An aphorism, maxim, tenet, or pearl of wisdom is a sage’s utterance that is designed to intrigue the hearer’s imagination and stick in their mind. Jesus was such a sage, or teacher of wisdom in the tradition of the wisdom books of the apocrypha and other Hebrew scriptures. He regularly used aphorisms in his teaching. They were his pearls of wisdom, his memorable one-liners.

As I explained in the Zingcreed Post prequel  ‘Jesus’s 5200 authentic words‘, a modern attempt has been made by some of America’s top biblical scholars (the Jesus Seminar) to sort wheat from chaff in the gospels. They have winnowed the contents down to about 18% of the original size. It’s a new improved product that throws a uniquely clear light on the historic Jesus. I have gone through the supposedly authentic 5236 words of Jesus in their data-base and divided them up into 10 main categories. This Post is about my category no. 5 – the aphorisms. The 17 aphorisms in it constitute 398 words – about 7% of the total number spoken by Jesus. (Compare the parables – 2016 words, or 39%).

The translation is the ‘Scholar’s Version’. The quotations are listed in the order in which they come in the Seminar’s book ‘The Gospel of Jesus.’

  1. “Human beings are not to live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of God’s mouth.” (Mt 4:4)
  2. “Ask – it’ll be given to you; seek – you’ll find; knock – it’ll be opened for you. Rest assured: everyone who asks receives; everyone who seeks finds; and for the one who knocks it is opened.” (Mt 7:7-8)
  3. “The last will be first and the first last.” (Mt 20:16)
  4. “Those who have something in hand will be given more, and those who have nothing will be deprived of even the little they have.” (Thomas 41:1-2)
  5. “No one can enter a powerful man’s house to steal his belongings unless he first ties him up. Only then does he loot his house.” (Mk 3:17)
  6. “God causes the sun to rise on both the bad and the good, and sends rain on both the just and the unjust. As you know, God is generous to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Mt 5:45)
  7. “Forgive and you’ll be forgiven.” (Lk 6:37)
  8. “Since when do the able-bodied need a doctor? It’s the sick who do. I did not come to enlist religious folks but sinners!” (Mk 2:17)
  9. “You see the sliver in your friend’s eye, but don’t see the timber in your own eye. When you take the timber out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend’s eye.” (Thomas 26:1-2; Mt 7:3-5)
  10. “What goes into you can’t defile you; what comes out of you can.” (Mk 7:15)
  11. “Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Don’t you understand the one who made the inside is also the one who made the outside?” (Thomas 89:1-2; Lk 11:39-40)
  12. “It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye than for a wealthy person to get into God’s domain.” (Mt 19:24)
  13. “Whoever tries to hang on to life will forfeit it, but whoever forfeits life will preserve it.” (Lk 17:33)
  14. “Who among you would hand a son a stone when it’s bread he’s asking for? Again, who would hand him a snake when it’s fish he’s asking for? Of course no one would!” (Mt 7:9-11)
  15. “A  city sitting on top of a mountain can’t be concealed.” (Mt 5:14)
  16. “People don’t light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket but rather on a lampstand, where it sheds light for everyone in the house.” (Mt 5:15)
  17. “You’ll know who folks are by what they produce. Since when do people pick grapes from thorns or figs from thistles?” (Mt 7:16)


Some very familiar material here! Lots of metaphors. Most people, whether believers or not,  will recognize something, even though the chosen translation may not be the one they are most familiar with. I think this valuable database of Jesus-speak is worth more than a few off-the-cuff reactions from me. Each pearl is worth a BlogPost in its own right, plus I’ll probably get the significance wrong (not being a first century Palestinian Jew.) The meanings are meant to be hidden or at least elusive. Your thoughts are as valid as anyone’s. Zingcreed has no magic key!  I hope to return to each pearl at a later date when I’ve done some reading and some thinking!


Related Zingcreed Posts:

Literary terms from aphorism to allegory and pericope to parable
Jesus was a sage, not a priest, prophet or king
Jesus’s 5200 authentic words
(1) the 14 authentic parables
the 15 authentic kingdom statements
(3) preaching
19 authentic instructions to followers
(This one) The 17 authentic pearls of wisdom (aphorisms)
(6) healing words
(7 Talks to the disciples
the 3 biblical quotations
authentic words of prayer
20 words about himself
T he doubts of Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar



Funk, R.W. & the Jesus Seminar “The gospel of Jesus according to the Jesus Seminar” Polebridge Press (1999)

Funk, R.W., Hoover, R.W. & the Jesus Seminar “The 5 gospels. What did Jesus really say?” HarperSanFrancisco (1993)

[279 indexed & linked, t&c]


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