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About a hundred years after the crucifixion, a new kind of literature begins to appear in the church, probably in the eastern lands. It comes down to us without the names of its authors, and is sometimes written in dramatic form in the name of an apostolic personage. These books are described by modern writers as pseudonymous, that is written under a false name; but this word is apt to give the impression that there was an intention to deceive, which does not appear to have been the case. They were, on the whole, as innocent in intention as any work of fiction in modern times which brings historical characters on the stage.
We know what pseudonymity was for the period about which we are writing. It was a literary convention of the Jewish synagogue, comparable to the novel or the drama or the motion picture and enabled the writer to present his message in the style of a bygone age and so give it prestige. They were literary imitations of the great religious classics. The prophet or sage of olden days was put on the screen and made to speak again, and give his message to a later age, in reference to its problems. The two dramatic planes can be readily distinguished; the ostensible historical setting in which the revelator is placed, and the actual historical setting for which the book was written. To create the effect, it was necessary for the author to reconstruct the earlier period by an exercise of the imagination and to carry through the fiction consistently, or else, of course, the illusion would be destroyed.
This kind of literature was still being produced in the synagogue. From the synagogue it passed into the church, and the church was beginning to imitate it. An interesting example is the Apocalypse of |2 Ezra (or Esdras) which had been written for the Jews in the first century, and enlarged early in the second by the addition of three rather elaborate visions at the end. This 'pseudepigraph' was taken over by a Christian author, who added two introductory chapters at the beginning; and in this form we find it appended to the Latin Apocrypha as II Esdras. It has passed into the Apocrypha of the English Authorized Version.
But the most interesting example of these christianized Jewish romances is the Ascension of Isaiah.
There was apparently a Jewish romance which described the persecution of the prophet Isaiah by the wicked king Manasseh, and his martyrdom by being sawed in two by a wooden saw: a rather widespread legend which was known apparently to the author of Hebrews. This Jewish romance, which was originally of an anti-Samaritan character, was used as an historical platform on which to stage a picture of the Christian gospel. Isaiah himself is the ostensible author of some parts of it. He ascends stage by stage through the seven heavens, and in the seventh he joins in the worship of the primal Father, with the Beloved and the Holy Spirit. Here he looks into the future, and sees the descent of the Beloved through the seven heavens, unknown to the angels who guard their portals; the virgin birth at Bethlehem with legendary detail; the crucifixion; the descent into the underworld; the resurrection; the instruction of the twelve apostles for eighteen months; their sending out into the world; and the ascension of the Beloved to his former condition of glory.
It is a notable text, for it contains some Christian material of the first century which partakes of an apocalyptic and gnostic character; but its present form is later, since it seems to make use of the Matthaean Gospel, and its view of the virgin birth shows a certain amount of development in a docetic direction.
The attitude of the four Gospels to the Virgin Mary might be described as reverent and discreet. In Luke we have a charming portrait encircled in a halo of devotion and associated with songs and prophetic utterance. In the others she is silent and withdrawn. In John, it is true, she stands by her son twice, once at the beginning of his ministry |3 in Galilee, and once during his Passion in Jerusalem. But there is no sign of special honour or veneration. By the end of the century she had her place in the gospel and the creeds, as we see them in the letters of Ignatius. Ignatius says that her virginity and her child-bearing were mysteries of silence to be ranked with the death of the Lord; they were performed in the silence of God and deceived the ruler of the aeon. This same thought is found in the Ascension, but the author goes further. It was no ordinary birth.
And Joseph did not approach Mary, but kept her as a holy virgin, though with child; and he did not live with her for two months; and after two months of days, while Joseph was in the house, and Mary his wife, but both of them alone, it came to pass that when they were alone, Mary straightway looked with her eyes and saw a small babe, and was amazed; and after she had been amazed, her womb was found as formerly before she had conceived.
(Ascension of Isaiah, iv, 11, 5-9.)
It is a sheer miracle. The virginity of Mary is not impaired by the birth of her divine son; it is not a real birth; a certain element of docetism has been infused into the catholic tradition. This idea developed still further in the border-land between gnosticism and Catholicism. Various writers elaborated the narrative, and the stories of the infancy of Jesus may have grown up in these circles too. We do not know who or what they were, but they were not Jews; they were Gentile circles where the pious imagination loved to muse upon the Jewish-Christian mysteries.
Many scholars regard this paragraph as a later addition to the text, and some assign the whole book to a later date; but Justin seems to know it in one form or another.
If we turn now to the Second Epistle of Peter in the New Testament, we shall find another example of the same kind of literature, though the pious imagination is more restrained in its operation. This author has built up a complete and self-consistent fictitious situation which is based on the apostolic documents of an older generation. This fictitious situation can be clearly distinguished from the actual situation to which the author is really addressing himself.
We can make a number of deductions about this actual situation. The author makes mention of a collection of the Epistles of St Paul |4 which he describes as scripture; he refers to 1 Peter as the former Epistle; he incorporates the Epistle of Jude into his work bodily. He is an early witness to the existence of a collection of apostolic writings which had by now become sacred. The figures of the apostles have receded far enough into the past for their writings to be regarded as classics, and so soon as this happens the literary imitations begin to appear; for 'pseudonymity' is the tribute paid by a later generation to a classical and creative period with which it has lost touch.
A more radical school of criticism would like to add to the list of 'pseudepigraphs' the Epistles of James and Jude, the Pastorals, and even 1 Peter and Ephesians; but these documents belong to a different class of literature. They are not imitative. Mediate authorship may be allowed for, no doubt, in some cases, but they bear the marks of being sent out as messages from the men whose names they bear, even if some literary assistant or executor has prepared them for the public. Their background is provided by the Judaeo-Christian church life of the first century; their references to persons and events come in naturally and in a casual manner; they build up no fictitious picture; they create no illusion; they do not even make the identity of their author clear in every case, and that is what a ' pseudepigraph' must do at all costs. Their effect depends upon their being genuine messages from the men whose names they bear, even if the actual composition be the work of a disciple or colleague, as is stated in the case of 1 Peter.
The effect of 2 Peter, on the other hand, depends upon literary art. It is a work of the creative imagination. When it was first read in the ecclesia the feeling would have been similar to that of reading a historical novel or watching a historical play or film. A past situation was being conjured up and contrasted with the life of the present day.
As men looked back into the past, it was the figure of Peter that caught the imagination; or Peter with the twelve apostles. The grandeur of Peter which is revealed in the first chapter of the Acts, and supported by the Gospel of Matthew, is enhanced further in these tributes from the third generation. A number of romantic works appeared, in which he was the main figure and also the narrator and revelator. The high standing of some of these books in the later second century makes it necessary for us to regard them as products of the earlier part of it.
Furthermore, the idea of Peter in the mind of the second-century church was not based solely on New Testament evidence; he was a
|5 historical figure and the founder of a tradition, who continued to be remembered and discussed among the elders in his churches; the Jewish Christians had a similar memory of James, which was magnified and idealized in the same way. Doubtless the predecessors of Marcion cherished a similar idealized picture of Paul. So the old people in my diocese continued to talk of Bishop Mountain and Bishop Stewart, a century after their great pioneer work.
The Second Epistle of Peter is written in the form of a testament, and purports to give the last message of the great apostle just prior to his death. The suggestion is, therefore, that it was written from Rome. The Lord has revealed to him that he is shortly to die, and he is writing in order to stir up the pure minds of his hearers by way of remembrance. A fictitious situation is thus created for which many precedents existed; there are many such pieces which profess to give the last words of a saint or sage, the greatest example being the last words of Moses in Deuteronomy. No intermediary appears, since that would lessen the dramatic effect. Peter writes this Epistle for himself.
The central part of the Epistle is occupied with a diatribe (entirely borrowed from Jude) against the false teachers with lax morals, who reject the Hebrew revelation and the old-fashioned eschatology. 'The fathers have fallen asleep', they complain, 'and none of the things which were expected have come to pass.' There is a similar passage in 1 Clement, and for the matter of that in 2 Clement, thus linking these three books together. Peter is made to say that the Lord is not slack about his promise; the delay is designed so as to allow time for every one to repent. A day with the Lord is like a thousand years, an idea found in Barnabas and Justin and other writers of the period; it will come suddenly like a thief in the night; the heaven and earth will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with a fervent heat.
The authentic 'First' Epistle was written too early to have to deal with such doubts; they had not arisen. Nor had it anything to say about the false teachers. But it did say that these were the last times, and that judgement had begun; it spoke, too, of a fiery ordeal. But these were indefinite terms. Its realistic and sober message failed to |6 satisfy an age which wanted to hear about the fires of judgement and the dreadful things which were to come upon the earth. In all this early second-century literature we see the more concrete and materialistic imagination of the Gentile mind crystallizing the visionary and spiritual language of the apostolic age into a system of literal eschatological predictions. The apocalyptic tradition loses touch with current history.
In 1 Peter the apostle is simply a fellow-elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ; he assures his readers or hearers that suffering will be succeeded by glory; but he does not indicate how this will come to be. In 2 Peter he is presented as an eyewitness of the glory. The author builds up his picture from the authentic Gospels; he is not guilty of inventing anything. He presents the mountain of transfiguration as the point when the illumination of Peter began; and a revelation of a holy mountain had behind it the excellent literary precedent of Moses on Mount Sinai or Mount Abarim. It became a favourite scene in the imaginative literature of the second century. Its use here establishes the authority of Peter to speak about the glory that is coming in the revelation of Jesus Christ. He has another authority, however, in the 'prophetic word' which is like a light shining in a dark place. This seems to be the Hebrew scripture or Old Testament, which he adds, is 'not for private interpretation'.
Fortified in this way, he is able to make strong statements about the future. The idea of a destruction of the world by fire is not to be found in any other New Testament book; but it appears in Hermas and the Didache, and became the common belief of Christians early in the second century. The fires of judgement were often in their thoughts, and were conceived in a very literal fashion. 2 Peter provided the doctrine with apostolic authority.
The 'Second Epistle' is not mentioned by any second-century writer, though traces of it may perhaps be found here and there; the Revelation, on the other hand, was valued by Clement of Alexandria, and read in the Roman Church, in the hundred-and-nineties. It is a work of sheer imagination. A case might be made out for some degree of contact between 2 Peter and the apostolic age. About 120, if 2 Peter is as old as that, there would have been old men who could affirm without fear of successful contradiction what the teaching of Peter had been on certain points. The question of the day of judgement could have been one of them; and 2 Peter might conceivably be in touch with such traditions. In any case it gives us a valuable picture of the apostle as he now appeared in the tradition of the church, a visionary, a Hebraist, a moralist, and an eschatologist; just what Marcion and the docetics disliked. It is interesting to have such a picture. No such nucleus of respectable tradition could possibly be imagined for the Revelation.
The Second Epistle made an advance in the doctrine of Christian eschatology by its assertion that this heaven and earth would be destroyed by fire, and new ones created; an idea which was not without its precedent in the Jewish apocalypses. In the Revelation, the expectation of a kingdom of God on earth is abandoned in favour of a Paradise in another world.
A small fragment of the text was discovered at Akhmim in Egypt, and in its opening words the Lord is concluding an address about false teachers which is reminiscent of the Second Epistle. Once again Peter is the narrator. 'We, the twelve disciples,' go with Jesus to a mountain which is probably the mountain of the resurrection mentioned at the end of Matthew. There they are shown Moses and Elijah as examples of the glorified saints. The vision does not satisfy them, and they ask where are all the righteous, or what sort of 'aeon' it was in which they dwelt. In other words the old Transfiguration vision to which 2 Peter had appealed was felt to be inadequate; more powerful revelations were given on the mountain of resurrection.
They were shown a vast space outside the world, brighter than any light. 'The air was incandescent there with the rays of the sun, and the earth was flowering with unfading flowers. ... Angels ran about them there, and the glory of those who dwelt there was equal, and with one voice they praised the Lord God, rejoicing in that place.' After this they were shown hell and the torments of the ungodly, who had blasphemed the 'way of righteousness'. They saw the punishment of the various classes of sinners enumerated in such books as the Two Ways or the Pastor of Hermas. They were plunged in streams of blood or pools of boiling filth; they hung suspended by their tongues; they said,' We never thought we would come into this place.'
The unfading incorruptible Paradise is faintly suggested in 1 Peter; and there are several points of contact with 2 Peter, with its denunciation |8 of false prophets, and its holy mountain, and its strong passage about the torments of hell. The word used in both is Tartarus, which is the name of hell in Greek mythology; and the Paradise certainly suggests the Elysium of the Greek poets or the Orphic mysteries. At one time we think of the Book of Enoch, and at another of the Sixth Aeneid of Virgil. The Revelation of Peter is an important book to keep in mind in the study of second-century history. It struck deep roots in the popular tradition. It gave the martyr an immediate paradise on which he could meditate, like the good thief in Luke's Gospel; it provided him with an inferno for the apostates and the persecutors. Yet the torments of these souls might be shortened, it was suggested, by the prayers of the martyrs. This idea is clearly enunciated in the Christian Sibyllines, which may be indebted to lost passages from the Revelation of Peter.
The Greek imagination was now turning the old oriental symbols into a lively and exciting popular poetry. There was a great change in Christian piety and aspiration when the poetry of the church began to emphasize a blessedness in heaven rather than a kingdom which was to be established upon the earth. For the present a variety of ideas coexisted without being co-ordinated; and it was possible to combine the two principal ideas, as Jewish apocalypse had already done.
At the end of the century Clement of Alexandria quotes from Barnabas, Clement, the Pastor of Hermas, the Revelation of Peter, and the Preaching of Peter, almost in the same way as he quotes from the New Testament books. Undoubtedly they had come down to him in company with them. If the Revelation appealed to the poet in him, the Preaching must have appealed to the philosopher. This book seems also to have been known to the Athenian philosopher Aristides (before 148) and was quoted by Heracleon the gnostic, in Rome, a generation later. Its influence in the second century seems to have been widespread; but all we know of it is a few quotations in Clement of Alexandria and one in Heracleon.
The Peter who appears in this book is neither a visionary nor a prophet; he is a teacher, and even a philosopher. He lays down, in the name of the Twelve (for he does not appear or act alone in this sort of |9 literature), some of the elementary and fundamental propositions of the Hellenized Judaeo-Christian monotheism. God is
The invisible who seeth all things, the uncontainable who containeth all things; he has need of nothing and all things have need of him; it is for his sake they exist; the incomprehensible, the eternal, the incorruptible, the uncreated, who made all things by the Word of his power ... that is to say the Son. (Preaching of Peter, in Clement Al., Strom, vi, 5.)
Having established an acceptable view of God, he passes to the consideration of the three ways of worshipping him, that of the Greeks, that of the Jews, and that of the Christians, to whom he alludes as the 'third race'. This is a way of thought which Aristides picked up, and, through him or through other channels, it spread widely and was widely adopted.
These races were all monotheists; they all believed in one God; the difference was to be found in their manner of worship. The Greeks worship idols; the Jews worship angels; but Christians adore God in a new way through Christ. We have here the beginning of the Christian philosophy of the apologists, the first of whom were Quadratus, Aristides, and Justin.
These words seem to be part of an address given by Peter and the Twelve to their hearers. There was another dramatic scene in the book, in which Christ sent them out to preach, after his resurrection. They were to evangelize all men throughout the world to know that God was one. First they were to offer repentance to Israel; but after twelve years they were to go out into all the world, lest any one should say, 'We have not heard.' This tradition is a very interesting one. It appears in other writers, such as the anti-Montanist Apollonius, who wrote about A.D. 200.
There is a third important quotation in which the apostles say, or Peter says in their name, that they have examined the books of the prophets and have found that they all name Jesus as the Christ, either in parables, or in riddles, or else absolutely in so many words; and that was why they made no statements apart from the scriptures. This is the theology of the 'Books of Testimonies', of course, and we know that the Preaching made use of testimonies. It maintained, for instance, that Christ was the Law and the Word; and it used Jeremiah's prophecy of the new Covenant. It will be remembered that Peter laid claim, in the Second Epistle, to the possession of an official interpretation of the |10 'prophetic word' of the Old Testament; it looks as if there were quarters in which the testimony material was regarded as having the authority of Peter and the Twelve.
The three 'pseudepigrapha' which we have now studied are rich in material for the background of second-century Christian history, short as they are; but the Gospel seems to stand rather apart. It was in all probability a later work.
We may be passing beyond the reign of Hadrian in considering the Gospel of Peter; it may be dated before 150, but not all scholars would agree. It makes use of all our four Gospels, though it shows no fidelity to the sources which it is using. The portions of it which we possess deal with the Passion and the Resurrection, and it has been suggested that it was never anything more than a Passion Gospel. It has also been suggested that the Gospel and the Revelation were originally parts of a single book; for both were included in the Akhmim fragments. We know, however, that the Revelation did circulate separately, since it was still being read in the fifth century in the churches of Palestine on Good Friday. If the Gospel was simply a Passion narrative, it would probably have been read on the same day. It has notes of time which suggest a quite peculiar view of the Paschal fast; the day of the Crucifixion was the Passover as it is in John; the disciples fasted and mourned and wept, night and day, from the Crucifixion 'till the sabbath'; but this appears to mean the sabbath a week later, so that they fasted through all the 'days of unleavened bread'.
The gospel is strongly anti-Jewish, and therefore favourable to Pilate. Pilate and the centurion on guard at the tomb, whose name is given as Petronius, are made into witnesses of the Resurrection. The whitewashing of Pilate, and the use of Pilate as a witness to the truth of the gospel, is carried a good deal further in some later writers. In time there was a book called the Acts of Pilate in which Pilate himself was the narrator; but the existing versions of it are much later than this period. Yet we are left with the impression that something of the sort must have existed in the mid-second century; we hear of Acts of Pilate, of epistles of Pilate to Tiberius, and even a portrait of Jesus made by order of Pilate.
|11 There is a docetic touch in this Gospel. Jesus is silent on the cross as if feeling no pain; and, at the end, he says, 'My power, my power, why hast thou forsaken me?' The mistranslation shows a certain knowledge of Hebrew, since Eli (my God) is not unlike Heli (my power); and it suggests that the spirit which had entered Jesus at his baptism had now left him; but the reference to feeling no pain does not necessarily imply a divine impassibility. In the Acts of the Martyrs, it is often said that they behaved as if they felt no pain; they were in a state of ecstasy, or absorbed in communion with the Lord. The Ascension of Isaiah says that when Isaiah was being sawn in two, he neither cried aloud nor wept, but his lips spake with the Holy Spirit until he was sawn in two. Basilides says that the martyr should seem not to feel pain.
The Resurrection story is taken from Matthew, but is much elaborated. There is a great voice from heaven; two men descend, and the stone rolls away of its own accord. The two men enter the tomb and bring out Jesus; the heads of the two men reached to the heavens, but the head of Jesus overpassed the heavens. The Ascension of Isaiah has a very similar picture; but in Peter the cross comes out of the tomb, following him, and the voice from heaven says, 'Hast thou preached unto them that sleep?' and an answer is heard from the cross, which says 'Yes'.
The women see a vision of an angel at the empty tomb, but there is no appearance of Jesus for a whole week. When the days of unleavened bread are over, the twelve disciples, still mourning and grieving, return to their own homes; Simon and Peter take their nets and go to the sea; Levi the son of Alpheus is with them. ... Here the Akhmim manuscript breaks off. There is something very peculiar and dramatic in the absence of any Resurrection appearances on Easter Sunday, and the adherence to the idea suggested in Mark, of appearances in Galilee only. The supplementary ending to the Marcan Gospel was clearly unknown to the author.
It does not seem that this Gospel was ever very widely known or highly thought of. It has been suggested that it was known to Justin Martyr; but this is not certain. A Gospel of this name was in use among the Docetae of Antioch by the end of the century. It survives in an Egyptian manuscript. It clearly enjoyed a certain amount of favour in more than one quarter. Perhaps it was a counterblast to the Hebrew |12 Gospel, in which the first Resurrection appearance was given in Jerusalem to James the Just, the patron saint of the Jewish Christians.
We have dealt with three non-canonical Gospels now, two of which were current in the church by the year 130, or at any rate by about 140; they are the Hebrew Gospel, the Marcionite revision of Luke and the Gospel of Peter ; we have the feeling that the Gospel of Peter may have been rather later than the others. They were all composed for actual use in the services of the church; the first two, of course, to the exclusion of all other Gospels; the latter, perhaps, as a supplement; we do not really know. It is hard to say to what extent we are witnessing here an extension of the original process of Gospel-writing, or an imitation of it.
The discovery of two fragments of Gospel manuscripts dating from the period which we are now discussing has shed unexpected light on these studies. In the first place they are the oldest remains of books produced in codex form, that is to say, with leaves folded and sewn together in the fashion we are accustomed to today. In the second place they are assigned by the experts to the first half of the second century, and earlier rather than later; the same range of dates that we have assigned to the Revelation and Preaching of Peter.
The fragment of St John may be seen at the John Rylands Library at Manchester. It is only about three and a half inches by two and a quarter. Fortunately it is a piece of the top outside corner of a page; that is, it has part of the top margin and the outside margin. This enables the expert to calculate the length of the lines in the complete page; the writing on the back makes it possible to check this; a comparison of the results obtained makes it possible to calculate the number of lines to the page. Further calculation shows that St John's Gospel would have taken up a hundred and thirty-three pages of this size (about eight inches by eight and a quarter). The experts do not think that it contained more than the one Gospel, since the four Gospels in this format would be rather bulky; but of course it might have been a little larger without difficulty. It could have contained the Johannine Epistles or other material.
From this study we may proceed to study the 'Egerton papyrus', which had a smaller page in a similar style of handwriting. Two pieces |13 remain, with writing both on back and front; but there is no way of calculating the number of pages in the complete book. The narrative, so far as it can be reconstructed, is a free rendering of material from John and Mark (or Matthew); there is a line which suggests that the author knew Luke. It consists mainly of passages in which Jesus is in conflict with the Jewish authorities, so that its interest may be apologetic; it may have been prepared for use in connexion with argument against the Jews. The sentences chosen from John are not in their original context or order, and are very freely paraphrased. The story of the leper from Mark or Matthew comes in quite abruptly without any kind of transition.
And behold a leper comes to him and says, Jesus, Master, I was travelling with lepers and eating with them in the inn, and I too became a leper; if, therefore, thou wilt, I am made clean. Then the Lord said to him, I will: be thou made clean; and immediately the leprosy departed from him. But the Lord said to him, Go and show thyself to the priests. ...
The story is more respectful than its Marcan original; Jesus is called the Lord; the leper makes a courteous address and explanation, instead of bursting in with his request; Jesus does not touch him. Such differences would seem to have arisen in oral delivery or preaching. It is how somebody told the story in the course of preaching. We visualize a community like that of Papias, in which the 'living word' was still powerful.
There is a fragment from a story which is not preserved in any of our four Gospels, but there is too little of it for successful reconstruction. Jesus is standing on the banks of the river Jordan; he stretches out his hand and takes water; he sows the water on the ... he takes of the water that has been sown ... but that is all that remains. It may be compared with Exodus iv. 9.
The book seems to be some Alexandrian teacher's own handbook of selected passages from the written and oral tradition. Other free associations of written and oral matter appear in the so-called Second Epistle of Clement, which it is convenient to consider here, though it is not in any sense a piece of fictitious literature; neither, of course, is the Egerton papyrus.
We have already mentioned 2 Clement in connexion with 2 Peter. It is not a pseudonymous work. It received its name from the fact that it happened to follow 1 Clement on certain rolls or codices. It is a later work than I Clement, but it has a real connexion with it in a quotation from some unknown scripture, which it gives in a more extended form. This passage also forms a point of contact with 2 Peter, referring as it does to a generation which has been disappointed in its eschatological hope. Like 2 Peter it uses the expression 'prophetic word'.
Hear also what the prophetic word saith: Wretched are the double-minded, who doubt in their hearts, and say, We heard of these things long ago, even from our fathers, but we who are expecting them from day to day have seen none of them.
O men without understanding, compare yourselves to the tree; take the vine; first it puts out its leaves, then the bud comes, after that the unripe grape, then the cluster standing ready. So also my people had confusions and afflictions; then shall it receive good things.
2 Clem, xi, 2-4 and 1 Clem, xxiii, 3-4.)
This passage, with its harvest symbolism and its echo of the Marcan Gospel, is the sort of thing which we also find in Papias and the elders.
2 Clement was an 'entreaty', which was designed to be read after the scripture lessons in the ecclesia. It was composed by someone with pastoral authority, possibly a bishop. Its purpose was to persuade Christians to repent before it was too late. It has all the conventional ideas of the third generation and the literature which it produced; but it has no room for chiliasm. It is not to be placed in that circle of thinking. It is in the New Testament tradition, and we are conscious of echoes of 1 Peter and 1 John, without ever being able to say that they are being quoted. There is an apparent quotation from Ignatius of Antioch in ix, 3 (see Ignatius, Philadelphia. vi, 4). 1 Corinthians is very plainly referred to, and there are a number of explicit quotations from the words of Jesus. These are the most striking features of the book; for while most of them appear to come from Matthew, and some from Luke, there are others which come from an unknown source. In one of these the Lord is asked when the kingdom will come, and he gives a riddling reply:
When the two shall be one,
And the outward as the inward,
And the male with the female,
Neither male nor female.
(2 Clement xii, 12, 2.)
A similar saying is attributed to the Egyptian Gospel by Clement of Alexandria; but the likeness is not close enough to make it probable that 2 Clement borrowed from this pseudepigraph, which should probably be dated rather later in the century.
In another instance, 2 Clement quotes the saying in which the Lord sends out his disciples like lambs among wolves, and Peter asks, 'What if the wolves tear the lambs to pieces?' Jesus says,' Let not the lambs fear the wolves after they die', and goes on to give the canonical saying about not fearing those who can only kill the body. The little dialogue has rather inexpertly welded together two sayings from Matthew. On another occasion, a saying from Matthew is introduced by a clause which has a Johannine ring:
If you were gathered together with me in my bosom, and do not my commandments, I will cast you off, and will say to you, Depart from me: I know not whence ye are, ye workers of lawlessness.
(2 Clement iv, 5.)
If 2 Clement belongs to the same period as 'Barnabas' and Papias, there were still many sayings of Jesus afloat in the oral tradition, and the combination of old and new material into new books had not ceased; homiletic variations were still possible. These, and similar causes, are sufficient to account for the Gospel sayings in 2 Clement; the use of a non-canonical gospel is quite possible, but it is not a necessary assumption. The character and teaching of Jesus was not yet confined in men's minds to an impression produced by reading the Four Gospels. He was a person who had lived on earth not very long ago; his immediate disciples had passed away within living memory; and his splendid sayings were being repeated by men who had studied under those disciples.
We are associating 2 Clement with 'Barnabas' in the period after Ignatius, between 120 and 131. Its place of origin is quite unknown; but it was accepted with 1 Clement into the New Testament in eastern |16 churches known to Eusebius and Epiphanius in the fourth century. They are both included in the great fifth-century Bible known as Codex Alexandrinus (A); they are counted as New Testament books in the Apostolic Constitutions ; they were included in the canon of the Syrian church. They are found in the Bryennios manuscript, which formed a supplement to the New Testament and included 'Barnabas' and the Didache. This massive evidence all points to one conclusion; 1 Clement and 2 Clement were held in the highest estimation in Syria. 2 Clement seems to have left no imprint in Egypt or the west.
It is a mirror of its times. The Christians to whom it is written were conscious of their superiority to Jew and Gentile alike. They were proud of their emancipation from the worship of idols and did not hesitate to tackle their pagan friends on the subject. They told them about the marvellous 'oracles of God', a phrase which "may have meant the sayings of Jesus; but their conduct fell so far below the standard of the Gospel teaching that the pagans laughed at them and said that the whole thing was a fraud and a deception. There was need of true repentance, therefore, from the heart; and such repentance, it would seem, was offered without restriction until the Day of Judgement came. Then indeed it would be too late. It would be a fiery judgement, such as we find in Hermas, 2 Peter, the Didache, 'Barnabas' and the Revelation of Peter.
Things are said about keeping the flesh holy and the seal of baptism unspotted; but these warnings had to do with the inroads of the teachers of evil, who doubted the doctrine of the coming judgement. They did not believe that Christ had been manifested in the flesh, or that man would rise again to be judged in the flesh. Our author is a strong anti-docetic of the school of John and Ignatius, though he cannot be called a theologian. He says that we must think of Christ 'as God'; he was formerly Spirit, and became flesh in order to call us.
He was not a writer of any originality, and he has not been highly thought of by the moderns. He was a competent pastor, possibly a bishop, and he gives us a picture of the average Gentile believers who are proud of their emancipation from idolatry, devoted to their Saviour and his marvellous words, instructed out of the 'Bible' (biblia) and the 'apostles', forgetful of the words of the 'elders' which they hear in church, apt to be impressed by strange teachers, not always free from sins of the flesh, not offering the world a spectacle of unalloyed love,
|17 but ready apparently to give their lives for their faith, without too much fear of the evil 'aeon' in which they live. Life in this world is brief and unpleasant; but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful; and so too is the refreshment of the coming kingdom and of eternal life.
Different as the tone of this document is from 2 Peter, we note that it has in common the idea of the supreme authority of the prophets or of the 'prophetic word', which has to be defended in the face of growing doubts about the parousia which are spread by docetic teachers. Perhaps we have an indication here of a date previous to the second Jewish war of 131-5. After that date the argument from prophecy received new strength, since the Christians saw many of the old prophecies fulfilled in the final defeat of the Jews and the devastation of their country. It became a strong conviction and a favourite line of argument. The complaints of 2 Peter and 2 Clement seem to suit the period of the hundred-and-twenties, when a former generation had passed away without seeing the outward and visible fulfilment of the apocalyptic hopes in which they had been persuaded to believe. On the other hand, both authors had a good collection of apostolic literature, including quite likely I Clement; and this does not allow of a much earlier date.
The books which we have been considering form a group with curious and complex interrelations. They form a catholic and sub-apostolic group, which can all be thought of, in a sense, as belonging to the school of Peter and the Twelve; for Clement, in the imagination of the east, was guaranteed by Peter; and Hermas, of course, was guaranteed by Clement. 2 Peter is a supplement to 1 Peter; 2 Clement appears as an appendix to 1 Clement. The Didache appears in the name of the Twelve, and as a supplement to Matthew. They bear witness to a busy interchange between east and west. I Peter, I Clement, and Hernias came from Rome to the east; the others may have originated in the east, and travelled Rome-wards. 'Barnabas' and a version of the Two Ways reached Rome, as we judge by the fact that Latin translations were made.The Preaching of Peter reached Alexandria, Athens, and |18 Rome. The Revelation of Peter, wherever it originated, was accepted at Rome along with the Revelation of John. Clement of Alexandria used them all except 2 Clement and 2 Peter. These books are all, in varying degrees, on the fringe of the New Testament, except for the Preaching. The Gospel of Peter, too, seems rather to stand apart from the rest of the group.
They show a considerable intellectual and spiritual decline from the authentic literature of the apostles and their associates.
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