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to which translations will eventually conform, than to use older translations like Schneemelcher, which are already out of date the moment “Actes de Paul” (in E.A.C. vol 1) was published in 1997.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

Devotional language in the Acts of Paul and the Canonical Acts

April 11, 2009

Schneemelcher (NTA rev. ed, 2. ) and Rordorf have suggested that edificatory or devotional language explains many of the verbal commonalities between the canonical Acts and the ActPl.  Julian Hill’s takes that to task in his article, “The Acts of Paul And the Legacy of the Lukan Acts”, in Semeia 80 (1997):

So where does this liturgical language come from? And herein lies the trap I spoke of. If I judge that it comes from Acts, by the standard set in Rordorf’s remarks quoted above I might be guilty of relying too much on the accident of manuscript survival (see further on “Rare expression” below). But if I conclude that it comes from a more general devotional tradition, even from actual liturgies or catechetical materials, then I have to imagine that every example quoted here must be explained by this chain of events: first, that some prior tradition (exemplified in what we may call text or tradition “A,” no longer extant) had already brought together the word(s) that appear in Acts (=text “B”); second, that this new text (=Luke’s Acts) simply copied (rather than newly created) exactly (or almost so) this combination of words, which thus became part of the text of the NT only incidentally-by direct borrowing from the earlier text or tradition “A”; and third, that yet another work or tradition (=text “C”: here, the quoted liturgies; later in this essay, the Acts of Paul) owes its language not to Luke’s Acts but to that earlier text or tradition “A.”

All of this is of course historically possible. But methodologically it is prejudicial—perhaps little more than an assertion so framed as to be invulnerable to critique.

Hills goes on to suggest that language  such θεὲ καρδιογνῶστα (ActPl III, 24; Acts 1.24), τὰ μεγαλεῖα τοῦ θεοῦ (ActPl III, 18; Acts 2.11), and ἐκ καρποῦ τῆς ὀσφύος (ActPl XIII, 5; Acts 20.30), must be explained by literary borrowing and not oral dependence on a common stock of devotional language.  His analysis is problematic; I would almost suggest that his view is post-Gutenberg, practically assuming that all the early Christians must have a NT sitting in front of them.

The sources for “devotional language”, catechesis, preaching, hymns, liturgy, and the Greek scriptures (LXX) must be taken very seriously. While few hymns from the ancient church are available, they probably exerted an enormous influence on the language of Christians.  Perhaps today, studies of mother-tongue hymnology and its affect on the indigenous churches of Africa, for example, the church in Sudan or among the Bayaka (see Dan Duke, “Aka Tape Impact“), would be more illustrative of the profound affect that hymns would have had in the early church.  Exact phrases and sentences would have been easily committed to memory and could be repeated in conversation or in a writing like the ActPl.

I would like to draw an analogy from my own early Christian experience with Pentecostals.  It is no exagerration to say that Pentecostals have a peculiar way of speaking, a “devotional” language.  The sources of this language are the Bible, hymns, liturgy (though they admit to none), and preaching–it is remarkable how much in the 1970-80s pentecostal preachers sounded the same; they used the same catch phrases and elocution; it was an affectation that I found embarrassing at first.  But in America, the way that most people learned to speak this devotional language was through church services and contacts with Christian people, not through the reading and imitation of literary documents (with the possible exception of the Bible).  But then, amongst such Christians, there are phrases, no less impressive than Hill’s examples in Acts and the ActPl, and these are borne from church to church through oral means.  This is true of evangelical piety in general:  Consider:  “Get right or get left.”  It means that you must become a Christian (“get right”) or that you or be left behind at the Rapture.  “A personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is a phrase not found in the Bible, but all Pentecostals and Evangelicals in English-speaking world have heard it thousands of times.  In such a milieu, it would be difficult to assign dependence on a literary text when an isolated phrase is used like the example that Hills provides:  “in whom it is necessary to be saved”.  Speaking of “The Special Language of Pentecostalism”, Elaine J. Lawless writes:

Folk groups and subcultures often develop a specialized language understood only by the members of the group, a language that must be learned as a new member becomes assimilated into the group and that, when artfully and correctly employed, will signify membership to others in the group. Specialized language serves further to mark the group to outsiders, to delineate boundaries that keep groups distinct, and to intensify group cohesion and solidarity.  A special language must be close enough to the mother language to make sense to the members of the group and simple enough for the novice to pick up fairly quickly.  No tome is set aside for the teaching of this specialized language, but its constant and repetitive use in the verbal messages of the group members serves to teach the newcomer what the words mean and where and how it is appropriate to employ them. Converts to Pentecostalism are expected to participate fully in church services immediately upon their conversion and tongue-speaking experience; hence, acquisition of the language quickly follows initiation.

The community of the ActPl, like 20 and 21th century Pentecostalism, was a subculture.  But the effect of orality, a special language of the early Christians, would have been far more profound in the pre-Guttenberg galaxy.  It would not be unusual for teachings like the beatitudes to be committed to memory, and for Christians to cite it not as from the Gospel of Matthew but as from oral tradition.  Thus, it is with due caution that I would conclude that Matthew was probably known, as also a certain Pauline corpus of letters.  But mere snippets or phrases are no proof whatsoever of an intertextual relationship, particularly in a culture which depended so heavily on orality.  Pre-Guttenberg also means that books generally were costly and it is not certain that a parish priest like the alleged writer of the AP, would have every book of the New Testament, which was still in formation, or even a copy of the entire Old Testament (cf. Gounelle).  These are assumptions that just can’t be made for this period.  But we can be sure, that through common liturgies, preaching, catechesis, hymns, and everyday Christian conversation, the early Christians spoke a language which was common to them and unique to the rest of the world.  Such common phrases, such as can be found between the canonical Acts, ActPl, 1-2 Clement, epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp, Shepherd of Hermas and others should probably be attributed to this common devotional language and not to literary borrowing.

Online Greek Texts of the Acts of Paul

March 20, 2009

Acta Pauli online Greek text (no apparatus) in unicode.  I was confused about this website because for some reason, the unicode Greek fonts did not appear correctly in Firefox.  This problem was solved by viewing the page in MS Internet explorer 7.

The texts include the Hamburg Papyrus, Acts of Paul and Thecla (Lipsius), the Martyrdom of Paul (Libsius) and 3 Corinthians (Papyrus Bodmer X).

The main website ( contains other biblical studies and Patristic texts in Hebrew and Greek.

The influence of 1 Corinthians on the Acts of Paul

March 11, 2009

Peter W. Dunn, “The influence of 1 Corinthians on the Acts of Paul“, Society of Biblical Literature 1996 Seminar Papers (Atlanta:  Scholars Press), 438-454, with minor corrections.

This paper largely draws from my 1996 doctoral dissertation with a few additional reflections.

“Fruit of his/their loins” in Acts 2.30 and Acts of Paul XIII, 5

January 30, 2009

Acts cites Psalm 131.11, but the LXX has κοιλία not the term ὀσφῦς.  Irenaeus comments on Psalm 131.11 that it must be the womb of woman, since Jesus was born not of a David’s loins from the belly of the virgin Mary (haer. 3.21.5; ANF 1[sic]):

And when He says, “Hear, O house of David,” He performed the part of one indicating that He whom God promised David that He would raise up from the fruit of his belly (ventris) an eternal King, is the same who was born of the Virgin, herself of the lineage of David. For on this account also, He promised that the King should be “of the fruit of his belly,” which was the appropriate [term to use with respect] to a virgin conceiving, and not “of the fruit of his loins,” nor “of the fruit of his reins,” which expression is appropriate to a generating man, and a woman conceiving by a man.

Irenaeus here discusses Psalm 131.11 without regard to Acts, since he contradicts Luke on this point.  If it is possible for Irenaeus to know the expression “fruit of the belly” and “fruit of loins” without reference to Acts, it is likewise possible for the author of the Acts of Paul, to use the term without knowing Acts, contra Julian Hills, Semeia 80 (1997) 152f. Furthermore, it is not excluded that a copy of the LXX available to both Luke and the author of the Acts of Paul had this variant reading. H. Seesemann writes (s.v. ὀσφῦς,TDNT 5.497):  “From Ac. 2:30 ὀσφύος came into the LXX Codex R saec VI.”  Is this possibly a genuine variant that Luke knew?  Perhaps someone out there in the blog world knows the answer to this question.

Tertullian and the Acts of Thecla or Paul? Readership of the Ancient Christian Novel and the Invocation of Thecline and Pauline Authority

January 30, 2009

Tertullian is uncomfortable with an authoritative text, entitled the Acts of Paul, which records a tradition of Paul, where Paul authorizes a woman to teach, and as a result of her teaching authorization, she also has the right to baptize. This Pauline tradition is threatening to Tertullian because it threatens to undermine the necessity of a Bishop, who plays a significant role in the baptismal process. I am going to make the argument that Tertullian is concerned that the Cainite woman and others have found and are using a Pauline tradition that threatens to eliminate the need for the hierarchical episcopate of the early church, rendering the dominant orthodox model as useless. Read More (pdf) ….

The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy (Cambridge, 1996)

January 21, 2009

The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy in the Second Century (pdf; 1.3 mb)

At long last I offer my PhD dissertation on the world wide web.  Perhaps an explanation is necessary as to why I failed to publish it before now.  I began writing a commentary on the Acts of Paul and I hoped to exploit the written material in the dissertation.  But I have since learned that the writing of an extended argument about the Acts of Paul is very different than writing a commentary, and I find now that there will be minimal overlap in the two publications.

I am offering it as a web publication in the hopes of encouraging others to make their work available on the internet free of charge.  The internet in my view is perfectly suited for this sort of academic publication.  My work in Africa, where bibliographic material is not readily available encourages me to publish on the internet as well.  I retain the copyright and all rights are reserved.  The security features in the pdf will prevent users from using copy and paste feature, but it is possible to print the document.

My thanks to Prof. Willy Rordorf my Doktorvater; and to the late Dr. Caroline Bammel, the Rev. Dr. Lionel Wickham, and Prof. Morna Hooker, my supervisors in Cambridge; and to the late Dr. Ernst Bammel, Dr. Stuart G. Hall, and Prof. William Horbury, my examiners.

For a summary, Read the rest of this entry »