On the date of 3 Corinthians: early or late 2nd century?

December 13, 2015

A Bodmer Papyrus (not 3 Cor)

3 Corinthians, which is an apocryphal correspondence between the Corinthians and Paul, is a text that many scholars date to the end of the second century (e.g., Benjamin White, Steven Johnston, Richard Pervo, Gerard Luttikhizen). The argument hinges upon an apparent lack of specificity with regards to the heretics mentioned: i.e., its aim is all gnostics.

On the other hand, several other scholars, myself, Rordorf, MacKay, D’Anna, believe that the heresy appears to agree with great specifity with Saturninus (early 2nd century), as described by Irenaeus, haer. 1.24.
While there has really been no extended arguments with regard to the date of 3 Corinthians, it would seem that much of what goes among late daters is either a case begging the question or a violation of Ockham’s razor. So for example, these scholars also date the Pastoral Epistles late, early second century, and therefore, 3 Cor must be even later. This is a tendency I am starting to resist. I think that  Acts of Paul is dependent on 3 Cor. But I would still wish to propose a date for 3 Cor independently of considerations about the date of the AP lest I fall into circular reasoning or into building a hypothesis on a hypothesis.
The late date of the 3 Cor also depends on viewing Irenaeus’ information of about individual gnostics with great suspicion. Still, they often admit the specific agreement with Saturninus as proposed by Rordorf–but that doesn’t matter. As Johnston writes (MA Thesis, Laval, 2004),

Il semble donc que l’on doive résister à la tentation d’identifier à tout prix et de manière précise l’hérésie combattue par la Correspondance. Par l’identification d’un groupe particulier ou d’un système particulier à partir des notices d’Irénée, le chercheur d’aujourd’hui risque d’être victime de la classification hérésiologique que construit ce dernier. Irénée s’applique en effect à présenter le gnosticisme comme un phénomène systématique, dont les nombreuxes ramifications peuvent se ramener à un ancêtre commun qui est Simon le Magicien, qu’il considère comme le “père de toutes les hérésie”.

[It seems therefore that one must resist the temptation to identify at all cost and in precise manner the heresy combatted by the Correspondence. By identifying a particular group or particular system based on the information of Irenaeus, the contemporary scholar risks becoming a victim of the classification of heresies which Irenaeus has constructed. Irenaeus makes an effort to present gnosticism as a systematic phenomenon, whose numerous ramifications can be assigned to a common ancestor, i.e., Simon the Magicien whom he consider to be the “Father of all heresy”.]
On the other hand, 3 Cor could be an early example of a text which tries to demonstrate the later heresies go back to arch-enemies of the first century; Justin lists Simon and Menander together (1 apol 56); Heggisippus lists  gnostics of the second century as deriving from Simon, Cleobius, Dositheus, and Gorthaeus (in Eusebius, h.e. 4.22.5). There is no reason to think that Irenaeus was the first to do this. The important thing is not so much whether Irenaeus accurately depicts the views of individual gnostics, but whether he accurately depicts the orthodox view of what these gnostics each taught. In that case, we have a very good match of 3 Cor’s opponents and haer. 1.24.
Late daters tend to neglect certain other criteria for dating 3 Cor.  3 Cor exhibits relatively primitive ecclesiology, not specific signs of polemicizing against Marcion, no advanced form of gnosticism (like Valentinus or Basilides), and a very primitive church structure (the lead presbyter is a primes inter pares). Its orthodoxy is very similar to Ignatius of Antioch. There is thus no reasons to suggest that it doesn’t belong to the first quarter of the 2nd century, and other reasons why it doesn’t belong to the late 2nd century.

Androclus and the Lion

May 9, 2012

D. R. MacDonald writes that the story of the baptized lion in the Acts of Paul is a case of a Christian revision of the well-known tale of Androcles and the Lion (The Legend and the Apostle, 21-22):

The Ephesus story is a Christian version of “Androcles [or, more corrrectly, Androclus] and the Lion.”  …The story appears in the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius (5.14; ca. 160 C. E.). Gellius borrowed it from Apion’s Aegyptiaca (first century C. E.), but no doubt the story originated in oral tradition.  At the theater in Corinth, archeologists have discovered at the bottom of a wall enclosing the orchestra a series of painting sof human figures fighting with wild animals, under one of which is an inscription reading:  “The lion recognizes the man under the bull as his savior and licks him.”  Since the orchestra wall dates from early in the first century C. E., the tale apparently was popular lore by that time.

The citation of the inscription at Corinth is of doubtful relevance.  The bull is an element that does not appear in the Acts of Paul.  But more to the point, Apion never presented this story as “oral tradition” but rather as an event he saw with his own eyes.  And why not?  Is it so incredible that Apion, who visited Rome at the time of Gaius Caesar, could have attended a few of the circuses that were the mainstay of entertainment in Rome?  The Romans were accustomed to watching the feeding frenzies of animals trained to devour human flesh.  This was a part of the live entertainment that a visitor could also attend on a circus day in the world’s premier city.  People did retell the story, to be sure.  Apion says so (LCL, 1.427):

“Afterwards,” said he [i.e., Apion], “we used to see Androclus with the lion, attached to a slender leash, making the rounds of the shops throughout the city ; Androclus was given money, the lion was sprinkled with flowers, and everyone who met them anywhere exclaimed : ‘This is the lion that was a man’s friend, this is the man who was physician to a lion.'”

I personally doubt that Apion lied, by taking an oral story and pretended it was something that he himself had seen.  It seems more likely to me that the back story which Androclus told was part of the show.  I.e., there’s a sucker born every minute.  Androclus claimed to have been a runaway slave who healed a lion of a thorn in his paw while hiding in Africa and to have lived three years in the cave on the food that the lion provided him.  Afterwards, he grew weary of the food that the lion brought him, and he returned to civilization only to be arrested for being a runaway and condemned to die in the games.  Then, the lion whom he had succored in the cave was the very same that they released against him. So he claimed.

The whole story was probably just a concoction and that Gaius Caesar was likely privy to the actual facts.  Androclus was more likely a lion tamer and never a runaway slave.  His leading the lion around the streets of Rome on a leash afterwards basically gives it away.  Spectacles often have an element of deception in them, for people want to be shown a good time.

“Others” or “Other Apostles”: Steve Johnston’s objections to Rordorf

April 5, 2012

In his 2003 master’s thesis at Laval University, under the direction of Paul-Hubert Poirier, Steve Johnston discusses the text of 3 Cor provided by Willy Rordorf, at the end of his article, “Héresie et orthodoxie selon la Correspondance apocryphe entre les Corinthiens et l’apôtre Paul”, in Orthodoxie et hérésie dans l’Eglise ancienne, Cahiers de la Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 17:60-63.

Johnston writes as follows (p. 161, n. 45):

The explanation, if I’m not mistaken, is that the text that Rordorf provides in his 1993 article is a preview of his forthcoming  edition of the Acts of Paul which will appear in the CChrSA (Brepols).  Thus, Rordorf will provide an edition of the 3 Cor only as it was integrated into the Acts of Paul.  Bodmer X provides what is believed to be the independent Greek text of the 3 Cor which evidently predated the Acts of Paul.  Every text which stems from the Acts of Paul, starting with the Heidelberg Coptic Papyrus, has the words “other apostles”.

By the way, if Steve Johnston himself happens upon this blog post, it would be great for him to contact me.

Thematic parallels between Acts of Paul IX, 13 and 1 Corinthians 8.1-6

March 14, 2012

One of the strongest affirmations of the divinity of Christ occurs in Greek Hamburg Papyrus (IX, 13): εἷς Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἄλλος οὐκ ὑπάρχει· This sentence resembles 1 Cor 8.6: ἀλλ’ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι’ αὐτοῦ. AP IX, 13 shares three common themes with 1 Cor 8.1-6: These are: (1) A polemic against idolatry: both argue that idols represent false gods: The Acts of Paul says they are empty; 1 Cor argues that they have no real existence. (2) Both raise the language of the Shema, in order to affirm what R. Bauckham calls Christological monotheism. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one Lord of the Shema and affirmed thus as the one eternal Creator. (3) Both texts affirm creation theology–that God created the heavens and the earth and humanity.

1 Cor 8.1-6 (RSV); Acts of Paul IX, 13, my translation (italics are restored from Coptic Bodmer XLI.

A verbal comparison of Galatians 1.11-17, Philippians 1.27, and Acts of Paul IX, 5-6 (Paul’s conversion)

March 6, 2012

The Acts of Paul seems to base the story of Paul’s conversion upon Galatians 1.11-17. A verbal comparison of the English helps us to see clearly possible influence.

The translation of the AP from Coptic is mine. Biblical passages are from the RSV.

On Unanswerable Theories

November 17, 2011

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s. ~ GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Martin Rist, in his article “Pseudepigraphic Refutations of Marcionism,” (Journal of Religion 22, 1942) argues that the Pastoral Epistles are directed against Marcionite heresy. He says that “[i]t is largely from… affirmations of faith that the nature of the heresy attacked in I and II Timothy can be ascertained.” (58)

Rist details one such affirmation:

Again, in these epistles, it is asserted, quite contrary to Marcionism, that Jesus Christ is intimately associated with the creator. Indeed, in the affirmation of faith in I Tim. 2:5… he is the “one mediator” between the “one God” and men. Further, unlike the Marcionite teaching, he was incarnate, for in this same verse it is stated that he was “himself man.” Similarly, in what appears to be another liturgical fragment his resurrection as well as his incarnation are affirmed: “Remember Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, of the seed of David” (II Tim. 2:8). Likewise, the hymn in I Tim. 3:16 declares the incarnation and ascension of Jesus, assuming his resurrection: “He was manifest in the flesh….. He was taken up into glory.” Also, in the first line of the martyrological hymn the resurrection of his faithful followers is assured: “If we have died with him, we shall alos live with him” (II Tim. 2:11). It may be objected that references such as these are too casual, too indefinite, to have been intended to form part of a refutation of Marcionism. But it should be noted that in a pseudepigraphic refutation such as the Pastorals appear to be the less obvious the confutations are, the greater their effectiveness. (59-60)

There are two major problems with this argument. The first is a lack of consideration of other contexts in which these affirmations would be pertinent. For example, Judaism. It strains credulity to suggest that something as general as Jesus’ “intimate association” with the Creator was only an important matter in the debate with Marcion. The same goes for the resurrection of Jesus, his Davidic lineage (i.e., his legitimacy as a claimant of the title “Messiah”), and the resurrection of believers.

The other major problem is Rist’s anticipation of this reply. Instead of admitting that other possible contexts for these statements undermine their usefulness for his argument, he instead uses that weakness as a strength. Now, the obscurity of the opponent in the PE becomes evidence for the skillfulness of the pseudepigrapher in concealing his true intentions.

Regardless of one’s position on the authenticity of the PE, I think all reasonable critics should be able to see the problem with this. It is a hallmark of conspiratorial thinking to suggest the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, a pattern of thought that permits controversial opinions to become unfalsifiable.

The best way to cite the Acts of Paul

November 11, 2011

Some have experienced the situation when reading the Bible that someone asks where to find a particular passage, and someone else will volunteer, “That’s on page 1123.”  This is an absurdity, and often just a little joke, because most experienced Bible readers know that many versions, editions, and prints of the same editions differ in their pagination, and that it is proper when citing the Bible to use the primary sources reference, i.e., a convention of chapter and verse which is mostly the same in every modern edition and translation.

Violations of this principle of properly citing primary sources can cause confusion and consternation.   If for example a scholar cites an English edition by page number instead of the primary source reference. It implies two unfortunate failures: (1) that the writer does not know the correct manner to cite primary sources; (2) that the scholar is unacquainted with the original text but depends wholly on a translation.

The question remains as to how to go about citing the Acts of Paul, since so many MS discoveries have increased our knowledge of the whole, adding new chapters as our knowledge increases.  The answer, for now, is to consult Willy Rordorf (Greek), Pierre Cherix (Coptic) and Rudolphe Kasser (Coptic of Bodmer XLIX)“Actes de Paul”, in François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain, eds., Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade,  Saint Herblain: Gallimard, 1997).  Rordorf divides the Acts of Paul into 14 acts.  These are indicated by Roman numeral followed by a comma, and then the paragraph (e.g., III, 3 = Acts of Paul and Thecla 3; Acts of Paul IX, 10 = Ephesian episode, 10 paragraph).  Now this may seem arbitrary.  Why not use the numeration in Schneemelcher or Elliot?  The answer is that Rordorf et al. are preparing a text of the Acts of Paul for CChrSA (Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum, Brepols) and it will be the most complete and up-to-date text of all the available evidence.  This edition has been long in coming but should imminently see the light of day.  It is thus better to use this system, to which translations will eventually conform, than to use older translations like Schneemelcher, which are already out of date the moment “Actes de Paul” (in E.A.C. vol 1) was published in 1997.

Here is a complete list of episodes and their chief witnesses:

  • I. Damascus: John Rylands Vellum
  • II.Antioch (of Syria?) – Coptic Heidelberg Papyrus (PHeid)
  • III. Iconium – PHeid, Greek miniscules
  • IV. Antioch (of Pisidia?) – PHeid, Greek miniscules
  • V. Myra – PHeid
  • VI. Sidon – PHeid
  • VII. Tyre – PHeid
  • VIII. Jerusalem (?) – PHeid (Smyrna is also probable, cf. Life of Polycarp, in Lightfoot part 2, vol. 3
  • IX. Ephesus – Hamburg Papyrus bil. 1 (PHamb); Coptic Bodmer Papyrus XLI
  • X. Philippi (3 Corinthians) PHeid
  • XI. Philippi – PHeid
  • XII. Corinth – PHamb, PHeid
  • XIII. Voyage to Italy – PHamb, other papyri, PHeid
  • XIV. Martyrdom of Paul – PHamb, PHeid, miniscules, Coptic


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