Agrapha of Jesus

General Information

The Agrapha of Jesus is a term coined by 18th-century German scholar J. G. Krner for sayings attributed to Jesus Christ that are not contained in the Gospels. In 1897 and 1903 valuable papyri containing such sayings were discovered at Oxyrhyncus, in what is now Egypt. A book of such sayings of Jesus was, in early traditions, attributed to Saint Matthew, one of the 12 apostles. The designation agrapha (Greek, "unwritten things") reflects the view that these sayings represent the survival of an oral tradition that developed independently of the tradition embodied in the written Gospels. Most of the sayings are preserved in the Talmud, in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, in the writings of the Fathers of the Church, and in various Muslim sources.

In addition to sayings preserved in extracanonical sources, there are several that occur within the text of the New Testament but outside the Gospels. A famous example is the saying "It is more blessed to give than to receive," attributed to Jesus by Saint Paul in a speech reported in Acts 20:35. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Paul purports to quote Christ's remarks before the Last Supper, using words that are similar but not identical to those of Luke 22:19-20. Paul's quotation in 1 Corinthians is itself quoted in the 4th-century Apostolic Constitutions (8.12), but in the latter work an explanatory comment by Paul ("You are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes," 1 Corinthians 11:26) is recorded as the words of Jesus ("You are proclaiming my death until I come"). This development suggests one way in which the agrapha may have grown.

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A third body of agrapha occur as isolated additions to various gospel manuscripts. In Luke 6:5, for example, a single manuscript records the following statement made by Jesus to a man found performing work on the Sabbath: "Friend, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed; but if you do not, you are accursed as a breaker of the Law." Here the issue becomes one of textual criticism: Many sayings of Jesus that are generally printed in modern editions of the Bible can be shown on textual grounds to have the character of later additions. It is a matter of tradition that these sayings are printed in the text of the Bible and are not classified as agrapha.


Agrapha

Catholic Information

A name first used, in 1776, by J.G. Körner, for the Sayings of Jesus that have come down to us outside the canonical Gospels. After Alfred Resch had chosen the expression, as the title for his learned work on these Sayings (1889), its technical meaning was generally accepted. We shall consider, first, the limits of the Agrapha; secondly, the criteria of their genuineness; thirdly, the list of those that are probably authentic.

LIMITS

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 in 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: (1) 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 òs prépei uìoîs Theoû. (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.

(c) Coming down to us through channels outside the canonical Gospels, the Agrapha do not comprise: (1) 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. Græce, 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. Judæos, VII) paraphrases Ps. lxviii (lxix), 26: "Whence he saith, Let their temple, Father, be desolate."

CRITERIA OF GENUINENESS

The genuineness of the Agrapha may be inferred partly from external and partly from internal evidence.

(a) External Evidence.–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. For Papias and Justin Martyr such access may be admitted, but hardly for a writer of the fourth century. These are extreme cases; the main difficulty is concerned with the intermediate writers.

(b) Internal Evidence.–The next question is, whether the Saying under consideration is consistent with the thought and spirit of Jesus as manifested in the canonical gospels. If a negative conclusion be reached in this investigation, the proof must be completed by finding a fair explanation of the rise of the Saying.

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; (c) 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 Matt., xx, 28, "But ye seek from the small to increase, and from the greater to be less." In Codex D of Luke, vi, 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, xx, 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."

(c) 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."

(d) In the Oxyrhynchus Logia: The first Logion is part of Luke, vi, 42; of the fourth, only the word "poverty" is left; the eighth, too, is badly mutilated. The text of the other Logia is in a more satisfactory condition. Second Logion: "Jesus saith, Except you fast to the world, you shall in no wise find the kingdom of God." Third Logion: "Jesus saith, I stood in the midst of the world, and in the flesh was I seen of them, and I found all men drunken, and none found I athirst among them, and my soul grieved over the sons of men, because they are blind in their heart, and see not." Fifth Logion: "Jesus saith, Wherever there are two, they are not without God; and wherever there is one alone, I say I am with him. Raise the stone and there thou shalt find me; cleave the wood, and there am I." Sixth Logion: "Jesus saith, A prophet is not acceptable in his own country, neither doth a physician work cures upon them that know him." Seventh Logion: "Jesus saith, A city built upon the top of a hill and stablished can neither fall nor be hid." Eighth Logion: "Jesus saith, Thou hearest with one ear . . ." Resch's contention that seventy-five Agrapha are probably genuine Sayings of Jesus harmonizes with the assumption that all spring from the same source, but does not commend itself to the judgment of other scholars.

Publication information Written by A.J. Maas. Transcribed by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

Bibliography

ROPES in HAST., Dict. of the Bible (New York, 1905); Sprüche Jesu, Texte und Untersuch., XIV, 2 (Leipzig, 1896); RESCH, Agrapha, Texte und Untersuch., VI (Leipzig, 1889); GRENFELL and HUNT, LOGIA IESOU, (Egypt Expl. Fund, London, 1897); LOCK AND S ANDAY, Sayings of Jesus (Oxford, 1897); NESTLER, N. T. supplementum (Leipzig, 1896). Complete bibliographies will be found in most of the foregoing works.



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