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Acts of the Apostles (Apocryphal)

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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I. Introductory.-The most important of the Apocryphal Acts are the five (Peter, Paul, John, Andrew, Thomas) which sometimes are referred to as ‘the Leucian Acts,’ because they are supposed to have been composed by a certain Leucius. Before they can be discussed separately, it is therefore necessary to deal with the problem of the Leucian corpus, and inquire whether such a collection existed in early times, what was its nature, and how far the name of ‘Leucian’ may be applied to it. The direct source of the later tradition that there was a Leucian corpus is no doubt a statement of Photius (Bibliotheca, cod. 114):

ἀνεγνώσθη βιβλίον, αἱ λεγόμεναι τῶν ἀποστόλων περίοδοι, ἐν αἷς περιείχοντο πράξεις Πέτρου, Ἰωάννου, Ἀνδρέου, Θωμᾶ, Παύλουγράφει δὲ αὐτὰς, ὡς δηλοῖ τὸ αὐτὸ βιβλίον, Λεύκιος Χαρῖνος.

From this it is plain that Photius had seen a corpus of Acts, and interpreted some passage in the text to mean that the five Acts were all written by Leucius Charinus. It is therefore desirable to examine earlier literature for (1) mention of Leucius, (2) mention of the five Acts of Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, and Paul, either as a corpus or as separate writings.

1. References to Leucius

I. In the East.-Epiphanius (Panar. li. 6), when speaking of the Alogi, mentions as famous heretics Cerinthus and Ebion, Merinthus and Cleobius or Cleobulus, Claudius, Demas, and Hermogenes, and says they were controverted by St. John καὶ τῶν ἀμφὶ αὐτόν, Λευκίου καὶ ἄλλων πολλῶν. Presumably, therefore, Epiphanius was acquainted with some book in which Leucius appeared as a companion of St. John, but it will he noted that he does not suggest that Leucius was in any way heretical, but rather that he controverted heretics. Apart from this solitary mention there is no trace of Leucius in Greek Christian writings until Photius.

II. In the West.-It is quite different in the West; here there is a series of witnesses to Leucius.

(1) Pacian († c. [Note: . circa, about.] 390), bishop of Barcelona.-In Ephesians 3:3 Pacian writes to Semp. Novatianus concerning the Proclan party of the Montanists,* [Note: From pseudo-Tertullian, Refut. omn. Hœr. viii. 19, x. 26, it appears that some Montanists were κατὰ Πρόκλον, others κατὰ Αἰσχίνην (see Th. Zahn, Acta Joannis, p. lxvi, n. 4).] who claimed some connexion with Leucius, which Pacian denied; and the natural interpretation of his words seems to be that he regarded Leucius as an orthodox Christian to whom the Montanists tried to attach their origin; but the passage is obscure:

‘Et primum hi plurimis utuntur auctoribus; nam puto et Graecus Blastus ipsorum est. Theodotus quoque et Praxeas vestros aliquando docuere: ipsi illi Phryges [i.e. Montanists] nobiliores, qui se animatos mentiuntur a Leucio, se institutos a Proculo gloriantur.’

(2) Augustine.-In the contra Felicem, ii. 6, written earlier in the 5th cent., Augustine says:

‘Habetis etiam hoc in scripturis apocryphis, quas canon quidem catholicus non admittit, vobis autem [i.e. the Manichaeans] tanto graviores sunt, quanto a catholico canone secluduntur … in actibus scriptis a Leucio (codd. ‘Leutio’) quos tamquam actus apostolorum scribit, habes ita positum: “etenim speciosa figmenta et ostentatio simulata et coactio visibilium nec quidem ex propria natura procedunt, sed ex eo homine qui per se ipsum deterior factus est per seductionem.” ’

As is shown later, Augustine was acquainted with the Apocryphal Acts of Peter, Andrew, Thomas, John, and Paul, of which the first four were accepted only by Manichaeans, the last (Paul) probably by Catholics also. There is nothing, however, to show from which he is quoting here, and the passage is not in any of the extant fragments. Thomas is excluded, as we probably have the complete text, and the passage is unlike what we possess of the Acts of Peter or Paul. It is therefore probable, as Schmidt argues (Alte Petrusakten, p. 50), that he is referring to Andrew or John-the two Acts for which the Leucian authorship is otherwise most probable. But the point is not certain, and the possibility remains that he is referring to a Manichaean corpus of Acts, collected by Leucius.

(3) Euodius of Uzala.-In the de Fide contra Manichœos, ch. 38 (printed in Augustine’s works [ed. Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. xlii.]), written by Euodius, the contemporary of Augustine, the Acts of Andrew is attributed to Leucius. The full quotation is given by Schmidt (p. 53), who thinks that it probably, though not certainly, implies that Euodius also regarded Leucius as the author of a corpus of Acts, but argues that this opinion was probably based only on an interpretation of the passage of Augustine quoted above. However this may be, it remains clear that Euodius regarded the Acts of Andrew as Manichaean and the work of Leucius.

(4) Innocent I.-In a rescript of 405 to Exsuperius, bishop of Toulouse, Innocent says:

‘Cetera autem quae vel sub nomine Matthiae vel sub nomine Iacobi minoris, vel sub nomine Petri et Johannis quae a quodam Leucio scripta sunt [vel sub nomine Andreae quae a Nexocharide et Leonida philosophis], vel sub nomine Thomae et si qua sunt alia (v.l. [Note: .l. varia lectio, variant reading.] talia), non solum repudianda verum etiam noveris damnanda.’

The words enclosed in brackets are probably an interpolation (see Zahn, Acta Joannis, 209), and Nexocharides and Leonidas the philosophers are otherwise unknown persons. The text is certainly not quite in order, but Leucius is clearly indicated as the author of the Acts of Peter and of John.

(5) The Decretum Gelasianum (6th cent.).-After rejecting as apocryphal the Acts of Andrew, Thomas, Peter, and Philip, the writer goes on to give a list of Apocryphal Gospels, and then continues: ‘Libri omnes quos fecit Leucius discipulus diaboli, apocryphi.’ As there follow several Manichaean writings, it is tolerably certain that here, as elsewhere, ‘disciple of the devil’ means ‘Manichaean,’ but it is not clear to which books reference is made. There is a slight presumption that the books made by Leucius are not identical with any already mentioned, and this would suggest either the Acts of John, which are not otherwise mentioned, or possibly the Acts of Pilate, which in the Latin version are connected with the name of Leucius Charinus. Schmidt, however, while thinking that the Acts of John are certainly intended, is inclined to believe that the writer may have meant the whole Manichaean collection.

(6) Turribius of Astorga (circa, about 450).-In a correspondence with his fellow-bishops, Idacius and Creponius, Turribius discusses the literature of the Manichaeans and Priscillianists. Among these he mentions ‘Actus illos qui vocantur S. Andreae, vel illos qui appellantur S. Ioannis, quos sacrilego Leucius ore conscripsit, vel illos qui dicuntur S. Thomae et his similia, etc.’ Here clearly Leucius is regarded as the author of the Acts of John, and presumably not of the others-though, if a certain laxity of syntax be conceded, the Acts of Andrew might be added-certainly not of the Acts of Thomas.

(7) Mellitus.-The writer of a late Catholic version of the Acts, who took to himself the name of Mellitus, probably intending to identify himself with Melito of Sardis (circa, about 160-190), says: ‘Volo sollicitam esse fraternitatem vestram de Leucio quodam qui scripsit apostolorum actus, Ioannis evangelistae et sancti Andreae vel Thomae apostoli, etc.’; so that he must have regarded Leucius as the author of these three Acts, but there is no suggestion of the full corpus of five. Schmidt thinks that be probably derived his knowledge from the letter of Turribius and a list of heretical writings, which was once annexed to it, though it has now disappeared; the letter was probably taken up into the works of Leo, with whom Turribius corresponded (see Schmidt, p. 61). It does not appear probable from internal evidence that Mellitus had any first-hand knowledge of the Apocryphal Acts.

(8) Further traces of Leucius, under the corrupt form of Seleucus, can perhaps be traced in pseudo-Hieronymus, Ep. ad Chromatium et Heliodorum, and in literature dependent upon it (see Schmidt, p. 62); but no importance can be attached to this late and inferior composition.

It would appear from these data that (a) the earliest traditions connected Leucius with St. John, and did not regard him as heretical. (b) A quite late tradition regarded him as the author of the corpus of five Acts-Paul, Peter, John, Andrew, and Thomas-which the Manichaeans used as a substitute for the canonical Acts, and the Priscillianists in addition to the canonical Acts. (c) External evidence suggests that Leucius was probably the author of the Acts of John, and, with less clearness, of Andrew, but not of Peter, Paul, or Thomas; and this conclusion is supported by internal evidence.

2. The evidence for the Acts as a collection

I. In the West

(1) Philastrius of Brescia (383-391).-In his Liber de Hœresibus, 88, we have the earliest evidence for a corpus of Apocyrphal Acts. He begins by referring to those who use ‘apocryfa, id est secreta,’ instead of the canonical OT and NT, and mentions as the chief of those who do this the ‘Manichaei, Gnostici, Nicolaitae, Valentiniani et alii quam plurimi qui apocryfa prophetarum et apostolorum, id est Actus separatos habentes, canonicas legere scripturas contemnunt.’ Later on he gives more details in a passage where the text is unfortunately clearly corrupt:

‘Nam Manichaei apocryfa beati Andreae apostoli, id est Actus quos fecit veniens de Ponto in Greciam [quos] conscripserunt tunc discipuli sequentes beatum apostolum, unde et habent Manichaei et alii tales Andreae beati et Joannis actus evangelistae beati et Petri similiter beatissimi apostoli et Pauli pariter beati apostoli: in quibus quia signa fecerunt magna et prodigia, etc.’

Whatever may be the true text of this passage, it clearly implies (a) that the Manichaeans used a corpus of Apocryphal Acts in place of the canonical Acts of the Apostles; (b) that this corpus contained the Acts of Andrew, John, Peter, and Paul; (c) the Acts of Thomas is not mentioned (Schmidt [p. 44] thinks that this is merely accidental); (d) Leucius is not mentioned.

(2) Augustine.-In the controversial writings of Augustine against the Manichaeans there are many allusions to the Apocryphal Acts. Reference may especially be made to (a) the de Sermone Domini in Monte (i. 20, 65), in which allusions can be traced to the Acts of Thomas; (b) the contra Adimantum, 17, where allusions to the Acts of Thomas and Acts of Peter can be identified; (c) the contra Faustum Manicheum (lib. 14 and 30); (d) the contra Felicem; and (e) the de Civitate Dei. Schmidt (44ff.) has shown, from the consideration of these passages, that the Manichaeans used the five Acts of John, Andrew, Peter, Thomas, and Paul, while the Catholics rejected the first four, but accepted the Acts of Paul. The crucial passage for this conclusion is c. Faustum, xxx. 4, in which Faustus the Manichee says:

‘Mitto enim ceteros eiusdem domini nostri apostolos, Petrum et Andream, Thomam et illum inexpertum veneris inter ceteros beatum Johannem … sed hos quidem, ut dixi, praetereo, quia eos vos [i.e. the Catholics] exclusistis ex canone, facileque mente sacrilega vestra daemoniorum his potestis importare doctrinas. Num igitur et de Christo eadem dicere poteritis aut de apostolo Paulo, quem similiter ubique constat et verbo semper praetulisse nuptis innuptas et id opere quoque ostendisse erga sanctissimam Theclam? quodsi haec daemoniorum doctrina non fuit, quam et Theclae Paulus et ceteri ceteris adnuntiaverunt apostoli, cui credi iam poterit hoc ab ipso memoratum, tamquam sit daemoniorum voluntas et doctrina etiam persuasio sanctimonii?’

As Schmidt says, it is clear that Faustus gave up the use of the Acts of Andrew, John, Peter, and Thomas, because his opponents refused to recognize their authority, but relied on a Pauline document relating to Thekla. Before the discovery of the Acts of Paul it was possible to think that this might be the so-called Acts of Paul and Thekla. It is now, however, fairly certain that this latter document in its present form is merely an extract from the older Acts of Paul; there is no reason, therefore, to doubt that Augustine and Faustus both recognized the Acts of Paul, which had not yet been entirely deposed from the Canon.

(3) Innocent I. and Exsuperius.-A correspondence (in a.d. 405) between Innocent I. and Exsuperius, bishop of Toulouse (see the quotation above), shows that the Apocryphal Acts were used in Spain not only by Manichaeans but also by Priscillianists. It is not quite clear to which Acts Innocent refers. Besides mentioning the Acts of Peter and John (of which certainly the latter and probably the former also are ascribed to Leucius), he refers to Acts of Matthias and of James the less, which do not elsewhere appear in the Manichaean corpus, as well as to those of Andrew, which in some texts (see Zahn, Gesch. des NT Kanons, Leipzig, 1888-92, ii. 244ff.) are ascribed to Nexocharide (v.l. [Note: .l. varia lectio, variant reading.] Xenocharide) and Leonidas; Fabricius (Codex Apocryphus, ii. 767) thinks that these names are a corruption of Charinus and Leucius.

(4) Leo the Great and Turribius (440-461).-Forty years after the time of Innocent, the correspondence between Leo and Turribius, bishop of Astorga in Spain, throws more light on the use of the Apocryphal Acts by the Priscillianists. Leo complains that the Priscillianists ‘scripturas veras adulterant’ and ‘falsas inducunt.’ Turribius found that the Priscillianists and Manichaeans were making great progress in Spain, and for this reason had elicited a letter of condemnation from Leo. He also expressed himself further in his letters to Idacius and Creponius, and apparently annexed a selection of heretical passages from the Apocryphal Acts to justify his disapproval. This selection is, however, unfortunately no longer extant, but it is plain that he was acquainted with the Acts of Thomas, Andrew, and John (for text see above, 1. (6)). He also refers to a Memoria Apostolorum,

‘in quo ad magnam perversitatissuae auctoritatem doctrinam domini mentiuntur, qui totam destruit legem veteris Testamenti et omnia quae S. Moysi de diversis creaturae factorisque divinitus revelata sunt, praeter reliquas eiusdem libri blasphemias quas referre pertaesum est.’

This Memoria Apostolorum is also mentioned by Orosius (Consultatio ad Augustinum, in Patr. Lat. xlii. 667), and Schmidt (p. 50) thinks that it is the source of a quotation from a Manichaean writing which Augustine could not trace:

‘Sed Apostolis dominus noster interrogantibus de Judaeorum prophetis quid sentiri deberet, qui de adventu eius aliquid cecinisse in praeteritum putabantur, commotus talia eos etiam nunc sentire respondit “Demisistis vivum qui ante vos est et de mortuis fabulamini.” ’

II. In the East

(1) Eusebius.-In HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).] iii. 25. 6 the Acts of John and Andrew are mentioned together with ‘those of the other apostles,’ and are regarded as books used by heretics. In iii. 3. 2 the Acts of Peter are mentioned, and in iii. 3. 5 and iii. 25. 4 the Acts of Paul. The Acts of Thomas are not quoted, nor is any reference made to Leucius.

(2) Ephraim Syrus (circa, about 360).-In his commentary Ephraim says that the apocryphal correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians was written by the followers of Bardesanes, ‘in order that under cover of the signs and wonders of the Apostle, which they described, they might ascribe to the name of the Apostle their own godlessness, against which the Apostle had striven.’ This apocryphal correspondence was contained in the Acts of Paul, but it also circulated in some Syriac and Armenian NT Manuscripts ; no doubt it was an excerpt from the Acts, but it is not clear whether Ephraim knew the Acts or the excerpt. It is, however, much more probable that Ephraim is here referring to the Acts, as the correspondence alone does not seem ever to have been regarded by the Syriac Church as heretical.

(3) Epiphanius.-In the Panarion Epiphanius mentions the Acts of Thomas, Andrew, and John in connexion with the Encratites (Pan. xlvii. 1), the Apostolici (ib. lxi. 1), and other heretics (cf. xxx. 16, lxiii. 2). But there is no sign of any consciousness that there was a Manichaean corpus, or that there was any connexion with Leucius. At the same time a note in Photius (Bibl. cod. 179) states that Agapius used the Acts of Andrew, so that the Eastern Manichaeans must have used at least some of the Acts.

(4) Amphilochius of Iconium (circa, about 374).-At the Second Council of Nicaea (787) a quotation was read from Amphilochius’ lost book περὶ τῶν ψενδεπιγράφων τῶν παρὰ αἱρετικοῖς, in which he proposed δείξομεν δὲ τὰ βιβλία ταῦτα, ἂ προφέρουσιν ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπόσταται τῆς ἐκκλησίας, οὐχὶ τῶν ἀποστὸλων πράξεις ἀλλὰ δαιμόνων συγγράμματα. It also appears from the Acts of the Council that the Acts of John was quoted and condemned. It was resolved that no more copies were to be made and those already existing were to be burnt.

(5) John of Thessalonica (circa, about 680).-In the preface to his recension of the τελείωσις Μαρίας (M. Bonnet, Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie , 1880, p. 239ff.), John explains that the Acts of Peter, Paul, Andrew, and John were heretical productions, but seems to argue that they made use of genuine material, just as had been the case with the τελείωσις.

From this evidence, which is given with a full and clear discussion in his Alte Petrusakten (cf. also his Acta Pauli, 112f.), C. Schmidt draws the following conclusion: (a) The Manichaeans had formed a corpus of the five Acts, but were not themselves the authors of any of them. They used this corpus instead of the canonical Acts, and the Priscillianists used it in addition to the Canon. (b) In the course of the struggle between the Manichaeans and the Church the view was adopted that the corpus was the work of a certain heretical Leucius. (c) The name of Leucius originally belonged to the Acts of John alone, and was erroneously attributed to the other books. (d) In this way the Acts of Paul, which was originally recognized as orthodox if not canonical, came to be regarded as heretical.

On the evidence as we have it no serious objection can be made to these propositions; it might, however, be a matter for investigation whether the corpus of the Manichaeans was also used by the Eastern Manichaeans, or was the peculiar possession of the Western branch.

II. The individual acts

1. The Acts of Paul.-By far the most important discovery concerning the Apocryphal Gospels in recent years was the Coptic text of the Acts of Paul found by C. Schmidt in the Heidelberg Papyrus 1, and published by him in his Acta Pauli, Leipzig, 1903 (and in a cheaper form without the facsimile of the text, in 1905). This is not indeed complete, and there are still minor problems connected with the order of the incidents, but the main facts are now plain; and the general contents of the Acts may be regarded as roughly established, with the exception of certain rather serious lacunae, especially at the beginning and in the middle. The contents, as we have them, can be divided most conveniently as follows:

(1) In Antioch.-Paul is in the house of a Jew named Anchares and his wife Phila, whose son is dead. Paul restores the boy to life, and makes many converts; but he is suspected of magic, and a riot ensues in which he is ill-treated and stoned. He then goes to Iconium.

(2) In Iconium (the Thekla-story).-Here the well-known story of Thekla is placed, and on the way to Iconium we are introduced to Demas and Hermogenes, who are represented as Gnostics with a peculiar doctrine of an ἀνάστασις not of the flesh. In Iconium Paul was entertained by Onesiphorus, and preached in his house on ἀνάστασις and ἐγκράτεια, with the result that Thekla, the daughter of Theokleia, abandoned her betrothal to Thamyris and vowed herself to a life of virginity. Theokleia and Thamyris therefore raised persecution against Paul and Thekla. Paul was scourged and banished from the town; Thekla was condemned to be burnt. From the flames she was miraculously preserved, and went to Antioch, whore she found Paul. In Antioch her beauty attracted the attention of Alexander, a prominent Antiochian, and her refusal to consent to his wishes led to her condemnation to the wild beasts. A lioness protected her, but ultimately, after a series of miraculous rescues, she was forced to jump into a pond full of seals and committed herself to the water with the baptismal formula. Ultimately the protection of Queen Tryphaena and the sympathy of the women of Antioch secured her pardon. She returned to the house of Tryphaena and converted her and her servants, and then followed Paul in man’s clothing to Myrrha. Then she returned to Iconium, and finally died in Seleucia. The text of this whole story is very defective in Coptic, but it is preserved separately in Greek, and enough remains in the Coptic to show that the Greek has kept fairly well to the original story.

(3) In Myrrha.-Thekla left Paul in Myrrha. Here he healed of the dropsy a man named Hermokrates, who was baptized. But Hermippus the elder son of Hermokrates was opposed to Paul, and the younger son, Dion, died. The text is here full of lacunae, but apparently Paul raised up Dion, and punished Hermippus with blindness, but afterwards healed and converted him. He then went on to Sidon.

(4) In Sidon.-On the road to Sidon there is an incident connected with a heathen altar, and the power of Christians over the demons or heathen gods, but there is unfortunately a large lacuna in the text. In Sidon there is an incident which apparently is concerned with unnatural vice, and Paul and other Christians were shut up in the temple of Apollo. At the prayer of Paul the temple was destroyed, but Paul was taken into the amphitheatre. The text is defective, and the manner of his rescue is not clear, but apparently he made a speech and gained many converts, and then went to Tyre.

(5) In Tyre.-Only the beginning of the story is extant, but apparently the central feature is the exorcism of demons and the curing of a dumb child. After this there is a great lacuna, in which Schmidt places various fragments dealing with the question of the Jewish law; and it appears possible that the scene is moved to Jerusalem and that Peter is also present.

(6) Paul in prison in the mines.-In this incident Paul appears as one of those condemned to work in the mines (? in Macedonia), and he restores to life a certain Phrontina. Presumably he ultimately escaped from his imprisonment, but the text is incomplete.

(7) In Philippi.-The most important incident connected with Philippi is a correspondence with the Corinthians, dealing with certain heretical views, of which the main tenets are (a) a denial of the resurrection of the flesh; (b) the human body is not the creation of God; (c) the world is not the creation of God; (d) the government of the universe is not in the hands of God; (e) the crucifixion was not that of Christ, but of a docetic phantasm; (f) Christ was not born of Mary, nor was he of the seed of David.

(8) A farewell scene.-The place in which this scene is laid cannot be discerned from the fragments which remain, but it contains a prophecy of Paul’s work in Rome, placed in the mouth of a certain Cleobius.

(9) The martyrdom of Paul.-The last episode gives an account of the martyrdom of Paul, and the text of this is also preserved as a separate document in Greek. According to it, Paul preached without any hindrance, and there is no suggestion that he was a prisoner. On one occasion, while he was preaching, Patroclus, a servant of Nero, fell from a window and was killed. Paul restored him, and he was converted. When Nero heard of this miracle, Patroclus acknowledged that he was the soldier of the βασιλεὺς Ιησοῦς Χριστός. Nero caused him and other Christians to be arrested, condemned Paul to be beheaded, and the other Christians to be burnt. In prison Paul converted the prefect Longinus and the centurion Cestus, and prophesied to them life after death, Longinus and Cestus were told to go to his grave on the next day, when they would be baptized by Titus and Luke. At his execution milk spurted from his neck instead of blood, and afterwards he appeared to Nero, who was so impressed that he ended the persecution. The narrative ends with the baptism of Longinus and Cestus at the grave of Paul.

The testimony of early writers to the Acts of Paul.-Since the discovery of the Coptic Acts, which show that the ‘Acts of Paul and Thekla’ is an extract from the Acts of Paul, there is no justification for doubting that Tertullian refers to the Acts of Paul in de Baptismo, 17:

‘Quodsi qui Pauli perperam inscripta legunt, exemplum Theclae ad licentiam mulierum docendi tinguendique defendunt, sciant in Asia presbyterum, qui eam scripturam construxit quasi titulo Pauli de suo cumulans, convictum atque confessum se id amore Pauli fecisse loco decessisse.’

This statement is extremely valuable, because it gives us clear evidence as to the provenance of the Acts, proves that, it is not later than the 2nd cent., and shows that it was composed in the great Church, not in any heretical or Gnostic sect.

Origen quotes the Acts in de Principiis, i. 2, 3, and in in Johannem, 20:12. In both cases he gives the Acts of Paul definitely as the source of his quotation, but neither passage is found in the extant tests. He apparently regards the Acts as only slightly inferior to the Canonical Scriptures.

Eusebius in HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).] iii. 25 ranks the Acts of Paul, with the Shepherd of Hermas, Ep. of Barnabas, the Apoc. of Peter, the Didache, and possibly the Johannine Apocalypse, as among the νόθα. But he does not appear to place it with the Acts of Andrew and John and ‘the other apostles’ (perhaps the Acts of Peter and Thomas) which are ἄτοπα πάντη καὶ δυσσεβῆ. Hence he probably did not regard the Acts of Paul as heretical.

In the Claromontane list of books of the OT and NT the Acts of Paul comes at the end in the company of ‘Barnabae epistula, Johannis revelatio, Actus Apostolorum, Pastor, Actus Pauli, Revelatio Petri,’ which suggests somewhat the same judgment as that of Eusebius.

From the Commentary of Hippolytus on Daniel 3:29 it seems clear that he regarded the Acts of Paul as definitely historical and trustworthy. Combating those who doubted the truth of the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, he says:

εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Παύλου εἰς θηρία κατακριθέντος ἀφεθεὶς ἐπʼ αὐτὸν ὁ λέων εἰς τοὺς πόδας ἀναπεσὼν περιέλειχεν αὐτόν, πῶς οὐχὶ καὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ Δανιὴλ γενόμενα πιστεύσομεν;

This incident is not extant in the Coptic texts, but a full account, stated to be taken from the Περίοδοι Παύλου, is given by Nicephorus Callistus (cf. Zahn, Gesch. d. NT Kanons, ii. 2. p. 880ff.), and there is therefore no doubt but that Hippolytus regarded the Acts of Paul as little less than canonical.

Finally, the passage quoted above from Angustine, c. Faust. xxx., makes it clear that in the Church of Africa, as late as the time of Augustine, the Acts of Paul was accepted as authoritative and orthodox, even if not canonical.

The date of the Acts of Paul.-The testimony of early writers furnishes a safe terminus ad quem. The Acts must be earlier than Tertullian’s de Baptismo. The precise date of this tractate is uncertain, but at the latest it is only a few years later than a.d. 200, so that the Acts must at all events belong to the 2nd century. The question is whether it is a great deal or a very little earlier. Schmidt is influenced by the frequent use of the canonical Acts and the Pastoral Epistles to choose a date not much earlier than 180; on the other hand, Harnack thinks that the complete silence as to the Montanist movement, or anything which could be construed as anti-Montanist polemics, points to a date earlier than 170. Between these two positions a choice is difficult: probably we cannot really say more than that between 160 and 200 is the most likely period for the composition of the Acts of Paul. (See especially C. Schmidt, Acta Pauli, 176ff., where the whole question is thoroughly discussed, and reference made to the literature bearing on the subject.)

The theology of the Acts of Paul.-From the theological point of view the Acts of Paul has exceptional value as giving a presentment of the ordinary Christianity of Asia at the end of the 2nd cent., undisturbed by polemical or other special aims.

So far as the doctrine of God is concerned, the teaching of the Acts is quite simple-it is that ‘there is one God, and his Son, Jesus Christ,’ which is sometimes condensed into the statement that there is no other God save Jesus Christ alone. It is thus in no sense Arian or Ebionite, but at the same time distinctly not Nicene. It is also definitely not Gnostic, for the Supreme God is also the Creator, and the instigator if not the agent of redemption. The general view which is implied is that the world was created good, and man was given the especial favour of being the son of God. This sonship was broken by the Fall, instigated by the serpent. From that moment history became a struggle between God, who was repairing the evil of the Fall, through His chosen people Israel and through the prophets, and the prince of this world, who resisted His efforts, had proclaimed himself to be God (in this way heathen religion was explained), and had bound all humanity to him by the lusts of the flesh. The result of this process was the existence of ἀγνωσία and πλάνη followed by φθορά, ἀκαθαρσία, ἡδονή, and θάνατος, and the need of an ultimate judgment of God, which would destroy all that was contaminated. But in His mercy God had sent His Holy Spirit into Mary, in order in this way, by becoming flesh, to destroy the dominion of evil over flesh. This Holy Spirit was (as in Justin Martyr) identical with the spirit which had spoken through the Jewish prophets, so that the Christian faith rested throughout on the Spirit, which had given the prophets to the Jews and later on had been incarnate in the Christ who had given the gospel. It should be noted that there is no attempt to distinguish between the Logos and the Spirit. ‘Father, Son, and Spirit’ is a formula which seems to mean Father, Spirit or Logos, and the Son or Incarnate Spirit. It is clear that this is the popular theology out of which the Sabellian and Arian controversies can best be explained. For the reconstruction of late 2nd cent. Christology in popular circles the Acts of Paul is of unique value. There is also a marked survival of primitive eschatological interest: the expectation of the coming of Christ, and the establishment of a glorious kingdom in which Christians, will share is almost central. The means whereby Christians ensure this result are asceticism and baptism. The latter is probably the necessary moment, and is habitually called the σφραγίς; but asceticism is equally necessary, and involves an absolute abstinence from all sexual relations, even in marriage. There is no trace of any institution of repentance for sin after baptism; for this reason, baptism appears usually to be postponed, and in these respects the Acts of Paul agrees more closely with Tertullian than with Hermas. The Eucharist is primarily a meal of the community, and the theology underlying it is not clearly expressed; the most remarkable feature is that here, as in all the other Apocryphal Acts, water takes the place of wine. This feature used to be regarded as Gnostic, but in view of more extended knowledge of the Acts as a whole this opinion is untenable.

Far the best statement of the theology of the Acts is in C. Schmidt’s Acta Pauli, 183ff. This also gives full references to earlier literature.

2. The Acts of Peter.-The Acts of Peter is no longer extant in a complete form. But, apart from late paraphrastic recensions, which re-edit older material in a form more agreeable to Catholic taste, three documents exist, two of them in a fragmentary form, which probably represent portions of the original Acts. These are (1) a Coptic text of a Πράξεις Πέτρου, (2) the Codex Vercellensis, or Actus Petri cum Simone, and (3) a Greet text of the Martyrium Petri.

(1) The Coptic Πράξεις Πέτρου.-This fragment was found by C. Schmidt at the end of the Gnostic Papyrus P. 8502 in the Egyptian Museum at Berlin (Sitzungsber. d. K. Preuss. Akad. xxxvi. [1896] 839ff.), and published by him in Die alten Petrusakten, Leipzig, 1903. This relates the story of Peter’s paralyzed daughter. At the beginning of the incident, Peter, who had been twitted with the paralysis or his daughter in spite of his powers of miraculous healing, cured her for a short time, and then restored her paralytic condition. Having thus shown his power, he explained that she had originally been paralyzed in answer to his own prayer, in order to preserve her virginity, which was threatened by a certain Ptolemaeus. By this miracle Ptolemaeus had been converted to Christianity, and dying soon afterwards left land to Peter’s daughter, which Peter sold, giving the proceeds of it to the poor.

(2) The Codex Vercellensis (Bibliothec. capitul. Vercellensis, cviii. 1).-This manuscript contains either an extract from or a recension of the last part of the Acts. It begins by describing Paul’s departure from Rome to Spain, and the arrival of Simon Magus, who makes Aricia his headquarters. Meanwhile, however, Peter, who had finished ‘the twelve years which the Lord had enjoined on him’ (on this legend see esp. Harnack’s Expansion of Christianity, i. [1904] 48 n. [Note: . note.] ), was directed to go to Rome to oppose Simon. Simon, who was first in Rome, perverted Marcellus, a convert of Paul; and, as soon as Peter arrived, a contest was waged for his faith on the question of the respective powers of Simon and Peter to raise the dead. In this contest, which is long drawn out, Peter was successful, and Simon retreated. Later on, the latter made an effort to restore his reputation by flying in the air, but the prayer of Peter caused him to fall and break his thigh. He was carried in Aricia and thence to Terracina, where he died.

The story then relates the events which led up to the martyrdom of Peter. The main reason was the decision of the converted concubines of Agrippa the prefect to refuse any further intercourse with him, and the similar conduct of Xanthippe the wife of Albinus, a friend of Nero, and of many other wives who all left their husbands. Peter was warned of the anger of Agrippa, and at first was persuaded by the Christians to leave Rome. At this point the Codex Vercellensis is defective, but the missing incidents can be restored from the Martyrium Petri, which overlaps the Codex Vercellensis. From this it appears that Peter on his departure from Rome was arrested by a vision of Christ going to Rome and saying, ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified.’ Peter therefore applied this vision to himself, and went back to Rome, where he was crucified by the orders of the prefect Agrippa. Here the Codex Vercellensis is again extant, and runs parallel with the Martyrium to the end. Peter at his own request was crucified head downwards, in order to fulfil the saying of the Lord, ‘Si non feceritis dextram tamquam sinistram, et sinistram ut dextram, et quae sunt sursum tamquam deorsum, et quae retro sunt tamquam ab ante, non intrabitis in regna coelorum’-a saying which is also found in the Gospel of the Egyptians. After Peter’s death Marcellus took down his body and buried it in his own tomb, after costly embalming. But Peter appeared to him in a vision and rebuked him for not having obeyed the precept ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ Finally, the narrative explains that Nero was angry with Agrippa because he wished to have inflicted worse tortures on Peter, but, while he was planning further persecution of the Christians, he was deterred by a vision of an angel, so that Peter was the last martyr of that persecution. The Codex ends with the obviously corrupt line ‘actus Petri apostoli explicuerunt cum pace et Simonis amen.’ Lipsius (Acta Apocrypha, p. 103) suggests with great probability that ‘et Simonis’ is a misplaced gloss. In this case the ‘actus P. apostoli explicuerunt. Amen,’ would be the conclusion of the original Acts of Peter, of which the Codex Vercellensis is an extract, giving the Roman episode and martyrdom.

(3) The Martyrium Petri.-The text of this early extract from the Acts of Peter is preserved in two Manuscripts . (a) Cod. Patmiensis 48 (9th cent.). This was copied by C. Krumbacher in 1885 and published by Lipsius in 1886 in the Jahrbücher für Protest. Theologie, pp. 86-106.-(b) Cod. Athous Vatoped. 79 (10th-11th cent.). This was copied by Ph. Meyer and published by Lipsius in his Acta Apocrypha. There are also Slavonic and Coptic (Sahidic) versions, the latter preserved directly in three fragments and indirectly in Arabic and Ethiopic translations (see further Lipsius, Act. Apocr. liv f.). Lipsius thinks that the Patmos manuscript is the best. The contents of the Martyrium are the same as the second part of the Codex Vercellensis, beginning with Simon’s flight in the air, and from the comparison of the Codex with the Greek Martyrium it is possible that the original form of this part of the ancient Acts can be reconstructed with some probability.

The place of origin of the Acts of Peter.-There is no unanimity among critics as to the community in which the Acts of Peter was first produced. There is of course a natural tendency to consider in the first place the possibility that the document is Roman. In favour of this view the most complete statement is that of Erbes (‘Petrus nicht in Rom, sondern in Jerusalem gestorben,’ Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte xxii. 1, pp. 1-47 and 2, pp. 161-231). He lays special emphasis on the fact that the writer is acquainted with the entrance to Rome both from the sea and by road, and knows that the paved way from Puteoli to Rome is bad to walk upon and jars the pilgrims who use it. He also emphasizes the correctness of the narrative in placing the contest between Peter and Simon Magus in the Forum Julium, on the ground that, according to Appian (de Bello Civili, ii. 102), this forum was especially reserved for disputes and closed to commerce. He makes other points of a similar nature, but not of so striking a character.

Against this it is urged by Harnack (Altchristl. Litteraturgesch. ii. 559) and Zahn (Gesch. des NT Kanons, ii. 841) that the local references to Rome are really very small, and do not give more knowledge than was easily accessible to any one in the 2nd or 3rd century. For instance, that Aricia and Terracina are towns not far from Rome is a fact which must have been quite generally known.

Other arguments seem to point to Asia rather than Rome for the composition of the Acts. Apart from the OT and NT, the books which clearly were made use of by the redactor of the Acts of Peter are the Acts of Paul and the Acts of John. Now we know with tolerable certainty that the Acts of Paul was written in Asia, and it is usually thought that the Acts of John came from Ephesus or the neighbourhood. It is, therefore, not improbable that the Acts of Peter came from the same district. Other possibilities are Antioch or Jerusalem, but there is loss to be said in favour of these than either Rome or Asia.

The date of the Acts of Peter.-The terminus ad quem is some time earlier than Commodian the African Christian poet, who was clearly acquainted with both the Acts of Paul and the Acts of Peter, probably in a Latin version, and appears to have regarded them as undoubted history (cf. esp. Commodian, Carmen Apologeticum, 623ff.). Commodian is generally supposed to have written circa a.d. 250, so that some years earlier than this (to allow for the spread of the Acts, their translation, and the growth of their prestige) is the earliest possible date. The terminus a quo is more difficult to find. It is generally conceded that the date ± 165 adopted by Lipsius (Apokr. Apostelgesch., ii. 1, p. 275) is too early, and opinion usually fixes on the decennium either side of the year 200 as the most probable for the writing of the Acts. Harnack thinks that early in the 3rd cent. is the most probable time (Altchr. Lit., ii. 553ff.), but Erbes and C. Schmidt incline rather to the end of the 2nd century. The most important argument is concerned with the compassionate attitude towards the lapsi, which is very marked in the Acts. Harnack thinks that this is not intelligible until 230, while Erbes and Schmidt maintain that in the light of the Shepherd of Hermas a much earlier date is possible. Obviously this Sort of reasoning is somewhat tentative, and it is apparently not possible at present to say more than that 180-230 seems to be the half-century within which the composition ought probably to be placed.

The sources used by the Acts of Peter.-Apart from the OT and NT, both of which the writer uses freely and accepts as equally inspired, the use can clearly be traced of the following books. (a) The Acts of Paul. Apart from various smaller points of contact, the whole account of the martyrdom of Peter is clearly based on the martyrdom of Paul. The whole subject is worked out in full detail by C. Schmidt in his Petrusakten (p. 82ff.); but it should be added that there is perhaps still room for doubt whether that portion of the Codex Vercellensis which deals with Paul really belongs to the Acts of Peter, and is not an addition made by the redactor who formed the excerpt, rather than by the author of the Acts itself. The fullest statement of this possibility is given by Harnack (Texte and Untersuchungen xx. 2 [1900], p. 103ff.), and a discussion tending to negative his conclusions is to be found in Schmidt’s Petrusakten, 82f.-(b) The Acts of John. The frequent verbal dependence of the Acts of Peter on the Acts of John is demonstrated by the long list of parallel passages given by M. R. James in Apocrypha Anecdota, ii. p. xxiv ff. James, however, thought at that time that this list proved the identity of authorship of the two books; but Schmidt has shown conclusively that the facts must be explained as due to dependence rather than to identity of authorship. His most telling argument is the large use of the OT and NT made by the Acts of Peter as contrasted with their very limited use in the Acts of John.-(c) Schmidt also argues that the Acts used the Κήρυγμα Πέτρου. Probably he is right, but our knowledge of the Κήρυγμα is too small to enable the question to be satisfactorily settled.

The theology of the Acts of Peter.-In general the account given above of the theology of the Acts of Paul will servo also for the Acts of Peter. But in some passages which depend on the Acts of John there is an Appearance of a pronounced Modalism or almost of Docetism. Lipsius and others, who believed, with Zahn and James, that the Acts of Peter was written by the author of the Acts of John, used to think that these passages pointed to a heretical and Gnostic origin. But Harnack (Altchr. Lit. ii. 560ff.) and Schmidt (Petrusakten, p. 111ff.) have argued very forcibly that this is not the case, and that the Acts of Peter represents the popular Christianity of the cod of the 2nd cent. rather than any Gnostic sect.

No complete edition of the text exists: the Codex Vercellansis and the Greek text of the Martyrium are critically edited by R. A. Lipsius in Acta Apocrypha, i. [Leipzig, 1891]; the Coptic Πράξεις Πέτρου by C. Schmidt, Die alten Petrusakten (Texte and Untersuchungen xxiv. 1), Leipzig, 1903. Very important is the treatment of Harnack in his Chronologie, 1897, i. 559ff., and the article of Erbes in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte xxii. 1, p. 1ff. and 2, p. 161ff. under the title ‘Petrus nicht in Rom, sondern in Jerusalem gestorben.’

3. The Acts of John.-Recent research has added much to our knowledge of the Acts of John; and, though the text is fragmentary and uncertain, it is now possible to reconstruct the greater part of the original. No single manuscript is complete, but, from the comparison of many, the following incidents can be arranged:

(1) In Ephesus.-John comes from Miletus to Ephesus and meets Lykomedes, with whom he lodges. Here Cleopatra, the wife of Lykomedes, dies, and her husband also falls dead from grief, but John raises both to life. Lykomedes obtains a picture of the Apostle, and worships it in his room until John discovers it and shows him his mistake. The next episode at Ephesus is in the theatre, where John makes a long speech and heals many sick. John is then summoned to Smyrna, but determines first to strengthen the Ephesian community. On the feast day of Artemis he goes to the Temple, and after a speech inflicts death on the priest. He then encounters a young man who has killed his father because he had accused him of adultery. John raises the father, and converts both father and son; he then goes to Smyrna.

(2) Second visit to Ephesus.-John returns to Ephesus to the house of Andronicus, who had been converted during his first visit. Drusiana, the wife of Andronicus, dies From the annoyance caused her by a young man Kallimachus, but after her burial John goes to the tomb and sees Christ appear as a young man; he is instructed to raise up Drusiana and also a young man, Fortunatus, who has been buried in the same place. Fortunatus is, however, not converted, and soon, dies again.

(3) The most important fragment of the Acts is that which seems to follow upon the episode of Drusiana, as she remains one of the chief persons. This was discovered in 1886 by M. R. James in Cod. Vind. 63 (written in 1324) and published in 1897 in Texts and Studies v. 1. It gives a long and extremely Docetic account of the Passion of Christ, and of a revelation which the true Christ made to the disciples while the phantasmal Christ was being crucified, and includes a hymn which was used, among others, by the Priscillianists (Augustine, Ep. 237 [253]).

(4) The death of John.-During the Sunday worship John makes a speech, and partakes with the brethren of the Eucharist. He then orders his grave to be dug, and after prayer, and emphasis on his virgin life, lies down in the grave and either dies or passes into a permanent trance.

The testimony of early writers, and the date of the Acts of John.-The earliest writer to use the Acts of John is Clement of Alexandria. In the Adumbrationes to 1 John 1:1 (ed. Potter, p. 1009) he says:

‘Fatur ergo in traditionibus quoniam Johannes ipsum corpus quod erat extrinsecus tangens manum suam in profunda misisse et ei duritiam carnis nullo modo reluctatam esse sed locum manui tribuisse discipuli.’

This is a certain reference to the Acts of John (ed. Bonnet, 195f.), and these Latin ‘adumbrationes’ are generally recognized as derived from the Hypotyposes. A similar reference, but less certain, is in Strom. vi. 9. 71:

ἀλλʼ ἐπὶ μὲν τοῦ σωτῆρος τὸ σῶμα ἀπαιτεῖν ὡς σῶμα τὰς ἀναγκαίας ὑπηρεσίας εἰς δαιμονὴν γέλως ἂν εἴη, ἔφαγεν γὰρ οὐ διὰ τὸ σῶμα, δυνάμει συνεχόμενον ἁγία, ἀλλʼ ὡς μὴ τοὺς συνόντας ἄλλως περὶ αὐτοῦ φρονεῖν ὑπεισέλθοι, ὥσπερ ἀμέλει ὕστερον δοκήσει τινὲς αὐτὸν πεφανερῶσθαι ὑπελαβον, αὐτὸς δὲ ἁπαξαπλῶς ἀπαθὴς ἦν εἰς ὃν οὐδὲν παρεισδύεται κίνημα παθητικόν, κτλ.

Perhaps later than Clement, but probably early in the 3rd cent., is the writer of the Monarchian Prologues, in which the statement as to John, ‘qui virgo electus a Deo est quem de nuptiis volentem nubere vocavit Deus,’ clearly refers to the Acts of John (ed. Bonnet), p. 212: ὁ θέλοντί μοι ἐν νεότητι γῆμαι ἐπιφανεὶς καὶ εἰρηκώς μοι, Χρῄζω σου, Ἰωάννη. It is noteworthy that neither Clement nor the author of the Prologues seems to have any consciousness that he has used a source of doubtful orthodoxy.

Later on, Augustine and other writers against the Manichaeans make tolerably frequent mention of the Acts; a full collection of all the quotations is given by Lipsius, Apokr. Apostelgesch. i. 83ff. Here, of course, there is no longer any doubt as to the heterodoxy of the book, which is condemned together with the other Acts, with the sole exception of the Acts of Paul.

The evidence of Cement is the chief, if not the only, testimony as to the date of the Acts of John. It proves that it belongs to the 2nd cent., but there is really no evidence to say how much earlier than Clement it may be. Twenty years either side of 160 seem to represent the limits.

The provenance of the Acts of John.-This remains quite uncertain. The only evidence is that the centre of the Acts is Ephesus, and this points to Asia as the place of origin. Nor is there any serious argument against this view, for there is certainly no connexion between the destruction of the temple of Artemis by the Goths in 282 and the attack on this temple attributed to John and his friends in the Acts. Probably, therefore, Ephesus, or more generally Asia, may be taken as the place of composition, but not much should be built on this view.

The theology and character of the Acts.-The theology of the Acts appears to be markedly Docetic and Gnostic. It represents Jesus as possessing a body which varied from day to day in appearance, and was capable even of appearing to two observers at the same time in quite different forms. His feet left no mark on the ground. This certainly seems Docetic, but it is curious that Clement of Alexandria quotes part of this passage as historical without any hesitation in accepting it, and Clement was not a Docete. The fact that at the moment of the Crucifixion Jesus appears to John on the Mount of Olives is also prima facie Docetic, but it is hard to say where mysticism ends and Docetism begins.

The Gnosticism of the document is chiefly supported by the reference in the great hymn to an Ogdoad and a Dodecad, but it is not certain that this is really a reference to a Gnostic system. The Ogdoad is sun, moon, and planets, and the Dodecad is the signal of the zodiac. The distinction between Gnosticism and Catholicism was not that one believed in an Ogdoad and the other did not, but in the view which they took of it. In just the same way the Valentinians and others explained that the Demiurge had made seven heavens above the earth, and while Irenaeu

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Acts of the Apostles (Apocryphal)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​a/acts-of-the-apostles-apocryphal.html. 1906-1918.
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