International Standard Bible EncyclopediaAPOCRYPHAL ACTS, GENERAL
A. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
I. THE MEANING OF "APOCRYPHAL"
2. False and Heretical
II. GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS
2. The Supernatural
3. Sexual Asceticism
4. Heretical Teaching
5. Religious Feeling
1. Reverence for Apostles
2. Pious Curiosity
3. Apostolic Authority Desired
4. Interests of Local Churches
1. Canonical Acts
3. Romances of Travel
V. ECCLESIASTICAL TESTIMONY
4. Ecclesiastical Condemnation
VII. RELATIONSHIP OF DIFFERENT ACTS
1. As History
2. As Records of Early Christianity
B. THE SEPARATE ACTS
I. ACTS OF PAUL
II. ACTS OF PETER
III. ACTS OF JOHN
IV. ACTS OF ANDREW
V. ACTS OF THOMAS
A. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
I. The Meaning of "Apocryphal."
As applied to early-Christian writings the term "apocryphal" has the secondary and conventional sense of "extra-canonical."
Originally, as the etymology of the word shows (Greek apokrupto = "hide"), it denoted what was "hidden" or "secret." In this sense "apocryphal" was, to begin with, a title of honor, being applied to writings used by the initiated in esoteric circles and highly valued by them as containing truths miraculously revealed and kept secret from the outside world. Just as there were writings of this kind among the Jews, so there were in Christian circles, among Gnostic sects, apocrypha, which claimed to embody the deeper truths of Christianity, committed as a secret tradition by the risen Christ to His apostles.
2. False and Heretical:
When the conception of a catholic church began to take shape, it was inevitable that these secret writings should have been regarded with suspicion and have been ultimately forbidden, not only because they fostered the spirit of division in the church, but because they were favorable to the spread of heretical teaching. By a gradual and intelligible transference of ideas "apocryphal," as applied to secret writings thus discredited by the church, came to have the bad sense of spurious and heretical. In this sense the word is used both by Irenaeus and Tertullian.
Short of being stigmatized as false and heretical many books were regarded as unsuitable for reading in public worship, although they might be used for purposes of private edification. Chiefly under the influence of Jerome the term "apocryphal" received an extension of meaning so as to include writings of this kind, stress now being laid on their non-acceptance as authoritative Scriptures by the church, without any suggestion that the ground of non-acceptance lay in heretical teaching. It is in this wide sense that the word is used when we speak of "Apocryphal Acts." Although the Acts which bear this name had their origin for the most part in circles of heretical tendency, the description of them as "apocryphal" involves no judgment as to the character of their contents, but simply denotes that they are Acts which were excluded from the New Testament canon because their title or claims to recognition as authoritative and normative writings were not admitted by the church. This definition limits the scope of our investigation to those Acts which belong to the 2nd century, the Biblical Acts having secured their place as an authoritative scripture by the end of that century. See further, APOCRYPHA.
II. General Characteristics.
The Apocryphal Acts purport to give the history of the activity of the apostles in fuller detail than the canonical Acts.
The additions to the New Testament narrative found in them are highly flavored with romance and reveal an extravagant and unhealthy taste for the miraculous. Wonderful tales, the product of an exuberant fancy, often devoid of delicacy of feeling and always out of touch with reality, are freely heaped one upon the other. The apostles are no longer conceived as living on the ordinary levels of humanity; their human frailties, to which the canonical writers are not blind, have almost entirely disappeared; they walk through the world as men conversant with the mysteries of heaven and earth and possessed of powers to which no limit can be set. They have the power to heal, to exorcise demons, to raise the dead; and while marvelous deeds of that nature constantly recur, there are other miracles wrought by the apostles which remind one of the bizarre and non-moral prodigies of the Childhood Gospel of Thomas. A smoked fish is made to swim; a broken statue is made whole by the use of consecrated a wafer; a child of seven months is enabled to talk with a man's voice; animals receive the power of human speech.
2. The Supernatural:
The romantic character of the Apocryphal Acts is intensified by the frequent introduction of the supernatural. Angelic messengers appear in vision and in dream; heavenly voices are heard; clouds descend to hide the faithful in the hour of danger and lightnings smite their foes; the terrifying forces of Nature, earthquake, wind and fire, strike dismay into the hearts of the ungodly; and martyrs die transfigured in a blaze of unearthly glory. Especially characteristic of these Acts are the appearances of Christ in many forms; now as an old man, now as a comely youth, now as a child; but most frequently in the likeness of this or that apostle. (It is interesting to observe that Origen is familiar with a tradition that Jesus during His earthly life could change His appearance when and how He pleased, and gives that as a reason for the necessity of the traitor's kiss. Compare also Mark 16:9, 12.)
3. Sexual Asceticism:
One must not suppose from the foregoing that the Apocryphal Acts with their profusion of romantic and supernatural details were designed merely to exalt the personality of the apostles and to satisfy the prevalent desire for the marvelous. They had a definite practical end in view. They were intended to confirm and popularize a type of Christianity in strong reaction against the world, in which emphasis was laid on the rigid abstinence from sexual relations as the chief moral requirement. This sexual asceticism is the dominant motif in all the Acts. The "contendings" of the apostles, their trials and their eventual martyrdom are in almost every case due to their preaching the sinfulness of conjugal life and to their success in persuading women to reject the society of their husbands. The Acts are penetrated throughout by the conviction that abstinence from marriage is the supreme condition of entering upon the highest life and of winning heaven. The gospel on its practical side is (to use the succinct expression of the Acts of Paul) "the word of God regarding abstinence and the resurrection."
4. Heretical Teaching:
Besides inculcating an ascetic morality the Apocryphal Acts show traces more or less pronounced of dogmatic heresy. All of them with the exception of the Acts of Paul represent a docetic view of Christ; that is to say, the earthly life of Jesus is regarded merely as an appearance, phantasmal and unreal. This docetic Christology is most prominent in the Acts of John, where we read that when Jesus walked no footprints were discernible; that sometimes when the apostle attempted to lay hold of the body of Jesus his hand passed through it without resistance; that when the crowd gathered round the cross on which to all appearance Jesus hung, the Master Himself had an interview with His disciple John on the Mount of Olives. The crucifixion was simply a symbolical spectacle; it was only in appearance that Christ suffered and died. Allied with the docetic Christology is a naive Modalism, according to which there is no clear distinction between the Father and the Son.
5. Religious Feeling:
In spite of the unfavorable impression created by the flood of miraculous and supernatural details, the pervading atmosphere of sexual asceticism and the presence of dogmatic misconception, it is impossible not to feel in many sections of the Apocryphal Acts the rapture of a great spiritual enthusiasm. Particularly in the Acts of John, Andrew and Thomas there are passages (songs, prayers, homilies), sometimes of genuine poetic beauty, which are characterized by religious warmth, mystic fervor and moral earnestness. The mystical love to Christ, expressed though it frequently is in the strange language of Gnostic thought, served to bring the Saviour near to men as the satisfaction of the deepest yearnings of the soul for deliverance from the dark power of death. The rank superstition and the traces of unconquered heathenism should not blind us to the fact that in the Apocryphal Acts we have an authentic if greatly distorted expression of the Christian faith, and that through them great masses of people were confirmed in their conviction of the spiritual presence and power of Christ the Saviour.
The Apocryphal Acts had their origin at a time when the canonical Acts of the Apostles were not yet recognized as alone authoritative. Various motives contributed to the appearance of books dealing with the life and activity of the different apostles.
1. Reverence for Apostles:
Behind every variety of motive lay the profound reverence for the apostles as the authoritative depositories of Christian truth. In apostolic times the sole authority in Christian communities, outside Old Testament Scripture, was "the Lord." But as the creative period of Christianity faded into the past, "the apostles" (in the sense of the college of the Twelve, including Paul) were raised to a preeminent position alongside of Christ with the object of securing continuity in the credentials of the faith. The commandments of the Lord had been received through them (2 Peter 3:2). In the Ignatian epistles they have a place of acknowledged supremacy by the side of Christ. Only that which had apostolic authority was normative for the church. The authority of the apostles was universal. They had gone into all the world to preach the gospel. They had, according to the legend referred to at the beginning of the Acts of Thomas, divided among themselves the different regions of the earth as the spheres of their activity. It was an inevitable consequence of the peculiar reverence in which the apostles were held as the securities for Christian truth that a lively interest should everywhere be shown in traditional stories about their work and that writings should be multiplied which purported to give their teaching with fullness of detail.
2. Pious Curiosity:
The canonical Acts were not calculated to satisfy the prevailing desire for a knowledge of the life and teaching of the apostles. For one thing many of the apostles are there ignored, and for another the information given about the chief apostles Peter and Paul is little more than a meager outline of the events of their life. In these circumstances traditions not preserved in the canonical Acts were eagerly accepted, and as the actual history of the individual apostles was largely shrouded in obscurity, legends were freely invented to gratify the insatiable curiosity. The marvelous character of these inventions is a testimony to the supernatural level to which the apostles had been raised in popular esteem.
3. Apostolic Authority Desired:
As in the case of the apocryphal Gospels, the. chief motive in the multiplication of apostolic romances was the desire to set forth with the full weight of apostolic authority conceptions of Christian life and doctrine which prevailed in certain circles.
(1) Alongside the saner and catholic type of Christianity there existed, especially in Asia Minor, a popular Christianity with perverted ideals of life. On its practical side the Christian religion was viewed as an ascetic discipline, involving not only abstinence from animal food and wine but also (and chiefly) abstinence from marriage. Virginity was the Christian ideal. Poverty and fastings were obligatory on all. The Apocryphal Acts are permeated by this spirit, and their evident design is to confirm and spread confidence in this ascetic ideal by representing the apostles as the zealous advocates of it.
(2) The Apocryphal Acts were also intended to serve a dogmatic interest. Heretical sects used them as a means of propagating their peculiar doctrinal views and sought to supplement or supplant the tradition of the growing catholic church by another tradition which claimed to be equally apostolic.
4. Interests of Local Churches:
A subsidiary cause in the fabrication of apostolic legends was the desire of churches to find support for the claims which they put forward for an apostolic foundation or for some connection with apostles. In some cases the tradition of the sphere of an apostle's activity may have been well based, but in others there is a probability that stories of an apostolic connection were freely invented for the purpose of enhancing the prestige of some local church.
In general it may be said that the Apocryphal Acts are full of legendary details. In the invention of these everything was done to inspire confidence in them as historically true.
1. Canonical Acts:
The narratives accordingly abound in clear reminiscences of the canonical Acts. The apostles are cast into prison and are marvelously set at liberty. Converts receive the apostles into their houses. The description of the Lord's Supper as "the breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42, 46) is repeated in the Apocryphal Acts and is strictly apposite to the ritual there set forth in which there is frequently no mention of wine in the celebration of the sacrament. In the Acts of Paul the author evidently used the canonical Acts as the framework of his narrative. This dependence on the canonical Acts and the variety of allusions to details in them served to give an appearance of historical truthfulness to the later inventions and to secure for them a readier acceptance. The fact that the canonical Acts were so used clearly shows that they had a position of exceptional authority at the time when the Apocryphal Acts were written.
The legendary character of the Apocryphal Acts does not preclude the possibility of authentic details in the additions made to the canonical history. There must have been many traditions regarding the apostles preserved in Christian communities which had a foundation in actual fact. Some of these would naturally find a place in writings which were designed in part at least to satisfy the popular curiosity for a fuller knowledge of the apostles. It is certain that there is some substratum of historical fact in the episode of Paul's association with Thecla (Acts of Paul). The description of Paul's appearance given in the same connection is in all likelihood due to trustworthy historical reminiscence. But it must be confessed that the signs of the presence of reliable traditions are very scanty. The few grains of historical fact are hidden in an overwhelming mass of material whose legendary character is unmistakable.
3. Romances of Travel:
Although a formal connection with the canonical Acts is recognizable and reliable traditions are to a slight extent incorporated in the Apocryphal Acts, it is unquestionable that as a whole they are the creation of the Hellenic spirit which reveled in the miraculous. A noteworthy type of popular literature whose influence is apparent on almost every page of the Apocryphal Acts was that of the travel-romance. The most famous example of this romantic literature is the Life of the neo-Pythagorean preacher, the great wonder-worker Apollonios of Tyana, who died about the end of the 1st century A.D. The marvelous deeds reported to have been wrought by him on his travels were freely transferred in a somewhat less striking form to other teachers. It is in the atmosphere of these romances that the Apocryphal Acts had their birth. In particular the Acts of Thomas recall the history of Apollonios. For just as Thomas was a missionary in India, so "Apollonios as a disciple of Pythagoras had traveled, a peaceful Alexander, to the Indian wonderland and there preached his master's wisdom" (Geffcken, Christliche Apokryphen, 36).
V. Ecclesiastical Testimony.
From the nature of his reference to the canonical Acts it is probable that the writer of the Muratorian Canon (circa 190 A.D.) had the existence of other Acts in mind. "The Acts of all the apostles," he says, "are written in a single book. Luke relates them admirably to Theophilus, confining himself to such as fell under his own notice, as he plainly shows by the omission of all reference either to the martyrdom of Peter or to the journey of Paul from Rome to Spain." During the 3rd century there are slight allusions to certain of the Apocryphal Acts, but it is only in the 4th century that distinct references are frequent in writers both of the East and of the West. A few of the more important references may be given here. (For a full account of the ecclesiastical testimony see Harnack, Gesch. der altchr. Lit., I, 116.)
Among eastern writers Eusebius (died 340) is the first to make any clear reference to Apocryphal Acts. He speaks of "Acts of Andrew, of John and of the other apostles," which were of such a character that no ecclesiastical writer thought it proper to invoke their testimony. Their style and their teaching showed them to be so plainly of heretical origin that he would not put them even among spurious Scriptures, but absolutely rejected them as absurd and impious (Historia Ecclesiastic, III, 250.6.7). Ephraem (died 373) declares that Acts were written by the Bardesanites to propagate in the name of the apostles the unbelief which the apostles had destroyed. Epiphanius (circa 375) repeatedly refers to individual Acts which were in use among heretical sects. Amphilochius of Iconium, a contemporary of Epiphanius, declares that certain writings emanating from heretical circles were "not Acts of the apostles but accounts of demons." The Second Synod of Nicea (787 A.D.), in the records of which those words of Amphilochius are preserved, dealt with apocryphal literature and had under special consideration the Acts of John to which the Iconoclasts appealed. In the synod's finding these Acts were characterized as "this abominable book," and on it the judgment was passed: "Let no one read it; and not only so, but we judge it worthy of being committed to the flames."
In the West from the 4th century onward references are frequent. Philastrius of Brescia (circa 387) testifies to the use of Apocryphal Acts among the Manicheans, and declares that although they are not suitable for general reading they may be read with profit by mature Christians (De Haeres, 88). The reason for this favorable judgment is to be found in the pronounced ascetic tendency of the Acts, which was in line with the moral ideal prevalent at that time in the West. Augustine refers repeatedly to apocryphal Acts in use among the Manicheans and characterizes them as the work of "cobblers of fables" (sutoribus fabularum). The Manicheans accepted them as true and genuine; and in respect of this claim Augustine says: "They would in the time of their authors have been counted worthy of being welcomed to the authority of the Holy Church, if saintly and learned men who were then alive and could examine such things had acknowledged them as speaking the truth" (Contra Faustum, XXII, 79). The Acts of John and the Acts of Thomas are mentioned by Augustine by name. He also refers to Leucius as the author of Apocryphal Acts. Turribius of Astorga (circa 450) speaks of Acts of Andrew, of John, of Thomas, and attributes them to the Manicheans. Of the heretical teaching in the Acts of Thomas, Turribius singles out for special condemnation baptism by oil instead of by water. Leucius is mentioned as the author of the Acts of John. The Acts of Andrew, Thomas, Peter, and Philip are condemned as apocryphal in the Gelasian Decree (496 A.D.) and in the same condemnation are included "all books written by Leucius, a disciple of the devil."
The fullest and most important reference to the Apocryphal Acts is found in Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople in the second half of the 9th century. In his Bibliotheca, which contains an account of 280 different books which he had read during his absence on a mission to Bagdad, we learn that among these was a volume, "the so-called Wanderings of the Apostles, in which were included Acts of Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, Paul. The author of these Acts, as the book itself makes plain, was Leucius Charinus." The language had none of the grace which characterized the evangelic and apostolic writings. The book teemed with follies and contradictions. Its teaching was heretical. In particular it was taught that Christ had never really become man. Not Christ but another in His place had been crucified. After referring to the ascetic doctrine and the absurd miracles of the Acts and to the part which the Acts of John had played in the Iconoclastic Controversy, Photius concludes: "In short this book contains ten thousand things which are childish, incredible, ill-conceived, false, foolish, inconsistent, impious and godless. If anyone were to call it the fountain and mother of all heresy, he would not be far from the truth."
4. Ecclesiastical Condemnation:
There is thus a consensus of ecclesiastical testimony as to the general character of the Apocryphal Acts. They were writings used by a number of heretical sects but regarded by the church as unreliable and harmful. It is probable that the corpus of the Acts in five parts referred to by Photius was formed by the Manicheans of North Africa, who attempted to have them accepted by the church in place of the canonical Acts which they had rejected. These Acts in consequence were stamped by the church with a heretical character. The sharpest condemnation is that pronounced by Leo I (circa 450) who declares that "they should not only be forbidden but should be utterly swept away and burned. For although there are certain things in them which seem to have the appearance of piety, yet they are never free of poison and secretly work through the allurements of fables so that they involve in the snares of every possible error those who are seduced by the narration of marvelous things." The Acts of Paul, which show no trace of dogmatic heresy, were included in the ecclesiastical censure owing to the fact that they had received a place at the end of the corpus. Many teachers in the church, however, made a distinction between the miraculous details and the heretical doctrines of the Acts, and while they rejected the latter they retained the former. Witness the words of an orthodox reviser in regard to his heretical predecessor: "Quaedam de virtutibus quidem et miraculls quae per eos Dominus fecit, vera dixit; de doctrina vero multa mentitus est."
In the notice of Photius (Bibliotheca codex 114) all the five Acts are ascribed to one author, Leucius Charinus. Earlier writers had associated the name of Leucius with certain Acts. In particular he is, on the witness of several writers, declared to be the author of the Acts of John. As these Acts show, the author professes to be a follower and companion of the apostle, and Epiphanius (Haeres., 51 6) mentions one named Leucius as being in the entourage of John. This notice of Epiphanius, however, is of doubtful value, as it probably rested on the association in his mind of the name of Leucius with the Acts of John. Whether or not there is any truth in the ascription of these Acts to a disciple of John must be left undecided, but the probabilities are against there being any. Be that as it may, when the different Acts were collected, the name of the reputed author of the Acts of John was transferred to the whole collection. This probably happened not later than the 4th century. Although all the Acts are certainly not from one hand (the difference of style is sufficient proof of this), there are so many striking similarities between some of them as to suggest a possible common authorship in those cases or at least a relation of literary dependence.
VII. Relationship of Different Acts.
That some connection existed between the different Acts was clearly recognized in early times, and it was doubtless due to this recognition that they were gathered together in a corpus under the name of one author. It is acknowledged that there is a close relationship between the Acts of Peter and the Acts of John, some holding that they are the work of the same author (James, Zahn), others that the former are dependent on the latter (Schmidt, Hennecke), while others again believe that their origin in the same theological school and in the same ecclesiastical atmosphere sufficiently explains all similarities (Ficker). The Acts of Andrew, too, reveal a near kinship to the Acts of Peter. But however the matter may stand in regard to literary dependence, the affinity between the different Acts in a material sense is manifest. All are pervaded by the ascetic spirit; in all Christ appears in the form of the apostle; in all women visit the apostle in prison. In respect of theological doctrine the Acts of Paul stand by themselves as anti-Gnostic in tendency, but the others agree in their docetic view of Christ's person; while in the Acts of John, Peter and Thomas, there is a similar mystical doctrine of the cross.
1. As History:
As a source for information about the life and work of the apostles the Apocryphal Acts are almost entirely worthless. A possible exception in this respect is the section of the Acts of Paul dealing with Paul and Thecla, although even there any historical elements are almost lost in the legendary overgrowth. The spheres of the apostles' work, so far as they are mentioned only in these Acts, cannot be accepted without question, although they may be derived from reliable tradition. Taken as a whole the picture given in the Apocryphal Acts of the missionary labors of the apostles is a grotesque caricature.
2. As Records of Early Christianity:
The Apocryphal Acts, however, though worthless as history, are of extreme value as throwing light on the period in which they were written. They belong to the 2nd century and are a rich quarry for information about the popular Christianity of that time. They give us a vivid picture of the form which Christianity assumed in contact with the enthusiastic mystery-cults and Gnostic sects which then flourished on the soil of Asia Minor. We see in them the Christian faith deeply tinged with the spirit of contemporary paganism; the faith in Christ the Saviour-God, which satisfied the widespread yearning for redemption from the powers of evil, in association with the as yet unconquered elements of its heathen environment.
(1) The Acts show us popular Christianity under the influence of Gnostic ideas as contrasted with the Gnosticism of the schools which moves in a region of mythological conceptions, cold abstractions and speculative subtleties. At the basis of Gnosticism lay a contempt for material existence; and in the Christianity of the Apocryphal Acts we see the practical working up of the two chief ideas which followed from this fundamental position, a docetic conception of Christ's person and an ascetic view of life. In this popular religion Christ had few of the features of the historic Jesus; He was the Saviour-God, exalted above principalities and powers, through union with whom the soul was delivered from the dread powers of evil and entered into the true life.
The manhood of Christ was sublimated into mere appearance; and in particular the sufferings of Christ were conceived mystically and symbolically, "sometimes in the form that in the story of His sufferings we see only the symbol of human sufferings in general; sometimes in the form that Christ who is present in His church shares in the martyr-sufferings of Christians; sometimes, again, in the form that the sin, weakness and unfaithfulness of His people inflict upon Him ever-renewed sufferings" (Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, III, 181). The ethical influence of Gnosticism is apparent in the spirit of strict asceticism which is the most characteristic feature of these Acts. It is true that the ascetic ideal obtained not only in Gnostic but also in orthodox church circles, as we gather from the Acts of Paul as well as from other sources.
The prominence of the strict ascetic ideal in early Christianity is intelligible. The chief battle which the Christian faith had to fight with Hellenic heathenism was for sexual purity, and in view of the coarseness and laxity which prevailed in sexual relations it is not surprising that the Christian protest was exaggerated in many cases into a demand for complete continence. This ascetic note in primitive Christianity was emphasized by the spirit of Gnosticism and finds clear expression in the Acts which arose either in Gnostic circles or in an environment tinged with Gnostic ideas. It goes without saying that the influence of these romances which are so largely concerned with sexual morality and occasionally are unspeakably coarse, was to preoccupy the mind with unhealthy thoughts and to sully that purity of spirit which it was their intention to secure. There are, however, other ethical elements in these Acts which are in complete harmony with a true Christian morality.
(2) The Apocryphal Acts are an invaluable source for information about early-Christian forms of worship. The ritual of the sacraments is fully described in the Acts of Thomas. Some of the prayers found in the Acts are pervaded by a warm religious spirit and are rich in liturgical expression.
(3) The beginnings of Christian hymnology may be traced in the Acts of Thomas, in which occur Gnostic hymns breathing the fantastic oriental spirit. (4) Apparent in the Acts throughout is the excessive love for the supernatural and the religious enthusiasm which flourished in Asia Minor in the 2nd century (compare especially the dance of the disciples round Jesus in the Acts of John: chapter 94).
The Apocryphal Acts had a remarkable influence in the later history of the church. After the establishment of Christianity under Constantine men turned their eyes to the earlier years of struggle and persecution. A deep interest was awakened in the events of the heroic age of the faith-the age of martyrs and apostles. Acts of martyrs were eagerly read, and in particular the Apocryphal Acts were drawn upon to satisfy the desire for a fuller knowledge of the apostles than was afforded by the canonical books. The heretical teaching with which the apostolic legends were associated in these Acts led to their condemnation by ecclesiastical authority, but the ban of the church was unavailing to eradicate the taste for the vivid colors of apostolic romance. In these circumstances church writers set themselves the task of rewriting the earlier Acts, omitting what was clearly heretical and retaining the miraculous and supernatural elements. And not only so, but the material of the Acts was freely used in the fabrication of lives of other apostles, as we find in the collection of the so-called Abdias in the 6th century.
The result was that from the 4th to the 11th century literature of this kind, dealing with the apostles, grew apace and "formed the favorite reading of Christians, from Ireland to the Abyssinian mountains and from Persia to Spain" (Harnack).
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APOCRYPHAL ACTS, THE SEPARATE ACTS
B. THE SEPARATE ACTS
The Apocryphal Acts dealt with in this article are the Leucian Acts mentioned by Photius in his Bibliotheca. As we now have them they have undergone revision in the interest of ecclesiastical orthodoxy, but in their original form they belonged to the 2nd century. It is impossible to say how much the Acts in their present form differ from that in which they originally appeared, but it is evident at many points that the orthodox revision which was meant to eliminate heretical elements was not by any means thorough. Passages which are distinctly Gnostic were preserved probably because the reviser did not understand their true meaning.
I. Acts of Paul.
1. Ecclesiastical Testimony:
Origen in two passages of his extant writings quotes the Acts of Paul with approval, and it was possibly due to his influence that these Acts were held in high regard in the East. In the Codex Claromontanus (3rd century), which is of eastern origin, the Acts of Paul are treated as a catholic writing and take rank with the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocalypse of Peter. Eusebius, who utterly rejects "The Acts of Andrew, John and the rest of the apostles," puts the Acts of Paul in the lower class of debated writings alongside Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Didache, the Apocalypse of John, etc. (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25.4). In the West, where Origen was viewed with suspicion, the Acts of Paul were apparently discredited, the only use of them as a reliable source being found in Hippolytus, the friend of Origen, who however does not mention them by name. (The reference by Hippolytus is found in his commentary on Daniel. He argues from Paul's conflict with the wild beasts to the credibility of the story of Daniel in the lions' den.)
Of the Acts of Paul only fragments remain. Little was known of them until in 1904 a translation from a badly preserved Coptic version was published by C. Schmidt, and the discovery was made that the well-known Acts of Paul and Thecla were in reality a part of the Acts of Paul. From the notes regarding the extent of the Acts given in the Cod. Claromontanus and in the Stichometry of Nicephorus we gather that the fragments amount to about one-fourth of the whole.
(1) Of these fragments the longest and the most important is the section which came to have a separate existence under the name The Acts of Paul and Thecla. When these were separated from the Acts of Paul we cannot tell, but this had happened before the time of the Gelasian Decree (496 A.D.), which without making mention of the Acts of Paul condemns as apocryphal the Acts of Paul and Thecla.
(a) An outline of the narrative is as follows: At Iconium, Thecla, a betrothed maiden, listened to the preaching of Paul on virginity and was so fascinated that she refused to have anything further to do with her lover. On account of his influence over her, Paul was brought before the proconsul and was cast into prison. There Thecla visited him with the result that both were brought to judgment. Paul was banished from the city and Thecla was condemned to be burned.
Having been miraculously delivered at the pile, Thecla went in search of Paul and when she had found him she accompanied him to Antioch. (There is confusion in the narrative of Antioch of Pisidia and Syrian Antioch.) In Antioch an influential citizen, Alexander by name, became enamored of her and openly embraced her on the street. Thecla, resenting the familiarity, pulled off the crown which Alexander wore and in consequence was condemned to fight with the wild beasts at the games. Until the day of the games Thecla was placed under the care of Queen Tryphaena, then living in Antioch. When Thecla was exposed in the amphitheater a lioness died in defending her against attack. In her peril Thecla cast herself into a tank containing seals and declared: "In the name of Jesus Christ I baptize myself on my last day." (It was with reference partly to this act of self-baptism that Tertullian gave the information about the authorship of these Acts: below 3.) When it was proposed to have Thecla torn asunder by maddened bulls Queen Tryphaena fainted, and through fear of what might happen the authorities released Thecla and handed her over to Tryphaena. Thecla once again sought Paul and having found him was commissioned by him to preach the Word of God.
This she did first at Iconium and then in Seleucia where she died. Various later additions described Thecla's end, and in one of them it is narrated that she went underground from Seleucia to Rome that she might be near Paul. Finding that Paul was dead she remained in Rome until her death.
(b) Although the Thecla story is a romance designed to secure apostolic authority for the ideal of virginity, it is probable that it had at least a slight foundation in actual fact. The existence of an influential Thecla-cult at Seleucia favors the view that Thecla was a historical person. Traditions regarding her association with Paul which clustered round the temple in Seleucia built in her honor may have provided the materials for the romance. In the story there are clear historical reminiscences. Tryphaena is a historical character whose existence is established by coins. She was the mother of King Polemon II of Pontus and a relative of the emperor Claudius. There are no grounds for doubting the information given us in the Acts that she was living at Antioch at the time of Paul's first visit. The Acts further reveal striking geographical accuracy in the mention of "the royal road" by which Paul is stated to have traveled from Lystra on his way to Iconium-a statement which is all the more remarkable because, while the road was in use in Paul's time for military reasons, it was given up as a regular route in the last quarter of the 1st century. In the Acts Paul is described as "a man small in stature, bald-headed, bow-legged, of noble demeanor, with meeting eyebrows and a somewhat prominent nose, full of grace. He appeared sometimes like a man, and at other times he had the face of an angel."
This description may quite well rest on reliable tradition. On the ground of the historical features in the story, Ramsay (The Church in the Roman Empire, 375) argued for the existence of a shorter version going back to the 1st century, but this view has not been generally accepted.
(c) The Acts of Paul and Thecla were very widely read and had a remarkable influence owing to the widespread reverence for Thecla, who had a high place among the saints as "the first female martyr." References to the Acts in the Church Fathers are comparatively few, but the romance had an extraordinary vogue among Christians both of the East and of the West. In particular, veneration for Thecla reached its highest point in Gaul, and in a poem entitled "The Banquet" (Caena) written by Cyprian, a poet of South-Gaul in the 5th century, Thecla stands on the same level as the great characters of Biblical history. The later Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena are entirely derived from the Acts of Paul and Thecla.
(2) Another important fragment of the Acts of Paul is that containing the so-called Third Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul is represented as being in prison at Philippi (not at the time of Acts 16:23, but at some later time). His incarceration was due to his influence over Stratonice, the wife of Apollophanes. The Corinthians who had been disturbed by two teachers of heresy sent a letter to Paul describing their pernicious doctrines, which were to the effect that the prophets had no authority, that God was not almighty, that there was no resurrection of the body, that man had not been made by God, that Christ had not come in the flesh or been born of Mary, and that the world was not the work of God but of angels. Paul was sorely distressed on receipt of this epistle and, "under much affliction," wrote an answer in which the popular Gnostic views of the false teachers are vehemently opposed. This letter which abounds in allusions to several of the Pauline epistles is chiefly remarkable from the fact that it found a place, along with the letter which called it forth, among canonical writings in the Syrian and Armenian churches after the second century. The correspondence was strangely enough believed to be genuine by Rinck who edited it in 1823. The original Greek version has not been preserved, but it exists in Coptic (not quite complete), in Armenian and in two Latin translations (both mutilated), besides being incorporated in Ephraem's commentary (in Armenian translation). The Syriac version has been lost.
(3) Besides the two portions of the Acts of Paul mentioned above there are others of less value, the Healing of a Dropsical Man at Myra by the apostle (a continuation of the Thecla-narrative), Paul's conflict with wild beasts at Ephesus (based on the misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 15:32), two short citations by Origen, and a concluding section describing the apostle's martyrdom under Nero, to whom Paul appeared after his death. Clement of Alexandria quotes a passage (Strom., VI, 5, 42)-a fragment from the mission-preaching of Paul-which may have belonged to the Acts of Paul; and the same origin is possible for the account of Paul's speech in Athens given by John of Salisbury (circa 1156) in the Policraticus, IV, 3.
3. Authorship and Date:
From a passage in Tertullian (De Baptismo, chapter 17) we learn that the author of the Acts of Paul was "a presbyter of Asia, who wrote the book with the intention of increasing the dignity of Paul by additions of his own," and that "he was removed from office when, having been convicted, he confessed that he had done it out of love to Paul." This testimony of Tertullian is supported by the evidence of the writing itself which, as we have seen, shows in several details exact knowledge of the topography and local history of Asia Minor. A large number of the names occurring in these Acts are found in inscriptions of Smyrna, although it would be precarious on that ground to infer that the author belonged to that city. It is possible that he was a native of a town where Thecla enjoyed peculiar reverence and that the tradition of her association with Paul, the preacher of virginity, was the chief motive for his writing the book. Along with this was linked the motive to oppose the views of some Gnostics (the Bardesanites). The date of the Acts of Paul is the latter half of the second century, probably between 160 and 180 A.D.
4. Character and Tendency:
The Acts of Paul, though written to enhance the dignity of the apostle, clearly show that both in respect of intellectual equipment and in breadth of moral vision the author, with all his love for Paul, was no kindred spirit. The intellectual level of the Acts is low. There is throughout great poverty in conception; the same motif occurs without variation; and the defects of the author's imagination have their counterpart in a bare and inartistic diction. New Testament passages are frequently and freely quoted. The view which the author presents of Christianity is narrow and one-sided. Within its limits it is orthodox in sentiment; there is nothing to support the opinion of Lipsius that the work is a revision of a Gnostic writing. The frequent occurrence of supernatural events and the strict asceticism which characterize the Acts are no proof of Gnostic influence. The dogmatic is indeed anti-Gnostic, as we see in the correspondence with the Corinthians. "The Lord Jesus Christ was born of Mary, of the Seed of David, the Father having sent the Spirit from heaven into her."
The resurrection of the body is assured by Christ's resurrection from the dead. Resurrection, however, is only for those who believe in it-in this we have the one thought which betrays any originality on the part of the author: "they who say that there is no resurrection shall have no resurrection." With faith in the resurrection is associated the demand for strict sexual abstinence. Only they who are pure (i.e. who live in chastity) shall see God. "Ye have no part in the resurrection unless ye remain chaste and defile not the flesh." The gospel which the apostle preached was "the word regarding self-control and the resurrection." In the author's desire to secure authority for a prevalent form of Christianity, which demanded sexual abstinence as a condition of eternal life, we recognize the chief aim of the book. Paul is represented as the apostle of this popular conception, and his teaching is rendered attractive by the miraculous and supernatural elements which satisfied the crude taste of the time.
Books mentioned under "Literature" (p. 188); C. Schmidt, "Die Paulusakten" (Neue Jahrbucher, 217, 1897), Acta Pauli (1904); dealing with Acts of Paul and Thecla Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire (4th edition, 1895); Conybeare, The Apology and Acts of Apollonius. (1894); Cabrol, La legende de sainte Thecle (1895), Orr, The New Testament Apocrypha Writings (introd. translation, and notes, 1903). For further literature see Hennecke, Handbuch, etc., 358, Pick, Apocrypha Acts, 1, 8.
II. Acts of Peter.
A large portion (almost two-thirds) of the Acts of Peter is preserved in a Latin translation-the Actus Vercellenses, so named from the town of Vercelli in Piedmont, where the manuscript containing them lies in the chapter-library. A Coptic fragment discovered and published (1903) by C. Schmidt contains a narrative with the subscription Praxis Petrou (Act of Peter). Schmidt is of opinion that this fragment formed part of the work to which the Actus Vercellenses also belonged, but this is somewhat doubtful. The fragment deals with an incident in Peter's ministry at Jerusalem, while the Act. Vercell., which probably were meant to be a continuation of the canonical Acts, give an account of Peter's conflict with Simon Magus and of his martyrdom at Rome. References in ecclesiastical writers (Philastrius of Brescia, Isidore of Pelusium and Photius) make it practically certain that the Actus Vercellensus belong to the writing known as the Acts of Peter, which was condemned in the rescript of Innocent I (405 A.D.) and in the Gelasian Decree (496 A.D.).
(1) The Coptic Fragment contains the story of Peter's paralytic daughter. One Sunday while Peter was engaged in healing the sick a bystander asked him why he did not make his own daughter whole. To show that God was able to effect the cure through him, Peter made his daughter sound for a short time and then bade her return to her place and become as before. He explained that the affliction had been laid upon her to save her from defilement, as a rich man Ptolemy had been enamored of her and had desired to make her his wife. Ptolemy's grief at not receiving her had been such that he became blind. As the result of a vision he had come to Peter, had received his sight and had been converted, and when he died he had left a piece of land to Peter's daughter. This land Peter had sold and had given the proceeds to the poor. Augustine (Contra Adimantum, 17.5) makes a reference to this story but does not mention Acts of Peter. There are also two references to the incident in the Acts of Philip. In the later Acts of Nereus and Achilleus the story is given with considerable changes, the name of Peter's daughter, which is not mentioned in the fragment, being given as Petronilla.
(2) The contents of the Actus Vercellenses fall into three parts:
(a) The first three chapters which clearly are a continuation of some other narrative and would fitly join on to the canonical Acts tell of Paul's departure to Spain.
(b) The longest section of the Acts (4-32) gives an account of the conflict between Peter and Simon Magus at Rome. Paul had not been gone many days when Simon, who "claimed to be the great power of God," came to Rome and perverted many of the Christians. Christ appeared in a vision to Peter at Jerusalem and bade him sail at once for Italy. Arrived at Rome Peter confirmed the congregation, declaring that he came to establish faith in Christ not by words merely but by miraculous deeds and powers (allusion to 1 Corinthians 4:20 1 Thessalonians 1:5). On the entreaty of the brethren Peter went to seek out Simon in the house of one named Marcellus, whom the magician had seduced, and when Simon refused to see him, Peter unloosed a dog and bade it go and deliver his challenge. The result of this marvel was the repentance of Marcellus. A section follows describing the mending of a broken statue by sprinkling the pieces with water in the name of Jesus. Meantime the dog had given Simon a lecture and had pronounced on him the doom of unquenchable fire.
After reporting on its errand and speaking words of encouragement to Peter, the dog expired at the apostle's feet. A smoked fish is next made to swim. The faith of Marcellus waxed strong at the sight of the wonders which Peter wrought, and Simon was driven out of him house with every mark of contempt. Simon, enraged at this treatment, came to challenge Peter. An infant of seven months speaking in a manly voice denounced Simon and made him speechless until the next Sabbath day. Christ appeared in a vision of the night encouraging Peter, who when morning was come narrated to the congregation his triumph over Simon, "the angel of Satan," in Judea. Shortly afterward, in the house of Marcellus which had been "cleansed from every vestige of Simon," Peter unfolded the true understanding of the gospel. The adequacy of Christ to meet every kind of need is shown in a characteristic passage which reveals docetic traits: "He will comfort you that you may love Him, this Great and Small One, this Beautiful and Ugly One, this Youth and Old Man, appearing in time yet utterly invisible in eternity, whom a human hand has not grasped, who yet is now grasped by His servants, whom flesh had not seen and now sees," etc. Next in a wonderful blaze of heavenly light blind widows received their sight and declared the different forms in which Christ had appeared to them.
A vision of Marcellus is described in which the Lord appearing in the likeness of Peter struck down with a sword "the whole power of Simon," which had come in the form of an ugly Ethiopian woman, very black and clad in filthy rags. Then follows the conflict with Simon in the forum in presence of the senators and prefects. Words were first exchanged between the combatants; then from words it came to deeds, in which the power of Peter was signally exhibited as greater than Simon's in the raising of the dead. Simon was now discredited in Rome, and in a last attempt to recover his influence he declared that he would ascend to God Before the assembled crowd he flew up over the city, but in answer to Peter's prayer to Christ he fell down and broke his leg in three places. He was removed from Rome and after having his limb amputated died.
(c) The Actus Vercellenses close with an account of Peter's martyrdom (33-41) Peter had recurred the enmity of several influential citizens by persuading their wives to separate from them. Then follows the well-known "Quo vadis?" story. Peter being warned of the danger he was in fled from Rome; but meeting Christ and leaning that He was going to the city to be crucified again, Peter returned and was condemned to death. At the place of execution Peter expounded the mystery of the cross. He asked to be crucified head downward, and when this was done he explained in words betraying Gnostic influence why he had so desired it. After a prayer of a mystical nature Peter gave up the ghost. Nero was enraged that Peter should have been put to death without his knowledge, because he had meant to heap punishments upon him. Owing to a vision he was deterred from a rigorous persecution of the Christians. (The account of Peter's martyrdom is also found in the Greek original.)
It is plain from the account given of these Acts that they are entirely legendary in character. They have not the slightest value as records of the activity of Peter.
2. Historical Value:
They are in reality the creation of the ancient spirit which delighted in the marvelous and which conceived that the authority of Christianity rested on the ability of its representatives to surpass all others in their possession of supernatural power. The tradition that Simon Magus exercised a great influence in Rome and that a statue was erected to him (10) may have had some basis in fact. Justin Martyr (Apol, I, 26, 56) states that Simon on account of the wonderful deeds which he wrought in Rome was regarded as a god and had a statue set up in his honor. But grave doubts are thrown on the whole story by the inscription SEMONI SANCO DEO FIDIO SACRUM which was found on a stone pedestal at Rome in 1574. This refers to a Sabine deity Semo Sancus, and the misunderstanding of it may have led to Justin's statement and possibly was the origin of the whole legend of Simon's activity at Rome. The tradition that Peter died a martyr's death at Rome is early, but no reliance can be placed on the account of it given in the Acts of Peter.
3. Authorship and Date:
Nothing can be said with any certainty as to the authorship of the Acts of Peter. James (Apocrypha Anecdota, II) believes them to be from the same hand as the Acts of John, and in this he is supported by Zahn (Gesch. des New Testament Kanons, II, 861). But all that can definitely be said is that both these Acts had their origin in the same religious atmosphere. Both are at home on the soil of Asia Minor. Opinion is not unanimous on the question where the Acts of Peter were written, but a number of small details as well as the general character of the book point to an origin in Asia Minor rather than at Rome. There is no knowledge of Roman conditions, while on the other hand there are probable reminiscences of historical persons who lived in Asia Minor. The date is about the close of the 2nd century.
4. General Character:
The Acts of Peter were used by heretical sects and were subjected to ecclesiastical censure. That however does not necessarily imply a heretical origin. There are traces in them of a spirit which in later times was regarded as heretical, but they probably originated within the church in an environment strongly tinged by Gnostic ideas. We find the principle of Gnosticism in the stress that is laid on understanding the Lord (22). The Gnostic view that the Scripture required to be supplemented by a secret tradition committed to the apostles is reflected in several passages (20 in particular). At the time of their earthly fellowship with Christ the apostles were not able to understand the full revelation of God. Each saw only so far as he was able to see. Peter professes to communicate what he had received from the Lord "in a mystery." There are slight traces of the docetic heresy. The mystical words of Peter as he hung on the cross are suggestive of Gnostic influence (33). In these Acts we find the same negative attitude to creation and the same pronounced ascetic sprat as in the others. "The virgins of the Lord" are held in special honor (22). Water is used instead of wine at the Eucharist. Very characteristic of the Acts of Peter is the emphasis laid on the boundless mercy of God in Christ toward the backsliding (especially 7). This note frequently recurring is a welcome revelation of the presence of the true gospel-message in communities whose faith was allied with the grossest superstition.
Books mentioned under "Literature" (p. 188). In addition, Ficker, Die Petrusakten, Beitrage zu ihrem Verstandnis (1903); Harnack, "Patristische Miscellen" (TU, V, 3, 1900).
III. Acts of John.
According to the Stichometry of Nicephorus the Acts of John in their complete state formed a book about the same length as the Gospel of Matthew. A number of sections which show links of connection with one another are extant-about two-thirds of the whole. The beginning of the Acts is wanting, the existing narrative commencing at 18. What the contents of the earlier chapters were we cannot surmise. In Bonnet's reconstruction the first fourteen chapters deal with John's journey from Ephesus to Rome and his banishment to Patmos, while 15-17 describe John's return to Ephesus from Patmos. The sections given by Bonnet may contain material which belonged to the original Acts, but it is improbable that they stood at the beginning of the work, as it seems clear that the narrative commencing at 18 describes John's first visit to Ephesus. The first extant portion of the Acts (18-25) narrates that Lycomedes "the commander-in-chief of the Ephesians" met John as he drew near the city and besought him on behalf of his beautiful wife Cleopatra, who had become paralyzed.
When they came to the house the grief of Lycomedes was so great that he fell down lifeless. After prayer to Christ John made Cleopatra whole and afterward raised Lycomedes to life again. Prevailed upon by their entreaties John took up his abode with them. In 26-29 we have the incident of the picture of John which played so prominent a part in the discussion at the Second Council of Nicea. Lycomedes commissioned a friend to paint a picture of John and when it was completed he put it in bedroom with an altar before it and candlesticks beside it. John discovering why Lycomedes repaired so frequently to his room, taxed him with worshipping a heathen god and learned that the picture was one of himself. This he believed only when a mirror was brought that he might see himself. John charged Lycomedes to paint a picture of his soul and to use as colors faith in God, meekness, love, chastity, etc. As for the picture of his body it was the dead picture of a dead man.
Chapters 30-36 narrate the healing of infirm old women, and in theater where the miracles were wrought John gave an address on the vanity of all earthly things and on the destroying nature of fleshly passion. In 37-45 we read that in answer to the prayer of John the temple of Artemis fell to the ground, with the result that many people were won to the worship of Christ. The priest of Artemis who had been killed through the fall of the temple was raised to life again and became a Christian (46). After the narration of further wonders (one of them the driving of bugs out of a house) follows the longest incident of the Acts, the inexpressibly repulsive story of Drusiana (62-86), which was used as theme of a poem by the nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim (10th century). The following section gives a discourse of John on the life, death and ascension of Jesus (87-105) which is characterized by distinct docetic traits, a long passage dealing with Christ's appearance in many forms and with the peculiar nature of His body. In this section occurs the strange hymn used by the Priscillianists, which purports to be that which Jesus sang after supper in the upper room (Matthew 26:30), the disciples dancing round Him in a ring and responding with "Amen." Here too we find the mystic doctrine of the Cross revealed to John by Christ. Chapters 106-15 narrate the end of John. After addressing the brethren and dispensing the sacrament of the Lord's Supper with bread alone, John ordered a grave to be dug; and when this was done, he prayed, giving thanks that he had been delivered from "the filthy madness of the flesh" and asking a safe passage through the darkness and dangers of death. Whereupon he lay down quietly in the grave and gave up the ghost.
2. Historical Value:
The Acts of John, it need hardly be said, have not the slightest historical value. They are a tissue of legendary incidents which by their miraculous character served to insinuate into the popular mind the dogmatic conceptions and the ideal of life which the author entertained. The Acts however are in harmony with the well-founded tradition that Ephesus was the scene of John's later activity. Very remarkable is the account of the destruction of the Artemis-temple by John-a clear proof that the Acts were not written in Ephesus. The Ephesian temple of Artemis was destroyed by the Goths in 262 A.D.
3. General Character:
The Acts of John are the most clearly heretical of all the Acts. The docetic traits have already been referred to. The unreality of Christ's bodily existence is shown by the changing forms in which He appeared (88-90), by His ability to do without food (93) and without sleep ("I never at any time saw His eyes closing but only open," 89), by His leaving no footprint when He walked (93), by the varying character of His body when touched, now hard, now soft, now completely immaterial (89, 93) The crucifixion of Jesus, too, was entirely phantasmal (97, 99). The ascension followed immediately on the apparent crucifixion; there was no place for the resurrection of One who had never actually died. Gnostic features are further discernible in the disparagement of the Jewish Law (94), in the view which lays emphasis on a secret tradition committed by Christ to the apostles (96) and in the contempt for those who were not enlightened ("Care not for the many, and them that are outside the mystery despise," 100). The historical incidents of Christ's sufferings are sublimated into something altogether mystical (101); they are simply a symbol of human suffering, and the object of Christ's coming is represented as being to enable men to understand the true meaning of suffering and thus to be delivered from it (96). The real sufferings of Christ are those caused by His grief at the sins of His followers (106).
He is also a partaker in the sufferings of His faithful people, and indeed is present with them to be their support in every trial (103). The Acts of John also reveal a strong encratite tendency, although that is not so pronounced as in the Acts of Andrew and of Thomas. Nowhere however do we get a more horrifying glimpse into the depths of corrupt sexualism than in these Acts. The writing and circulation of the story of Drusiana cast a lurid light on the gross sensual elements which survived in early Hellenic Christianity. Apart from this there are passages which reveal a warm and true religious feeling and some of the prayers are marked by glow and unction (112). The Acts show that the author was a man of considerable literary ability; in this respect they form a striking contrast to the Acts of Paul.
4. Authorship and Date:
The author of the Acts of John represents himself as a companion of the apostle. He has participated in the events which he describes, and in consequence the narrative possesses a certain lively quality which gives it the appearance of actual history. The author according to testimony which goes back to the 4th century was Leucius, but nothing can with any certainty be said of him (see above A, VI). It is possible that in some part of the Acts which is lost the author mentioned his name The early date of the Acts is proved by a reference in Clement of Alexandria (circa 200) to the immaterial nature of Christ's body, the passage plainly indicating that Clement was acquainted with the Acts or had heard another speak of them (Hypotyposeis on 1 John 1:1). The probable date is between 150 and 180 and Asia Minor is the place of origin.
The Acts of John exerted a wide influence. They are in all probability the earliest of the Apocryphal Acts and those written later owe much to them. The Acts of Peter and of Andrew show so close affinities with the Acts of John that some have regarded them as being from the same hand; but if that be not so, there is much to be said for the literary dependence of the former on the latter. We are probably right in stating that the author of the Acts of John was the pioneer in this sphere of apostolic romance and that others eagerly followed in the way which he had opened up.
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a-pok'-ri-fal e-pis'-ls: A few epistles have been attributed to the Virgin Mary, but these are very late and without value. The following epistles fall to be noted as apocryphal:
1. Letter Attributed to our Lord:
The letter attributed to our Lord is given in Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, I, 13) who records that in his day a copy of the letter was to be found among the archives of Edessa. Abgarus, king of Osroene, which was a small country in Mesopotamia, writes from Edessa, the capital, to our Lord, asking for healing and offering Him protection. Our Lord sends back a short letter saying that He cannot leave Palestine, but that, after His ascension, a messenger will come and heal Abgarus. The letters are obviously spurious. Osroene was actually Christianized about the beginning of the 3rd century, and the legend took shape and received official sanction in order to show that the country had received the Gospel at a much earlier date. See ABGAR.
2. Letter Attributed to Peter:
The Clementine Homilies is a work of fiction attributed to Clement of Rome; it was actually written about the end of the 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd. At the beginning of it there is set a letter of Peter to James. In it Peter counsels James not to show the book containing Peter's preaching except to a limited circle, and makes a violent attack upon the apostle Paul. It is thus evidently Ebionitic in tendency, and is, like the homilies to which it is prefixed, spurious.
3. Letters Attributed to Paul:
(1) The Epistle from Laodicea.
The mention of such an epistle in Colossians 4:16 evidently tempted someone to forge a letter. It is written in Latin, and consists of 20 vs; it is a mere cento of Pauline phrases strung together. It is mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment (170 A.D.); and by the end of the 4th century. it had a wide circulation. It is now almost universally rejected as spurious. See COLOSSIANS; EPHESIANS; LAODICEANS, EPISTLE TO THE.
(2) Lost Epistle to the Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 5:9 a letter to the Corinthians is mentioned which appears to have been lost. In a 5th century Armenian version of the Scriptures there is inserted after 2 Corinthians a short letter from the Corinthians to Paul, and one from Paul to the Corinthians. These are also found in Syriac, and were evidently accepted in many quarters as genuine at the end of the 4th century. They formed a part of the Apocryphal Acts of Paul, and date from about 200 A.D. See CORINTHIANS.
(3) An Epistle to the Alexandrines.
This is mentioned only in the Muratorian Fragment, and has not come down to us.
(4) Letters of Paul to Seneca.
This is a correspondence in Latin, six of the letters being attributed to Paul and eight to Seneca. Regarding this correspondence Lightfoot says: "This correspondence was probably forged in the 4th century, either to recommend Seneca to Christian readers, or to recommend Christianity to students of Seneca." It had a wide circulation in the Middle Ages.
See article "Apocrypha" in Encyclopedia Biblica and RE. For text of Peter's letter to James, see Roberts' and Donaldson's Ante-Nicene Christian Library, XVII. For the Pauline letters consult Zahn, Geschichte des New Testament Kanons, II. For Paul's Laodicean letter, see Lightfoot's Commentary on Colossians (where the text of the letter is graven); and for the letters to Seneca, Lightfoot's Commentary on Philippians, Dissertation II, with Appendix.
John Macartney Wilson
1. Early Gospels
2. Canonical Gospels
3. Apocryphal Gospels
4. Gospel according to the Hebrews
II. HERETICAL GOSPELS
1. Gospel of the Ebionites
2. Gospel of the Egyptians
3. Gospel of Marcion
4. Gospel of Peter
5. Gospel of the Twelve Apostles
6. Gospels of Barnabas and Bartholomew
III. SUPPLEMENTARY OR LEGENDARY GOSPELS
1. Gospels of the Nativity
(a) Protevangelium of James
(c) The Nativity of Mary
(d) Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter
(e) The Passing of Mary
2. Gospels of the Infancy or Childhood
(a) Gospel of Thomas
(b) Arabic Gospel of the Childhood
3. Gospels of the Passion and Resurrection
(a) Gospel of Peter (as above)
(b) Gospel of Nicodemus
(1) Acts of Pilate
(2) Descent of Jesus into the Lower World
(c) Other Fabrications
The apocryphal gospels form a branch of the apocryphal literature that attended the formation of the New Testament canon of Scripture. Apocryphal here means non-canonical. Besides gospels, this literature included acts, epistles and apocalypses.
1. Early Gospels:
The introduction to the third canonical Gospel shows that in the days of the writer, when the apostles of the Lord were still living, it was a common practice to write and publish accounts of the acts and words of Jesus. It has even been maintained (S. Baring-Gould, Lost and Hostile Gospels, xxiii, London, 1874) that at the close of the 1st century, almost every church had its own gospel with which alone it was acquainted. These were probably derived, or professed to be derived, from the oral reports of those who had seen, heard, and, it may be, conversed with our Lord. It was dissatisfaction with these compositions that moved Luke to write his Gospel. Whether any of these ante-Lukan documents are among those still known to us is hardly longer doubtful. Scholars of repute-Grotius, Grabe, Mill-were in earlier times disposed to place the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Ebionites, and the Gospel of the Egyptians among those alluded to by Luke, some holding the Gospel of the Hebrews to be as early as just after the middle of the 1st century. More recent criticism does not allow so early an appearance for those gospels, though a fairly early date is still postulated for the Gospel of the Hebrews. The Protevangelium of James (noticed below) is still held by some as possibly falling within the 1st century (EB, I, 259).
2. Canonical Gospels:
However this may be, there can be no doubt that by the close of the 1st century and the early part of the 2nd century, opinion was practically unanimous in recognition of the authority of the four Gospels of the canonical Scriptures. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (180 A.D.), recognizes four, and only four Gospels, as "pillars" of the church. The Harmonies of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (168-80 A.D.), and of Tatian, and the Apology of Justin Martyr carry back the tradition to a much earlier period of the century, and, as Liddon proves at considerable length (Bampton Lectures, 2nd ed., 210-19), "it is scarcely too much to assert that every decade of the 2nd century furnishes its share of proof that the four Gospels as a whole, and John's in particular, were to the church of that age what they are to the church of the present."
The recent attempt of Professor Bacon of Yale to get rid of the important authority of Irenaeus (The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate, New York, 1910) will not succeed; it has been shown to be merely assertive where there is no evidence and agnostic where evidence is apparently demonstrative. During the last century the Gospels, as regards their composition, credibility and historicity, were subjected to the most searching and unsparing criticism which, though intimations of it were previously not wanting, may be said to have begun when Strauss, to use Liddon's words, "shocked the conscience of all that was Christian in Europe" by the publication of his first Life of Jesus. The methods pursued in this work consisted largely in the application to the sacred books, and especially to the Gospels, of the principles of criticism that had for forty years previously been used in estimating the structure and composition of some of the literary products of antiquity; and the controversy excited by this criticism can hardly yet be said to have subsided. This is not the place for entering upon an account of the controversy; it may be sufficient here to say that the traditional positions of the church have been ably defended, and in particular, that the claims of the canonical Gospels have been abundantly maintained.
3. Apocryphal Gospels:
Whatever was the fate of the ante-Lukan and other possible 1st-century gospels, it is with the 2nd century and the formation of an authoritative canon that the apocryphal gospels, such as we now have, for the most part begin to appear. In the days of the reproduction of documents by manuscript, of restricted communications between different localities, and when the church was only as yet forming and completing its organization, the formation and spread of such gospels would be much easier than now. The number of such gospels is very considerable, amounting to about fifty. These exist mainly in fragments and scattered notices; though some, as pointed out below, are either entire or nearly so. The apparent number has probably been increased by the use of different names for the same document. Thirty are named by Hofmann with more or less explanation in RE, I, 511; a complete hat is given in Fabricius (Cod. Apocrypha New Testament, I, 355). Ebionistic and Gnostic circles were specially prolific of such gospels. "It would be easy," says Salmon (Intro, 1st ed., 239) "to make a long list of names of gospels said to have been in use in different Gnostic sects; but very little is known as to their contents, and that little is not such as to lead us to attribute to them the very slightest historical value."
Of many indeed no more is known than the names of the authors, such as the gospels of Basilides, of Cerinthus, of Apelles, of Matthias, of Barnabas, of Bartholomew, of Eve, of Philemon and many others. The scholars and authorities of the early church were quite well aware of the existence and aims of these productions. It is noteworthy also that they had no hesitation in characterizing them as they deserved. The Marcosians, according to Irenaeus, adduced "an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves had forged, to bewilder the minds of the foolish"; and Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25) gives the following list of spurious and disputed books: "That we have it in our power to know both these books (the canonical) and those that are adduced by the heretics under the name of the apostles such, namely, as compose the gospels of Peter, of Thomas, and of Matthew, and certain others beside these or such as contain the Acts of Andrew and John, and of the other apostles, of which no one of those writers in the ecclesiastical succession has condescended to make any mention in his works: and, indeed, the character of the style itself is very different from that of the apostles, and the sentiments, and the purport of these things that are advanced in them, deviating as far as possible from sound orthodoxy, evidently prove they are the fictions of heretical men: whence they are not only to be ranked among the spurious writings but are to be rejected as altogether absurd and impious."
In the appendix to Westcott's Introduction to the Study of the Gospels will be found, with the exception of those recently discovered in Egypt, a complete list of the non-canonical sayings and deeds ascribed to our Lord as recorded in the patristic writings; and also a list of the quotations from the non-canonical gospels where these are only known by quotations.
The aim of the apocryphal gospels may be regarded as
(1) heretical or
(2) supplemental or legendary: that is to say, such as either were framed in support of some heresy or such as assume the canonical gospels and try to make additions-largely legendary-to them. Before considering these it may be well to take separate account of the Gospel according to the Hebrews.
4. Gospel According to the Hebrews:
The undoubted early date of this gospel, the character of most of its not very numerous quotations, the respect with which it is uniformly mentioned by early writers, and the esteem in which it is at present held by scholars in general, entitle the Gospel according to the Hebrews to special notice. Apart from the tradition, to which it is not necessary to attach too great importance, that represented our Lord as commanding His disciples to remain for twelve years in Jerusalem, it is reasonable to suppose that for the Christian communities resident in Jerusalem and Palestine a written gospel in their own language (Western Aramaic) would soon be a necessity, and such a gospel would naturally be used by Jewish Christians of the Diaspora. Jewish Christians, for example, settled in Alexandria, might use this gospel, while native Christians, as suggested by Harnack, might use the Gospel of the Egyptians, till of course both were superseded by the four Gospels sanctioned by the church.
There is no proof however that the gospel was earlier than the Synoptics, much less that it was among the ante-Lukan gospels. Harnack, indeed, by a filiation of documents for which there seems hardly sufficient warrant, placed it as early as between 65 and 100 A.D. Salmon, on the other hand (Intro, Leer X) concludes that "the Nazarene gospel, so far from being the mother, or even the sister of one of our canonical four, can only claim to be a grand-daughter or grand-niece." Jerome (400 A.D.) knew of the existence of this gospel and says that he translated it into Greek and Lat; quotations from it are found in his works and in those of Clement of Alexandria. Its relation to the Gospel of Matthew, which by almost universal consent is declared to have been originally written in Hebrew (i.e. Aramaic), has given rise to much controversy. The prevalent view among scholars is that it was not the original of which Matthew's Gospel was a Greek translation, but still that it was a fairly early composition. Some, like Salmon and Harnack, are disposed to regard Jerome's Hebrew Gospel as to all intents a fifth gospel originally composed for Palestinian Christians, but which became of comparatively insignificant value with the development of Christianity into a world-religion. Besides two references to the baptism of Jesus and a few of his sayings, such as-"Never be joyful except when ye shall look upon your brother in love"; "Just now my Mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and bore me away to the great mountain Thabor"-it records the appearance of our Lord to James after the resurrection, adduced by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:7) as one of the proofs of that event; but of course Paul might have learned this from the lips of James himself as well as from ordinary tradition, and not necessarily from this gospel.
This indeed is the principal detail of importance which the quotations from this gospel add to what we know from the Synoptics. In other divergences from the Synoptics where the same facts are recorded, it is possible that the Gospel according to the Hebrews may relate an earlier and more reliable tradition. On the other hand, the longest quotation, which gives a version of Christ's interview with the Rich Young Ruler, would seem to show, as Westcott suggests, that the Synoptics give the simpler and therefore the earlier form of the common narrative. Many scholars, however, allow that the few surviving quotations of this gospel should be taken into account in constructing the life of Christ. The Ebionites gave the name of Gospel of the Hebrews to a mutilated gospel of Matthew. This brings us to the heretical gospels.
II. Heretical Gospels.
1. Gospel of the Ebionites:
The Ebionites may be described generally as Jewish Christians who aimed at maintaining as far as possible the doctrines and practices of the Old Testament and may be taken as representing originally the extreme conservative section of the Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 15:1-29. They are frequently mentioned in patristic literature from the 2nd to the 4th centuries, and the prolonged Gnostic controversies of those times may well have founded among them different sects or at least parties. Accordingly Jerome, a writer of the 4th century, states (Ep ad August. 122 13) that he found in Palestine Jewish Christians known as Nazarenes and Ebionites. Whether these were separate sects or simply supporters of more liberal or narrower views of the same sect cannot well be determined. Some, such as Harnack and Uhlhorn, have held that the two names are general designations for Jewish Christians; others regard the Ebionites as the most retrograde and the narrowest of Jewish Christians, while the Nazarenes were more tolerant of difference of belief and practice.
The Gospel of the Ebionites or the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, as it was also called, represented along with the Gospel of the Hebrews (noticed above) this Judeo-Christian spirit. Some fragments of the Gospel of the Ebionites are preserved in Epiphanius (d 376). He speaks of the Nazarenes as "having the Gospel according to Matthew in a most complete form, in Hebrew" (i.e. Aramaic), though he immediately adds that he does not know whether "they removed the genealogies from Abraham to Christ," that is to say, whether they accepted or rejected the virgin birth of Christ. In contrast with this statement he says that the Ebionites had a gospel "called the Gospel according to Matthew, not entire and perfectly complete, but falsified and mutilated, which they call the Hebrew gospel." The extant fragments from the gospel are given in Westcott (Intro, 437). They "show that its value is quite secondary and that the author has simply compiled it from the canonical, and especially from the Synoptic Gospels, adapting it at the same time to the views and practices of Gnostic Ebionism" (DCG, I, 505).
2. Gospel of the Egyptians:
Three short and somewhat mystic verses are all that are left of what is known as the Gospel of the Egyptians. They occur in Book III of the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, who devoted that book to a refutation of Encratism, that is, the rejection, as absolutely unlawful, of the use of marriage, of flesh meat and of wine. Already in the Pauline Epistles are met parties with the cry (Colossians 2:21) "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch," and (1 Timothy 4:3) "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats." The verses in Clement read as follows: "When Salome asked how long will death prevail? The Lord said, As long as ye women bear children: for I have come to destroy the function of women. And Salome said to him. Did I not well then in not bearing children? And the Lord answered and said, Eat of every herb, but do not eat of that which is bitter. And when Salome asked when the things would be known about which she had inquired, the Lord said, When ye trample on the garment of shame, and when the two shall be one, and the male with the female neither male nor female." The words assuredly vary much from the usual character of those of our Lord. Modern writers vary as to their encratite tendency and as to how far the Gospel of the Egyptians was practical. With so little to go upon, it is not easy to form a conclusion. It may have contained other passages on account of which Origen deemed it heretical. It was used by the Naassenes and Sabellians. The date of the Gospel is between 130 and 150.
3. Gospel of Marcion:
The Gospel of Marcion would seem to have been intended as a direct counteractive to the Aramaic gospels. A native of Pontus and the son of a bishop, Marcion settled at Rome in the first half of the 2nd century and became the founder of the anti-Jewish sect that acknowledged no authoritative writings but those of Paul. This work forms a striking example of what liberties, in days before the final formation of the canon, could be taken with the most authoritative and the most revered documents of the faith, and also as showing the free and practically unlimited nature of the controversy, of which the canon as finally adopted was the result. He rejected the Old Testament entirely, and of the New Testament retained only the Gospel of Luke, as being of Pauline origin, with the omission of sections depending on the Old Testament and ten epistles of Paul, the pastoral epistles being omitted. The principal Church Fathers agree upon this corruption of Luke's Gospel by Marcion; and the main importance of his gospel is that in modern controversy it was for some time assumed to be the original gospel of which Luke's Gospel was regarded as merely an expansion. The theory was shown first in Germany and afterward independently in England to be quite untenable. It was lately revived by the author of Supernatural Religion; but Dr. Sanday's work on The Gospels in the Second Century (chapter viii) may be said to have closed the controversy. (Compare also Salmon's Intro, Lect XI.)
4. Gospel of Peter:
Until about a quarter of a century ago no more was known of the Gospel of Peter than of the crowd of heretical gospels referred to above. From Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, VI, 12, 2) it was known that a Gospel of Peter was in use in the church of Rhossus, a town in the diocese of Antioch at the end of the 2nd century, that controversy had arisen as to its character, and that after a careful examination of it Serapion, bishop of Antioch (190-203), had condemned it as docetic. Origen (died 253 A.D.), in his commentary on Matthew 10:17, refers to the gospel as saying that "there are certain brothers of Jesus, the sons of Joseph by a former wife, who lived with him before Mary." Eusebius further in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 3, 2 knows nothing of the Gospel according to Peter being handed down as a catholic writing, and in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25, 6 he includes the Gospel of Peter among the forged heretical gospels. Theodoret, one of the Greek ecclesiastical historians (390-459), says that the Nazarenes used a gospel called "according to Peter."
The gospel is also referred to in Jerome (De Viris Illustr., chapter 1) and it is condemned by the Decretum Gelasianum (496?). Salmon (Intro, 231) remarks: "Of the book no extracts have been preserved, and apparently it never had a wide range of circulation." These words were written in 1885. In the following year the French Archaeological Mission, working in upper Egypt, found in a tomb, supposed to be a monk's, at Akhmim (Panopolis), a parchment containing portions of no less than three lost Christian works, the Book of Enoch, the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter. These were published in 1892 and have given rise to much discussion. The gospel has been carefully reproduced in facsimile and edited by competent scholars The fragment is estimated to contain about half of the original gospel. It begins in the middle of the history of the Passion, Just after Pilate has washed his hands from all responsibility and ends in the middle of a sentence when the disciples at the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were betaking themselves to their homes "But I (Simon Peter, the ostensible writer) and Andrew my brother took our nets and went to the sea; and there was with us Levi the son of Alpheus whom the Lord.." Harnack (Texte und Untersuchungen, IX, 2, 2nd edition, 76) exhibits about thirty new traits contained in the Petrine account of the Passion and burial.
These are given in detail in an additional volume of the Ante-Nicene Library: Recently Discovered manuscripts, etc., Edinburgh, 1897. But Dr. Swete (Gospel of Peter, xv, London, 1893) shows that "even details which seem to be entirely new or which directly contradict the canonical narrative, may have been suggested by it"; and he concludes that notwithstanding the large amount of new matter which it contains, "there is nothing in this portion of the Petrine Gospel which compels us to assume the use of sources other than the canonical gospels." To Professor Orr (NT Apocryphal Writings, xixff) the Gnostic origin of the gospel seems clear in the story given of the Resurrection; and its docetic character-that is, that it proceeded from those who held that Christ had only the semblance of a body-from the statement that on the cross Jesus was silent as one who felt no pain, and from the dying cry from the cross, "My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me," the really Divine Christ having departed before the crucifixion. The date of the gospel has been placed by some in the first quarter, and by others in the third quarter, of the 2nd century. For the other newly discovered "Sayings of Jesus," see LOGIA.
5. Gospel of the Twelve Apostles:
A Gospel of the Twelve is mentioned by Origen (Hom. I, in Luc), and a few fragments of it are preserved by Epiphanius (Haerea, 39 13-16, 22). It commenced with the baptism, and was used by the Ebionites. It was written, Zahn thinks, about 170 A.D.
6. Gospel of Barnabas and Bartholomew:
A Gospel of Barnabas and Gospel of Bartholomew are condemned in the decree of Pope Gelasius. The latter is mentioned by Jerome (Prooem ad Matt).
III. Supplementary or Legendary Gospels.
In all of the gospels of this class it is noteworthy that considering the desire of the writers of non-canonical gospels to multiply miracles, no notice is taken of the period in the life of Christ that intervened between his twelfth year and his thirtieth. The main reason for the omission probably is that no special dogmatic end was to be served by the narrative of this period of the Saviour's life. Where access cannot be had to these documents in their original languages, it may be useful to point out that a good and full translation of them may be found in Vol XVI of Clark's Ante-Nicene Library, Edinburgh, 1870.
1. Gospels of the Nativity:
(a) The Protevangelium of James.
The earliest of these documents is the Protevangelium of James. James is supposed to be the Lord's brother. The title "Protevangelium" or First Gospel-a catching title which assumes much and suggests more-was given to this document by Postellus, a Frenchman, who first published it in Latin in the year 1552. In the Greek and Syriac manuscripts, it is known by various other titles, such as, The History of James concerning the Birth of the All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Mother of God and of Her Son Jesus Christ. Tischendorf in the notes to chapter i of his Evang. Apocrypha gives a long list of the names descriptive of it in the various manuscripts. In the Gelasian Decree depriving it of canonical authority it is simply styled Evangelium nomine Jacobi minoris apocryphum. In this document the birth of Mary is foretold by angelic announcement to her parents, Joachim and Anna, as was that of Jesus to Mary. It contains in twenty-five chapters the period from this announcement to the Massacre of the Innocents, including accounts of the early training of Mary in the temple, the Lukan narrative of the birth of Christ with some legendary additions, and the death of Zacharias by order of Herod for refusing to give information regarding the place of concealment of Elisabeth and the child John who, in their flight during the massacre, are miraculously saved by the opening of a mountain.
At chapter 18 a change takes place in the narrative from the third to the first person, which has been taken (NT Apocrypha Writings by Professor Orr, D.D., London, 1903) to suggest an Essenian-Ebionitic origin for the document, and at least to argue for it a composite character, which again may account for the great variety of view taken of its date. It has been assigned (EB, I, 259) to the 1st century. Zahn and Kruger place it in the first decade, many scholars in the second half of the 2nd century; while others (e.g. Harnack) place it in its present form as late as the middle of the 4th century. Good scholars (Sanday, The Gospels in the Second Century) admit references to it in Justin Martyr which would imply that possibly in some older form it was known in the first half of the 2nd century. In its latest forms the document indicates the obvious aim of the writer to promote the sanctity and veneration of the Virgin. It has been shown to contain a number of unhistorical statements. It was condemned in the western church by Popes Damasus (382), Innocent I (405) and by the Decretum Gelasianum (496?). It would seem as if the age thus deprived of the Protevangelium demanded some document of the same character to take its place.
A forged correspondence between Jerome and two Italian bishops supplied a substitute in the Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew, which Jerome was falsely represented to have rendered in Latin from the original Hebrew of Matthew. The gospel is known only in Latin and, as already indicated, is not earlier than the 5th century. The Protevangelium is freely used and supplemented from some unknown (probably Gnostic) source, and further miracles especially connected with the sojourn in Egypt have been wrought into it with others added from the Childhood Gospel of Thomas. Some of the miracles recorded of Egypt are represented as fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy, as when (chapter 18) the adoration of the infant Jesus by dragons recalls the fulfillment of what was said by David the prophet: "Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons: ye dragons and all ye deeps"; or as when (chapter 19) lions and panthers adored them, showing the company the way in the desert, "bowing their heads and wagging their tails and adoring Him with great reverence," which was regarded as a fulfillment of the prophecy: "Wolves shall feed with lambs and the lions and the ox shall eat straw together." In this gospel, too, appears for the first time the notice of the ox and the ass adoring the child Jesus in the manger, of which much was made in Christian article The gospel is further eked out by the relation of several of the miracles connected with the Gospel of the Childhood.
(c) The Nativity of Mary.
The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary was written in Latin. It goes over much the same ground as the earlier portion of the Pseudo-Matthew, but so differs from it as to indicate a later date and a different author. It includes more of the miraculous element and daily angelic visits to Mary during her residence in the temple. This gospel makes Mary leave the temple in her 14th year; according to the gospel next described, where the narrator is represented as the Son of Mary Himself, she left the temple in her 12th year, having lived in it nine years. It was for long held to be the work of Jerome, and from this gospel was almost entirely formed the "Golden Legend" which largely took the place of the Scriptures in the 13th century. throughout Europe before the invention of printing. It was among the books early printed in some countries where (as in England) it might not be safe to print the Scriptures. Its services to medieval literature and art should not blind us to the fact that it was a forgery deliberately introduced into the service of the church about the 6th century, when the worship of Mary was specially promoted in the church.
(d) Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter.
To the same class of compositions belongs the Gospel of Joseph the Carpenter. Originally written in Coptic, it was translated into Arabic, in which language with a Latin version it was published in 1722. The composition is devoted to the glorification of Joseph, a cult which was specially favored by the monophysite Coptics. It dates from the 4th century. It contains in 22 chapters the whole history of Joseph and relates in the last part the circumstances of his death at the age of 111 years. These are of some importance for the history of dogma.
(e) The Passing of Mary.
Transitus Mariae: although not strictly a gospel of the Nativity notice may here be taken of the account of John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep (koimesis) of the Holy Mother of God or as it is more commonly called "the Passing of Mary" (transitus Mariae). It was originally written in Greek, but appears also in Latin and several other languages. Two years, it seems, after the ascension of Jesus, Mary, who paid frequent visits to the, "Holy tomb of our Lord to burn incense and pray" was persecuted by the Jews and prayed her Son that He would take her from the earth. The archangel Gabriel brings an answer to her prayers and announces that after three days she shall go to the heavenly places to her Son, into true and everlasting life. Apostles from their graves or from their dioceses are summoned to her bedside at Bethlehem and relate how they were occupied when the summons reached them. Miracles of healing are wrought round the dying bed; and after the instantaneous transportation of Mary and the attendant apostles to Jerusalem, on the Lord's Day, amidst visions of angels Christ Himself appears and receives her soul to Himself. Her body is buried in Gethsemane and thereafter translated to Paradise. Judged by its contents which reveal an advanced stage of the worship of the Virgin and also of church ritual, the document cannot have been produced earlier than the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century, and it has a place among the apocryphal documents condemned by the Gelasian Decree. By this time indeed it appears as if the writers of such documents assumed the most unrestricted license in imagining and embellishing the facts and situations regarding the gospel narrative.
2. The Gospels of the Infancy or Childhood:
(a) Gospel of Thomas.
Next to the Protevangelium the oldest and the most widely spread of the apocryphal gospels is the Gospel of Thomas. It is mentioned by Origen and Irenaeus and seems to have been used by a Gnostic sect of the Nachashenes in the middle of the 2nd century. It was docetic as regards the miracles recorded in it and on this account was also acceptable to the Manichees. The author was one of the Marcosians referred to by Irenaeus. Great variations exist in the text, of which there are only late catholic recasts, two in Greek, one in Latin and one in Syriac. One of the Greek versions is considerably longer than the other, while the Latin is somewhat larger than either. They are very largely concerned with a record of miracles wrought by Jesus before He was 12 years of age. They depict Jesus as an extraordinary but by no means a lovable child. Unlike the miracles of the canonical Gospels those recorded in this gospel are mainly of a destructive nature and are whimsical and puerile in character. It rather shocks one to read them as recorded of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The wonder-worker is described by Renan as "un gamin omnipotent et omniscient," wielding the power of the Godhead with a child's waywardness and petulance. Instead of being subject to His parents He is a serious trouble to them; and instead of growing in wisdom He is represented as forward and eager to teach. His instructors, and to be omniscient from the beginning. The parents of one of the children whose death He had caused entreat Joseph, "Take away that Jesus of thine from this place for he cannot dwell with us in this town; or at least teach him to bless and not to curse." Three or four miracles of a beneficent nature are mentioned; and in the Latin gospel when Jesus was in Egypt and in his third year, it is written (chapter 1), "And seeing boys playing he began to play with them, and he took a dried fish and put it into a basin and ordered it to move about. And it began to move about.
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a-pok'-ri-fal. See APOCRYPHAL ACTS.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
) Pertaining to the Apocrypha.
2. (a.) Not canonical. Hence: Of doubtful authority; equivocal; mythic; fictitious; spurious; false.