AGRAPHA (ăg'ra-fa, Gr. agrapha, unwritten things). These are units of tradition concerning Christ, mostly sayings ascribed to him, transmitted to us outside of the canonical Gospels. The entire collection of agrapha, gathered from all sources, is not large; and when what is obviously apocryphal or spurious is eliminated, the small remainder is of very little value.

Although the number of agrapha collected by scholars seems imposing, only a very few have anything like a strong claim to acceptance on the grounds of early and reliable source and internal character. Some scholars reject the agrapha completely; others think that they are the remains of a considerable body of extracanonical sayings that circulated in early Christian circles, and that a few of them, at least, may be genuine. See also Gospel of Thomas.

Bibliography: M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, 1924, pp. 33-37; J. Donovan, The Logia in Ancient and Recent Literature, 1924; J. Jeremias, Unknown Sayings of Jesus, 1957.——SB

(Gr. = “unwritten sayings”). Generally understood to mean sayings of Jesus not found in our four canonical gospels. Sources are (1) the New Testament (i.e., 1 Thess. 4:16ff.; Acts 20:35; Codex D after Luke 6:4); (2) Christian writers, Papias and after; (3) papyri, especially Oxyrhynchus papyri;* (4) Arabic and Islamic agrapha.

See E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha (ET 1963), I, p.85 for full bibliography.

AGRAPHA ăg’ rə fə, neuter pl. of Gr. ἄγραφος, meaning “unrecorded,” “not registered” and used with such intent by Plutarch and other authors. The term does not appear in the NT, but was applied by the Gr. patristic author, Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 150 ? - 220) to those sayings of the apostolic church which were not incorporated in the canonical NT. The Ger. critical scholar, J. G. Körner revived the term in his De sermonibus Christi agraphois, which appeared in a Program which was issued in Leipzig in 1776. The supposition made by Kōrner and his followers, chiefly, A. Resch (“Agrapha, aussercanonische Evangelien-Fragmente in möglichster Vollständigkeit zusammengestellt und quellenkritisch untersucht,” Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur, Vol. IV, 1889), was that there had been a large body of oral tradition about, and derived from Christ, a “Q” source, from which the four evangelists and the other writers of the NT drew. The discovery of a number of Egyp. fragments of Gnostic works in the Coptic language which began about 1897 greatly enhanced the “agrapha” concept. The outstanding source for such sayings has been the Hel. papyri, Oxyrhynchus (Sayings of Jesus, q.v.). However, certain other apparently ancient collections of such sayings have been located in apocryphal works of various kinds, in the Talmud (q.v.), and in certain Moslem documents. As to the nature, value and number of agrapha, scholars disagree so radically as to wholly negate the thesis as of any value in NT study. The canonical gospels never state that they are either exhaustive or comprehensive, but indicate only that they are sufficient to elicit faith in Christ and His atonement (cf. John 21:25, et al.). In the light of such texts and the allusions to teachings of the Lord not mentioned in the gospels (1 Cor 11:24, 25), it is highly likely that fragments of noncanonical discourses and sermons would be found extant in extra-Biblical lit. To assume that these represent lost documents which are the true and authoritative sources of the canonical writings is a specious and highly subjective judgment.

Another type of agrapha is the one occurring in one or another set of NT MSS but not in the major ancient texts. Examples of these are the longer parallel to Luke 14:8-11, found in the D (Matt 20:28), and several other such readings in D. Although such problem texts can be solved through careful textual criticism, yet there is the unsolved origin of some of the readings which may be, in fact, ancient agrapha. It is most probable that little if anything of the traditional teachings and episodes concerning the Messiah were excluded or omitted by the evangelists while individual phrases or aphorisms might be extant that were not utilized by the NT writers.


Aside from the major works noted above, D. S. Margoliouth, ExpT, V (1893), 59, 107, 177; J. H. Ropes, “Die Sprüche Jesu, die in den kanonischen Evangelien nicht überliefert sind,” Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur, Vol. XIV, 2 (1896); M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (1924); W. T. Smith, “Agrapha,” ISBE, Vol. I (1929) 72-74; M. S. Enslin, “Agrapha,” IDB, Vol. I, A-D (1962) 56.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. The Term and Its History:

The word agraphos of which agrapha is the neuter plural is met with in classical Greek and in Greek papyri in its primary sense of "unwritten," "unrecorded." In early Christian literature, especially in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, it was used of oral tradition; and in this sense it was revived by Koerner in a Leipzig Program issued in 1776 under the title De sermonibus Christi agraphois. For some time it was restricted to sayings of Christ not recorded in the Gospels and believed to have reached the sources in which they are found by means of oral tradition. As however graphe, the noun with which agrapha is connected, can have not only the general meaning "writing," but the special meaning "Scripture," the, adjective could signify not only "oral" but also uncanonical or "non-canonical"; and it was employed by Resch in the latter sense in the 1st edition of his great work on the subject which appeared in German in 1889 under the title, Agrapha: Extra-canonical Gospel Fragments. The term was now also extended so as to include narratives as well as sayings. In the second edition (also in German) it is further widened so as to embrace all extra-canonical sayings or passages connected with the Bible. The new title runs: Agrapha Extra-canonical Fragments of Scripture; and the volume contains a first collection of Old Testament agrapha. The term is still however used most frequently of non-canonical sayings ascribed to Jesus, and to the consideration of these this article will mainly be devoted.

2. Extent of Material:

Of the 361 agrapha and apocrypha given by Resch about 160 are directly ascribed to Christ. About 30 others can be added from Christian and Jewish sources and about 80 sayings found in Muhammadan literature (Expository Times, V, 59, 107, 177 f, 503 f, 561, etc.). The last-mentioned group, although not entirely without interest, may largely be disregarded as it is highly improbable that it represents early tradition. The others come from a variety of sources: the New Testament outside of the Gospels, Gospel manuscripts and VSS, Apocryphal Gospels and an early collection of sayings of Jesus, liturgical texts, patristic and medieval literature and the Talmud.

3. Sayings to Be Excluded:

Many of these sayings have no claim to be regarded as independent agrapha. At least five classes come under this category.

(1) Some are mere parallels or variants, for instance: "Pray and be not weary," which is evidently connected with Lu 18:1; and the saying in the Talmud: "I, the Gospel, did not come to take away from the law of Moses but to add to the law of Moses have I come" (Shab 116b) which is clearly a variant of Mt 5:17.

(2) Some sayings are made up of two or more canonical texts. "I chose you before the world was," for example, is a combination of Joh 15:19 and Eph 1:4; and "Abide in my love and I will give you eternal life" of Joh 8:31 and Joh 10:28.

(3) Misquotation or loose quotation accounts for a number of alleged agrapha. "Sodom is justified more than thou" seems to be really from Eze 16:53 and its context. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath" is of apostolic not evangelic origin (Eph 4:26). "Anger destroys even the prudent" comes from Septuagint of Pr 15:1.

(4) Some sayings must be rejected because they cannot be traced to an early source, for instance, the fine saying: "Be brave in war, and fight with the old serpent, and ye shall receive eternal life," which is first met with in a text of the 12th century

(5) Several sayings are suspicious by reason of their source or their character. The reference to "my mother the Holy Spirit," in one of them, has no warrant in the acknowledged teaching of Christ and comes from a source of uncertain value, the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Pantheistic sayings such as "I am thou and thou art I, and wherever thou art I am"; "You are I and I am you"; and perhaps the famous saying: "Raise the stone and thou wilt find me; cleave the wood and there am I," as well as the sayings reported by Epiphanius from the Gospel of the Ebionites seem to breathe an atmosphere different from that of the canonical Gospels.

4. Sayings in New Testament:

When all the sayings belonging to these five classes, and a few others of liturgical origin, have been deducted there remain about thirty-five which are worthy of mention and in some cases of careful consideration. Some are dealt with in the article LOGIA (which see). The others, which are given here, are numbered consecutively to facilitate reference. The best authenticated are of course those found in the New Testament outside of the Gospels. These are

(1) the great saying cited by Paul at Miletus: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Ac 20:35);

(2) the words used in the institution of the Eucharist preserved only in 1Co 11:24 f;

(3) the promise of the baptism of the Spirit (Ac 1:5, 11:16); and

(4) the answer to the question: "Dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Ac 1:7 f). Less certain are

(5) the description of the Second Advent, said to be "by the word of the Lord" (1Th 4:15 ff); and

(6) the promise of the crown of life to them that love God (Jas 1:12).

5. Sayings in Manuscripts and Versions:

Of considerable interest are some additions, in manuscripts of the Gospels and versions One of the most remarkable

(7) is the comment of Jesus on a man’s working on the Sabbath day inserted after Lu 6:4 in Codex Bezae (D) and the Freer manuscript recently discovered in Egypt: "If thou knowest what thou doest, O man, blessed art thou, but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the law." Another

(8) also found in D and in several other authorities is appended to Mt 20:28: "But ye seek ye from little to increase and from greater to be less." In the Curetonian Syriac the latter clause runs: "and not from greater to be less." The new saying is noteworthy but obscure. A third passage

(9) of less value but still of interest is an insertion in the longer ending of Mark, between 16:14 and 16:15, which was referred to by Jerome as present in codices in his day but has now been met with in Greek for the first time in the above-mentioned Freer MS. (For facsimile see American Journal of Archaeology, 1908.) In reply to a complaint of the disciples about the opposition of Satan and their request: "Therefore reveal thy righteousness even now," Jesus is reported to have said: "The limit of the years of the authority of Satan is fulfilled, but other dreadful things are approaching, and in behalf of those who had sinned was I delivered unto death in order that they might return to the truth and might sin no longer, that they might inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness in heaven." This alleged utterance of the risen Lord is most probably of secondary character (compare Gregory, Das Freer Logion; Swete, Two New Gospel Fragments).

6. Sayings from the Fathers, etc.:

Apocryphal and patristic literature supplies some notable sayings. The first place must be given

(10) to the great saying which in its shortest form consists of only three words: "Be ("become," "show yourselves to be") approved money-changers." Resch (Agrapha2, number 87) gives 69 references, at least 19 of which date from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, although they represent only a few authorities, all Egyptian. The saying seems to have circulated widely in the early church and may be genuine. Other early sayings of interest or value, from these sources, must be given without comment.

(11) "The heavenly Father willeth the repentance of the sinner rather than his punishment" (Justin Martyr).

(12) "That which is weak shall be saved by that which is strong" (circa 300 AD).

(13) "Come out from bonds ye who will" (Clement of Alexandria).

(14) "Be thou saved and thy soul" (Theodotus in id).

(15) "Blessed are they who mourn for the perdition of unbelievers" (Didaskalia).

(16) "He who is near me is near the fire; he who is far from me is far from the kingdom" (Origen).

(17) "He who has not been tempted has not been approved" (Didaskalia, etc.).

(18) He who makes sad a brother’s spirit is one of the greatest of criminals" (Ev Heb).

(19) "Never be glad except when ye have seen your brother in love" (same place).

(20) "Let not him who seeks cease .... until he find, and when he finds he shall be astonished; astonished he shall reach the kingdom, and when he has reached the kingdom he shall rest" (Clement of Alexandria and Logia of Oxyrhynchus).

(21) In a fragment of a Gospel found by Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus (O Papyri number 655) is the following non-canonical passage in a canonical context: "He Himself will give you clothing. His disciples say unto Him: When wilt thou be manifest to us and when shall we see thee? He saith: When ye shall be stripped and not be ashamed." The saying or apocryphon exhibits considerable likeness to a saying cited by Clement of Alexandria from the Gospel according to the Egyptians, but the difference is great enough to make original identity doubtful. Another fragment found by the same explorers on the same site (O Papyri number 840) preserves two agrapha or apocrypha which though clearly secondary are very curious. The first

(22) is the concluding portion of a saying about the punishment of evil-doers: "Before a man does wrong he makes all manner of subtle excuses. But give heed lest you also suffer the same things as they for the evil-doers among men receive not their due among the living (Greek zois) only but also await punishment and much torment." Professor Swete (Two New Gospel Fragments), accents zoois as the plural of zoon and thus finds a contrast between the fate of animals and that of human beings. The second saying

(23) is a rather lengthy reply to the complaint of a Pharisaic stickler for outward purity. The most interesting part of it as edited by Swete runs as follows: "Woe to you blind who see not.... But I and my disciples who thou sayest have not been dipped have dipped in the waters of eternal life which come down from God out of heaven." All these texts from Oxyrhynchus probably date from the 2nd century. Other Egypt sources, the so-called Coptic Apocryphal Gospels (Texts and Studies Camb. IV, 2, 1896), contain several sayings which are of interest as coming from the same religious environment. The following three are the most remarkable.

(24) "Repent, for it is better that a man find a cup of water in the age that is coming than all the riches of this world" (130).

(25) "Better is a single footstep in My Father’s house than all the wealth of this world" (130 f).

(26) "Now therefore have faith in the love of My Father; for faith is the end of all things" (176). As in the case of the Logia these sayings are found in association with canonical sayings and parallels. Since the Logan may well have numbered scores, if not hundreds, it is at least possible that these Coptic sayings may have been taken from the missing portions of this collection, or a recension of it, and therefore they are not unworthy of notice as conceivably early agrapha. To these sayings of Christian derivation may be added

(27) one Muhammadan saying, that inscribed in Arabic on the chief gateway of the city Futteypore Sikri built by Akbar: "The world is but a bridge, over which you must pass, but must not linger to build your dwelling" (In the Himalayas by Miss Gordon Cumming, cited by Griffenhoofe, The Unwritten Sayings of Christ, 128).

7. Result:

Although the number of agrapha purporting to be sayings of Jesus which have been collected by scholars seems at first sight imposing, those which have anything like a strong claim to acceptance on the ground of early and reliable source and internal character are disappointingly few. Of those given above numbers 1-4, 7, 8, 10 which have mostly early attestation clearly take precedence of the rest. Numbers 11-20 are early enough and good enough to merit respectful consideration. Still the proportion of genuine, or possibly genuine, material is very small. Ropes is probably not far from the truth when he remarks that "the writers of the Synoptic Gospels did their work so well that only stray bits here and there, and these but of small value, were left for the gleaners." On the other hand it is not necessary to follow Wellhausen in rejecting the agrapha in toto. Recent discoveries have shown that they are the remains of a considerable body of extra-canonical sayings which circulated more or less in Christian circles, especially in Egypt, in the early centuries, and the possible presence in what we possess of a sentence or two actually spoken by Jesus fully justifies research.

8. Other Agrapha:

The second edition of the work of Resch includes 17 agrapha from manuscripts of Ac and 1 Joh most of which are from Codex Bezae (D), 31 apostolic apocrypha, and 66 agrapha and apocrypha connected with the Old Testament. 19 of the latter are largely taken from pseudepigrapha, a pseudo-Ezekiel for instance These agrapha some of which are really textual variants are of inferior interest and value.

LITERATURE. The chief authorities are the German book of the American scholar J. H. Ropes, Die Spruche Jesu, die in den kanonischen Evangelien nicht uberliefert sind, and his article "Agrapha in HDB (extra vol); and the often-mentioned work of Resch. The former has great critical value, and the latter, especially in the 2nd edition, is a veritable thesaurus of material. For a full survey of the literature up to 1905 see that work, pp. 14-17. There is much criticism in Bauer’s Das Leben Jesu im Zeitalter der neutestamentlichen Apokryphen, chapter vii. Among smaller works special mention may be made of Prebendary Blomfield’s Twenty-Five Agrapha (1900); and the book of Griffenhoofe, the title of which is given above. There are recent articles on the subject in HDB (1909), "Unwritten Sayings," and DCG, "Sayings (Unwritten)"; Am. Journal of Archaeology, XII (1908), 49-55; H. A. Sanders, New manuscripts from Egypt; also ib, XIII (1909), 130.

See Logia.