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Judging from his authentic letters, Paul seems to have known little about – or thought it unnecessary to mention – many details about Jesus’ life and teachings. Direct quotations were very few. But in Acts 20:35, the author reported that Paul said to the ‘elders of the church’ of Ephesus:

"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (NASB)

Commentators often note that these reported words of Jesus do not appear in our canonical gospels. Are there any non-canonical sources that include these words, attributed either to Jesus or someone else? Do critical scholars consider this an authentic Jesus saying in Acts? Does it have similarity to anything else in Paul or 'Luke'?

  • A related question. – Lucian Aug 16 '17 at 13:54
  • Why is it being assumed that it was ever written down before Acts? – Sola Gratia Jan 6 at 14:37
  • Luke 6:38 (NIV) "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” It is more blessed to give, because when you give you will receive more than what you would if you only wanted to receive. Paul mastered the art of mental acrobatics. – Constantthin Jan 18 at 3:12
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John Ashton says in 'History and Theology in New Testament Studies', published in The Nature of New Testament Theology, page 8, that this is a saying of triply dubious authenticity, but does not go on to explain what 'triply dubious' means.

John J. Kilgallen says ('ACTS 20:35 AND THUCYDIDES 2.97.4', published in the Journal of Biblical Literature) It is evident that no document, within or outside of the NT, corroborates, except possibly in the most general way, the Acts claim that Jesus said, "It is better to give than to receive:"

Kilgallen says one option is to accept the Acts citation as an accurate, but otherwise unknown, wisdom saying of Jesus. Alternatively, he refers to this quote from Thucydides that some scholars think might have inspired the author of Acts:

The Peloponnesian War 2.97.4 For there was here established a custom opposite to that prevailing in the Persian kingdom, namely, of taking rather than giving; more disgrace being attached to not giving when asked than to asking and being refused ...

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I'm convinced of this general "wisdom saying of Jesus" approach based on specific instructions that Messiah gave about giving & receiving, e.g., Matt 10:8, 19:21; Lk 6:27-30, 38, 41, 12:33. Also, notice in Kilgallen's "option" an example of how pagan cultures had sayings which captured an idea in the negative what Scriptures quote in the positive. The prime example is Confucius' "Don't do unto others what you don't want done to you." (This is known as the "maxim of reciprocity," and can be found stated in some manner in all cultures with any kind of ethical foundation.) Compare to Prov 28:27, Lev 19:9-18, 25:35-38 and to Lk 6:31.

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