Quoting Jesus

Jesus is, as you would expect, quoted a lot in the Gospels.  But how much is He quoted in the rest of the New Testament?

I found the answer to be surprising.  If you consider all his letters, Paul quotes Jesus … exactly once (I Corinthians 11:24-25, regarding what Jesus said at the last supper, namely “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me” and “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” — very similar to what we have from the Gospels, of course).  And he is not quoted at all in the letters of James, Peter, and Jude.  Same for John’s three epistles and for Hebrews.  Only once, then, if my red-letter Bible and my old eyes are to be believed, is Jesus quoted in any of the New Testament letters.

And in the two remaining New Testament books, Acts and Revelation, the quotes are quite limited, too.

In Acts, Jesus is quoted when the book discusses His confrontation with Paul on the road to Damascus (9:5-16, 22:7-10, 26:14-18).  And He is quoted when He appears to Paul on three other occasions in Acts (18:9-10, 22:18-21, 23:11).  This makes sense, since the author is Luke, Paul’s traveling companion and apparent confidante, and the appearances are critical to explaining why Paul did what he did and went where he went.  Jesus is also quoted at the beginning of Acts, prior to His Ascension, which also makes sense.  There He repeats the Great Commission to his followers (compare Acts 1:7-8 with Matthew 28:18-20).  He also tells those followers, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (1:5, an apparent reference to Pentecost); Peter is then quoted as quoting Jesus to this effect later in Acts, at 11:16.  At 20:35, Luke also quotes Paul quoting Jesus:  “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” the only record we have of Jesus saying that — but it certainly sounds like something He would say, does it not?  Note that all the Jesus quotes from Luke in Acts could have come from Paul or Peter, and it seems likely that both would have been Lukan sources.

There are more verses quoting Jesus in Revelation than in Acts, but those quotes are concentrated in only two places, at the very beginning and at the very end.  The entirety of chapters 2 and 3 is Jesus’ “report card” to seven churches in what is now western Turkey (I would include here as well the last verse in chapter 1).   Jesus also makes more general statements in chapter 1, as well as in Revelation’s last chapter.  In these nine verses (four-and-a-half from each book), Jesus describes Himself as “the first and the last” (twice)/”the Alpha and the Omega” (twice)/”the beginning and the end”/”who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”; He also says three times in the last chapter, “I am coming quickly,” and says that he will “render to every man according to what he has done” (22:12).  In the last chapter, He blesses “he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7; compare 1:3).  He enjoins John, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches” (1:11), and, “Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things” (1:19); and He says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches” (22:16).  Finally, Jesus says, “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star” (22:16), and “the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (1:18).  All important, to be sure, but nothing in there to challenge doctrine in the preceding twenty-six books of the New Testament.

So what are we to make of these surprisingly limited quotations?

Here’s one thought:  If these New Testament authors were a bunch of crooked shamans trying to bamboozle others into doing their bidding, and particularly if they were jockeying for position with other early Christians, then you would expect them to make up lots of authoritative pronouncements by Jesus Himself on difficult or disputed issues, would you not? “Jesus said such-and-such about circumcising Gentiles,” or “Jesus said such-and-such about the Gnostics.”   Didn’t happen.  Conversely, if they really believed in what they were saying and, in particular, believed that Jesus was the Son of God, the last thing they would do is lie blasphemously about what He said, right?

Addendum:  More along these lines here on this blogsite (in the second section, “Jesus outside the Gospels”).