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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Acts of Christ, Spurious
Several sayings attributed to our Lord, and alleged to be handed down by tradition, may be included under this head, as they are supposed by some learned men to have been derived from histories no longer in existence (comp. Luke 1:1). (See APOCRYPHA).
1. The only saying of this kind apparently genuine is the beautiful sentiment cited by Paul (Acts 20:35), "It is more blessed to give than to receive," to which the term apocryphal has been sometimes applied, inasmuch as it is not contained in any of the Gospels extant (so Gausen, in his Theopneustia, Engl. tr. 1842). Heinsius is of opinion that the passage is taken from some lost apocryphal book, such as that entitled, in the Recognitions of Clement, "the Book of the Sayings of Christ," or the pretended Constitutions of the Apostles. Others, however, conceive that the apostle does not refer to any one saying of our Savior's in particular, but that he deduced Christ's sentiments on this head from several of his sayings and parables (see Matthew 19:21; Matthew 25:1-46; and Luke 16:9). But the probability is that Paul received this passage by tradition from the other apostles.
2. There is a saying ascribed to Christ in the Epistle of Barnabas, a work at least of the second century: "Let us resist all iniquity, and hate it;" and again, "So they who would see me, and lay hold on my kingdom, must receive me through much suffering and tribulation;" but it is not improbable that these passages contain merely an allusion to some of our Lord's discourses.
3. Clemens Romanus, the third bishop of Rome after St. Peter (or the writer who passes under the name of Clement), in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, ascribes the following saying to Christ: "Though ye should be united to me in my bosom, and yet do not keep my commandments, I will reject you, and say, Depart from me, I know not whence ye are, ye workers of iniquity." This passage seems evidently to be taken from Luke's gospel, Luke 13:25-27.
There are many similar passages which several eminent writers, such as Grabe, Mill, and Fabricius, have considered as derived from apocryphal gospels, but which seem, with greater probability, to be nothing more than loose quotations from the Scriptures, which were very common among the apostolical Fathers.
There is a saying of Christ's, cited by Clement in the same epistle, which is found in the apocryphal Gospel of the Egyptians: "The Lord, being asked when his kingdom should come, replied, When two shall be one, and that which is without as that which is within, and the male with the female neither male nor female." (See GOSPELS (SPURIOUS).)
We may here mention that the genuineness of the Second Epistle of Clement is itself disputed, and is rejected by Eusebius, Jerome, and others; at least Eusebius says of it, "We know not that this is as highly approved of as the former, or that it has been in use with the ancients" (Hist. Eccles. 3, 38, Cruse's tr. 1842). (See CLEMENT).
4. Eusebius, in the last chapter of the book just cited, states that Papias, a companion of the apostles, "gives another history of a woman who had been accused of many sins before the Lord, which is also contained in the gospel according to the Nazarenes." As this latter work is lost, it is doubtful to what woman the history refers. Some suppose it alludes to the history of the woman taken in adultery; others, to the woman of Samaria. There are two discourses ascribed to Christ by Papias preserved in Irenaeus (Adversus Haeres.v. 33), relating to the doctrine of the Millennium, of which Papias appears to have been the first propagator. Dr. Grabe has defended the truth of these traditions, but the discourses themselves are unworthy of our blessed Lord.
5. There is a saying ascribed to Christ by Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, which has been supposed by Dr. Cave to have been taken from the Gospel of the Nazarenes. Mr. Jones conceives it to have been an allusion to a passage in the prophet Ezekiel. The same father furnishes us with an apocryphal history of Christ's baptism, in which it is asserted that "a fire was kindled in Jordan." He also acquaints us that Christ worked, when he was on earth, at the trade of a carpenter, making ploughs and yokes for oxen.
6. There are some apocryphal sayings of Christ preserved by Irenaeus, but his most remarkable observation is that Christ "lived and taught beyond his fortieth or even fiftieth year." This he founds partly on absurd inferences drawn from the character of his mission, partly on John 8:57, and also on what he alleges to have been John's own testimony delivered to the presbyters of Asia. It is scarcely necessary to refute this absurd idea, which is in contradiction with all the statements in the genuine gospels. There is also an absurd saying attributed to Christ by Athenagoras (Legat. pro Christianis, cap. 28).
7. There are various savings ascribed to our Lord by Clemens Alexandrinus and several of the fathers. One of the most remarkable is, "Be ye skillful money-changers." This is supposed to have been contained in the Gospel of the Nazarenes. Others think it is an early interpolation into the text of Scripture. Origen and Jerome cite it as a saying of Christ's. 8. In Origen, Contra Celsum, lib. 1, is an apocryphal history of our Savior and his parents, in which it is reproached to Christ that he was born in a mean village, of a poor woman who gained her livelihood by spinning, and was turned off by her husband, a carpenter. Celsus adds that Jesus was obliged by poverty to work as a servant in Egypt, where he learned many powerful arts, and thought that on this account he ought to be esteemed as a god. There was a similar account contained in some apocryphal books extant in the time of St. Augustine. It was probably a Jewish forgery. Augustine, Epiphanius, and others of the fathers, equally cite sayings and acts of Christ, which they probably met with in the early apocryphal gospels.
9. There is a spurious hymn of Christ's extant, ascribed to the Priscillianists by St. Augustine. There are also many such acts and sayings to be found in the Koran of Mahomet, and others in the writings of the Mohammedan doctors (see Toland's Nazarenus).
10. There is a prayer ascribed to our Savior by the same persons, which is printed in Latin and Arabic in the learned Selden's Commentary on Eutychius's Annals of Alexandria, published at Oxford, in 1650, by Dr. Pococke. It contains a petition for pardon of sin, such as is sufficient to stamp it as a forgery.
11. There is a curious letter said to have been written to our Savior by Agbarus (or Abgarus), king of Edessa, requesting him to come and heal a disease under which he labored. The letter, together with the supposed reply of Christ, are preserved by Eusebius. This learned historian asserts that he obtained the documents, together with the history, from the public registers of the city of Edessa, where they existed in his time in the Syriac language, from which he translated them into Greek. (See ABGARUS).
These letters are also mentioned by Ephraem Syrus, deacon of Edessa, at the close of the fourth century. Jerome refers to them in his comment on Matthew 10:1-42, and they are mentioned by Pope Gelasius, who rejects them as spurious and apocryphal. They are, however, referred to as genuine by Evagrius and later historians. Among modern writers the genuineness of these letters has been maintained by Dr. Parker (in the preface to his Demonstration of the Law of Nature and the Christian Religion, part 2,
16, p. 235); by Dr. Cave (in his Historia Literaria, vol., p. 23); and by Grabe (in his Spicilegium Patrum, particularly p. 319). On the other hand, most writers, including the great majority of Roman Catholic divines, reject them as spurious. Mr. Jones, in his valuable work on the Canonical Authority of the New Testament, although he does not venture to deny that the Acts were contained in the public registers of the city of Edessa, yet gives it, as a probable conjecture, in favor of which he adduces some strong reasons, drawn from internal evidence, that this whole chapter (viz. the 13th of the first book) in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius is itself an interpolation. (See EPISTLES (SPURIOUS).)
12. The other apocryphal history related by Evagrius, out of Procopius, states that Agbarus sent a limner to draw the picture of our Savior, but that not being able to do it by reason of the brightness of Christ's countenance, our "Savior took a cloth, and laying it upon his divine and life-giving face, he impressed his likeness on it." This story of Christ's picture is related by several, in the Second Council of Nice, and by other ancient writers, one of whom (Leo) asserts that he went to Edessa, and saw "the image of Christ, not made with hands, worshipped by the people." This is the first of the four likenesses of Christ mentioned by ancient writers. The second is that said to have been stamped on a handkerchief by Christ, and given to Veronica, who had followed him to his crucifixion. The third is the statue of Christ, stated by Eusebius to have been erected by the woman whom he had cured of an issue of blood, and which the learned historian acquaints us he saw at Caesarea Philippi (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 7, 18). Sozomen and Cassiodorus assert that the emperor Julian took down this statue and erected his own in its place. It is, however, stated by Asterius, a writer of the fourth century, that it was taken away by Maximinus, the predecessor of Constantine. The fourth picture is one which Nicodemus presented to Gamaliel, which was preserved at Berytus, and which having been crucified and pierced with a spear by the Jews, there issued out from the side blood and water. This is stated in a spurious treatise concerning the passion and image of Christ, falsely ascribed to Athanasius. Eusebius, the historian, asserts (1. c.) that he had here seen the pictures of Peter, Paul, and of Christ himself, in his time (see also Sozomen, Hist. Eccles 5, 21). That such relics were actually exhibited is therefore indubitable, but their genuineness is quite another question. They were probably of a piece with the papal miracles and pious frauds of superstitious times. (See JESUS CHRIST).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Acts of Christ, Spurious'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/acts-of-christ-spurious.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.