Bultmann’s Dominical Sayings in the Synoptics

For years, form critics have been sifting through the New Testament tradition, trying to boil it down to the authentic sayings of Jesus Christ. The Gospel writers, and their redactors, using oral tradition, built a written narrative of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death. The Gospels were intended as propaganda, not as history. As Bultmann puts it, they were “expanded cult legends” meant “to give to the Kerygma a definite place and task.” (371, 337–338). Still, the core of Jesus’ ministry, handed down first by word of mouth, and later in writing, is still present in the Gospel texts.

Renowned scholars such as John Dominic Crossan and Geza Vermes have published their own analyses of Jesus’ authentic sayings (The Essential Jesus: Original Sayings and Earliest Images, 1989, and The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, 2005). But Rudolph Bultmann (1884–1976), the father of form criticism, published his own account of the dominical (=of or relating to Jesus himself) sayings, as they appear in the synoptic Gospels. The dry list appears in his 1963 book The History of the Synoptic Tradition (pp. 73–81), accompanied with the text in Greek which, for most of us, is inaccessible.

What follows is Bultmann’s list, with text in English (from the NRSV). Bultmann divided the sayings into literary groupings. They are listed here in the order they appear in the New Testament, with Bultmann’s classifications in parenthesis. Hopefully, this will give the reader a fresh look at what a, if not the, leading form criticism scholar of our time, thought the historical Jesus actually said.


Mark 2:17 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Mark 2:19 (Questions): “Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.’” Bultmann omits Mark 2:20, where Jesus predicts his own death.

Mark 2:21f (Principles, Personal Formulations): “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:27 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’” Bultmann omits Mark 2:28, where Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, Lord of the Sabbath.

Mark 3:24–26 (Matthew 12:25f; Luke 11:17f) (Principles, Material Formulations) “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.

Mark 3:27 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.”

Mark 4:21 par (or Matthew 5:15 // Luke 11:33) (Questions): “He said to them, ‘Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?’”

Mark 4:22 (Par. Also Matthew 10:26 // Luke 12:2) (Principles, Material Formulations) “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.”

Mark 4:25 par. (Matthew 25:29 // Luke 19:26) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “[W]hoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Mark 6:4 (cp Luke 4:24) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’”

Mark 7:15 (Principles, Material Formulations): “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

Mark 8:35 par. (or Matthew 10:39 // Luke 17:33; John 12:25) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life … will save it.” Bultmann omits “for me and for the gospel.”

Mark 8:36f (Questions): “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Mark 9:40 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “[F]or whoever is not against us is for us.” Bultmann omits the periscope encasing this saying, about someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

Mark 9:43–47 par (or Matthew 5:29f): (Exhortations): “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] [47] And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” There is no Mark 9:44 or 46 in the NRSV.

Mark 9:49 (Principles, Material Formulations): “Everyone will be salted with fire.” The fire image lends itself to a possible John the Baptist origin of this saying.

Mark 9:50 (cp Matthew 5:13, Luke 14:34f) (Questions): “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Mark 10:9 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

Mark 10:15 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:23b (Principles, Personal Formulations): “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!

Mark 10:25 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” See also, Luke 18:25 // Matthew 19:24. All three Gospels appended to the end of this saying something to the effect of “but with God, all things are possible.” Bultmann did not find this addition dominical.

Mark 10:31 (Matthew 20:16; Luke 13:30) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Mark 10:42–44 par. (or Luke 22:25f) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’” Bultmann omits Jesus’ prediction of his own salvific death in 10:45.

Mark 11:24 (Exhortations): “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”


Luke 4:23 (Exhortations): “Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: “Physician, heal yourself!” And you will tell me, “Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”’”

Luke 5:39 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” See Mark 2:21.

Luke 6:31 // Matthew 7:12a (Exhortations): “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Luke 6:39 // Matthew 15:14 (Questions): “He also told them this parable: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” Bultmann posited that this aphorism comes from folk tradition.

Luke 6:43f (Matthew 7:16–20, 12:33) (Principles, Material Formulations): “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.”

Luke 9:62 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

Luke 10:7b (Matthew 10:10b) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Do not move around from house to house.” Bultmann omits the preceding portion, which provides for preachers’ wages.

Luke 11:28 (Principles, Blessings): “He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’”

Luke 12:3 (Matthew 10:26) (Principles, Material Formulations): “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”

Luke 12:47f (Principles, Personal Formulations): “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Luke 14:8–10 (Exhortations): “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.”

Luke 14:11 (Luke 18:14; Matthew 23:12) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:12–14 (Exhortations): “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” This is the only mention of resurrection in the dominical sayings, it refers to the general resurrection, that is, of the righteous, not the resurrection of the messiah.

Luke 16:9 (Exhortations): “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” This comes from the parable of the shrewd manager. Bultmann suggests that many of the parables were built on short aphorisms that survived the oral tradition.

Luke 16:10–12 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Luke 17:3f (or Matthew 18:15, 22 (Exhortations): “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.’”


Matthew 5:14b (Principles, Material Formulations): “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Matthew 5:39b-42 // Luke 6:29f (Longer passages): “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” It is interesting to note that all of the longer passages attributed as dominical sayings come from Matthew.

Matthew 5:44–48 // Luke 6:27f, 32–36 (Longer passages): “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Some translations substitute “gentiles” for “pagans” in this aphorism. The Greek noun is ἐθνικοὶ (ethnikoi). The literal translation is “national.”

Matthew 6:19–21 // Luke 12:33f (Exhortations): “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:22 (Luke 11:334–36) (Principles, Material Formulations): “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” The Greek word translated here as healthy is ἁπλοῦς (haplous), which some translate to mean “clear.” It is important to note that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, so what Bultmann calls dominical sayings are already translations from Aramaic to Greek, so some of the original meaning could be lost in translation.

Matthew 6:24 // Luke 16:13 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:25f, 28b-33 // Luke 12:22–24, 27–31 (Longer passages): “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? … 28 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:27 // Luke 12:25 (Principles, Material Formulations) (Questions): “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Matthew 6:34 (Exhortations): “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Bultmann cites several probable Jewish and Egyptian folk sources for this exhortation.

Matthew 7:6 (Exhortations): “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:7–11 // Luke 11:9–13 (Longer passages): “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:13f (cp Luke 13:24) (Exhortations): “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 8:20 // Luke 9:58 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. It is an Aramaic term, meaning a human being. There is some question about the meaning of his self-reference in the third person.

Matthew 8:22b // Luke 9:60: (Exhortations): “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew 10:16b (Exhortations): “[B]e as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Matthew 10:24f // Luke 6:40 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!”

Matthew 10:28 // Luke 12:4f (Exhortations): “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Matthew 10:29 // Luke 12:6–7a (Principles, Arguments a maiore ad minus): “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”

Matthew 12:30 // Luke 11:23 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” See also Mark 9:40.

Matthew 12:34b (Luke 6:45b) (Principles, Material Formulations): “[T]he mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Matthew 12:35 // Luke 6:45a (Principles, Personal Formulations): “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”

Matthew 13:52 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’

Matthew 17:20 (Luke 17:6 cp Mark 11:23) (Principles, Personal Formulations): “He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”

Matthew 19:12 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others — and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” It is often argued that this passage supports the theory that Jesus was celibate.

Matthew 22:14 (Principles, Personal Formulations): “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 24:28 (Luke 17:37) (Principles, Material Formulations): “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.”




Lawyer, writer, musician, bon vivant. Born in Flint, Michigan during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Patrick Goggins

Patrick Goggins

Lawyer, writer, musician, bon vivant. Born in Flint, Michigan during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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