Third letter to the Corinthians

Today’s entry in the list of extra-biblical references in the New Testament.

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9

“They are men without God, a generation of vipers; from these turn away in the power of the Lord.” – 3 Corinthians

This one is a really interesting example of the New Testament authors quoting extra-biblical sources; St. Paul is here referencing an extra-biblical writing by St. Paul! He’s talking about one of his own letters that isn’t contained in the New Testament. And that letter is probably lost to time, unfortunately.

In 1 Corinthians 7:1, St. Paul talks about a letter which the Corinthians had written to him and in 1 Corinthians 5:9 he mentions something he had written in a previous letter to them. A document called 3 Corinthians, which I quote above, purports to contain both of these otherwise lost letters.

This writing has a long and often mysterious history. The Syriac Orthodox Church included it in their New Testament canon until the 5th century, and it was accepted as Scripture by the two great Syriac Fathers of the Church St. Ephrem and St. Aphrahat. In fact, the former wrote an entire commentary on it. It was removed from their canon largely due to Greek influence, as the Greek Orthodox Church considered it spurious.

Even as late as 1666, prints of an Armenian Orthodox Bible contain it as part of the canon and it is included as an appendix in an 1805 edition of the Armenian Orthodox Bible. The Armenian Orthodox Church no longer officially endorses it as part of the New Testament, but it still enjoys wide popularity in some areas.

The oldest manuscripts which contain 3 Corinthians embed it within a writing called the Acts of St. Paul. According to Tertullian, the Acts of St. Paul was a forgery written by an Orthodox Priest in about 160-170. Many historians have assumed, based on Tertullian’s testimony, that 3 Corinthians was forged by this Priest in order to combat Gnostic interpretations of certain passages in the other two Corinthian letters. There’s a couple of problems with all of this, though.

The first problem is that the only testimony of any ancient authority we have that the Acts of St. Paul was indeed forged comes from Tertullian alone. And Tertullian, being a bit of a chauvinist, didn’t like the Acts of St. Paul because he thought he gave too much power to women (he specifically says so!) in its portrayal of St. Thecla as preaching and baptizing. We’re basically forced to trust the testimony of the one man who would certainly have wanted to undermine the validity of the Acts of St. Paul.

Also, most historians agree that whoever wrote the Acts of St. Paul was incorporating earlier oral traditions about St. Paul and St. Thecla into his composition; how much he added his own flavor (or even invented new stories) we don’t know. And that leads to the next problem:

Most historians and textual critics now agree that, just as at least some of the stories contained in the Acts of St. Paul come from earlier sources, 3 Corinthians was an older composition that was later included in the Acts of St. Paul by its author. Whoever wrote the Acts of St. Paul didn’t write it; he got it from somewhere else and inserted it into his own writing. So where did he get it from? We don’t really know.

There’s a lot of questions here we’ll probably never know the answer to: Does 3 Corinthians contain the original letters of the Corinthians to St. Paul and St. Paul to the Corinthians? If not, who wrote it, when, where, and why? And if 3 Corinthians isn’t them, what did happen to the original letters? Was the Acts of St. Paul forged, as Tertullian states? To what extent? We could go on and on.

But none of this is really important for our purposes here. What is important is that St. Paul is quoting from extra-biblical tradition, even if it is his own writing. This leads to a very interesting question that Sola Scripturists have to answer: why isn’t this earlier letter of St. Paul included in the New Testament?

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60 comments

  1. you have yet to present a single example of the Fathers disagreeing on any SUBSTANTIAL matte

    Here.

    Luther called the letter of St. James a “gospel of straw” becaus

    Actually, I doubt you have any idea why he did so.
    Here and here you go.

    and His spiritual Blood, that with which we are anointed.

    That's sthg I would say, easily.

    But I'm sure that you'll just do what you usually do and claim he was being inconsistent.

    Which Clement was this? If of Alexandria, yes, why else espouse a symbolic idea on the one hand and then otoh espouse what you claim is a Real Presence position?
    How do you know which one he really meant?

    Please, find an Apostolic Father who believed in Sola Scriptura

    Lots of 'em. Read the book.

    I said there may be errancy when it comes to small, insignificant matters like the color of Christ's robe or what the inscription on the cross read at the Crucifixion.

    Why are those insignificant? Why think God could get those wrong but not get salvific matters wrong?

  2. Later threads have dealt with this.

    No, they haven't. You showed me a calendar — and then you ignored my response that not only is this not important, but your mischaracterizing the debate.

    Who has already defined how He will be worshiped.

    Yes, he did. Keep reading the Fathers (and read the Old Testament and a little about the history of Christian worship) and you'll see you've deviated from God-ordained worship significantly.

    That's not all it says. I don't appreciate your treating me like I'm an idiot. I can read it just as well as anyone can.

    No, you can't — that's the problem. You don't understand Orthodoxy — how can you possibly understand this prayer filled, as it is, with Orthodox theology and arising from an Orthodox mindset? Try understanding Lincoln's Gettysburg Address while knowing nothing about the Civil War.

    Here.

    1. That's not Fathers.
    2. I already addressed this.
    3. You said the Fathers didn't agree on anything but monotheism — PROVE IT!!!! It shouldn't be hard, if they disagreed so much right. Show me Apostolic Fathers disagreeing on ANYTHING! In fact, just show me one that agreed with you on anything!

    Which Clement was this?

    It was Clement of Alexandria.

    If of Alexandria, yes, why else espouse a symbolic idea on the one hand and then otoh espouse what you claim is a Real Presence position?

    Because they're the same thing. Did you even read the article I gave you the link to on the view of the Eucharist held by Orthodox?

    Lots of 'em. Read the book.

    Why “read the book” when I've done the research? Just read the Fathers for yourself — or, if that's too hard, just read my posts thus far in the series on the Fathers and Sola Scriptura.

    Why think God could get those wrong but not get salvific matters wrong?

    God didn't come down and personally write the Scriptures. Men wrote them under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit didn't possess them like a demon does or dictate word for word what they would write.

  3. No, they haven't.

    Hmm, yeah they have, actually.
    Let the reader judge. This thread is old anyway. Don't have time for everythg.

    Keep reading the Fathers (and read the Old Testament and a little about the history of Christian worship) and you'll see you've deviated from God-ordained worship significantly.

    1) the Fathers are not God speaking.
    2) The OT specifically proscribes talking to dead ppl.
    3) The NT has nothing about it.

    You don't understand Orthodoxy — how can you possibly understand this prayer filled, as it is, with Orthodox theology and arising from an Orthodox mindset?

    I guess in “words mean what I want them to mean”-Land, this might be true.

    1. That's not Fathers.

    Athanasius and Chrysostom aren't Fathers?

    2. I already addressed this.

    Badly. And I don't remember you addressing Ath's canon.

    3. You said the Fathers didn't agree on anything but monotheism — PROVE IT!!!!

    That's a bit of an overstatement.
    But really, how interested could you expect someone to be when disagreements are brought up and you dance around them?

    Show me Apostolic Fathers disagreeing on ANYTHING!

    Now we move on to APOSTOLIC Fathers. That's not what I referred to. If we're talking like the first, what, 2 centuries? then the question is different.

    Did you even read the article I gave you the link to on the view of the Eucharist held by Orthodox?

    Yes, and it was none too helpful.
    If they're the same, then why do you constantly harp on “Real Presence! Real Presence!”?

    Why “read the book” when I've done the research? J

    B/c you haven't done it if you haven't read the book. How could you know?

    Just read the Fathers for yourself — or, if that's too hard, just read my posts thus far in the series on the Fathers and Sola Scriptura.

    Oh yes, that's MUCH better than reading the enormous quotes Webster and King list in their books.
    But again, you wouldn't know, now would you?
    And just to remind you AGAIN, reading the CFs is of alot less interest to me b/c they don't figure very large into my faith. Not an authority. They're teachers, sure, but there are better.
    Ironically, you pick and choose too, so it's not like they're your authority either. It's just the ones you dig.

    God didn't come down and personally write the Scriptures. Men wrote them under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

    how does this answer my question?

  4. 1) the Fathers are not God speaking.
    2) The OT specifically proscribes talking to dead ppl.
    3) The NT has nothing about it.

    The point was historical research. Even Webster (I couldn't find the quote — I'm sure you're familiar with it) has written that the earliest Fathers record that the “customs” of Christian worship were taught by the Apostles and considered by them as essentials of the Faith unto perpetuity. Do you really believe that Baptist worship is even remotely Apostolic? Something that would even be recognized by the Apostles as Christian worship?

    I guess in “words mean what I want them to mean”-Land, this might be true.

    Words mean what the author wants them to mean — intent.

    Athanasius and Chrysostom aren't Fathers?

    I didn't see anything about them in the calendar article you directed me to.

    Now we move on to APOSTOLIC Fathers. That's not what I referred to.

    I've been saying “Apostolic Fathers” over and over this whole time and you just now notice?

    If we're talking like the first, what, 2 centuries? then the question is different.

    Clearly — and they just so happen to disagree with you on everything they agree with each other (and the Orthodox) on. Interesting, isn't it?

    If they're the same, then why do you constantly harp on “Real Presence! Real Presence!”?

    Because you misunderstand what “symbolic” really means in this context. The article addresses that.

    they don't figure very large into my faith.

    Clearly. Marcion, Valentinus, Basilides, and Cerenthus are much more like your “Church Fathers.”

    Not an authority. They're teachers, sure, but there are better.

    Really? There's better teachers about the meaning of the words of the Apostles than people who were personally taught by Apostles? Do you understand how absurd this statement is?

    Ironically, you pick and choose too, so it's not like they're your authority either. It's just the ones you dig.

    Okay… who don't I “dig”? Show me an Father I disagree with — especially an Apostolic Father.

    how does this answer my question?

    Men err.

  5. Jacob,

    That's a good question, made me scratch my noggin a bit.
    A few things:
    1) This is Jesus we're talking about. He can do things others can't. And the EO are right in saying that everyone's alive, TO HIM. But there's a reason He prohibited talking to dead ppl in the OT – they're not alive TO US.
    2) Next time you see Elijah and Moses standing before you, feel free to talk away, but when you're bowing down to a picture of them in a religious context, the story changes.

  6. ***This is Jesus we're talking about. He can do things others can't.***

    So he's allowed to break God's law but others cannot?

    ***O HIM. But there's a reason He prohibited talking to dead ppl in the OT – they're not alive TO US. ***

    That's an arbitrary distinction and I do not accept it.

    ***Next time you see Elijah and Moses standing before you, feel free to talk away, but when you're bowing down to a picture of them in a religious context, the story changes.***

    This goes back to your baptistic idea of “symbol” and essence, which would have been foreign to anyone in the church prior to Zwingli.

  7. He didn't break the Law. Remember, they're alive TO HIM.
    If it's not arbitrary, then why did Jesus bring it up in Matt 22?

    And there's a reason why bowing down to images was forbidden in the OT, and it's not b/c they were Baptists.

  8. “***O HIM. But there's a reason He prohibited talking to dead ppl in the OT – they're not alive TO US. ***

    That's an arbitrary distinction and I do not accept it. “

    Right on! And, ironically, it's not even a Scriptural distinction. 🙂

    We as Christians are declared to be IN CHRIST, to whom those whose souls have been (temporarily) separated from their bodies ARE alive, as noted.

    So they are not, in fact, “not alive TO US”, if we are also in Christ (whether in the body or not).

    (double negative = they ARE alive TO US, in/through Christ, by His Spirit.”)

    Or are we required to have Christ Himself in bodily form corporeally, physically present to our physical sight to pray to Him? (Hint: we aren't.)

    Why then should we be under the same requirements to speak to and request the prayers of those who are IN Him by the Spirit?
    (Hint: we're not.)

    Or doesn't Hebrews 12:22-24 (particularly the word “and” connecting vs. 23 to vs. 24) mean anything?

  9. Thank you, Mr Allen.

    Ironically I was recently in a Protestant service and the pastor (quite rightly) praised the author of such and such hymn and that when we sing that hymn, the author of it, in heaven now, is singing it with us.

    Fair enough, but I started wondering, “So, we can sing the hymn with Fanny Crosby but we can't talk to her? Wow, what a fine distinction.”

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