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The Apocryphal New Testament Easy to use collection of English translations of the New Testament Apocrypha.

The Epistle of the Apostles (Epistula Apostolorum)

J. K. Elliott

The original title has not been transmitted, but Guerrier's title, ‘Le Testament de Notre Seigneur . . . ’, is unsatisfactory in so far as it may encourage identification of this document with the Testamentum Domini (the short early Christian treatise on matters of ecclesiastical order, which also contains a complete liturgy). Generally the work is known as the Epistula (or Epistola) Apostolorum.

Although the document is included here under ‘Epistles’, following M. R. James's example, it cannot really be described accurately as a letter. After only a few pages the work changes from the form of a letter to that of an apocalypse. It begins with the eleven disciples confessing Christ and a description of Jesus’ miracles. There then follows an account of the resurrection. This leads on to a series of revelations of the risen Christ in reply to questionings from the disciples. Other such dialogues of the redeemer (to borrow the preferred description of this Gattung from Hennecke–Schneemelcher) are the Letter of James from Nag Hammadi (below, pp. 673–81), the two apocalypses of James, the Letter of Peter to Philip, and the Book of Thomas the Contender. To these we could perhaps add the Questions of Bartholomew (below, pp. 652–72).

In the Epistle of the Apostles the risen Jesus pronounces on the second coming, the resurrection of the body, the Last Judgement, the signs of the end of the world, the fate of the damned, the incarnation, the redemption, the descensus ad inferos, missionary activity of the apostles, Paul's mission, and Simon (Magus) and Cerinthus. The work ends with a description of the ascension.

Much of the teaching, especially on resurrection and incarnation, is deliberately anti‐Gnostic, and this may explain the motive for the composition. Direct condemnation of Simon and Cerinthus as heretics is evident.

Interest in this epistle usually centres on the liturgical contents, especially the eucharist (called here the Pascha), teaching on which gives an insight into the quartodeciman controversy. Such teaching has a bearing on the date and provenance of the document. An early dating is also encouraged by the document's concern with the imminence of the Parousia.

Links between the Epistle and the Ascension of Isaiah (text in H. F. D. Sparks (ed.), The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford, 1984), 775–812 (R. H. Charles, rev. J. M. T. Barton)) may be seen in the account of Christ's descent, during which he is said in both documents to have taken on the form of the angel in each of the heavenly spheres he passes through in order to reach earth unrecognized. (Cf. Ep. Ap. 13 and Ascension of Isaiah 10. 7 ff.)

Although various scholarly authorities offer differing dates for the composition of the work, the consensus of opinion puts it in the third quarter of the second century. There is less consensus on its provenance, Asia Minor and Egypt being the two places most frequently favoured.

The document, surprisingly, seems not to be referred to in any of the ancient Christian writings, which possibly suggests a limited circulation chronologically and geographically. Its existence in recent times was known only towards the end of the last century when Schmidt discovered a Coptic version in 1895 in Cairo. This dates from the fourth–fifth century. A more complete version of the same text is found in Ethiopic. A small Latin fragment survives. Greek is likely to have been the original language. The author seems to have had access to the canonical Gospels, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas.

Schmidt's text was created from all three surviving versions. The translation below is taken with permission from the English version, originally by R. E. Taylor, in Hennecke5, i. 249–84 (slightly modified). James's English translation needs treating with caution because he conflated the Coptic and Ethiopic.

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