New Testament apocrypha


New Testament apocrypha

The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that claim to be accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. These writings often have links with books regarded as "canonical". Not every branch of the Christian church agrees on which writings should be regarded as "canonical" and which are "apocryphal" (See, for example, the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

Contents

Definition

The word "apocrypha" means "things put away" or "things hidden" and comes from the Greek through the Latin. The general term is usually applied to the books that were considered by the church as useful, but not divinely inspired. As such, to refer to Gnostic writings as "apocryphal" is misleading since they would not be classified in the same category by orthodox believers. Often used by the Greek Fathers was the term antilegomena, or "spoken against", although some canonical books were also spoken against, such as the Apocalypse of John in the East. Often used by scholars is the term pseudepigrapha, or "falsely inscribed" or "falsely attributed", in the sense that the writings were written by an anonymous author who appended the name of an apostle to his work, such as in the Gospel of Peter or The Æthiopic Apocalypse of Enoch: almost all books, in both Old and New Testaments, called "apocrypha" in the Protestant tradition are pseudepigrapha. In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, what are called the apocrypha by Protestants include the deuterocanonical books: in the Catholic tradition, the term "apocrypha" is synonymous with what Protestants would called the pseudepigrapha, the latter term of which is almost exclusively used by scholars.[1]

History

Development of the New Testament Canon

That some works are categorized as New Testament Apocrypha is indicative of the wide range of responses that were engendered in the interpretation of the message of Jesus of Nazareth. During the first several centuries of the transmission of that message, considerable debate turned on safeguarding its authenticity. Three key methods of addressing this survive to the present day: ordination, where groups authorize individuals as reliable teachers of the message; creeds, where groups define the boundaries of interpretation of the message; and canons, which list the primary documents certain groups believe contain the message originally taught by Jesus (in other words, the Bible). In general, the earliest books about Jesus were the ones included in the canons; later amplifications and variant traditions are now termed apocryphal. Some of them were vigorously suppressed and survive only as fragments. The earliest lists of canonical works of the New Testament were not quite the same as modern lists; for example, the Book of Revelation was regarded as disputed by some Christians (see Antilegomena), while Shepherd of Hermas was considered genuine by others, and appears (after the Book of Revelation) in the Codex Sinaiticus.

The works that presented themselves as "authentic" but that did not obtain general acceptance from within the churches are called New Testament Apocrypha. These are not accepted as canonical by most mainstream Christian denominations; only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church recognizes the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, Acts of Paul, and several Old Testament books that most other denominations reject, but it should be noted that this church does not adhere to an explicit canon.[citation needed]

The Syriac Peshitta, used by all the various Syrian Churches, originally did not include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation (and this canon of 22 books is the one cited by John Chrysostom (~347-407) and Theodoret (393-466) from the School of Antioch).[2] Western Syrians have added the remaining five books to their New Testament canons in modern times[2] (such as the Lee Peshitta of 1823). Today, the official lectionaries followed by the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Syrian Church, also known as the Church of the East (Nestorian), still only present lessons from the 22 books of the original Peshitta.[2]

The Armenian Apostolic church at times has included the Third Epistle to the Corinthians, but does not always list it with the other 27 canonical New Testament books. This Church did not accept Revelation into its Bible until 1200 CE.[3] The New Testament of the Coptic Bible, adopted by the Egyptian Church, includes the two Epistles of Clement.

Modern scholarship

Tischendorf and other scholars began to study New Testament apocrypha seriously in the 19th Century and produce new translations. The "standard" scholarly edition of the New Testament Apocrypha in German and English is that of Schneemelcher.[4] The texts of the Nag Hammadi library are often considered separately but the current edition of Schneemelcher also contains eleven Nag Hammadi texts.[5]

Books that are known objectively not to have existed in antiquity are usually not considered part of the New Testament Apocrypha. Among these are the Libellus de Nativitate Sanctae Mariae (also called the "Nativity of Mary") and the Latin Infancy Gospel. The latter two did not exist in antiquity, and they seem to be based on the earlier Infancy Gospels.[citation needed]

Gospels

Canonical Gospels

Four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament, or canonical. Many other documents (of various genres) given the title "gospel" were written subsequently.

  • Gospel according to Matthew
  • Gospel according to Mark
  • Gospel according to Luke
  • Gospel according to John

Infancy Gospels

The rarity of information about the childhood of Jesus in the canonical Gospels led to a hunger of early Christians for more detail about the early life of Jesus. This was supplied by a number of 2nd century and later texts, known as infancy gospels, none of which were accepted into the biblical canon, but the very number of their surviving manuscripts attests to their continued popularity.

Most of these were based on the earliest infancy gospels, namely the Infancy Gospel of James (also called the "Protoevangelium of James") and Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and on their later combination into the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (also called the "Infancy Gospel of Matthew" or "Birth of Mary and Infancy of the Saviour").

The other significant early Infancy Gospels are the Syriac Infancy Gospel, the History of Joseph the Carpenter and the Life of John the Baptist.

Jewish Christian Gospels

Jewish Christian sects within Early Christianity that retained a strong allegiance to Judaism, upholding Mosaic Law, used these Gospels as specific to themselves:

Some scholars consider that the 2 last named are in fact the same source.[6]

Non-Canonical Gospels

Other documents entitled "gospels" came into existence in the second and third Christian centuries. Sometimes, those attributed to the text state elsewhere that their text is the earlier version, or that their text excises all the additions and distortions made by their opponents to the more recognised version of the text. The Church Fathers insisted that these people were the ones making distortions, but some modern scholars do not. It remains to be seen whether any are earlier and more accurate versions of the canonical texts. Details of their contents only survive in the attacks on them by their opponents, and so for the most part it is uncertain as to how extensively different they are, and whether any constitute entirely different works. These texts include:

Sayings Gospels

One or two texts take the form of brief logia—sayings and parables of Jesus—which are not embedded in a connected narrative:

A minority of scholars regard the Gospel of Thomas as part of the tradition from which the canonical gospels eventually emerged; in any case both of these documents are important as showing us what the theoretical Q document might have looked like.

Passion Gospels

A number of Gospels are concerned specifically with the "Passion" (arrest, execution and resurrection) of Jesus:

Although three texts take Bartholomew's name, it may be that one of the Questions of Bartholomew or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is in fact the unknown Gospel of Bartholomew.

Harmonized Gospels

A number of texts aim to provide a single harmonization of the canonical gospels, that eliminates discordances among them by presenting a unified text derived from them to some degree. The most widely read of these was the Diatessaron.

Gnostic texts

In the modern era, many Gnostic texts have been uncovered, especially from the Nag Hammadi library. Some texts take the form of an expounding of the esoteric cosmology and ethics held by the Gnostics. Often this was in the form of dialogue in which Jesus expounds esoteric knowledge while his disciples raise questions concerning it. There is also a text, known as the Epistula Apostolorum, which is a polemic against Gnostic esoterica, but written in a similar style as the Gnostic texts.

Dialogues with Jesus

General texts concerning Jesus

Sethian texts concerning Jesus

The Sethians were a gnostic group who originally worshipped the biblical Seth as a messianic figure, later treating Jesus as a re-incarnation of Seth. They produced numerous texts expounding their esoteric cosmology, usually in the form of visions:

Ritual diagrams

Some of the Gnostic texts appear to consist of diagrams and instructions for use in religious rituals:

Acts

Several texts concern themselves with the subsequent lives of the apostles, usually with highly supernatural events. Almost half of these are said[who?] to have been written by Leucius Charinus (known as the Leucian Acts), a companion of John the apostle. The Acts of Thomas and the Acts of Peter and the Twelve are often considered Gnostic texts. While most of the texts are believed to have been written in the 2nd century, at least two, the Acts of Barnabas and the Acts of Peter and Paul are believed to have been written as late as the 5th century.

Epistles

There are also non-canonical epistles (or "letters") between individuals or to Christians in general. Some of them were regarded very highly by the early church:

Apocalypses

Several works frame themselves as visions, often discussing the future, afterlife, or both:

Fate of Mary

Several texts (over 50) consist of descriptions of the events surrounding the varied fate of Mary (the mother of Jesus):

  • The Home Going of Mary
  • The Falling asleep of the Mother of God
  • The Descent of Mary

Miscellany

These texts, due to their content or form, do not fit into the other categories:

Fragments

In addition to the known Apocryphal works, there are also small fragments of texts, parts of unknown (or uncertain) works. Some of the more significant fragments are:

Lost works

Several texts are mentioned in many ancient sources and would probably be considered part of the apocrypha, but no known text has survived:

A note about The Eastern Orthodox Church

While many of the books listed here were considered heretical (especially those belonging to the gnostic tradition—as this sect was considered heretical by Proto-orthodox Christianity of the early centuries), others were not considered particularly heretical in content, but in fact were well accepted as significant spiritual works.

While some of the following works appear in complete Bibles from the fourth century, such as 1 Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas, showing their general popularity, they were not included when the canon was formally decided at the end of that century.

Evaluation

Among historians of early Christianity the books are considered invaluable, especially those that almost made it into the final canon, such as Shepherd of Hermas. Bart Ehrman, for example, said:

The victors in the struggles to establish Christian Orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later readers then naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning ... The practice of Christian forgery has a long and distinguished history ... the debate lasted three hundred years ... even within "orthodox" circles there was considerable debate concerning which books to include.[7]

See also

References

  1. ^ Charlesworth, James H (1985). Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. p. 2257. ISBN 978-1598564891. 
  2. ^ a b c Peshitta
  3. ^ Reliability
  4. ^ James McConkey Robinson, Christoph Heil, Jozef Verheyden The Sayings Gospel Q: collected essays 2005 p279 "Not only has a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth edition of the standard German work by Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher prepared under the editorship of Schneemelcher appeared, but independent editions are being produced ...
  5. ^ The fifth Gospel: the Gospel of Thomas comes of age - 1998 p105 Stephen J. Patterson, James McConkey Robinson, Hans-Gebhard Bethge -"The current edition of Wilhelm Schneemelcher's standard New Testament Apocrypha contains eleven Nag Hammadi tractates,"
  6. ^ Craig A. Evans
  7. ^ Ehrman, Lost Scriptures P 2,3

External links


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