Other “Sayings” of Jesus
IT IS not surprising to hear of early papyri discoveries containing sayings of Jesus that are not recorded in the same detail as in the canonical Greek Scriptures. Did not John write, A.D. 98: “There are, in fact, many other things also which Jesus did, which, if ever they were written in full detail, I suppose, the world itself could not contain the scrolls written”? (John 21:25) Luke likewise admits this in his introduction where he writes: “Whereas many have tried their hand at compiling a statement of the facts which are given full credence among us, . . . I resolved also, because I have traced all things from the start with accuracy, to write them in logical order.”—Luke 1:1-3.
In 1897 papyrologists Grenfell and Hunt unearthed from a rubbish mound at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, a single imperfect papyrus leaf. It proved to be from a Greek codex of the third century containing reputed sayings of Jesus. The fragment is generally referred to as “Oxyrhynchus Papyrus.” An English translation reads:
“Jesus saith, ‘Except ye fast to the world, ye shall in no wise find the kingdom of God; and except you make the sabbath a real sabbath, ye shall not see the Father.’ 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 grieveth over the sons of men, because they are blind in their heart, and see not.’ Jesus saith, ‘A prophet is not acceptable in his own country, neither doth a physician work cures upon them that know him.’ Jesus saith, ‘A city built upon the top of a high hill and established, can neither fall nor be hid.’”a
Note that the first two sayings contain extra-Scriptural information. They are claimed to be some of the “many other things” to which John refers that are not recorded in the Bible. The part of the third saying, which says: “A prophet is not acceptable in his own country,” is similar to Matthew 13:57, but the rest is “new.” The fourth saying is very much like Matthew 5:14.
Another discovery of “sayings” came to light in 1934 when the British Museum, London, acquired a number of papyri fragments from a dealer. Among these were some fragments of an ‘unknown life of Jesus,’ written in a hand that could not be put later than the middle of the second century, that is, about A.D. 150. The next year Bell and Skeat, keepers of manuscripts in the British Museum, published the photostats of the three leaves found. The pages proved to be part of an old Greek codex originating in Egypt. These fragmentary pages are now called “Egerton Papyrus 2.” The photostat of fragments 1 and 3 is printed along with this article.b
Here this Greek text indicates the scribal custom in this period of using contractions for sacred names and words (nomina sacra). This custom follows the Jewish practice of representing the tetragrammaton or sacred name יהוה in Greek by the words kyrios (“Lord”) without the definite article and theos (“God”) with only the first and last letters written and a stroke above them. Thus the name Jehovah could be indicated in the Greek as [Artwork—Greek characters] or [Artwork—Greek characters].c The Christian scribes expanded the list of abbreviations to include the following: [Artwork—Greek characters] (ho kyrios, with a definite article, this thus applying to Jesus and not Jehovah), [Artwork—Greek characters] (Iesous, Jesus), [Artwork—Greek characters] (patera, father) and [Artwork—Greek characters] (Moÿses, Moses).d Take a look at “1 verso” and note [Artwork—Greek characters] in line 12, [Artwork—Greek characters] in line 13 and [Artwork—Greek characters] in line 16. Next look at “1 recto” and note [Artwork—Greek characters] in line 9 and [Artwork—Greek characters] in line 12. Kyrios without the definite article as applying to Jehovah does not occur in these fragments.
Sir Frederic Kenyon, a classical scholar, comments on these fragments. “They contain four episodes in the life of our Lord, told quite simply, and therefore unlike the exaggerated and fanciful style of later apocryphal gospels, and in language showing strong affinities, sometimes with the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and sometimes with the Fourth Gospel (John). The exact wording is often left doubtful by the mutilation of the papyrus, but the main drift of three out of the four episodes is clear.”e Kenyon then offers the following translation. (We have added the italicized portions to indicate those sections which are supposedly “new.” The superior numbers are our footnotes indicating those portions paralleled in the Biblical accounts.)
“ . . . coming unto him they began to tempt him with questions, saying, ‘Rabbi Jesus, we know that thou art come from God;f for the things that thou doest give witness above all the prophets.g Tell us therefore: Is it lawful to give unto kings that which pertains to their rule? Shall we give to them or not?’h But Jesus knowing their thoughts,i was moved with indignation and spake unto them: ‘Why call ye me Rabbi with your mouth but hear not what I say?j Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, saying, “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, [teaching as their doctrines] the precepts [of men].”’k
“And turning to the rulers of the people, he spake this word: ‘Ye search the scriptures, in which ye think that ye have life; these are they which bear witness of me.l Think not that I came to accuse you to my Father; there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye hope.’m And when they said, ‘We know well that God spake unto Moses, but of thee we know not whence thou art,’n Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Now doth your want of faith condemn you . . . ’ [And the priests spake] to the people [that they should take up] stones to stone him.o And the rulers laid their hands upon him that they might take him and deliver him to the multitude; and they could not take him, because the hour of his betrayal was not yet come.p But the Lord went forth through the midst of them and departed from them.”q
At the most these “added” sayings have mere curiosity value. Since these “new” portions were not preserved for us under inspiration when the canonical Scriptures were being written, they could be of no ministerial value now binding upon the dedicated Christian.
However, from the manuscript view these fragments aid once again in exposing the higher critics to be wrong. These critics have stoutly contended that John’s Gospel was not written until A.D. 150, and then by one other than the apostle John. Since these fragments have so many parallel expressions found in John’s account, it strongly indicates that the writer was using John’s writing as a basis. Therefore John’s record must have keen written long before A.D. 150 to be found circulating in Egypt where these fragments were written about that same time. So these fragments, supported by the discovery in 1935 of the fragment of John’s Gospel (Papyrus Rylands Gk 457) also dated at the middle of the second century and found in Egypt, confirm the date of the writing of John’s account to be the generally accepted date A.D. 96.
a Light from the Ancient Past, 1946, by J. Finegan, pp. 322, 323.
b Fragments of an Unknown Gospel, 1935, by H. I. Bell and T. C. Skeat, p. 65, Plate I.
c Nomina Sacra, by Traube, III, i, p. 32.
d Fragments of an Unknown Gospel, by Bell and Skeat, p. 2.
e The Bible and Archaeology, 1940, by Sir Frederic Kenyon, pp. 216, 217.
g John 10:25.
h Matt. 22:17.
i Matt. 9:4.
j Luke 6:46.
k Matt. 15:7-9.
l John 5:39.
m John 5:45.
n John 9:29.
p John 7:30.
q Luke 4:30.