The meaning of Apocryphal Acts, The Separate Acts in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
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 AD), 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 ff.) 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 ff., 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 I 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 f.)—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 AD.
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 ff., 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 ff., Pick, Apocrypha Acts, 1, 8 f.
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 Acts 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 AD) and in the Gelasian Decree (496 AD).
(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 through 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 I Corinthians 4:20; I 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 through 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 f.). 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 through 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 through 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 through 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 through 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 through 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 f.). 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 through 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 through 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 through 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 AD.
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 through 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 f.). 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 ff.). 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 I 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. That the Acts of John were read in orthodox circles is clear from the reference in Clement of Alexandria. In later days however they were regarded with suspicion. Augustine quotes part of the hymn (95) which he read in a Priscillianist work sent him by a bishop Ceretius and makes severe animadversions on it and on the claim advanced regarding it that it had been revealed in secret to the apostles. The second Synod of Nicea (787 AD) passed judgment on the Acts of John in words of great severity (see above A, V, 1). The stories found in the Acts had, however, before this time passed into orthodox tradition and had been used by Prochorus (5th century), a supposed disciple of John, in the composition of his travel-romance dealing with the apostle, as well as by Abdias (6th century) whose work contains material from the older Acts which is not otherwise preserved.
See under "Literature" (p. 188); also Zahn, Acta Joannis (1880).
IV. Acts of Andrew.
The first mention of these Acts which are referred to frequently by ecclesiastical writers is in Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25, 6). They are there, along with other Acts, rejected as absurd and impious. Epiphanius refers to them in several passages (Haeres., 47, 61, 68) as being in use among various heretical sects which practiced a strict ascetic morality. Early writers attribute them to Leucius, the author of the Acts of John.
Of the Acts of Andrew only small portions remain. A fragment is preserved by Euodius of Uzala (died 424), a contemporary of Augustine, and a longer piece, found in a manuscript of the 10th or 11th century, containing lives of saints for November, was identified by Bonnet as belonging to the Acts of Andrew. The account of the death of Andrew is preserved in many forms; that which has the most appearance of retaining the form of the original Acts being found in a letter of the presbyters and deacons of the churches of Achaia. (1) The fragment of Euodius gives two short passages describing the relations of Maximilla with her husband Egetes, whose claims she resisted. (2) The longest section of the Acts deals with Andrew's imprisonment because he had induced Maximilla to separate from her husband "Aegeates," and to live a life of chastity. ("Aegeates," which occurs as the name of Maximilla's husband, denotes in reality "a native of Aegae," Aegae being a town in the vicinity of Patrae, where Andrew was described as carrying on his work.) The section opens in the middle of an address spoken to the brethren by Andrew in prison, in which they were enjoined to glory in their fellowship with Christ and in their deliverance from the baser things of earth. Maximilla with her companions frequently visited the apostle in prison. Aegeates expostulated with her and declared that if she did not resume relations with him he would subject Andrew to torture. Andrew counseled her to resist the importunity of Aegeates, and delivered an address on the true nature of man and stated that torture had no terrors for him. If Maximilla should yield, the apostle would suffer on her account. Through her fellowship with his sufferings she would know her true nature and thus escape from affliction. Andrew next comforted Stratocles, the brother of Aegeates, who declared his need of Andrew, the sower in him of the "seed of the word of salvation." Andrew thereafter announced his crucifixion on the following day. Maximilla again visited the apostle in prison, "the Lord going before her in the form of Andrew." To a company of the brethren the apostle delivered an address, in which he discoursed on the deceitfulness of the devil, who first had dealt with men as a friend but now was manifest as an enemy. (3) When brought to the place of crucifixion Andrew addressed the cross which he joyfully welcomed. After being bound to the cross he hung smiling at the miscarriage of the vengeance of Aegeates, for (as he explained) "a man who belongs to Jesus because he is known of Him is armed against every vengeance." For three days and nights Andrew addressed the people from the cross, and they, moved by his nobility and eloquence, went to Aegeates, demanding that he should be delivered from death. Aegeates, fearing the wrath of the people, went to take Andrew down from the cross, but the apostle refused deliverance and prayed to Christ to prevent his release. After this he gave up the ghost. He was buried by Maximilla, and Aegeates soon afterward cast himself down from a great height and died.
2. General Character:
The encratite ideal in its most pronounced form is exhibited in the Acts of Andrew. (In view of this, and of Andrew's association elsewhere in ecclesiastical tradition with a strict asceticism, there is a curious irony in the fact that in some parts of Germany Andrew is the patron saint of maidens seeking husbands. In the Harz and in Thuringen St Andrew's Night (November 30) is considered by maidens the most favorable time for the vision of their future husbands.) The Gnostic spirit is revealed in the feeling for the preeminent worth of the spiritual man (6). The true nature of man is pure; the weakness and sin are the work of the "evil enemy who is averse to peace." In seducing men he did not come out openly as an enemy but pretended friendship. When the light of the world appeared the adversary of man was seen in his true colors. Deliverance from sin comes through enlightenment. The mystical view of sufferings (9) reminds us of the similar view in the Acts of John. The addresses of the apostle are characterized by religious earnestness and warmth (words flow from his lips "like a stream of fire" 12), and by a profound sense of the Divine pity for sinful and tempted men.
3. Historical Value:
The only detail in the Acts of Andrew which has a claim to be considered historical is his activity at Patrae on the Corinthian Gulf. (Patrae is not actually mentioned in the fragmentary Acts, but that the scene of the imprisonment and martyrdom of Andrew is laid in that city may be inferred from the name "Aegeates"—see above 1 (2).) Ecclesiastical tradition speaks with great uncertainty of the sphere of Andrew's missionary labors, Scythia, Bithynia and Greece being all mentioned. It may be regarded as probable that Andrew came to Greece and suffered martyrdom at Patrae, although one must reckon with the possibility that the account of his work and crucifixion there was invented for the purpose of representing the church at Patrae as an apostolic foundation. The crucifixion of the apostle on the so-called Andrew's cross is a later tradition.
V. Acts of Thomas.
These Acts exist in a complete state and their great popularity in church circles is shown by the large number of manuscripts which contain them. It is probable that they were written originally in Syriac and that they were later freely translated into Greek and worked over from the Catholic point of view.
In the Stichometry of Nicephorus the Acts of Thomas are mentioned as containing 1,600 stichoi (lines of about sixteen syllables), one-fifth fewer than the Gospel of Mark. If this notice is correct, the form in which we have the Acts is very much more extended. In the Greek versions the Acts are divided into thirteen "deeds" followed by the martyrdom of Thomas. Some idea of the contents may be given as follows: (1) At a meeting of the apostles in Jerusalem, Thomas had India allotted to him as his sphere of service. He was unwilling to go, but at last consented when the Lord sold him to a messenger from King Gundaforus in India. On the journey to India, Thomas came to the city of Andrapolis where the nuptials of the king's daughter were being celebrated. In these the apostle took part and sang a hymn in praise of the heavenly wedding. The king asked Thomas to pray for his daughter and after he had done so the Lord appeared in the form of Thomas and won the newly-married pair to a life of sexual abstinence. The king incensed at this sought Thomas, but the apostle had departed. (2) Arrived in India Thomas undertook to build a palace for king Gundaforus. He received money for this purpose but gave it away in alms. The king discovering this cast Thomas into prison, but afterward released him when he learned from his brother who came back from the dead that Thomas had built a heavenly palace for him. Gundaforus and his brother became Christians. (3) Traveling farther east Thomas found a youth who had been slain by a dragon because of a woman whom both desired. The dragon at the command of Thomas sucked the poison from the youth's body and itself died. The young man, restored to life, embraced the ideal of sexual abstinence and was counseled to set his affections on Christ. (4) The story of a speaking colt. (5) Thomas delivered a woman from the power of a filthy demon. An account given of the celebration of the Eucharist (with bread alone) which includes a Gnostic prayer. (6) A youth partaking of the Eucharist was convicted of sin and confessed that he had killed a maiden who refused to live with him in unchaste intercourse. The maiden was raised to life and gave an account of her experience in hell. (7) Thomas was besought by a commander named Sifor to deliver his wife and daughter from a demon of uncleanness. (8) While they were on their way to the commander's house the beast which drew the carriage became exhausted and four wild asses allowed themselves to be quietly yoked. One of the wild asses was instructed by Thomas to exorcise the demons which dwelt in the women. (9) A woman, Mygdonia, married to Charis, a near relative of King Misdai, listened to a discourse of the apostle and was led to reject the society of her husband. Charis complained to the king about the magician who had put a spell upon his wife and Thomas was cast into prison. At the request of his fellow-prisoners Thomas prayed for them and recited a hymn (known as "the hymn of the soul") which is entirely Gnostic in character. (10) Mygdonia received the seal of Jesus Christ, being first anointed with oil, then being baptized, then receiving the Eucharist in bread and water. Thomas was released from prison, and Sifor, his wife and his daughter all received the seal. (11) Tertia the queen was sent by Misdai to reason with Mygdonia and as a result she herself was won to the new life. Thomas was then brought to the place of judgment. (12) There Vazan, the king's son, talked with the apostle and was converted. The king gave orders that Thomas should be tortured with hot plates of iron, but when these were brought water gushed forth from the earth and submerged them. Then follow an address and prayer of Thomas in prison. (13) The apostle was visited in prison by the women and by Vazan and thereafter Vazan along with others was baptized and received the Eucharist, Thomas coming from prison to Vazan's house for this purpose. (14) Thomas was put to death by the command of the king, being pierced with lances, but afterward he showed himself to his followers. Later a son of Misdai was cured of an unclean spirit by dust taken from the apostle's grave and Misdai himself became a Christian.
2. Character and Tendency:
The Acts of Thomas are in reality a treatise in the form of a travel-romance whose main design was to set forth abstinence from sexual intercourse as the indispensable condition of salvation. In the addresses of Thomas, however, positive Christian virtues are emphasized; and in particular the duty and the recompense of compassion are strikingly exhibited in the story of the building of the heavenly palace. The Acts clearly had their origin in Gnostic circles and were held in high estimation by various encratite sects. The original Acts underwent revision in the interest of orthodoxy. The hymns and dedication-prayers which showed marked Gnostic features were probably retained because their meaning was not understood. As Lipsius says, speaking of "the hymn of the soul": "The preservation of this precious relic of Gnostic poetry we owe to the happy ignorance of the Catholic reviser, who had no idea what heretical serpent lurked beneath the beautiful flowers of this poem." The hymn, probably written by Bardesanes, the founder of a Gnostic sect, narrates in the form of an allegory the descent of the soul into the world of sense, its forgetfulness of its heavenly origin, its deliverance by the Divine revelation which awoke it to a consciousness of its true dignity, and its return to the heavenly home from which it came. In the opinion of some, however, the hymn is falsely called "the hymn of the soul." As Preuschen says: "It describes rather the descent of the Saviour to the earth, His deliverance of the soul which languishes there in the bondage of evil, and His return to the heavenly kingdom of light. One may characterize the whole as a Gnostic embellishment and extension of Philippians 2:5-11" (Hennecke, Handbuch, etc., 587). In whichever way the hymn is to be interpreted, it is a poem of great beauty and rich in oriental imagery. The ascriptions of praise to Christ in the addresses of the apostle are sometimes couched in noble language and always suffused by great warmth of feeling. Throughout the Acts we have miraculous and supernatural elements in abundance. Christ frequently appears in the likeness of Thomas who is represented as his twin-brother. The full name of the apostle is Judas Thomas—Judas the Twin. In 55 ff. there is a graphic account of the tortures of the damned, which remind one of the Apocalypse of Peter.
3. Historical Value:
It goes without saying that the Acts of Thomas, which are a romance with a purpose, are in no sense a historical source for information about the apostle. The author however has made use of the names of historical persons. King Gundaforus (Vindafra) is known from other sources as an Indo-Parthian ruler in the 1st century AD. It is very doubtful whether the tradition preserved in the Acts as to the activity of Thomas in India is trustworthy. The earliest tradition with which we are acquainted places the sphere of his missionary labors in Parthia. Syrian tradition states that he died at Edessa, where in the 4th century there was a church dedicated to him. Thomas is also indirectly associated with Edessa in the Abgar Legend, in which we read that Thaddaeus who founded the church at Edessa was sent by Thomas. In the existing form of the Acts of Thomas we have a combination of the traditions regarding India and Edessa; we read (170) that some time after the apostle's death his bones were carried "into the regions of the West." Early tradition knows nothing of Thomas as a martyr; according to a statement of the Valentinian Heracleon (circa 170) quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom, IV, 9) the apostle died quietly in his bed. The name of the apostle is given in the Acts as Judas Thomas, and this we also find in the Doctrine of Addai and elsewhere. The statement in the Acts that the apostle was a twin-brother of Jesus was no doubt suggested by the meaning of the name Thomas (= "twin") and by the desire to enhance the dignity of the apostle. In 110 (in the Hymn of the Soul) there is a reference to the still existing Parthian kingdom, and as that kingdom came to an end in 227 AD, the poem must have been written before that date. The hymn, however, does not seem to have belonged to the original Acts, which probably were in existence before the end of the 2nd century.
Besides books mentioned under "Literature" (p. 188) Thilo, Acta Sancti Thomae apostoli (1823); Hoffman, ZNTW (1903, 273-309); Preuschen, Zweignostische Hymnen (1904); Hilgenfeld, ZWT (1904, 229-41). The Syrian Acts of Thomas were edition and translated by W. Wright, Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (1871); also Bevan, in Texts and Studies, V, 3 (1897). The later Ethiopic version is found in Malan, The Conflicts of the Holy Apostles (1871), and in Budge, The Contendings of the Apostles (2 volumes containing Ethiopic text and translation, 1899-1901).
A. F. Findlay
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