Apocryphal Acts (General)
See also Apocryphal Acts
A. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
I. THE MEANING OF "APOCRYPHAL" 1. Secret
2. False and Heretical
II. GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS 1. Romance
2. The Supernatural
3. Sexual Asceticism
4. Heretical Teaching
5. Religious Feeling
III. ORIGIN 1. Reverence for Apostles
2. Pious Curiosity
3. Apostolic Authority Desired
4. Interests of Local Churches
IV. SOURCES 1. Canonical Acts
3. Romances of Travel
V. ECCLESIASTICAL TESTIMONY 1. Eastern
4. Ecclesiastical Condemnation
VII. RELATIONSHIP OF DIFFERENT ACTS
VIII. VALUE 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 "
II. General Characteristics.
The Apocryphal Ac 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
2. The Supernatural:
The romantic character of the Apocryphal Ac 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 Ac 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 Mr 16:9,12.)
3. Sexual Asceticism:
One must not suppose from the foregoing that the Apocryphal Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac of Paul) "the word of God regarding abstinence and the resurrection."
4. Heretical Teaching:
Besides inculcating an ascetic morality the Apocryphal Ac show traces more or less pronounced of dogmatic heresy. All of them with the exception of the Ac 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 Ac 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
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 Ac the rapture of a great spiritual enthusiasm. Particularly in the Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac had their origin at a time when the canonical Ac 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 2Pe 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 2:42,46) is repeated in the Apocryphal Ac 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 Ac of Paul the author evidently used the canonical Ac as the framework of his narrative. This dependence on the canonical Ac 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 Ac were so used clearly shows that they had a position of exceptional authority at the time when the Apocryphal Ac were written.
The legendary character of the Apocryphal Ac 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 (Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 AD. 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 Ac had their birth. In particular the Ac 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 Ac it is probable that the writer of the
Among eastern writers Eusebius (died 340) is the first to make any clear reference to Apocryphal Acts. He speaks of "Ac 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, 25.6.7). Ephraem (died 373) declares that Ac 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 Ac which were in use among heretical sects. Amphilochius of Iconium, a contemporary of Epiphanius, declares that certain writings emanating from heretical circles were "not Ac of the apostles but accounts of demons." The Second Synod of Nicea (787 AD), in the records of which those words of Amphilochius are preserved, dealt with apocryphal literature and had under special consideration the Ac of John to which the Iconoclasts appealed. In the synod’s finding these Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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; ú 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 Ac of John and the Ac 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 Ac of Andrew, of John, of Thomas, and attributes them to the Manicheans. Of the heretical teaching in the Ac of Thomas, Turribius singles out for special condemnation baptism by oil instead of by water. Leucius is mentioned as the author of the Ac of John. The Ac of Andrew, Thomas, Peter, and Philip are condemned as apocryphal in the
The fullest and most important reference to the Apocryphal Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac and to the part which the Ac of John had played in the
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 Ac in five parts referred to by Photius was formed by the Manicheans of
In the notice of Photius (Bibliotheca codex 114) all the five Ac 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 Ac of John. As these Ac 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 Ac of John. Whether or not there is any truth in the ascription of these Ac 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 Ac were collected, the name of the reputed author of the Ac of John was transferred to the whole collection. This probably happened not later than the 4th century. Although all the Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac of Peter and the Ac 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 Ac of Andrew, too, reveal a near kinship to the Ac of Peter. But however the matter may stand in regard to literary dependence, the affinity between the different Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac are almost entirely worthless. A possible exception in this respect is the section of the Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac which are in complete harmony with a true Christian morality.
(2) The Apocryphal Ac are an invaluable source for information about early-Christian forms of worship. The ritual of the sacraments is fully described in the Ac of Thomas. Some of the prayers found in the Ac are pervaded by a warm religious spirit and are rich in liturgical expression.
(3) The beginnings of Christian hymnology may be traced in the Ac of Thomas, in which occur Gnostic hymns breathing the fantastic oriental spirit. (4) Apparent in the Ac 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 Ac of John: chapter 94 ff).
The Apocryphal Ac 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. Ac of martyrs were eagerly read, and in particular the Apocryphal Ac 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 Ac 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 Ac 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). Apostolic legends were reproduced in religious poems; they appeared in martyrologies and calendars; they formed the subject of homilies on the feast-days of the apostles, and incidents from them were depicted in Christian article New cycles of legends arose in the Syrian and Coptic churches; and the Coptic legends were translated into Arabic and from Arabic into Ethiopic (Gadla Hawaryat--The Contendings of the Apostles). Literature of this kind was the fruitful mother of every kind of superstition. "Whole generations of Christians (as Harnack says), yes, whole Christian nations were intellectually blinded by the dazzling appearance of these tales. They lost the eye not only for the true light of history but also for the light of truth itself" (Gesch. der altchr. Lit., I, xxvi). It is noteworthy that the apocryphal correspondence with the Corinthians in the Ac of Paul was received as canonical in the Syrian and Armenian churches.
The Apocryphal Ac form the subject of a voluminous literature. The earlier editions of the available texts by Fabricius (1703) and Tischendorf (1851) have been completely superseded by Lipsius-Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum apocrypha (1891-1903), which contains texts not only of the earlier but also of many of the later Acts. Translations of earlier Ac with valuable introductions are to be found in Hennecke, New Testament Apokryphen (1904), while critical discussions and elucidation of the text are given in Hennecke, Handbuch zu den New Testament Apokryphen (1904). These two works are indispensable to the student. English translations of earlier Ac with short introductions in Pick, Apocryphal Ac (1909).
The critical work of Lipsius on these Ac was epoch-making: Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostellegenden (1883-90). Full lists of literature may be found in Hennecke and Pick. The following may be mentioned here: Zahn, Geschichte des New Testament Kanons, II, 832 ff (1892); Forschungen zur Gesch. des New Testament Kanons, VI, 14 if, 194 ff (1900); Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, I, 116 ff (1893); II, 493 ff, 541 ff (1897); James, Apocrypha Anecdota (Texts and Studies, V, 1, 1897); Ehrhard, Die altchristliche Litteratur u. i. Erforsch. (1900); C. Schmidt, "Die Alten Petrusakten" (T U, IX, 1, 1903). Useful as setting forth the religious significance of the Ac are Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, III, 170 ff (translation 1910); Liechtenhahn, Die Offenbarung im Gnosticismus (1901). The chapter in Salmon’s Introduction to the New Testament (325 ff) may be consulted. A short account of the Ac written with full knowledge is given in Geffcken, Christliche Apokryphen (Religionssgeschichtliche Volksbucher, 1908).