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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy?

Don Stewart :: What about Alleged Sayings of Jesus That Are Not Found in the Four Gospels?

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What about Alleged Sayings of Jesus That Are Not Found in the Four Gospels? (Agrapha)

Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy? – Question 15

There are a number of alleged sayings of Jesus that exist that are not found in the four gospels. These are known as the “agrapha” (which means, “not written”). Some of them come relatively early in the history of the church. What should we make of these sayings? Do they accurately reflect the words of Jesus?

We can make the following observations about these sayings.

1. Jesus Spoke Many Things That Are Not Recorded

To begin with, the New Testament itself says that Jesus did many things that have not been recorded in the four gospels. Indeed, John finished his gospel by saying the following:

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 NRSV)

Therefore, numerous sayings and deeds of Jesus were never recorded. From what John wrote it seems clear that there was a multitude of things which Jesus said and did which he could have chosen to write about. What we have in the four gospels is only a small portion of what could have been written.

2. The Writers Were Selective in What They Recorded

This brings us to our next point. According to the New Testament itself, the writers were selective about what they wrote concerning Jesus.

We read the following in the gospel of John:

Jesus performed many other miracles that his disciples saw. Those miracles are not written in this book. But these miracles have been written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so that you will have life by believing in him. (John 20:30-31 God’s Word)

This means that He said and did many more things than the four gospels record. The question is, “Are any of those sayings or deeds found in other early writings?” Have others recorded any words from Jesus which we do not find in the gospels?

3. One Saying of Jesus Not Found in the Four Gospels (Acts 20:35)

There is the issue of sayings of Jesus that are not found in the four gospels but they are recorded elsewhere in the New Testament. In fact, one saying of Jesus, not recorded in the four gospels, is found in the Book of Acts. We read the following:

In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35 RSV)

This particular saying of Jesus has not been recorded in the four gospels yet we do find it in the New Testament.

4. Many Alleged Sayings of Jesus Do Exist Outside of the New Testament

From sources outside of the four gospels there are a number of sayings that have claimed to come from Jesus. For example, the Gospel of Thomas contains 114 separate sayings that are introduced by the words, “Jesus said.”

From other early sources we find the same claims of recording authentic sayings of Jesus. Elaborate theories about Jesus have been built upon some of these sayings that are not found in the New Testament.

5. There Is No Consensus about Which Sayings Are Authentic

While there are a number of Bible scholars who contend that we possess a number of statements from Jesus that are not recorded in the New Testament, there is no consensus on this issue. Some of the statements that are attributed to Jesus may indeed have come from Him, while others clearly do not reflect His character and teaching. For example, we find the following:

Let Mary go away from us because women are not worthy of life.

This statement is certainly at odds with other what we know of Jesus from the four gospels. Therefore, it is rejected as coming from Him.

6. Some Possible Sayings of Jesus Not Found in the New Testament

We can list a sample of sayings that some have argued were original with Jesus. They include the following.

In the margin of an ancient New Testament manuscript, Codex Bezae, we find the following reading in Luke 6:5:

Man, if you know what you are doing you will be blessed; but if you do not know you are cursed and an offender of the law.

There are those who believe that Jesus actually did say this or something similar.

There was a statement attributed to Jesus that is found in the writings of Clement of Alexandria which some argue may have been original with Jesus. It reads,

Be approved, money changers.

It is possible that one or more of these sayings were actually uttered by Jesus. On the other hand, no one can be certain that Jesus spoke these things or anything like it. All we can say that it is possible that Jesus said these things, or something like it.

7. We Cannot Say for Certain if Any Sayings Are Authentic

Consequently we cannot be certain that we have any authentic saying of Jesus in the writings that are found outside of the New Testament. The best that can be done is to say that some of these sayings may have come from Jesus. We cannot go beyond that.

What we can say is this. The four gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus Christ or they recorded eyewitness testimony. They certainly contain the authentic words of Jesus. The sources for these other sayings are unknown. We have to leave it at that. Indeed, we just do not know.

Summary – Question 15
What about Alleged Sayings of Jesus That Are Not Found in the Four Gospels? (Agrapha)

From the New Testament itself, we know that Jesus Christ said and did many things that are not recorded in the Scriptures. Indeed, John ends his gospel by making reference to a multitude of things which Jesus said and deeds which He did that are not recorded in the New Testament. This makes it clear that the New Testament does not record everything about Him.

Indeed, we find that elsewhere John specifically stated that he wrote selectively about Jesus’ words and deeds. John said that what he had composed in his gospel was for the purpose of causing belief in the Lord. In stating this John also noted that Jesus said many other things which he did not record in his gospel.

We know that at least one saying of Jesus exists outside of the four gospels, Acts 20:35. Paul quotes Jesus saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The fact that Jesus did and said many things which the New Testament has not recorded has caused Bible students to examine certain documents that claim to have authentic words of Jesus. These sayings are known as the agrapha, unwritten sayings of Jesus.

Many of these alleged sayings exist. The problem is that there is no consensus as to which sayings, if any, actually came from Jesus. Since we cannot say for certain, it is unwise to build any theory about Jesus on these contested sayings.

What we do know for certain is that the New Testament contains the only undisputed sayings of Jesus. They were recorded by people who actually heard what He had said or by people who wrote down the testimony of the eyewitnesses. It is from these documents that we go to discover what Jesus said.

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