J. K. Elliott
This inappropriate word is used conventionally to refer to sayings of Jesus not found in the canonical Gospels. Collections of agrapha have included words of Jesus that are found elsewhere in the New Testament canon (e.g. at Acts 20: 35 ) in individual manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (e.g. the longer text after Luke 6: 4 in Codex Bezae; the Freer logion in the longer ending of Mark), in the apocryphal texts, and in patristic works.
The relevance of including such material in a volume of apocryphal texts is debatable. Much of the material really belongs to the realm of New Testament textual criticism; other passages are best considered within a study of the individual patristic works. Yet convention seems to require at least a token recognition that such a category belongs in a collection of apocryphal material. This has been the case since Resch's pioneering work assembling such material. His second edition of 1906 included nearly 200 agrapha mainly from patristic sources. Ropes is credited with having provided an antidote to Resch's over‐enthusiastic but often uncritical collection, by separating material likely to be authentic from that which is obviously secondary. Ropes eliminated many of Resch's agrapha and divided the remainder into valueless agrapha, possibly valuable agrapha, and valuable agrapha. The refining process was continued by Jeremias both in his Unbekannte Jesusworte and even more so in his section on the agrapha in Hennecke–Schneemelcher3. The process has been furthered by Jeremias' successor, Hofius, in Hennecke5, where only seven agrapha are included. The criterion for the selection there seems to be their possible authenticity. Such a criterion is of interest in so far that it is theoretically possible that some ipsissima verba of Jesus continued to circulate independently as stray survivals from an unwritten tradition, and even after the circulation of the canonical Gospels, until they were eventually incorporated into later writings, but ‘authenticity’ and ‘originality’ are not normally the criteria applied to the selection of apocryphal texts. (Few would pass those tests!)
Agrapha illustrate the growth of tradition and the accretion of legend, as do the apocryphal texts themselves. Some may represent early tradition, which might be authentic; some result from false attribution (e.g. 1 Cor. 2: 9 appears as a saying of Jesus in Gospel of Thomas 17); some, embedded in apocryphal works, may have been composed ad hoc for the work concerned (and would have no claim to authenticity).
Included below is a sample of agrapha from the New Testament text and manuscripts and from patristic sources. Sayings found in papyrus fragments of apocryphal texts, in the apocryphal infancy narratives, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Nicodemus, and the like are to be found in their respective sections of this volume. Sayings in the Talmud and in Islamic sources are not included in this volume (but see the final section of the bibliography below).