The meaning of Apocryphal Epistles in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
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.
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 AD); 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 I 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 II 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 AD.
(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
DISCLAIMER: Church of the Great God (CGG) provides these resources to aid the individual in studying the Bible. However, it is up to the individual to "prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). The content of these resources does not necessarily reflect the views of CGG. They are provided for information purposes only.