The Agrapha


How many here are familiar with the ‘agrapha,’ unwritten sayings of Jesus not recorded in the Gospels but which were passed down as part of the oral tradition, until referred too (often in passing) by Church Fathers in their writings?

What is your view of their ‘authority’? These logia are not in the Bible but unlike false apocryphal gospels, these are sayings attributed to Jesus by recognized, orthodox sources. Even some of the false gospels, according to some Fathers, contain corrupted germs of true traditions. Origen notes that in amidst the “mud” of these texts, kernels of truth can be uncovered. If so for these unreliable texts, what of orthodox ones?

The earliest ‘agraphon’ is of course the one in Acts 20:35, “Remember the word of the Lord Jesus, how he said: It is a more blessed thing to give, rather than to receive.”

Luke decided, for whatever reason, not to include this saying in his Gospel. Naturally, this one is part of the New Testament. What of the others outside Holy Scripture? Should we see them as forming part, if we can be reasonably sure that they are likely authentic, of Sacred Tradition?

The canonical Gospels admit themselves that they do not include everything that Jesus said:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe to that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30,31).

John finished his gospel by saying.

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).

What I find interesting, is that many of these ‘agrapha’ from orthodox sources correlate with teachings taught by many of our canonized mystics and holy doctors.

Consider this well-known agraphon which is referred to in numerous orthodox sources (the Apostolic and Church Fathers):

"…For the Lord Himself, being asked by a certain person when his kingdom would come, said, “When the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with the female, neither male or female”. Now the two are one, when we speak truth among ourselves, and in two bodies there shall be one soul without dissimulation. And by the outside as the inside He meaneth this: by the inside he meaneth the soul and by the outside the body. Therefore in like manner as they body appeareth, so also let thy soul be manifest by its good works. And by the male with the female, neither male nor female, he meaneth this; that a brother seeing a sister should have no thought of her as a female, and that a sister seeing a brother should not have any thought of him as a male. “These things if ye do, saith He, the kingdom of my father shall come.”

- Second Epistle of Clement 12:2-6

2 Clement is one of the ‘apostolic fathers’ and is therefore one of the earliest non-canonical orthodox writings of the Church:

The Second Epistle of Clement (Ancient Greek: Κλήμεντος πρὸς Κορινθίους Klēmentos pros Korinthious “Clement to Corinthians”) often referred to as 2 Clement or Second Clement, is an early Christian writing. 2 Clement was not accepted in the canonical New Testament, but was included in the Apostolic Fathers collection…

This same saying can be found in a multitude of other early orthodox sources, for instance St. Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata, 3.92.2:

“…When Salome asked when she would know the answer to her questions, the Lord said, When you trample on the robe of shame, and when the two shall be one, and the male with the female, and there is neither male nor female…”

- St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata iii.13.92-93

In the Acts of Peter (the earliest of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, composed in the second century), from which we derive the popular tradition that St. Peter was crucified upside-down, this same agraphon is rendered slightly differently. Just when Peter is about to be crucified, he states:

Concerning this the master says in a mystery, 'If you do not make what is on the right like what is on the left and what is on the left like what is on the right, and what is above like what is below, and what is behind like what is before, you will not recognize the kingdom.’” (Martyrdom of Peter 9)

And in the Acts of Philip, a later apocryphal Acts of the Apostles work:

“For the Lord said to me: Except ye make the lower into the upper and the left into the right, ye shall not enter into my kingdom.”

***- Acta Philippi, 34 ***

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI referred to another agraphon quoted frequently by the Fathers, including Origen, in one of his homilies for Pentecost:

“…A Father of the Church, Origen, in one of his Homilies on Jeremiah, cites a saying attributed to Jesus, not contained in the sacred Scriptures but perhaps authentic, which reads: "Whoever is near to me, is near to the fire” (Homily on Jeremiah, L. I [III]). In Christ, in fact, there is the fullness of God, who in the Bible is compared to fire. We just observed that the flame of the Holy Spirit blazes but does not burn. And nevertheless it enacts a transformation, and thus must also consume something in man, the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbour…"


How should we approach such sayings?


The Church teaches the two sources of revelation are tradition and scripture. The Vatican II Council taught this in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), 18 Nov 1965. This Agrapha, in my opinion falls under tradition. It is up to the Church to determine and explain what is in this tradition source, and its interpretation. Obviously you should be safe with sources coming from Saints and Patristic sources. I have never specifically seen the word Agrapha before. So this is very interesting! Wondering if there are any books out on this subject?:slight_smile:


Hello Serpent :slight_smile:

Thank you for your reply! There used to be an excellent website entitled ‘Text Excavation’ which boasted a comprehensive list of many agrapha with their references. Sadly it has been taken down but I did note some at the time, which I’ll quote for you at the end of my post.

I would agree that authentic agrapha (as in quoted by Patristic sources) are inherently related to Sacred Tradition. The thing is though, we don’t tend to think of sacred tradition in terms of actual non-canonical sayings ascribed to Jesus. We tend to see it more along the lines of received teachings passed down through the life of the Church but not in an explicit sense as in, “Jesus said x,y,z”. Yet there are quite a few cases where an orthodox, early source does suggest that Jesus actually did say x, y, z even though it never made the ‘final cut’ of the canonical Gospels. Its a fascinating area to study (unless your a Protestant believing exclusively in sola scriptura of course).

Some of the allegedly true sayings were recorded in actual texts such as the “gospel according to the Hebrews” which the Fathers regarded with respect as a source of traditions about Jesus even though it isn’t canonical. That Gospel is now lost apart from those quotations in the Fathers. Other ‘agrapha’ seem to have never made the transition from oral to written and were only done so by the Fathers themselves.

The Apostolic Father St. Papias of Hierapolis (circa. 70-163) composed a comprehensive list of agrapha in the early second century, that was sadly lost:

**Papias (Greek: Παπίας) was an Apostolic Father, Bishop of Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale, Turkey), and author who lived circa 70-163 AD. It was Papias who wrote the Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord (Greek: Λογίων Κυριακῶν Ἐξήγησις) in five books.

This work, which is lost apart from brief excerpts in later writings, is an important early source on Christian oral tradition** and especially on the origins of the canonical Gospels.

If it is ever discovered again (one lives in hope!), we will have books larger than the four Gospels devoted to authentic oral tradition. My feeling is that even if individual sayinhs have been lost through time, the Holy Spirit has kept the teachings of them alive in the church which is why so many Saints and Mystics appear to have said things that correlate exactly with fragments of agrapha they probably never knew of directly.

An interesting point:

Eusebius concludes his account of Papias by saying that he relates "another account about a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews".[22] Agapius of Hierapolis (10th century) offers a fuller summary of what Papias said here, calling the woman an adulteress.[37] The parallel is clear to the famous Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), a problematic passage absent or relocated in many ancient Gospel manuscripts. The remarkable fact is that the story is known in some form to such an ancient witness as Papias.

The *Pericope Adulterae * might actually have originally came from Sacred Tradition outside scripture that was, for some reason, interpolated into the Gospel of John.


That aside, there are many different academic works on the agrapha.

A useful source might be:

Although he includes sections on Gnostic and Sufi traditions, if one ignores these he includes two sections on orthodox “Christian” and “Jewish Christian” agrapha from the early church.

If you do a search online (ie google) it will come up with many other sources.

There are actually quite a lot of agrapha. St. Clement of Alexandria and Origen were both fond of referencing them.

Here are a few other well-known ones. Enjoy! :wink:

In Stromata 1:19 St. Clement states that Jesus said: “You have seen your brother; you have seen your God.”

“…[Jesus said:] The seeker will not stop searching until he finds, and when he has found he will be astonished, and when he has become astonished, he will reign and once he has reigned he will find rest…”

*- St. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 5.14.96) *

“…The apostles asked the Lord: Has the advent already happened in the past?
And the Lord answered: You have dismissed the living one who is before your eyes and talk idly of the dead

*- St. Augustine of Hippo, Against Adversaries of the Law and Prophets 2.4.14 *

“…[Our Lord said] Never be happy except when you look upon your brother with love…”

St. Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians 5.4

“…But rather also concerning this He (Jesus) has said:** Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it**…”
- Didache 1.6:

“…Have confidence and be of a peaceful heart: Truly I say to you, your rest will be in heaven, in the place where there is neither eating or drinking, neither rejoicing nor mourning, nor perishing of those who are in it…”

- Epistula Apostolorum

“…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 the Lord said: Go out, those who wish to do so, from your bonds…”

Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 6.44

“…[Jesus said]: No man can obtain the heavenly kingdom that has not passed through temptation…”

Tertullian, On Baptism, chapter 20

“…I am hope for the hopeless, the helper of the helpless, the treasure of the needy, the doctor of the sick, the resurrection of the dead…”

Epistula Apostolorum

“…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.”

- Origen, Commentary on Matthew 13.2

“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)

“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.”

- Apostolic Church-Ordinance, 26

“…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.”…"

- Origen, Commentary on Matthew 15:4


The ‘old Catholic Encyclopaedia’ has a section on agrapha as well (its very dated though):

**List of authentic agrapha

The sources from which the authentic Agrapha may be gathered are: (a) the New Testament and the New Testament manuscripts; (b) the Apocryphal tradition; © the patristic citations; and (d) the so-called “Oxyrhynchus Logia” of Jesus**. Agrapha contained in Jewish or Mohammedan sources may be curious, but they are hardly authentic. Since the criticism of the Agrapha is in most cases difficult, and often unsatisfactory, frequent disagreement in the critical results must be expected as a matter of course. The following Agrapha are probably genuine sayings of Jesus.

(a) In the New Testament and the New Testament manuscripts: In Codices D and Phi, and in some versions of Matthew 20:28, “But ye seek from the small to increase, and from the greater to be less.” In Codex D of Luke 6:4: "On the same day, seeing one working on the Sabbath, he said to him: Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the Law." In Acts 20:35, “Remember the word of the Lord Jesus, how he said: It is a more blessed thing to give, rather than to receive.”

(b) In apocryphal tradition:** In the Gospel according to the Hebrews (Jerome, Ezech., xviii, 7): “In the Gospel which the Nazarenes are accustomed to read, that according to the Hebrews, there is put among the greatest crimes he who shall have grieved the spirit of his brother.” In the same Gospel (Jerome, Eph., v, 3 sq.): “In the Hebrew Gospel too we read of the Lord saying to the disciples: And never, said he, rejoice, except when you have looked upon your brother in love.**” In Apostolic Church-Order, 26: “For he said to us before, when he was teaching: That which is weak shall be saved through that which is strong.” In “Acta Philippi", 34: "For the Lord said to me: Except ye make the lower into the upper and the left into the right, ye shall not enter into my kingdom.”

© In patristic citations: **Justin Martyr, Dial. 47: “Wherefore also our Lord Jesus Christ said, In whatsoever things I apprehend you, in those I shall judge you.” **Clement of Alexandria, Strom. I, 24, 158: “For ask, he says for the great things, and the small shall be added to you.” Clement of Alexandria, Strom. I, 28, 177: “Rightly therefore the Scripture also in its desire to make us such dialecticians, exhorts us: Be approved moneychangers, disapproving some things, but holding fast that which is good.” Clement of Alexandria, Strom. V, 10, 64: “For not grudgingly, he saith, did the Lord declare in a certain gospel: My mystery is for me and for the sons of my house.” Origen, Homil. in Jer., XX, 3: "But the Saviour himself saith: He who is near me is near the fire; he who is far from me, is far from the kingdom."


Sources one can use to find out more about the agrapha (in-depth):

Rick Brannan, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha (Lexham Press, 2013)

Joachim Jeremias, The Unknown Sayings of Jesus (2nd ed., London: SPCK, 1964)

Otfried Hofius, “Isolated Sayings of the Lord” in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhem Schneemelcher, & English translation, ed. R. McL. Wilson (rev. ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991) 1:88-91;

William D. Stroker, Extracanonical Sayings of Jesus (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989). – llywrch (talk) 04:44, 28 August 2013 (UTC)


I think we can class the claimed agrapha into the following categories:

(1) Authentic sayings by Jesus that were not included in the gospels but were passed through word of mouth.
(2) Variations on sayings by Jesus that were included in the gospels (and so are not really ‘original’).
(3) Sayings which were actually from other sources and which were (mistakenly?) attributed to Jesus; in other words, non-authentic.

Joachim Jeremias in his book on the agrapha admitted at least eighteen sayings (out of the hundreds of candidates) as being possibly authentic, but Otfried Hofius’ more recent study admitted only nine agrapha as having any hope of being authentic, and out of those nine, five could possibly be just variations on and conflations of synoptic sayings.

“Since you are here in the temple too, are you clean?” … “Woe to blind people who do not see! You have washed in the gushing waters that dogs and pigs are thrown into day and night. And when you washed yourself, you scrubbed the outer layer of skin, the layer of skin that prostitutes and flute-girls anoint and wash and scrub when they put on makeup to become the desire of the men. But inside they are filled with scorpions and all unrighteousness. But my disciples and I, whom you say have not washed, we have washed in waters of eternal life that come from the God of heaven. But woe to those …” (P. Oxyrhynchus 840.2) = Maybe modeled on the woe found in Matthew 23:27-28 (cf. 7:6) and the sayings about living water found in John 4:10-12; 7:37?

“As you were found, so you will be taken away.” (Syriac Liber Graduum 3.3; 15.4; 24.2; cf. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 47.5: “In whatever things I take you, in these I shall judge you;” also Apocalypse of Ezekiel 4?) = Possibly a summary of apocalyptic warnings (cf. Matthew 24:27, 40-41; Luke 17:24, 26-30, 34-35)

“The man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without difficulty. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Gospel of Thomas 8) = Probably modeled after the parables of the pearl and the dragnet (Matt. 13:45-46; 47-48)?

“Ask for the great things and God will add to you the little things.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 1.24.158; Origen, Commentary on Psalms 4.4; De Oratione 2.2; 14.1; Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms 16.2)

“Be approved money-changers.” (Origen, Commentary on Job 19.7; Jerome, Epistulae 99.11.2; Clementine Homilies 2.51; 3.50; 18.20) = An interpretation of Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22? (Dionysius of Alexandria, one of Origen’s students, knew the saying, but he attributed it to an “apostolic voice” and not to Jesus.)

Which leaves you with four sayings:

On the same day he saw a man performing a work on the sabbath. Then he said to him: “Man! If you know what you are doing, you are blessed. But if you do not know, you are cursed and a transgressor of the law.” (Codex Bezae, in place of Luke 6:5)

“Whoever is near me is near the fire; whoever is far from me is far from the kingdom.” (Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 20.3; Gospel of Thomas 82; Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Psalms 88.8)

“And never be joyful, save when you look upon your brother in love.” (Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians 5.4, attributed to the ‘Gospel of the Hebrews’)

“[He that] stands far off [today] will tomorrow be [near you].” (P. Oxyrhynchus 1224.2)

That being said, Hofius was skeptical about the saying from Codex Bezae, while another scholar, Craig Evans was skeptical about the fire saying (since it’s so highly similar to a rabbinic saying which goes: “Aqiba, he that separates himself from you separates himself from life,” as well as Greek sayings about “He who is near Zeus is near the lightning”). The final two sayings are consistent with - or at least, do not contradict - Jesus’ teaching and they could very well be authentic, but they don’t really add anything new to what we know about His teaching.

Hofius agrees with Jeremias that there are few agrapha which can be placed on the level of those found in the canonical gospels; the vast majority of the agrapha are dependent on the gospels. As Jeremias said, “Our four canonical gospels embrace with great completeness almost all the early Church knew of the sayings and deeds of Jesus in the second half of the first century.” Hofius sees this as a strong argument against the claims made by some modern scholars that (1) there was a substantial amount of material of a level of quality close to the gospel tradition that survived independent of the canonical gospels and (2) that the early Christians invented sayings and attributed them to the historical Jesus.


They have no authority.
They are from a book by J.G. Körner, the Sayings of Jesus that are outside the canonical Gospels. After Alfred Resch had chosen the expression, as the title for his learned work on these Sayings (1889)


St. Irenaeus also quoted the thing about “Be approved moneychangers,” although it’s also associated with a variant reading of Luke 19:13. (“Be good bankers till I come” instead of “Trade till I come.”)


In and of themselves they have no authority at all, even if they say things that do not contradict scripture.


The agrapha page on textexcavation is up again:

There’s this interesting quote from the Epistle of Barnabas (12.1):

Likewise again he narrates concerning the cross in another prophet, who says: “And when will these things be consummated?” The Lord says: “When the tree shall lean over and stand up, and when blood shall flow from the tree.” You have again a note concerning the cross and the who was to be crucified.

It doesn’t really qualify as an agrapha in the proper sense (does “the Lord” here refer to the historical Jesus? Not that likely IMHO. Given the reference to “the prophet,” it’s more likely intended to be some sort of OT-esque prophecy.)

Interestingly, we have a similar quotation from a work found in Qumran dubbed Pseudo-Ezekiel.

‘And they will know that I am the Lord] who redeems My people, giving them the Covenant.’

[And I said, ‘Lord,] I have seen many from Israel who have loved Thy name and walked [in] the ways [of righteousness (?), and] when will [these] things come to pass? And how will their piety be rewarded? And the Lord said to me, ‘I will make the sons of Israel see and they will know that I am the Lord.’

[And He said,] ‘Son of man, prophesy concerning the bones, and say, “Come together, a bone to its bone, and a bit [to its bit.”’ And] s[o it came to pas]s. And He said a second time, ‘Prophesy, and let sinews come on them, and skin spread over them above.’ [And] s[o it came to pas]s. And He said again, ‘Prophesy concerning the four winds of heaven and let the win[ds of heaven] blow [on them and they shall live].’ And a great crowd of men revived and blessed the Lord of hosts wh[o made them live.] And I said, ‘Lord, when will these things come to pass?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘… a tree will bend and stand up …’

  • Pseudo-Ezekiel (4Q385, fr. 2 (=4Q386, fr. 1 i, 4Q388, fr. 7))

Now, it’s not that likely that the author of Barnabas knew pseudo-Ezekiel per se, but it’s possible that both works drew from a common Jewish tradition.

The second half (about blood flowing from wood) may have been inspired by 4 Ezra (aka 2 Esdras) 5.

"Now concerning the signs: behold, the days are coming when those who dwell on earth shall be seized with great terror, and the way of truth shall be hidden, and the land shall be barren of faith.

And unrighteousness shall be increased beyond what you yourself see, and beyond what you heard of formerly.
And the land which you now see ruling shall be waste and untrodden, and men shall see it desolate.
But if the Most High grants that you live, you shall see it thrown into confusion after the third period; and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night,
and the moon during the day.
Blood shall drip from wood,
and the stone shall utter its voice;
the peoples shall be troubled,
and the stars shall fall.
And one shall reign whom those who dwell on earth do not expect, and the birds shall fly away together;
and the sea of Sodom shall cast up fish; and one whom the many do not know shall make his voice heard by night, and all shall hear his voice.
There shall be chaos also in many places, and fire shall often break out, and the wild beasts shall roam beyond their haunts, and menstruous women shall bring forth monsters.
And salt waters shall be found in the sweet, and all friends shall conquer one another; then shall reason hide itself, and wisdom shall withdraw into its chamber,
and it shall be sought by many but shall not be found, and unrighteousness and unrestraint shall increase on earth.
And one country shall ask its neighbor, Has righteousness, or any one who does right, passed through you?' And it will answer,No.’
And at that time men shall hope but not obtain; they shall labor but their ways shall not prosper.
These are the signs which I am permitted to tell you, and if you pray again, and weep as you do now, and fast for seven days, you shall hear yet greater things than these."

Then I awoke, and my body shuddered violently, and my soul was so troubled that it fainted.

closed #12

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