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Paul and Thecla, which a certain Asiatic presbyter confessed that he had forged, and assigned as his reason for this forgery, that he wished to show respect to Paul.
But in connexion with this fact, we have satisfactory proof of the vigilance of the church, in guarding the Sacred Canon from corruption; for the book was no sooner published, than a strict inquiry was instituted into its origin, and the presbyter mentioned above, having been detected as the author, was deprived of his office in the church. This account is given by Tertullian; and Jerome adds, that the detection of this forgery was made by the Apostle John.
It is probable, also, that some of these books were written without
evil purpose, by weak men, who wrote down all the stories they had received by tradition; for, no doubt, a multitude of traditions respecting Christ and his Apostles, with extravagant distortions and additions, would be handed down for several generations.
By all these means, the number of Apocryphal books of the New Testament was greatly multiplied. But by far the greater number of these have perished; yet there is no difficulty in determining, that none of them had any just claim to a place in the Canon. By one or more of the rules laid down above, they can all be demonstrated to have been Apocryphal; and, indeed, most of them are never mentioned by any ancient author, in any other light than as spurious writings. There is a famous decree of Pope Gelasius, in which at least twentyfive of these books are named, and declared to be Apocryphal. It is not certain, indeed, whether this decree ought to be ascribed to Gelasius, or to one of his predecessors, Damasus; but there can be no doubt that it is very ancient, and is by most supposed to have been formed in the council which met at Rome, A.D. 494. A translation of this decree, extracted from Jones, will be found in the Notes at the end of the volume.t * See Note D, in Appendir.
See Note E, in do.
APOCRYPHAL BOOKS WHICH ARE STILL EXTANT-LETTER OP ABGARUS, KING
OF EDESSA, TO JESUS, AND HIS ANSWER-EPISTLE OF THE LAODICEANS LETTERS OF PAUL TO SENECA-PROTEVANGELION OF JAMES—THE GOSPEL OF OUR SAVIOUR'S INFANCY_THE ACTS OF PILATE-THE ACTS OF PAOL AND THECLA.
We come now to consider those Apocryphal books which are
extant, and concerning which, therefore, we can speak more particularly.
The first of these is the Letter of ABGARUS, king of Edessa, addressed to Jesus, as sent by his footman Ananias.
EUSEBIUS is the first who makes mention of this Epistle, and the sum of his account is, that our Saviour's miraculous works drew innumerable persons to him from the most remote countries, to be healed of their diseases; and that ABGARUS, a famous king beyond the Euphrates, wrote to him, because he was afflicted with a malady incurable by human art. Our Lord promised to send one of his Disciples to him, and Thaddeus, one of the Seventy Disciples, was sent by Thomas after the ascension of Jesus, by an intimation given him from heaven. For the truth of this story, Eusebius appeals to the public records of the city of Edessa, where, he says, all the transactions of the reign of Abgarus are preserved in the Syriac language; out of which he translated these Epistles and the accompanying history. He proceeds to relate, that Thaddeus having come to Edessa, wrought many miracles, and healed many that were diseased. Abgarus, supposing that this was the person whom Christ had, in his letter, promised to send to him, as soon as Thaddeus was introduced to him, perceiving something extraordinary in his countenance, fell down before him, at which his nobles were greatly surprised. The king having inquired whether he was the person sent by Christ, he answered, that on account of the faith of Christ he was sent, and assured him that all things should be according to his faith. To which the king replied, that he believed so much in Christ, that he was resolved, had it not been for fear of the Romans, to have made war with the Jews for crucifying him. Thaddeus informed him of the ascension of Christ to his Father; the king replied, I believe in him, and in his Father also; on which the Apostle said, I lay my hand on you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; and the king was instantly cured of his disease. He also cured others who were diseased; and on the morrow, the king ordered all the city to meet together, to hear the Apostle preach. The king offered him gold and silver, which he refused, saying, “We have left our own; and should we take that which is another's ?"
These Epistles are also mentioned by EPHREM the Syrian, who was a deacon in the church of Edessa, in the latter end of the fourth century. His account of this matter, as given by Dr Grabe, is as follows:-“ Blessed be your city, and mother Edessa, which was expressly blessed by the mouth of the Lord and his Disciples, but our Apostles; for when Abgarus the king, who built that city, thought fit to send and acknowledge Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all, in his pilgrimage on earth, saying, I have heard all things which are done by you, and how much you have suffered by the Jews who contemn you, wherefore, come hither, and take up your residence with me; I have a little city which shall be equally yours and mine;-hereupon, the Lord, admiring his faith, sent by messengers a blessing unto the city, which should abide for ever, till the Holy One be revealed from heaven, even Jesus Christ the Son of God, and God of God."
No other writer of the first four centuries makes any explicit mention of this Epistle; but PROCOPIUS, in the sixth century, in his history of the Persian war, relates, *. That Abgarus had been long afflicted with the gout, and finding no relief from the physicians, but hearing of the miracles of Christ, sent to him, and desired that he would come and live with him; and that upon his receiving an answer from Christ, he was immediately cured; and that our Saviour, in the end of his letter, gave Abgarus assurance, that this city should never be taken by enemies.
Evagrius, in the latter end of the sixth century, appeals to this account of Procopius, and confirms the story, that the city never should be taken by enemies, by a reference to some facts, particularly the failure of Chosroes to take the city when he laid siege to it. But this author adds a circumstance which has much the air of a fable, that this failure of capturing the city was brought about by a picture of Christ's face, which he had impressed on a handkerchief, and sent to ABGARUS, at his earnest request.
Cedrenus adds to all the rest, that Christ sealed his letter with a seal consisting of seven Hebrew letters, the meaning of which was, the divine miracle of God is seen.
Among the moderns, a very large majority are of opinion, that this Epistle is Apocryphal. Indeed, the principal advocates of its genuineness, are a few learned Englishmen, particularly Dr Parker, Dr Cave, and Dr Grabe, but they do not speak confidently on the subject; while, on the other side, are found almost the whole body of learned critics, both Protestants and Romanists. Now, that this Epistle and history existed in the Archives of Edessa, in the time of Eusebius, there is no room to doubt, unless we would accuse this re. spectable historian of the most deliberate falsehood; for he asserts that he himself had taken them thence. His words, however, must not be too strictly interpreted, as though had himself been at Edessa, and had translated the Epistle from the Syriac; for there is reason to believe that he never visited that place, and that he was not acquainted with the Syriac tongue.
The words will be sufficiently verified, if this document was translated and transmitted to him, through an authentic channel, from Edessa.
It is probable, therefore, that this story has some foundation in truth. Probably, Thaddeus, or some other Apostle, did preach the Gospel and perform miracles in that city; but how much of the story is credible, it is not now easy to determine. But I think it may be shown, that this Epistle was never penned by Jesus Christ, for the following reasons:
1. It is never mentioned in the genuine Gospels; nor referred to by any writer of the first three centuries.
2. If this account had been true, there never could have been any hesitation among the Apostles, about preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles.
3. It is unreasonable to believe, that if Christ had been applied to by this king for healing, he would have deferred a cure, until he could send an Apostle, after his ascension. This does not correspond with the usual conduct of the benevolent Saviour.
4. It seems to have been a tradition universally received, that Christ never wrote any thing himself; and if he had written this letter, it would have been more prized than any other portion of Scripture, and would have been placed in the Canon, and every where read in the churches.
5. After it was published by Eusebius, it never gained so much credit as to be received as a genuine writing of Christ.
EPISTLE TO THE LAODICEANS SPURIOUS.
As it was unknown in the first three centuries, so, in the fourth, when published, it was scarcely noticed by any
writer, 6. The plain mention of our Lord's ascension in the Epistle, is an evidence of its spuriousness; for in all his discourses, recorded by the Evangelists, there is no such explicit declaration of this event; and it cannot be supposed, that he would speak more explicitly to a heathen king, than to the persons chosen to be witnesses of his actions, and dispensers of his doctrine,
There is, however, nothing in the sentiments expressed in this Epistle, unsuitable to the humble and benevolent character of the Saviour; but learned men have supposed that there are several internal evidences of spuriousness, besides those just mentioned. I conceive, however, that the reasons already assigned will be considered as sufficient to prove, that this Letter forms no part of the Sacred Canon. It is excluded by several of the rules laid down above; and even if it was genuine, it seems, that it ought rather to be received as a private communication, than as intended for the edification of the whole church. The history, which accompanies this letter, has several strong marks of spuriousness; but as this does not claim to be Canonical, we need not pursue the subject further. It may, however, not be amiss to remark, that the story of the picture of our Saviour, impressed on a handkerchief, and sent to Abgarus, is enough of itself to condemn the history as fabulous. This savours not of the simplicity of Christ, and has no parallel in any thing recorded in the Gospel.*
II. There is now extant an Epistle, under the title of Paul to the Laodiceans; and it is known, that as early as the beginning of the second century, a work existed under this name, which was received by Marcion, the heretic. But there is good reason for thinking, that the Epistle now extant is an entirely different work from the one which anciently existed; for the present Epistle does not contain the words which Epiphanius has cited from that used by Marcion: and what renders this clear is, that the ancient Epistle was heretical, and was rejected by the Fathers of the church, with one consent; whereas, the Epistle we now have contains nothing erroneous; for it is a mere compilation from the other Epistles of Paul, with a few additional sentences, which contain no heretical doctrine.
As the Epistle is short, a translation of it will be given in the Notes at the end of the volume.t See Note F, in Appendix.
† See Note G, in Appendix.