The Original Teachings
Written by: Wendell Krossa
I would argue that the Wisdom Sayings Gospel, the original teaching of Jesus (known by scholars as the Q Sayings Gospel), should be right at the beginning of the New Testament. That would be the correct chronological order for the entire New Testament. Everything else in the NT was written after that original teaching of Jesus (see dates below in Christian Contradiction). And scholars note that the Wisdom Sayings gospel is basically the teaching that is found in Matt. 5-7.
But I would add a huge qualifier regarding Matthew’s version of this Sayings gospel. Matthew’s version in his chapters 5-7 is a horribly deformed version of Jesus’ original teaching. Matthew has thoroughly messed up the wisdom sayings gospel of Jesus.
The 5:38-48 section of chapters 5-7 presents the cohering theme or center of Jesus’ message. It focuses on the central unconditional theme of Jesus and that central theme, more than anything else, defines his message or gospel. In 5:38-48 (as in the same material in Luke 6:27-36) Jesus stated that love would not retaliate or demand that conditions be met (i.e. there should be no eye for eye punishment, justice, or retribution). Further, authentically humane love would not be excluding tribal love- loving only friends and family (as the barbarians do) and excluding enemies. To the contrary, Jesus said that authentically humane love would also include and love enemies.
And most important on the negative side- there is nothing in the original Wisdom Sayings material about Jesus coming as a Savior to become a human blood sacrifice in order to meet a supreme condition demanded by a God angry at human imperfection (a great act of retaliation and punishment). Jesus in his original gospel said nothing at all about fulfilling some divine condition. Instead, he spoke directly to what love really meant, and he took human understanding of love to new heights of the humane in the entirely no conditions treatment of all people, both good and bad. He argued that we should do this because this is what God does. We should love enemies because God loves enemies.
This statement of his core theme in 5:38-48 should determine the authenticity of any other teaching that people claim came from Jesus. It should determine the authenticity of the rest of the material that Matthew included in his version of Jesus’ wisdom sayings.
But Matthew’s chapters 5-7, his version of the Wisdom Sayings Gospel, contradicts entirely the core theme of Jesus. How so? Matthew’s version is full of threat of divine retaliation and conditions. He states that people would be judged, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven, they would be sent to Hell, they would only be forgiven if they first forgave others, and their judging of others would result in similar eye for eye retributive judgment.
While Matthew included the key 5:38-48 comments of Jesus- the core of the core- he contradicted that central wisdom theme in the other parts of chapters 5-7 by putting in various conditions and threatening retaliatory statements (see also the “Christian Contradiction” below for more detail on Matthew’s changes). With his changes and additions, he contradicted the central theme of Jesus in 5:38-48 that there should be no retaliation or conditions.
The Matt.5:38-48 material (and Luke 6:27-36) should be used as the foundational baseline to evaluate all the rest, including the rest of Matthew’s material in chapters 5-7. Then you see clearly the changes and contradictions that Matthew has added. His version of the Sayings gospel is entirely contradictory to the core statements of 5:38-48.
The Matthew 5:38-48 section should be the starting point of the New Testament and the standard to evaluate all the rest.
As always, one more key qualifier- in my use of Historical Jesus and Q research I am not affirming Jesus as some authority on unconditional. I simply use his insight and then move on to create my own definitions and explanations on unconditional.
Across history, too many theologians and historians have spent their lives trying to discern what might be authentic to the historical person or not. Arguing whether this word or phrase might be authentic or not, often with no sense of some cohering theme, such as in Matt.5:38-48, to guide such research.
Does it really matter if we ever discover exactly what Jesus said? I would suggest- just take the insight that we find in Matthew 5:38-48, refine the unconditional theme that you see there and then restate it in the language of today and move on. Leave Jesus behind to the endless scholarly squabbles.
Unconditional is the central theme and it does not need validation by Jesus to affirm its importance. It stands on its own as our highest understanding of love, of what it means to be authentically humane.