07 June 2013

A short note on Christian Scriptures

Few of the books of the Christian Scriptures were in the form they are now until the last quarter of the 2nd century CE, the exception being the authentic letters of Paul of Tarsus. 

The first canon of Christian scripture was that brought by Marcion of Sinope to Rome around 140 CE, which contained the seven recognized letters of Paul plus a work Marcion called the Gospel of the Lord.  Later writers called Marcion’s gospel an abridged version of the Gospel of Luke but in truth it was probably an earlier version of Luke without later interpolations and additions by other scribes.

In another example, scholars universally recognize that the “Pericope Adulterae” (the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery) was a very late addition to the Gospel of John, which is itself the work of primarily two different writers.  This opinion goes back to the time of the Apostolic Fathers, specifically Papias of Hierapolis, who related that the story originated in the Gospel of the Hebrews, a Greek-language gospel used by Jewish Christians.

Without exception, every reference in the New Testament to or quote from the Old Testament, or Tanakh, comes from the Septuagint.  There are several references to or quotes from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, specifically the Assumption of Moses, 1 Enoch, the Martyrdom of Isaiah, and the Life of Adam and Eve.  In addition, several of the letters of Paul of Tarsus quote pagan authors, including Menander, Euripides, and Epimenides.

Before we continue, let’s see the universally recognized canon of the Christian New Testament in its entirety.  In this case, there is much more agreement than on the canon of the Old Testament.

New Testament

Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Luke
Gospel of John
Acts of the Apostles
Epistle of Paul to the Romans
1st Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
2nd Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians
Epistle of Paul to the Philippians
Epistle of Paul to the Colossians
1st Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
2nd Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
Epistle of Paul to Philemon
1st Epistle of Paul to Timothy
2nd Epistle of Paul to Timothy
Epistle of Paul to Titus
Epistle to the Hebrews
Epistle of James
1st Epistle of Peter
2nd Epistle of Peter
1st Epistle of John
2nd Epistle of John
3rd Epistle of John
Epistle of Jude
Revelation of John the Divine


In his Church History when Eusebius writes of the Christian Scriptures, he refers to several which were used many authorities in the Early Church but whose canonicity was disputed by other authorities.  Many of these “antilegomena”, as he called them, are among the universally recognized works of the New Testament.  Others were used but ultimately judged by the majority of the Church to be not canonical.

Of the canonical works in this list, the Revelation of John the Divine so beloved of American Christian fundamentalists was rejected by all the churches and patriarchs in the East (Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem) until very late, and even today is not included in the lectionary of any Eastern church.  This means they acquiesce to the instant of the West (Rome) that it is canonical but still refuse to read it publicly.

Epistle of James
Epistle of Jude
2nd Epistle of Peter
2nd Epistle of John
3rd Epistle of John
Epistle to the Hebrews
Revelation of John the Divine
Revelation of Peter
Acts of Paul
Shepherd of Hermas
Epistle of Barnabas
Teaching of the Twelve Apostle to the Heathen

The last of these works, which is older than any book of the New Testament save perhaps the genuine letters of Paul, is commonly referred to as the Didache.

Doubtful Epistles of Paul

Several of the alleged letters of Paul are now widely recognized as pseudepigraphal on a number of counts by all but the most stubbornly traditional.  Opinion about the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, not listed here, is roughly evenly divided.  This means the authentic letters of Paul include Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

1 Timothy
2 Timothy
2 Thessalonians


Including the noncanonical works in the Antilegomena, several inspired works deemed either pseudepigraphal forgeries or not rising to the level of canon were used widely throughout the Church in its early centuries.

1st Epistle of Clement
2nd Epistle of Clement
Protevangelium of James
3rd Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
Sibylline Oracles
Traditions of Matthias
Oral Gospel
Preaching of Peter
Gospel of the Egyptians
Gospel of the Hebrews
Shepherd of Hermas
Epistle of Barnabas
Apocalypse of Peter
Acts of Paul

New Testament Apocrypha

Christiain Scriptures include an even greater number of apocryphal books than their Hebrew predecessors.  Some of these were even considered valid by certain authorities.

The first three listed below are gospels used by Jewish Christians and respected by Gentile Christians as well, even if the latter did not use them, although some did.  For instance, Early Church Father Titus Flavius Clemens (Clement) of Alexandria used the Gospel of the Hebrews as well as the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Traditions of Matthias, the Sybilline Oracles, and the Oral Gospel in addition to the works universally recognized at the time.

The 2nd Diatessaron of Tatian was a harmony of the four canonical gospels used in Aramaic-speaking churches in the East for at least a couple of centuries after its compilation.  Its Old Testament quotes come not from the Septuagint but from the Aramaic Peshitta, a separate translation entirely.  Notably, it lacks the geneaologies of Matthew and Luke as well as the Pericope Adulterae of John.

Gospel of the Ebionites
Gospel of the Hebrews
Gospel of the Nazarenes
Infancy Gospel of James
Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
Syriac Infancy Gospel
History of Joseph the Carpenter
Life of John the Baptist
Gospel of Marcion (also called the “Gospel of the Lord”)
Gospel of Mani
Gospel of Apelles
Gospel of Bardesanes
Gospel of Basilides
Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Nicodemus (also called the "Acts of Pilate")
Gospel of Bartholomew
Questions of Bartholomew
Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Diatessaron of Tatian
Apocryphon of James (also called the "Secret Book of James")
Book of Thomas the Contender
Dialogue of the Saviour
Gospel of Judas Iscariot
Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Gospel of Philip
Greek Gospel of the Egyptians
Sophia of Jesus Christ
Coptic Apocalypse of Paul (distinct from the Apocalypse of Paul)
Gospel of Truth
Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter (distinct from the Apocalypse of Peter)
Pistis Sophia
Second Treatise of the Great Seth
Secret Gospel of John
Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians
Trimorphic Protennoia
Ophite Diagrams
Books of Jeu
Acts of Andrew
Acts of Barnabas
Acts of John
Acts of the Martyrs
Acts of Paul
Acts of Paul and Thecla
Acts of Peter
Acts of Peter and Andrew
Acts of Peter and Paul
Acts of Peter and the Twelve
Acts of Philip
Acts of Pilate
Acts of Thomas
Acts of Timothy
Acts of Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca
Epistle of Barnabas
Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul
Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans
Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians
Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians
Epistle to Diognetus
Epistle to the Laodiceans
Epistle to the Alexandrians
Epistle to Seneca the Younger
Greek Apocalypse of Paul
Apocalypse of Peter
Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius
Apocalypse of Thomas
Apocalypse of Stephen
First Apocalypse of James
Second Apocalypse of James
Home Going of Mary
Falling asleep of the Mother of God
Descent of Mary
Apostolic Constitutions
Didascalia Apostolorum
Book of Nepos
Canons of the Apostles
Cave of Treasures
Liturgy of St James
Penitence of Origen
Prayer of Paul
Sentences of Sextus
Gospel of the Saviour
Naassene Fragment
Fayyum Fragment
Secret Gospel of Mark
Oxyrhynchus Gospels
Egerton Gospel
Gospel of Eve
Gospel of the Four Heavenly Realms
Gospel of Matthias
Gospel of Perfection
Gospel of the Seventy
Gospel of Thaddaeus
Gospel of the Twelve
Memoria Apostolorum
Clementine Recognitions
Clementine Homilies


Anonymous said...

The "Gospel of the Hebrews was not a "Greek language Gospel."

It was translated and edited by Augustine from the Hebrew language, not Greek.

Chuck Hamilton said...

Since it was composed and used in Egypt and since the Hellenistic Jews who made up the bulk of the early Christian community spoke and read primarily or solely Greek (as in the Septuagint, for example), yes, it most certainly was. Also, Augustine does not have a gospel translation to his credit among his writings, not from any language.

Chuck Hamilton said...

The Gospel of the Hebrews doesn't even exist intact. It is known only from quotations of it by Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Jerome.