What is the Agrapha?
The Gospel of Mark, like the other Gospel texts, does not contain everything Jesus Christ said. There is a body of sayings of Jesus preserved in other sources that has caught the attention of scholars and believers for a long time. This material is part of the agrapha (literally “not written”). These are the sayings that were not originally recorded in the Gospels or were attributed to Jesus from sources other than the Gospel. So, for example, Acts 20:35 contains the saying of Jesus Christ that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Another example comes from the Gospel of Mark, where a saying of Jesus was probably added to the Gospel nearly five hundred years after it was written: “and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt” (Mark 9:49). The late dating of this saying is attested by the fact that it does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of Mark, either in Latin of Greek, and was therefore likely unknown in the original editions of Mark.
Other possible authentic saying of Jesus may be found in non-canonical Christian sources such as the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, and the writings of early Christian leaders such as Clement and Jerome. Christian scribes have preserved hundreds of sayings of Jesus outside the Gospels, some of which are authentic and others that are legendary. Some of the dozens of possible authentic sayings of Jesus are the following:
“Blessed in the person who has worked and had therefore found life” (gospel of Thomas 58)
“Never be joyful unless you look at your brother in love” (Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians5.4)
“No one can obtain the kingdom of heaven who had not already passed through temptation” (Terullian, On Baptism).
Some modern Bibles, in attempting to differentiate the actual words of Jesus from the narrative context, have highlighted the words of Jesus in red. These Bibles, known today as re-letter editions, face significant challenges because decisions must be made on which version of a saying-Matthew’s, Mark’s or Luke’s-represents most closely the way in which Jesus Christ originally spoke it. This focus on Jesus’ actual working has increased scholarly interest in the agrapha, where others possibly genuine sayings of Jesus have been preserved.
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