Anybody else who are interested about the agrapha?

To put it simply, agrapha (Greek for “not written”; singular agraphon) are sayings attributed Jesus that are not found in the canonical Gospels but instead appear in other sources, such as other books of the New Testament or even outside the Bible, quoted by early Christian writers.

A prime example of this is in Acts 20:35, where St. Paul says:

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

This saying is not found in the Gospels.

There are actually quite a lot of agrapha, many of which are quoted by the Fathers and other Christian literature. Some had a penchant for quoting them extensively, like Clement of Alexandria, whose Stromata is literally dotted with these sayings:

For He says, “Have you seen your brother? You have seen your God.” (1.19)

For He says, “Ask for the great things, and the little things will be added unto you.” (1.24)

With reason, then, the scripture, wishing us to become such kind of dialectics, exhorts: “But become approved moneychangers, rejecting the [evil] things, and embracing the good.” (1.28)

And again the Lord says, “Let the one who has married not be cast out, and let the one who has not married not marry. He who has confessed that he will not marry according to his decision of eunuchhood, let him remain unmarried.” (3.15)

Finally, there is also this one anecdote which St. Irenaeus and St. Hippolytus of Rome record about Judas and Jesus.

The blessing thus predicted pertains, without [fear of] contradiction, to the times of the kingdom, when the just, rising from the dead, will reign, when even the creation, renewed and liberated, will produce a multitude of foods of all kinds from the dew of heaven and the fertility of the earth, just as the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord would teach about those times and would say:

The days will come in which vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape, when pressed, will give twenty-five measures of wine. And, when one of those saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will clamor: ‘I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me!’
Similarly a grain of wheat also will generate ten thousand heads, and each head will have ten thousand grains, and each grain five double pounds of clear and clean flour. And the remaining fruits and seeds and herbiage will follow through in congruence with these, and all the animals using these foods which are taken from the earth will in turn become peaceful and consenting, subject to men with every subjection.

These things Papias too, who was a earwitness of John and companion of Polycarp, and an ancient man, wrote and testified in the fourth of his books. For there are five books written by him. And he adds, saying: But these things are believable by the believers. And, he says, Judas the traitor did not believe and asked: “How therefore will such generations be brought to completion by the Lord?” The Lord said, “Those who come into those [times] will see.

(Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.3-4)

When therefore the Lord narrated to the disciples that the imminent kingdom of the saints would be glorious and wondrous, Judas, bewildered by these words, said, “And who will see these things?” But the Lord said: “Those who have become worthy will see these things.

(Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel 4.60)

If authentic, these are the testimonies to that little portion of the Gospel of John which records that not everything Jesus said or did was recorded down.

Yes. Actually I have not really heard of this.
Anyone else have other examples or Links??


Thanks for the post Patrick! This is very interesting stuff. I believe, just recalling from my memory, that some ancient Bible manuscripts also have some possible sayings as well that are not found in the received text. I would not be surprised if some of the NT apocryphal writings have some legit sayings as well because they do have numerous oral traditions and legends in them.

I’m not ‘anyone else’, but here’s some other good and interesting examples:

For the goodness and the loving-kindness of God, and His boundless riches, hold righteous and sinless the man who, as Ezekiel tells, repents of sins; and reckons sinful, unrighteous, and impious the man who fails away from piety and righteousness to unrighteousness and ungodliness. Wherefore also our Lord Jesus Christ said, “In whatsoever things I shall take you, in those I shall judge you.

But the Savior Himself says, “He that is near me is near the fire; he that is far from me is far from the kingdom.

  • Origen, On Jeremiah, Latin homily 20.3 (also quoted by Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Psalm 88.8)

…and Jesus indeed says, “Because of the weak I was weak, and I hungered because of the hungry, and I thirsted because of the thirsty.

And do ye all spit on it, and goad it, and bind the scarlet wool about its head, and so let it be cast into the desert.” And when it is so done, he who takes the goat into the wilderness drives it forth, and takes away the wool, and puts it upon a shrub which is called Rachel, of which we are accustomed to eat the shoots when we find them in the country: thus of Rachel alone is the fruit sweet. What does this mean? Listen: “the first goat is for the altar, but the other is accursed,” and note that the one that is accursed is crowned, because then “they will see him” on that day with the long scarlet robe “down to the feet” on his body, and they will say, “Is not this he whom we once crucified and rejected and pierced and spat upon? Of a truth it was He who then said that He was the Son of God.” But how is he like to the goat? For this reason: "the goats shall be alike, beautiful, and a pair," in order that when they see Him come at that time they may be astonished at the likeness of the goat. See then the type of Jesus destined to suffer. But why is it that they put the wool in the middle of the thorns? It is a type of Jesus placed in the Church, because whoever wishes to take away the scarlet wool must suffer much because the thorns are terrible and he can gain it only through pain. Thus He says, “those who will see me, and attain to my kingdom must lay hold of me through pain and suffering.

  • Epistle of Barnabas, 7:8-11

And Peter [said], “We remember our Lord and teacher, how He commanded and said to us: ‘Keep the mysteries for me and for the sons of my house.’

  • Pseudo-Clement, Homilies 19.20 (also quoted in Stromata by Clement of Alexandria, 5.10)

BTW, has anyone used the Agrapha as an argument against Sola Scriptura? Would it actually be a good piece of evidence? :confused:

Wonderful topic. I have something more to get occupied with… I am gonna do my own research on this topic. But one word of caution that I would have to tell myself is that, do not mix it up with Gnostic Gospels!
Hope I am not being such a moron for saying that!

That is great advice because not everyone is familar with the differences between apocrypa and gnostic. Much of the apocryphal writings are legit oral traditions often mixed with pious legend, while gnostic writings are deceptive forgeries full of hog wash.

I found what I mentioned about variant readings in manuscripts that have the agraphas that are not found in the received text. One is from the codex Bezae Matthew 20:28

But seek to increase from smallness and the greater to become less. And when you go in and are invited to dine, do not recline in the prominent place lest one more illustrious than you come in, and he who invited you to dinner say to you, “Go even lower down; and you shall be put to shame.” But if you recline in the lesser place and a lesser man come in, he who invited you to dinner will say to you, “Come up higher,” and this will be profitable to you.

Another is in the Freer Gospels for Mark 16:14

And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who by his unclean spirits does not allow the true power of God to be comprehended. Therefore now reveal your righteousness.” So they spoke to Christ; and Christ addressed them thus, “The limit of the years of Satan’s authority has been fulfilled, but other terrible things are drawing near, even to those sinners on whose behalf I was Handed over to death, that they may turn to the truth and sin no more. In order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness in heaven.

Another is in the Freer Gospels for Mark 16:14

What’s interesting is, St. Jerome shows knowledge of the Freer Logion (which he says appears “in certain exemplars and especially in Greek codices”):

…et illi satisfaciebant dicentes: Saeculum istud iniquitatis et incredulitatis substantia (sub Satana) est, quae non sinit per immundos spiritus veram Dei apprehendi virtutem: idcirco iamnunc revela iustitiam tuam.

…and they were making this point, saying, “This age is the substance of iniquity and unbelief, and (or ‘This age of iniquity and unbelief is under Satan, who’) does not allow, by unclean spirits, the true power of God to be understood. Therefore right now reveal your righteousness.”

The article at the old Catholic Encyclopedia provides a very strict criteria about what gets to be called an agrapha:

The Agrapha must satisfy three conditions: they must be Sayings, not discourses; they must be Sayings of Jesus; they must not be contained in the canonical Gospels. (a) Being mere Sayings, and not discourses, the Agrapha do not embrace the lengthy sections ascribed to Jesus the “Didascalia” and the “Pistis Sophia.” These works contain also some brief quotations of alleged words of Jesus, though they may have to be excluded from the Sayings for other reasons. Such seems to be the Saying in “Didasc. Syr.” II, 8 (ed. Lagarde, p. 14): “A man is unapproved, if he be untempted.” (b) Being Sayings of Jesus, the Agrapha do not embrace: (I) The Sayings contained in religious romances, such as we find in the apocryphal Gospels, the apocryphal Acts, or the Letter of Christ to Abgar (Eus. Hist. Eccl., I, 13). (2) Scripture passages ascribed to Jesus by a mere oversight. Thus “Didasc. Apost. Syr.” (ed. Lagarde, p. 11, line 12) assigns to the Lord the words of Prov., xv, 1 (Sept.), “Wrath destroyeth even wise men”. (3) The expressions attributed to Jesus by the mistake of transcribers. The Epistle of Barnabas, iv, 9, reads: “As the son of God says, Let us resist all iniquity, and hold it in hatred.” But this is merely a rendering of a mistake of the Latin scribe who wrote “sicut dicit filius Dei”, instead of “sicut decet filios Dei”, the true rendering of the Greek os prepei uiois Theou. (4) The Sayings attributed to Jesus by mere conjecture. Resch has put forth the conjecture that the words of Clem. Alex. Strom. I, 8, 41, “These are they who ply their looms and weave nothing, saith the Scripture”, refer to a Saying of Jesus, though there is no solid foundation for this belief. © Coming down to us through channels outside the canonical Gospels, the Agrapha do not comprise: (I) Mere parallel forms, or amplifications, or, again, combinations of Sayings contained in the canonical Gospels. Thus we find a combination of Matt., vi, 19; x, 9; Luke, xii, 33, in Ephr. Syr. Test. (opp. Graece, ed. Assemani, II, 232): “For I heard the Good Teacher in the divine gospels saying to his disciples, Get you nothing on earth.” (2) Homiletical paragraphs of Jesus, thoughts given by ancient writers. Thus Hippolytus (Demonstr. adv. Judaeos, VII) paraphrases Ps. lxviii (lxix), 26: “Whence he saith, Let their temple, Father, be desolate.”

Of course, the sayings must also be supported by external and internal evidence: meaning that, we must first determine the independent source or sources by which any saying in question has been preserved, and then see whether the earliest authority for the saying is of such date and character than it might reasonably have had access to extra-canonical tradition. And, we should check whether the saying in question provides no conflict with the thought and spirit of the actual, historical (I use it here not in the sense that folks in, say, the Jesus Seminar uses it) Christ Jesus and the Gospel accounts. If a negative conclusion be reached in this investigation, the proof must be completed by finding a fair explanation of the saying’s origins.

Martha said about Mary that she had seen her smiling. Mary said: “I never laughed, for He said to you when He was teaching that the weak would be saved through the strong.

And some of the faithful ran up to take down Philip, and take off him the iron grapnels, and the hooks out of his ankles. But Philip said, “Do not, my children, do not come near me on account of this, for thus shall be my end. Listen to me, you who have been enlightened in the Lord, that I came to this city, not to make any merchandise, or do any other thing; but I have been destined to go out of my body in this city in the case in which you see me. Grieve not, then, that I am hanging thus; for I bear the stamp of the first man, who was brought to the earth head downwards, and again, through the wood of the cross brought to life out of the death of the transgression. And now I accomplish that which has been enjoined upon me; for the Lord said to me, ‘Unless you shall make that of you which is down to be up, and that which is on the left to be on the right, you shall not enter into my kingdom.’ Be not therefore likened to the unchanged type, for all the world has been changed, and every soul dwelling in a body is in forgetfulness of heavenly things; but let not us possessing the glory of the heavenly seek that which is without, which is the body and the house of slavery. Be not unbelieving, but believing, and forgive each other’s faults.

  • Acts of Philip, 34

Now for something amusing: the aforementioned Catholic Encyclopedia article also provides agrapha deemed by some at the time to be authentic which actually comes from the Sayings Gospel of Thomas (since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library - which would verify that these come from Thomas - would still be decades later, the quotations are attributed merely to the Greek fragments of the gospel found at Oxyrhynchus)!
The following quotations come from these Greek fragments rather than the Coptic version found in Nag Hammadi. I’ve excluded the other examples the article gives since they are parallels with some sayings in the Gospels.

Said Jesus, “If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the kingdom of God, and if you do not sabbatize the sabbath, you will not see the Father.

  • P. Oxy. 1.4-11 (Saying 27)

Said Jesus, “I s[t]ood in the midst of the world and in the flesh I was seen of them, and I found everyone drunk - and I found none thirsting among them; and my soul grieves over the sons of men, for they are blind in thei[r] hearts and [they] do [not] see.

  • P. Oxy. 1.11-21a (Saying 28)
  • The Nag Hammadi version is identical, and adds: “for they have come into the world empty, and they seek also to come out of the world empty; but now they are drunk. When they cast off their wine, then they will repent.

[Sai]d [Jesus, “Wh]ere there are [thr]e[e] they are w[ithout] God, and [w]here one [is] alone, y, I am with hi[m.] Li[f]t the stone and there you will find me; split the wood and there I am.

  • P. Oxy. 1.23-30 (Saying 30+77b)
  • This is where the OCE’s reconstruction of the statement ([Op]ou ean ōsin [tr]e[is], e[isi]n atheoi) is a bit different, since it presents the verse as “Wherever there are two, they are not without God”. The Coptic version, meanwhile, has: “Where there are three gods, they are gods; where there are two or one, I am with him.” The latter half of this saying appears in another saying in the Coptic (Saying 77): “I am the light, which is above them all. I am the All; the All came forth from me, and the All attained (‘split’/‘reached’) to me. Split a timber, I am there; lift the stone up, and you will find me there.”

Yes, ladies and gents, finding Jesus under the stone and in the wood is that quotation that appears often in the film Stigmata, with all its wild and wacky stuff about the Gospel of Thomas and the Church. :wink:

Origen, pstensibly quoting from the Gospel of the Hebrews - basically an extended version of the story of Jesus and the rich young man:

It is written in a certain gospel, which is called according to the Hebrews, if yet it pleases one to accept it, not as an authority, but as a manifestation of the proposed question:

[INDENT]The second of the rich men said to Him, “Master, what good thing can I do and live?” He said to Him, “O man, do that which is in the Law and the Prophets.” He answered Him, “I have did them.” He said to Him, “Go, sell all that you own and distribute it to the poor, and come follow me.” But the rich man began to scratch his head, and it pleased him not. And the Lord said to Him, “How can you say: ‘I have kept the law and the prophets’? For it is written in the law: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ And behold, many of your brothers - sons of Abraham - are clad in filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, and nothing at all goes out of it to them.” And he turned and said to Simon His disciple, who was sitting by Him, “Simon, son of John, it is easier for a camel to go in through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[/INDENT]

And yet another:

But He taught about the division of souls which will come about in the houses (cf. Matt. 10:34-36; Luke 12:51-53), as we have found in a place in the Gospel existing among the Jews in the Hebrew language, in which it is said: “I choose for myself the good ones - the good ones given me by my Father, who is in heaven.” (cf. John 13:18; 15:16, 19; 17:2, 6, 9, 24; 18:9) And, one may learn from this, how in every house in which the word of Jesus should prevail, the good would be distinguished from the vile.

  • Eusebius, Syriac Theophania 4.12

Anyone else? :slight_smile:

I’ve been following this thread, because I find it very interesting! However, I don’t have much to contribute because I don’t know much about it.

One point I did think of…I think it is possible that some of these quotes are re-phrasings of actual scripture, or perhaps interpretations of them. For example:

“that which you do for the least of these people, you do unto me” could be the source of
“Have you seen your brother? You have seen your God.”

Also, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and these other things will be added to you besides.” could be the source for, “Ask for the great things, and the little things will be added unto you.”

You know what I mean? As a further hypothetical example, I might be trying to share my faith with someone and say to them “Scripture says we should help people with cancer.” Scripture doesn’t say this verbatum, but it does say to visit the sick and imprisoned.

However, all the examples you gave above can’t easily fit into this. Some of the quotes are quite lengthy! Also, I too believe that many things that Jesus said were not written down, and could have instead been passed down by word alone. This is also quite possible! Overall, I think this is very interesting stuff. :slight_smile:

Found **this article **at Catholic Encyclopedia that might help.


Of course, in some cases, it’s quite clear that the sayings are just rephrasings of ones that are found in the Gospels. Still, it’s not that unlikely that a few of them were indeed original - Jesus would have spoken about many of the same things over and over again, sometimes rephrasing, expanding or summarizing them.

One estimate I’ve read puts the total number of existing agrapha to be 225, but many scholars think that out of 225 saying, it seems likely that only a small number (around 7 to 18) are actually original: i.e. most likely spoken by Jesus Himself.

One of the most well-known agraphon (it is alluded and quoted quite a number of times in the writings of the Fathers) is actually very short: “Be approved money-changers!” I quote again from Clement of Alexandria:

With reason, then, the scripture, wishing us to become such kind of dialectics, exhorts: “But become approved moneychangers, rejecting the [evil] things, and embracing the good.” (Stromata 1.28; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21)

The idea here of course is that professional money-changers can easily detect counterfeit currency from the genuine. So we should be: we should be able to discern the good from the bad.

Bumping this thread for the interested.

Hey all :slight_smile:

I’ve been studying the agrapha for many years now. I can contribute literally hundreds to this thread, which I will in due course.

I heard mention of Thomas before. The problem is that Thomas is not actually a “Gnostic” Gospel. It has a very high view of the flesh and has no Gnostic mythology in it. It was a widely used text in Syria and Egypt. It is not the same text as the Naasene “Gospel of Thomas” condemned by one of the Church Fathers, I think it was Epiphanius, but it is this confusion which has sadly resulted in GoT being marginalized.

In fact, Thomas is an Orthodox work, albeit with a strong mystical bent like the Writings of the later Desert Fathers. There is nothing “un-Orthodox” in it however. It is not canonical, or an inspired writing but Christians need to stop propagating the myth that its “Gnostic” and so ignoring the plethora of agrapha it contains.

There is no ‘Gnostic theorising’ in Thomas – it is more likely to have been written at the time the canonical gospels were written or a little later than the Synoptics. Steven Davies, one of the foremost scholars of Thomas, said:

“Thomas, if anything is anti-Gnostic, with its emphasis on the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven within the world now . . . Gnosticism emphatically insisted that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found in the highest sphere above this world and certainly not here"

~Stevan Davies

Its too positive about the flesh, the sabbath, the world and has too many shared sayings with the canonical Gospels to be Gnostic.

Gnostics are among the earliest to use the Gospel of John. And yet we don’t believe its Gnostic, so it amazes me that because some Gnostics liked Thomas that some claim it is Gnostic, even though scholarship has proved the opposite.

Is this a Gnostic saying:

***(29) Jesus said: If flesh came into being because of spirit, it is wonderful. If spirit came into being because of the body it is exceedingly wonderful ***

Jesus clearly affirms the second of these two propositions.

Gnostics believed that the spirit was imprisoned in the body and pre-existed it. They held matter to be lower than the spirit. Thomas confirms the account of Genesis in which spirit came into being when the human being was created by God, not before it.

The following agrapha comes from the book of 2 Clement, which is an Orthodox writing and an Apostolic Father from the 2nd century.

“For the Lord himself, being asked when the kingdom would come, replied, ‘When two shall be one, that which is without as that which is within, and the male with the female, neither male nor female’” ( 2 Clement 12).

This is clearly a quote from the Gospel of Thomas, saying 22, or at least derived from the same common source (which is thus Orthodox). The saying in Thomas 22 reads:

*Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, “These infants tasting milk are like those who enter the kingdom.”

They said to him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the Kingdom?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand … then you will enter”*

This saying is also referred to by the Church Father, Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata:

*“When Salome inquired when the things concerning which she asked should be known, the Lord said: When ye have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female.” * - (Stromateis iii)

Given its wide attestation in 13 ancient Christian documents - both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, from Church Fathers to Thomas, to the Gospel of the Egyptians, to the clearly Gnostic Gospel of Philip - many scholars believe this too be a genuine agrapha of Jesus.

In fact I’d argue you’d be hard-pushed to discredit it, given its striking similarity with Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

We can conclude that Paul clearly knew of this saying in its earliest form.

Finally, 2 Clement - the Orthodox Apostolic Father writing I referred to above - provides an interpretation of this saying:

Now the two are one when we speak the truth to each other … And “that which is without as that which is within” means this: He calls the soul “that which is within” and the body “that which is without.” As, then, your body is visible to sight, so let your soul be shown by good works. And “the male with the female, neither male nor female,” this he says so that a brother, seeing a sister, might have no thought concerning her as a female and that she might have no thought concerning him as a male.

Didache 1.6:

But rather also concerning this he (Jesus) has said: Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it.

Barnabas 7.11b:

Thus, he says, those who wish to see me and take hold of my kingdom must receive me in tribulation and suffering.

This agrapha is parralleled by a very similar saying in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 58):

***Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who has suffered and has found life.” ***

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