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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Collections of Sayings and Miracle Stories

It is likely that as early as the fifth and sixth decades of the first century, Christian authors had composed documents recounting Jesus' teachings and activities. Although these writings per se no longer exist, the authors of the Gospels used some of them in creating their narratives. For example, it would appear that the authors of Matthew and Luke independently appropriated materials from a collection of Jesus' sayings, which scholars call Q or the Synoptic Sayings Source (see article, “The Gospels,” pp. 1263–1265). Q seems to have derived from a circle of rigorist Christian prophets who wandered throughout Galilee and western Syria proclaiming Jesus' imminent return from heaven in judgment. Similar collections of Jesus' sayings may also lie behind Mark and John.

The collecting of Jesus' teachings continued well into the second century, when, for example, a bishop named Papias composed his five-volume Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord, which he based on oral testimonies from those who had known the apostles. Clement of Alexandria, an intellectual who wrote around 200 C.E., quoted several sayings of Jesus from The Gospel of the Egyptians, which likewise may have been a collection of Jesus' teachings without extensive narrative or plot. Christians also collected alleged teachings of New Testament personalities other than Jesus. The Preaching of Peter purports to record sayings of Peter, and another claims to contain The Teachings of Silvanus, Paul's associate.

Among the codices found at Nag Hammadi was a document bearing the title The Gospel of Thomas. Like Q, this so-called gospel is a collection of Jesus' teachings with no framing narrative. A reader familiar with the New Testament will at once recognize similarities between the content of this gospel and sayings of Jesus recorded in the Synoptics. On the other hand, The Gospel of Thomas arranges material differently, differs significantly in wording, contains content unparalleled by the New Testament, and advances an alternative religious worldview. For instance, this gospel promises salvation through a proper understanding of its esoteric meanings not through faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen one. Eschatological sayings of Jesus recorded in the Synoptics (that is, sayings which anticipate a radical intervention of God into human history) are used in Thomas to promote prudence, mystical self-reflection, or spatial dualism between the world and the realm of the divine. According to Thomas, the body is the tarnished, tragic, and temporary abode of the fallen, preexistent soul. By means of knowledge, this soul must put off its fleshly garment in order to recover its original, spiritual union with God.

Interpreters have long squabbled over the precise relationship of The Gospel of Thomas to the synoptics and Q or its historical value for understanding Jesus of Nazareth, and these debates show no signs of fatigue. Nonetheless, most scholars concur that even if the author of Thomas knew one or more of the canonical Gospels, such knowledge alone cannot account for its content. Not only does Thomas cite many sayings not found in the New Testament, it frequently preserves more primitive versions of sayings that are found there.

It would also appear that already in the first century some authors recorded stories of Jesus' miracles. Some of the stories in Mark and John may derive from such miracle collections. A second-century document, the so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas, tells of Jesus' remarkable intelligence at school, his miracle-working helpfulness around the house and at the carpenter's shop, and his dangerous petulance with playmates.

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