Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Agrapha: The Jesus You Haven't Met

What is an “agrapha”?

Literally it means “unwritten”, but in context it means a saying of Jesus that wasn’t written in the four canonical gospels, but copied down elsewhere.  Some of them are copied in other early Christian documents, some in alternative gospels or "acts" which aren't found in the New Testament.  Many of them were written in gospels we no longer have complete copies of.  This is what used to be the case for the Gospel of Thomas, a sayings gospel, which for centuries only bits of the gospel was available.  But in the last century, a complete copy of this gospel was found and so it presented a fun argument for scholars.

If there are sayings that are given by the resurrected Jesus to Christian mystics or prophets (such as chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation), these are not included as agrapha.  Only sayings that are stated or implied to be given by Jesus while on earth are included.

Are agrapha from Jesus originally?

This is a tricky question.  Many scholars deny the accuracy of Jesus' statements even in the gospels.  Almost all agrapha, we suppose, were written down at least 70 or more years after his death, which makes their accuracy suspect, at best.  However, since many of the agrapha could be dated even earlier than the earliest canonical gospels (like John D. Crossan dates the Gospel of Thomas), then they might be considered just as or more accurate than the canonical gospels. 

For our purposes, we will be looking at the agrapha as important sayings of Jesus that aren't usually discussed and yet need to be taken into account.  I don't honestly think that any scholar can truly assess the accuracy of any of the sayings of Jesus.  There isn't any reliable supporting evidence for their accuracy or inaccuracy.  So let's just look at them and make some comments and see what we got. 

So I will be offering the occasional post on an agrapha with my own thoughts.  I am not a scholar of agrapha, so don't take my thoughts as authoritative.  But think about them yourself and make your own assessment. 

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