can see this astonishing similarity immediately in this comparison of the Revised Standard Version of the three. Though the specific wording is often different, the order of phrasing or order of events is dramatically alike.
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the hour is now late; send them away, to go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”
And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”
And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”
Then he commanded them all to sit down by companies upon the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. (Mark 6:35-44)
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”
And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:14-21)
Now the day began to wear away; and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place.”
But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.”
For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.”
And they did so, and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:12-17)
So how did they come to use so many of the same words and phrases, and in the same order (send them away…you give them something to eat…five loaves and two fishes…all ate and were satisfied)? Given translations, dialects, the passage of time, and the different places where their gospels were written, there is no way to explain it except some kind of dependency. In other words—somebody copied somebody else’s words, adding their own little touches while preserving the gist of the original. There is no other way to account for it.
Similarly, the accounts of the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26) are so identical in all three gospels that even the parenthetical words, “he said to the paralytic” are set off in exactly the same way in exactly the same place.
And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.”
And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all. (Mark 2:3-12)
And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he then said to the paralytic— “Rise, take up your bed and go home.”
And he rose and went home. (Matthew 9:2-7)
And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.
And when he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?”
When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the man who was paralyzed— “I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.”
And immediately he rose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and went home, glorifying God. (Luke 5:18-25)
Matthew’s and Luke’s curious similarity when not dependent on Mark
Assuming, as if generally recognized, that Mark, Matthew, and Luke worked independently, the only conclusion possible to explain the amazing similarities we have been looking at is that all three are based on some common source, or that two of them are based on the third.
William Barclay explains further:
“Mark has 661 verses; Matthew has 1068 verses; Luke has 1,149 verses. Of Mark’s 661 verses Matthew reproduces no fewer than 606. Sometimes he alters the wording slightly but he even reproduces 51 percent of Mark’s actual words. Of Mark’s 661 verses, Luke reproduces 320, and he actually uses 53 percent of Mark’s actual words. Of the 55 verses of Mark which Matthew does not reproduce 31 are found in Luke. So the result is that there are only 24 verses in Mark which do not occur somewhere in Matthew and Luke. This makes it look very like as if Matthew and Luke were using Mark as the basis of their gospels. What makes the matter still more certain is this. Both Matthew and Luke very largely follow Mark’s order of events. Sometimes Matthew alters Mark’s order and sometimes Luke does. But when there is a change in the order Matthew and Luke never agree together as against Mark. Always one of them retains Mark’s order of events.” (The Gospel of Mark, William Barclay, p. xiv)
If it were as simple as Matthew and Luke both using Mark, which everyone now agrees they did, the question of the similar passages would seem to be resolved.
But it is not so simple. What about passages where Matthew and Luke independently use nearly the same exact words…but did not get them from Mark?
This throws a whole new monkey wrench into the thing. This is the heart of “the synoptic problem”—to explain the overlap in Matthew and Luke of what they did not get from Mark.
The similarities, again, are too exact to be accidental. For example, compare Matthew 3:7-10 and 4:3-7 with Luke 3:7-9 and 4: 4:3-4; 9-12.
Working independently, fifty or more years after the fact, how did a Jew who may have grown up speaking Aramaic and a Gentile who probably grew up speaking Greek both arrive at so much of the exact same wording? Interviewing eyewitnesses, or relying on oral tradition—especially after fifty years!—would surely have produced noticeable variations and differences.
An unknown source
The conclusion scholars eventually found inescapable was that Matthew and Luke must have had another common source in addition to Mark. In other words, this extensive research into the connections between the first three gospels led to the “discovery” (if something can be discovered which no longer exists to be found!) of a now-lost document that pre-dated even Mark.
Common to Matthew and Luke…from Matthew:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
“Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:7-10)
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matthew 4:3-7)
Common to Matthew and Luke…from Luke:
He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
“Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9)
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”
And the devil…took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Luke 4:3-4; 9-12)
18. The Lost Book Q
Out of the scholarship that has resulted since the eighteenth century, based on exacting comparisons of the similarities and distinctions between the three synoptic gospels, the conclusion is now universally held that Matthew and Luke made use of an additional document—accounting for their similarities when they don’t follow Mark.
It is thought that this “source” was compiled before Mark, or certainly (if Mark was written in the early 50s) contemporary with it, and may have circulated for several years. Unfortunately, it has been lost to history. No written copies have been found. No mention of it is made by Paul or Luke in their writings, or by Matthew and John. We have only Luke’s cryptic comments in the first two verses of his gospel: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (NIV)
There is thus no hard historical evidence that such a document existed. Yet nearly all biblical scholars agree that it did exist. They “discover” its presence by what is called “textual” and “form” and “source criticism,” a fascinating method of analyzing biblical texts to uncover much that lays hidden between the lines and behind the historical development of the Bible.
This unknown document is called Q, which is short for the German quelle, or “source.”
In brief, then, the current scholarship on the writing of the first three gospels holds that of the three Mark was written first, but that the sayings document Q was probably in existence before it or the same time. Matthew and Luke then later used both Mark and Q, as well as their own research, to write their gospels.
What was Q like?
What kind of a document was Q? Was it a single document, or perhaps a loose collection of several documents?
As Matthew and Luke are analyzed, what emerges about Q (derived from non-Markan material) is a compilation of Jesus’ saying and teachings in succinct form. It included no narrative, only sayings.
Because Christianity originated in a non-literary civilization where highly accurate oral tradition had been prized for centuries, at first there was probably no thought of written documents. With the early church’s expectation of Jesus’ soon return, no one thought it necessary to write down the events of Jesus’ life. Early Christianity possessed a very limited and compressed worldview.
As time went on, however, and as Christianity spread further into the Roman world, gradually the oral accounts began finding their way into written Aramaic and Greek. The first sources obviously came from the disciples’ preaching of what they had heard Jesus say. These were the cornerstone of Christian teaching. Gradually they came to be written down, perhaps by many people, and circulated throughout the church. No doubt the collection grew and was copied and passed among Christian congregations. It may well have been added to every time it was re-copied as one man or woman or another would recall yet another saying or teaching suddenly brought to remembrance.
Q was simply a collection of the “Sayings of Jesus.”
Why, then, has no evidence of such written tradition of sayings survived? Simply because once they were incorporated into the gospels, there was no longer a need for them. The gospels told the whole story. Q’s content was swallowed up by the longer more complete versions. Q thus fell into disuse. It was the gospels, not Q, that were now copied and recopied. Within a few generations no one even remembered the collection of sayings. Eventually, the only evidence that Q and other such possible sources ever existed was invisibly embedded in the texts of the gospels themselves, there to lay hidden until scholars rediscovered them.
A notable example of Q’s content is found in that portion of John the Baptist’s preaching noted above and the temptation passage from Matthew and Luke. These passages are not found in Mark, but are too similar in wording to be accounted for without some interdependence. The exactness of the wording makes Q almost jump off the page. Usually the similarities are not quite so simple to see.
Though Matthew and Luke occasionally change the order and context of Jesus’ sayings, the similarities remain striking. One might argue that Matthew derived most of his “sermon on the mount” (Matthew 5-7) from memory. But then, if he did not have Matthew itself before him, where did Luke’s “sermon on the plain” (Luke 6) come from if not from another commonly-used source?
Particularly fascinating, as pointed out by William Barclay earlier, is Matthew’s and Luke’s use of Mark’s order of events for their basic structure, fitting the Q material into Mark’s overarching structure in their own individual ways. It is also intriguing to ask whether Mark knew of Q. If he did make use of Q, it would be impossible to determine. Matthew and Luke could have obtained those portions common to Mark and Q from either document, and thus their use of Q in such cases would be completely invisible. Yet it seems to argue against Mark having knowledge of Q that his gospel contains not a word that hints of the sermon on the mount teaching. If Mark indeed knew of these foundational sayings, why would he so completely omit them?
From Q to the four gospels
There are complex sub-theories and modifications to the Q hypothesis into which it seems pointless to go in detail. Most notable among these are the theories of various specialized “sayings” collections. Two of these are known as M and L indicating sayings material unique to Matthew and Luke. Another two conjectured sources are called the Logia and the Book of Testimonies.
Donald Guthrie summarizes as follows: “Mark was the Roman Gospel, Q was probably based in Antioch, M represented a Jerusalem sayings-document and L represented the Caesarean tradition, probably oral in character. These proposals were admittedly conjectural…While there have been many modifications of this type of four document theory and a decided lessening of emphasis upon a multiplication of written sources due largely to the influence of form criticism, it is still widely regarded, at least among British scholars, as the most workable hypothesis of Gospel origins.” (New Testament Introduction, pp. 130-31)
In the material generally recognized as being found in Q are found find the fresh and natural picturesque language of everyday village life in Palestine. The words used are colorful and vivid—foxes, serpents, vipers, wheat, grass, reeds, thorns, brambles, lightning, winds, pits, rocks, feasts, loaves, mill-stones, barns, bushels, cellars, ovens, and chaff.
As many theories exist about the actual formation and writing of the gospels as there are men and women who study the matter. If I may be allowed to posit my own hypothetical series of circumstances, I think it is possible that something along the lines of the following may have taken place:
Whether or not it actually had a specific name, some loose collections that we might refer to as the Sayings of Jesus, in Aramaic, was almost certainly in circulation in Judea in the year 50. By then the church was expanding rapidly. John Mark himself was on the cusp of this expansion, accompanying Barnabas and Paul on their first journey, then, after a brief return to Jerusalem, accompanying Barnabas again, and later Peter and Paul in their travels. He may have gone with Peter to Rome early in the 50s, and it is possible that he began writing his gospel at this time. We know nothing about his movements. It may be that he never returned to Judea. This would seem unlikely if his mother Mary was still alive. Yet by the year 50 she would have been an elderly lady and could well have been gone. If Mark knew about the Sayings collection circulating in Palestine, a copy may not have been available as far away as Macedonia or even in Rome itself. Mark’s apparent non-use of the majority of the sayings may be accounted for by the simple fact that he did not possess it and began his own writing about the same time. Matthew and Luke, writing twenty or even thirty years later, would have likely had at their disposal many documents that had been copied and recopied during the intervening years—including both Mark and the sayings collection, as well as other possible small documents that had been compiled since Mark’s writing.
All this also brings us to the rationale for examining both Q and Mark at this point in our progression through the books of the New Testament books.
It is almost certain that some form of a Sayings of Jesus collection was in circulation by the year 50 (at first orally, then in writing). As we are attempting to reconstruct the material of the New Testament in the general order that Christians of the first century encountered it, it seems appropriate to place Mark here in that chronology. Whether Mark in its final form was being read in the early 50s after the Thessalonian letters, it is certain that some form of the teachings of Jesus (if not a full “gospel”) was circulating by this time.
Many scholars have sought to reconstruct Q on the basis of their analysis of the synoptic gospels. There now exists a fairly general agreement on its contents. Many Bible reference works provide a thorough list of Q’s conjectured passages for those interested in studying the matter more thoroughly. The sayings that follow represent approximately one-third of the total.