In 1776, German Bible scholar J.G. Körner coined the term agrapha – from the Greek agraphon meaning ironically “non written” – to describe the sayings of Jesus not recorded in the canonical Gospels.
If you’re not familiar with the term, you might be familiar with the earliest examples of an agraphon:
“Keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”” – Acts 20:35
After he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” – 1 Corinthians 11:24-25
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
Luke didn’t find it apt to include the first saying from the Acts in his own Gospel. Yet, this agraphon is part of the New Testament, and thus we can be sure of it authenticity. Could we be sure other agrapha are genuine sayings of Jesus? The Gospels even admit they don’t include everything that Jesus said or did:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.” – John 20:30
“There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” – John 21:25
According to the Church, we can, but only if the saying of Jesus is supported by external and internal evidence. This means early Church writers (such as Papias, Clement, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, etc) must quote them, and they must not conflict with the sayings of Jesus from the canonical Gospels.
Here are a list of agrapha in Patristic citations deemed to be genuine:
• Clement of Rome, First Epistle of Clement, 13: “For thus He spoke: ‘Be ye merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as ye do, so shall it be done unto you; as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.'”
• Polycarp of Smyrna, Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, 2, “but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again;’ and once more, ‘Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.'”
• Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 47: “Wherefore also our Lord Jesus Christ said, In whatsoever things I apprehend you, in those I shall judge you.”
• Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, I, 24, 158: “For ask, he says for the great things, and the small shall be added to you.”
• Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 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, Stromata, 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, Homily on Jeremiah, 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.”
The above agraphon by Origen was in fact quoted by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his 2010 Pentecost Homily.
“…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.'”
We also see agrapha sourced from apocryphal texts:
• 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.”
• Acts of Philip 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.”
• Jerome, Ephesians: “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.”
Many of these quotations were taken from oral tradition of the sayings of Jesus known but not recorded, or based off a now-lost text entitled Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord by by the Greek Apostolic Father Papias. Papias composed a comprehensive list of agrapha in the early second century through eyewitness testimony that is now only known through excerpts and quotations in the works of other Church Fathers.
More agrapha are seen in the Oxyrhynchus Gospels, two fragmentary manuscripts discovered in Egypt, of which there are 8 total sayings of Jesus in varying conditions. The first is simply a partial quote of Luke 6:42, while the rest follow:
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.”
Fourth Logion: ” … poverty …
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 . . .”
Another curious case concerning agrapha comes from Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians:
“Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
Paul calls upon “the word of the Lord,” and while not a direct quotation as Greek punctuation is derived from context, it suggests at a minimum a close paraphrase and can be considered an agraphon.
You can find an exhaustive list of agrapha here.