Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Writings

This article covers extracanonical Christian literature that is either attributed to biblical persons as authors or recounts narratives about biblical persons that parallel or supplement the biblical narratives. In most early Christian literature of this kind the biblical persons are NT characters, but in some cases they are OT characters. Christian apocryphal literature (so defined) continued to be written for many centuries, in many Christian traditions, and so the whole corpus of such literature is vast. Modern collections of such literature in translation (see especially Schneemelcher 1991-92; Elliott 1993) are only selections, usually including the earliest such literature, but often also including later works that have been particularly influential in Christian history. Only occasionally do they include Christian works written under OT pseudonyms, which can often be found, along with Jewish works of this kind, in collections of the OT Pseudepigrapha. The present article is restricted to literature that can plausibly be dated before the mid-third century, but excludes apocryphal Gospels (treated in DJG) and apocryphal Pauline literature (treated in DPL).

  1. Apocalyptic and Prophetic Literature
  2. Apostolic Acts
  3. Other Apostolic Pseudepigrapha
  4. Wisdom Literature
  5. Hymnic Literature

1. Apocalyptic and Prophetic Literature.

An apocalypse* is a work in which a seer receives from a supernatural revealer (usually God, Christ or an angel; see Reveal, Revelation) a revelation (auditory or visionary) of heavenly secrets, which are often, though not always, eschatological* in nature. Many such Jewish works were attributed to biblical figures, such as Enoch or Ezra, and Christian writers continued this Jewish literary tradition, attributing their apocalypses sometimes to OT figures, sometimes to NT figures.

Early Christian apocalypses were not modeled on the NT Apocalypse of John; they form a Christian continuation of the Jewish apocalyptic tradition. But there are two distinctive (and overlapping) developments of the apocalyptic genre. First, revelations made by Jesus Christ to his disciples in the period between his resurrection* and his ascension* form a large category of early Christian works. Many, but not all, of these are Gnostic (see Gnosis). Many of them are often classified as Gospels. One non-Gnostic example (the Apoc. Peter) is treated below (1.1), because its content is eschatological and closely related to Jewish apocalyptic traditions. One Gnostic example is also discussed below (1.6). (Other such works, both Gnostic and non-Gnostic, are discussed in DJG, Gospels [Apocryphal], §9). Second, many Gnostic works, including those just mentioned but also others attributed to biblical pseudonyms, record revelations of otherworldly secrets and must be classified as apocalypses in a broad sense (see 1.7 below). Finally, it should be noted that although apocalypses were the major literary vehicle for prophecy in this period (see Hermas, Shepherd of), there are also some other kinds of prophetic works among the Christian apocrypha (see 1.4-5 below).

1.1. Apocalypse of Peter. Of all the Christian apocrypha, this one came closest to being accepted into the NT canon.* In the second to fourth centuries it was widely read and was treated as Scripture by some. Its popularity was no doubt due to the detailed information it gives as to the postmortem fate of human beings in paradise or hell.* It comprises revelations made to the disciples by the risen Christ about the persecutions and downfall of antichrist,* the Parousia,* the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment,* the punishments of the wicked in hell, and the rewards of the righteous in paradise. Peter receives a revelation of his own future life up to his martyrdom,* and the work ends with an account of Christ's ascension to heaven.* The longest section of the work, the description of hell, in which twenty-one different types of sinners are seen each undergoing a punishment appropriate to their sin, is in the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic "tours of hell."

A good case can be made that the apocalypse was written in Palestinian Jewish Christian (see Jewish Christianity) circles during the Bar Kokhba revolt (a.d. 132-35). It reflects the difficult circumstances of Jewish Christians who refused to join the revolt, since they could not accept the messiahship of Bar Kokhba, portrayed here as the false messiah (antichrist), or support his aim of rebuilding the temple.* In this case the apocalypse is of great historical importance as rare evidence for the history of Jewish Christianity in Palestine after 70.

1.2. Ascension of Isaiah. Though this work has sometimes been treated as a Christian redaction of pre-Christian Jewish sources, it should probably be seen as an originally Christian apocalypse, employing some Jewish traditions about the martyrdom of the prophet Isaiah but largely inspired by the strong early Christian tradition of interpreting the prophecies of Isaiah as prophetic of Jesus Christ. Like the book of Daniel and some other Jewish apocalypses, it comprises a largely narrative section (Asc. Isa. 1—5) and a largely visionary section (Asc. Isa. 6-11). These contain two complementary accounts of Isaiah's vision. The first (Asc. Isa. 3:13-4:18) takes the form of a prophecy of events from the incarnation of Christ (known in this work as "the Beloved") to the Parousia and the end of history. The second narrates Isaiah's visionary ascent through the seven heavens to the throne of God, where he sees in prophetic vision the descent of the Beloved from the seventh heaven to earth, his incarnation, life, death* and descent to Hades, followed by his reascent through the heavens to enthronement at God's right hand. The Jewish apocalyptic idea of a visionary's ascent through the seven heavens to receive revelation from God in the highest heaven is thus adapted to a Christian purpose. The Ascension of Isaiah seems to derive from a circle of early Christian prophets, whose own corporate visionary experience is strikingly described in the narrative of Isaiah's experience (Asc. Isa. 6). This, along with its distinctive forms of trinitarian and christological* expression, make it interesting evidence that is not easy to place on the map of early Christianity. It has been plausibly dated between the late first and mid-second centuries.

1.3. Apocalypse of Thomas. This revelation of Christ to the apostle* Thomas predicts the signs that over the course of seven days will precede the end of this world. Though difficult to date, it may well be relatively early; it certainly depends closely on Jewish apocalyptic tradition.

1.4. Sibylline Oracles. The Sibyls were pagan prophetesses to whom Jewish writers from the third century b.c. onward had already attributed prophetic oracles in poetic form and enigmatic style. These works, which espouse monotheism, denounce idolatry,* prophesy events of world history and predict judgments, were presumably meant to appeal to pagan readers who did not know their Jewish authorship. Early Christians continued this Jewish tradition by expanding originally Jewish Sibylline oracles with Christian additions and by writing fresh Christian compositions of the same kind.

1.5. 5 Ezra and 6 Ezra. These terms are used for, respectively, chapters 1-2 and chapters 15-16 of the composite work known as 2 Esdras or 4 Ezra, whose core (chaps. 3-14) is a Jewish apocalypse. 5 Ezra, a series of prophecies and visions attributed to Ezra, is a Christian work of the second century, portraying the church as the true people of God who replace disobedient and faithless Israel (see Church as Israel). Prefaced to the Jewish apocalypse of Ezra, it provides a Christian perspective for the reading of the latter. 6 Ezra is a prophecy usually regarded as Christian and of a later date.

1.6. Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (CG VII, 3). This Gnostic work, found in the Nag Hammadi library and dating probably from the late second or early third century, has no connection with the Apocalypse of Peter described above (1.1). The unusual setting of this apocalypse, in the temple before the crucifixion of Jesus, is appropriate to the unusual contents of the visionary revelation which "the Savior"* gives to Peter. Its climax is the disclosure that only the physical Jesus suffers and dies on the cross,* while the spiritual, immortal Savior stands aside, laughing with joy. This revelation provides the basis for polemic against those blind Christians who can recognize only the physical Christ they think died and rose bodily, and who therefore have only a mortal destiny themselves. Thus the apocalyptic form of revelation of the true reality behind the appearances of history in this world serves here the purposes of a strongly dualistic, Gnostic understanding of Christology and human destiny.

1.7. Other Gnostic Apocalypses. Gnostic works that do not take the form of postresurrection dialogues between Christ and the apostles, but that do recount revelations made by heavenly revealers to biblical figures, include the Paraphrase of Shem (CG VII, 1), the Three Steles of Seth (CG VII, 5) and Melchizedek (CG IX, 1).

2. Apostolic Acts.

The five oldest apocryphal Acts are those of Andrew, John, Paul, Peter and Thomas (see 2.1-4 below; the Acts of Paul are discussed in DPL). These all date from the second or early third century. (Many other apocryphal Acts were composed in subsequent centuries.) More precise dates are difficult to determine, partly because they depend on the literary relationships between these five works. That there are such literary relationships is clear, but what the relationships are, with implications for the chronological order in which the five works were written, remains debatable. The tendency of recent scholarship has been to date the Acts of Thomas in the first half of the third century but the other four Acts in the second half of the second century or even somewhat earlier.

Though there are considerable differences among these five works, they all belong to a common literary subgenre, which can be defined as a narrative of the missionary activity of a single apostle subsequent to the resurrection of Jesus and concluding with the martyrdom (or, in John's case, death) of the apostle. The Lukan Acts* clearly had some influence on the development of this genre, though the extent of indebtedness to the Lukan Acts varies among the apocryphal Acts and is probably not direct in every case. The Lukan Acts provided the model for an episodic travel narrative that is characteristic, to a greater or lesser extent, of these apocryphal Acts—with the exception of the Acts of Peter in its surviving form—as well as for some, but by no means all, of the contents (such as miracles and preaching) of the various episodes in the apostle's missionary career. In this respect the Acts of Paul is closer to Acts than any other of the oldest apocryphal Acts.

But even the second half of the Lukan Acts, with its concentration on Paul, does not provide a model for a narrative ending with the apostle's death. Here, as in some other respects also, the apocryphal Acts show a more biographical interest in their subjects than the Lukan Acts shows even in Paul. They can be located within the growing interest in biographical literature in the period in which they were written. More specifically, they resemble the novelistic biographies of the period, which combine a genuine interest in history with a freedom for historical imagination, such that the line between fact and fiction is not easily drawn. The extent to which their authors drew on existing legends or even traditions of some historical value in their accounts of the apostles is rarely possible to determine, but to a large extent they are works of historical imagination. But the resemblances to the Greek romantic novels which have often been observed do not place them in the genre of the novel. The resemblances result from the fact that the semifictional biographies to which the apocryphal Acts are most akin themselves have features in common with or borrowed from the novels. The apocryphal Acts were written to engage and entertain readers who might well be familiar with novels and novelistic biographies, but they also convey the Christian message and invite to the Christian lifestyle as their authors understood these.

None of these five apocryphal Acts can properly be called Gnostic (but see 2.2 below), but some of them have clear affinities with aspects of the religious milieu of the period in which Gnosticism flourished, and all show some tendency to favor sexual abstinence and other forms of detachment from material or worldly life. Similarly, the tendencies to docetism* and modalism in the Christology of several of the Acts should not, for the most part, be attributed specifically to Gnosticism; instead they reflect the christological piety of the period. However, despite some important affinities, each of the five Acts has its own theological distinctiveness.

2.1. Acts of Andrew. This work survives only in a variety of incomplete and often adapted later forms which allow a partial reconstruction of the original text and contents. They recounted Andrew's travels and missionary successes in various parts of northern Asia Minor and Greece, ending with his death by crucifixion in Patras. (It is uncertain whether the Acts of Andrew and Matthias, which tells of Andrew's adventures in the city of the cannibals, belonged originally to the Acts of Andrew.) Salvation, which is the central concern of the work, is understood as the detachment and liberation of the soul, which is akin to God, from the body, in which it is imprisoned in this life, and from the material world.

2.2. Acts of John. Though some of the contents of the original Acts of John have to be conjectured, much of the text has survived. It recounts the apostle John's journey to Ephesus, where much of the narrative takes place, a missionary journey through the province of Asia (perhaps in the original text to all seven churches of the Apocalypse of John), John's return to Ephesus and his death. The most distinctive section is John's preaching of the gospel* in chapters 87-102, in which he recounts episodes from the ministry of Jesus. These include revelations to the apostles of the polymorphous and elusive nature of Christ's bodily appearance, the famous hymn* of Christ in which he dances with the apostles, and a revelation of the esoteric meaning of the cross. These chapters, uniquely in the five apocryphal Acts, express a clearly Gnostic theology, with special affinities with Valentinian Gnosticism. The special character of chapters 94-102 (and the related chapter 109) suggests that they existed independently and were incorporated in the Acts of John either originally or subsequently. While this does not make the Acts of John as a whole a Gnostic composition, it does indicate that in this work the line between Gnostic and non-Gnostic interpretations of Christianity is thin.

2.3. Acts of Peter. The Acts of Peter survives in a secondary edited form (the Vercelli Acts), which, after an introduction describing Paul's departure from Rome for Spain, recounts the arrival of Simon Magus in Rome, Peter's journey from Jerusalem to Rome and his ministry there, largely in the form of a contest with Simon Magus, in both miracles and argument, concluding with Simon's spectacular defeat. Finally Peter dies by crucifixion and appears after his death. Two other surviving stories about Peter's miracles suggest that the original form of the Acts of Peter was longer and may have recounted his ministry in Jerusalem. Along with the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter is the least unorthodox of the five apocryphal Acts, though here too the Christology and the sexual asceticism reflect popular piety and preaching.

2.4. Acts of Thomas. This is the only one of the five major apocryphal Acts of which the original form has survived intact, though it is uncertain whether the Syriac (see Syria) or the Greek version preserves the language of composition. It certainly derives from east Syrian Christianity, in which the apostle Thomas was celebrated and (since Thomas means "twin") understood as the spiritual twin of Jesus, and in which radical asceticism (encratism), more extreme in this Acts than in the others, flourished. While the Acts of Thomas is not strictly Gnostic, its understanding of salvation as awareness of one's true self once again shows the affinities of the apocryphal Acts with some aspects of Gnosticism. The Acts of Thomas recounts Thomas's missionary activity in India, but despite some historically accurate information about first-century India, his mission there is likely to be entirely legendary. The "Hymn of the Pearl" (chaps. 108-13), an allegorical myth, has been variously interpreted but probably tells of the heavenly origin and destiny of the soul.

2.5. Acts of the Peter and the Twelve Apostles (CG VI, 1). Though found in the Nag Hammadi library, it is not clear whether this fragmentary text, which has nothing to do with the five major apocryphal Acts, is Gnostic or not. It tells of the apostles' encounter with Lithargoel, a pearl merchant, who turns out to be Christ in disguise.

3. Other Apostolic Pseudepigrapha.

Works included here have some affinities with the apocryphal Acts but cannot strictly be classified as such. Apocryphal apostolic letters are rare (see 3.2 below; see also DPL, Apocryphal Pauline Literature). The Epistle of the Apostles, though written in the form of a letter by the apostles, belongs otherwise to the genre of revelatory dialogues with the risen Christ (see sec. 1 above).

3.1. Preaching of Peter. This work, probably of the early second century, survives only in a small number of quotations. These suggest that it was a collection of missionary sermons attributed to Peter.

3.2. Letter of Peter to Philip (CG VIII, 2). Only the first half of this Gnostic work consists of Peter's letter to Philip; the rest is one of the revelatory dialogues between the risen Christ and the apostles which are the favorite literary genre of the Gnostic literature.

3.3. Second Apocalypse of James (CG V, 4). This work, though it could be classified as a Gnostic apocalypse, is included here because it recounts a sermon by James of Jerusalem, in which he reports the revelations made to him by the risen Jesus, followed by the martyrdom of James. The account of the martyrdom is closely related to that derived by Hegesippus from Palestinian Jewish Christian tradition (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 2.23).

3.4. Pseudo-Clementine Literature. The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions and Homilies are attributed to Clement* of Rome, portrayed as a disciple and companion of Peter. Since they recount Peter's travels, preaching and conflict with Simon Magus, they bear some resemblance to the apocryphal Acts. They date from the fourth century but are mentioned here because numerous attempts have been made to discern much earlier Jewish Christian sources incorporated in them.

4. Wisdom Literature.

The Teachings of Silvanus (CG VII, 4), though preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library, is not a Gnostic work but a Christian work in the genre of wisdom* instruction. It has affinities both with Jewish wisdom literature and with the Alexandrian* tradition of philosophically influenced Christian theology. Since wisdom literature is usually attributed to authoritative teachers of the past, it is likely that the name Silvanus refers to the companion of Paul, but this cannot be certain.

5. Hymnic Literature.

The only Christian apocryphal work in this category is the Odes of Solomon, a collection of forty-two odes. The author was a Christian prophet. Whether he himself associated his work with Solomon is uncertain. The ascription to Solomon results from the association of his work with the Jewish Psalms of Solomon, whether by the author himself or at a subsequent but early date. The complete collection is extant only in Syriac, and this may have been the language of composition, though some have argued for Greek as the original language. In any case, affinities with the Qumran* literature and with Ignatius indicate an origin in Syrian Christianity under strong Jewish influence. The Odes have been dated as early as the end of the first century and as late as the third century.

See also Mark, Secret Gospel of; Peter, Gospel of; Thomas, Gospel of.

Bibliography. J. K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993; contains translations and very full bibliographies); J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977); W. Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha (2 vols.; rev. ed.; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991-92). The most important new editions of the Christian apocryphal literature are those appearing in the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum (Turnhout: Brepols, 8 vols. published so far). See J.-D. Dubois, "The New Series Apocryphorum of the Corpus Christianorum," Second Century 4 (1984) 29-36. The series Apocryphes en Poche (Turnhout: Brepols, 8 vols. published so far) provides accessible French translations and introductions of individual apocryphal works. (Brepols also publishes an annual Bulletin of the Association pour l'Etude de la Littérature Apocryphe Chrétienne [AELAC], which is responsible for these and other projects in the field.)

R. J. Bauckham

—Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments

Thomas, Gospel Of

Since its publication in 1959 (see Guillaumont et al.) the Coptic Gospel of Thomas has been divided into 114 sayings, or logia. The title of this work is derived from a subscript at the conclusion, which reads euangelion kata Thoman ("the Gospel according to Thomas"), a phrase borrowed from the Greek Gospels. But Thomas is not a Gospel in the sense of narrative or biography; it is a "sayings" Gospel, as seen from the prologue's incipit: "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke." Many of these sayings are introduced with the words "Jesus said." On occasion a question or a request elicits a reply from Jesus. The incipit further claims that these sayings were recorded by "Didymos Judas Thomas," one of Jesus' disciples and one whose standing among the disciples has been elevated (Gos. Thom. logia. §13). This pseudepigraphic* attribution suggests that Thomas was composed in eastern Syria, where legends about Thomas circulated. In recent years Thomas has figured prominently in discussion of the Gospels and the historical Jesus.

  1. Manuscripts
  2. Relation to the New Testament
  3. Theology of Thomas

1. Manuscripts.

The Gospel of Thomas survives in Coptic as the second tractate in Codex II of the Nag Hammadi library (discovered in 1945) and survives partially in Greek in Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1, 654 and 655 (discovered at the end of the nineteenth century). POxy 654 contains the prologue to the Gospel of Thomas, logia §§1-7 and a portion of logion §30. POxy 1 contains Gospel of Thomas logia §§26-33. POxy 655 contains Gospel of Thomas logia §§24, 36-39 and 77. Although the point has been disputed, most scholars contend that Thomas was originally composed in Greek and that the Oxyrhynchus Papyri probably stand closer to the original form of the tradition than does the Coptic edition.

The Coptic text of Thomas is dated to the middle of the fourth century. The Oxyrhynchus papyri are much older, with POxy 1 dating to shortly after a.d. 200 and POxy 654 and POxy 655 dating to the middle of the third century. These three papyri appear to represent distinct copies of the writing, though what relation, if any, they may have to one another cannot be determined. The Coptic text itself suggests that other editions of Coptic Thomas were in circulation. Sometime near the end of the first quarter or first third of the third century, Hippolytus of Rome (Hippolytus Haer. 5.7.20) quotes a variant of logion §4 and explicitly identifies it as deriving from the Gospel of Thomas. All of this suggests that there were many editions, or recensions, of Thomas in the third and fourth centuries.

The date of the earliest editions of Thomas is hotly debated. This issue is tied closely to the question of this writing's relation to the NT. Those who have concluded that Thomas contains substantial amounts of material that is independent of the NT Gospels tend to argue for an early date, such as the last quarter of the first century (Cameron, Koester, et al.) or even as early as the middle of the first century (Crossan). Those who have concluded that Thomas contains little or no independent material tend to argue for a second-century origin (Blomberg, Evans 1994, Snodgrass).

2. Relation to the New Testament.

In recent years several scholars have argued that the Gospel of Thomas is a first-century composition, originally independent of the NT Gospels and only later influenced by them. This may be true, but numerous difficulties attend efforts to cull from this collection of logia material that can with confidence be judged primitive, independent of the canonical Gospels and even authentic. Quoting or alluding to more than half of the writings of the New Testament (Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn, Acts, Rom, 1-2 Cor, Gal, Eph, Col, 1 Thess, 1 Tim, Heb, 1 Jn, Rev; see Evans et al. 1993), Thomas could be little more than a collage of NT and apocryphal* materials that have been interpreted, often allegorically, in such a way as to advance second- and third-century Gnostic* ideas (see Blomberg, Brown, Dehandschutter, Fieger).

Moreover, the traditions contained in Thomas hardly reflect a setting that predates the writings of the NT, which is why J. D. Crossan and others attempt to extract an early version of Thomas from the Coptic and Greek texts that are extant. Assertions that a consensus is beginning to emerge in which Thomas is recognized as primitive and independent (see Davies) claim too much. Lately Thomas has enjoyed a great deal of publicity through the publications emanating from the Jesus Seminar. For example, Thomas is the fifth Gospel in the recently published The Five Gospels (see Funk and Hoover), a work that grades the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus with the colors red (= words of Jesus), pink (= approximation of something Jesus said), gray (= considerable doubt that Jesus said it) and black (= Jesus did not say it). In this work Thomas compares favorably with the canonical Gospels.

There are several indications that Thomas is secondary to the canonical Gospels. First, material identified as M (special Matthean material) and L (special Lukan material) is found in Thomas (cf. Evans 1994, 498). This is not easily explained on the basis of the independence of Thomas. Second, in places Thomas's readings agree with Matthean and Lukan redaction (cf.

Blomberg, Evans 1994, 499-502). This is so even in cases involving the Oxyrhynchus papyri. These observations should seriously undermine confidence in the antiquity and independence of Thomas. It is much more probable that Thomas is made up of materials derived from the canonical Gospels and extracanonical sources (though not necessarily directly) that in many cases have been edited to suit second- and third-century gnostic tastes. Although it is possible that Thomas may contain a few primitive sayings, it has little to offer Jesus research.

3. Theology of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas presents Jesus as a heavenly revealer, the embodiment of wisdom,* whose teachings, or "secret words," have an esoteric quality. This quality is underscored in the first two logia: " 'Whoever finds the interpretation of these words will not taste death.' Jesus said: 'Let him who seeks not cease seeking until he finds, and when he finds, he will be troubled, and when he has been troubled, he will marvel and he will reign over the All.' "

Although some scholars have insisted that the Gospel of Thomas is not Gnostic, most believe that it is. Several features suggest that this collection of the sayings of Jesus reflects a gnostic milieu. Interest in "the All" (log. §2; cf. log. §77) finds expression elsewhere in the writings of the Nag Hammadi library. The anticipation of becoming a "single one" (log. §4; cf. log. §11, §22, §106) probably reflects gnostic interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (cf. log. §85), in which humanity is divided into the two sexes. According to some strains of Gnosticism, man and woman will someday be reunited as an androgynous Human. The saying about being naked and unashamed (cf. log. §37) probably has to do with a return to a primordial state. The saying about coming from the light (log. §50) also has to do with gnostic cosmogony. The reference to the heaven that is above heaven* (log. §11) probably alludes to gnostic cosmology, in which an ultimate heaven is conceived. Criticism of the world as "drunk" (cf. log. §28) and in "poverty" (cf. log. §3, §29) is also a commonplace in gnostic writings. The quest for "rest" (cf. log. §50, §51, §60) is an important feature in gnostic eschatology.

See also Gnosis, Gnosticism; Jesus Traditions; Mark, Secret Gospel of; Peter, Gospel of.

Bibliography. C. L. Blomberg, "Tradition and Redaction in the Parables of the Gospel of Thomas" in Gospel Perspectives 5: The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels, ed. D. Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT, 1984) 177-205; R. E. Brown, "The Gospel of Thomas and St John's Gospel," NTS 9 (1962-63) 155-77; R. Cameron, The Other Gospels: Noncanonical Gospel Texts (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982); J. H. Charlesworth and C. A. Evans, "Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal Gospels" in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, ed. B. D. Chilton and C. A. Evans (NTTS 19; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994) 479-533; B. D. Chilton, "The Gospel According to Thomas as a Source of Jesus' Teaching" in Gospel Perspectives 5: The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels, ed. D. Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT, 1984) 155-75; J. D. Crossan, Four Other Gospels (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge, 1992) 3-38; S. Davies, The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom (New York: Seabury, 1983); B. Dehandschutter, "The Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptics: The Status Quaestionis" in Studia Evangelica VII, ed. E. A. Livingstone (TU 126; Berlin: Akademie, 1982) 157-60; idem, "L'eévangile de Thomas comme collection de paroles de Jésus" in Logia: Les Paroles de JésusThe Sayings of Jesus, ed. J. Delobel (BETL 59; Louvain: Peeters, 1982) 507-15; idem, "Recent Research on the Gospel of Thomas" in The Four Gospels 1992, ed. F. Van Segbroek et al. (BETL 100; Louvain: Peeters, 1992) 2257-62; C. A. Evans et al., eds., Nag Hammadi Texts and the Bible: A Synopsis and Index (NTTS 18; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993) 88-144; F. T. Fallon and R. Cameron, "The Gospel of Thomas: A Forschungsbericht and Analysis," ANRW 2.25.6 (1988) 4213-24; M. Fieger, Das Thomasevangelium: Einleitung, Kommentar und Systematik (NTAbh 22; Minister: Aschendorff, 1991); J. A. Fitzmyer, "The Oxyrhynchus logoi of Jesus and the Coptic Gospel According to Thomas" in Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament (SBLSBS 5; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1974) 355-433; R. W. Funk and R. W. Hoover, eds., The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993); B. Gärtner, The Theology of the Gospel of Thomas (London: Collins; New York: Harper & Row, 1961); A. Guillaumont et al., The Gospel According to Thomas (New York: Harper & Row, 1959); H. Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990) 75-128; idem, "Apocryphal and Canonical Gospels," HTR 73 (1980) 105-30 J. Ménard, L'Évangile selon Thomas (NHS 5; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1975); R. J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge, 1992) 301-22; S. J. Patterson, The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge, 1993); idem, "The Gospel of Thomas and the Historical Jesus: Prospectus and Retrospectus" in SBLSP ( 1990) 614-36; J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (rev. ed.; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988) 124-38; W. Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha, 1: Gospels and Related Writings (rev. ed.; Cambridge: James Clarke; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1991) 110-33; W. Schrage, Das Verhältnis des Thomas-Evangeliums zur synoptischen Tradition und zu den koptischen Evangelienübersetzungen (BZNW 29; Berlin: Töpelmann, 1964); K. R. Snodgrass, "The Gospel of Thomas: A Secondary Gospel," SecCent 7 (1989-90) 19-38; W. D. Stroker, Extracanonical Sayings of Jesus (SBLRBS 18; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989); R. McL. Wilson, Studies in the Gospel of Thomas (London: Mowbray, 1960).

C. A. Evans

—Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments


The phenomenon of speaking in "unknown tongues," or glossolalia, has existed in many religious contexts, including the Old Testament (e.g., the prophesying of Saul in 1 Sam 10:5-6, 10) and various Mediterranean cults (see Religions, Greco-Roman). In the Christian context of our literature this phenomenon (i.e., making vocal sounds, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that are unintelligible to at least some of those hearing), is mentioned by Paul (1 Cor 12, 14; see DPL, Tongues) and the author of Acts. This article will focus on tongues in Acts.

  1. The Occurrence of Tongues in Acts
  2. The Meaning of Tongues in Acts
  3. Acts and the Rest of the New Testament
  4. Acts and the Postapostolic Period

1. The Occurrence of Tongues in Acts.

The first reference to tongues occurs in Acts 2:4-13. When the Holy Spirit* comes at Pentecost,* he appears to those in the room as "divided tongues of fire" or "tongues of fire distributed among them" (Bruce), and they as a result began to speak in "other languages [tongues]" as the Spirit granted them ability. The text emphasizes that people from many nations each heard the praises of God* in their own dialect (Acts 2:8) or language (i.e., tongue; Acts 2:11). Acts* then reports Peter explaining this phenomenon in terms of Joel's prophecy* (Joel 2:28-32).

The second reference appears in Acts 10:44-48, where the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter's address to the Gentile* Cornelius* and falls upon Cornelius and his associates. Peter recognizes the presence of the Spirit in their glossolalia and orders their baptism,* since they had received the Holy Spirit just as Peter and his fellow Jewish Christians had.

The final occurrence in Acts comes in Acts 19:1-7, where Paul finds a group of "disciples" who are ignorant of the Holy Spirit. The reason for this is that they know only John the Baptist's teaching and practice. After baptizing them in the name of Jesus, Paul lays hands on them, and the dozen disciples speak in tongues and prophesy.

There are other places in which Acts implies similar phenomena (e.g., Acts 8:17-19, where Simon observes some phenomenon) or refers to the explicit passages (e.g., Acts 11:15-17; 15:8), but none of them adds significantly to the three passages cited above.

2. The Meaning of Tongues in Acts.

When we examine the material in Acts, we can draw a number of conclusions.

First, Acts does not appear to differentiate clearly between tongues and prophecy. While the passage in Acts 19 mentions both spiritual gifts (to use the Pauline terminology), one wonders if this is not a type of emphasis. In Acts 2 the phenomenon is described as glossolalia, but in Peter's speech "this is that" refers to prophecy. In one place (Acts 2:18) "and they will prophesy" is added to Joel's prophecy to make his point clear. One might object that in Acts 2 the "tongues" are understandable as praise of God and thus prophetic, but Acts has already implied that because people from "every nation" were present presumably all languages were understood.

Second, Pentecost appears to reverse Babel. In Genesis 11:1, 6 it is underlined that humanity was monolingual; the confusion of language in Genesis 11:7 leads to the scattering of the nations (Gen 11:8-9). In Pentecost, people (both Jews and proselytes, thus former Gentiles) from all over the world* (the list in Acts 2:9-11 appears to parallel deliberately the geographic spread of the table of nations in Gen 10) are gathered in Jerusalem* and through the gift of tongues can all understand God's praise in their own language.

Third, glossolalia appears in Acts as an outward sign signaling the presence of the empowering Holy Spirit. If the point of Acts is that the mission* of the church was Spirit-driven rather than a human plan, then the function of glossolalia is to indicate that each phase of the mission is indeed the work of the Spirit. It is thus in Acts 2 a sign of the universal mission planned by the Spirit, then an indication of the initiative of the Spirit in the move to the Gentiles in Acts 10. The passage in Acts 19 probably demonstrates the universality of the presence of the Spirit in the church as a fringe group is integrated through the action of the Spirit. It is not the sole indicator of the presence of the Spirit, however, for such things as joy* (Acts 13:52; 16:34), the sharing of goods (Acts 4:32) and speaking the word with boldness (Acts 4:31) are also evidence of the Spirit cited in passages in which tongues are not mentioned.

3. Acts and the Rest of the New Testament.

The only other passage in the NT that refers to glossolalia is 1 Corinthians 12-14 (it does not appear in the shorter gifts lists in Rom 14, Eph 4 or 1 Pet 4). There Paul's concern is to dampen the Corinthian preference for tongues and to raise their appreciation of the more intelligible gift of prophecy. (Why this was not an issue for him elsewhere is unknown, just as it is unknown why Corinth in particular had a problem with the Lord's Supper.*) Neither the differentiation of the gifts nor the concern with intelligibility is a problem for Acts, possibly because in Acts the gifts are intelligible either by speakers of the various languages or as signs of the activity of God (ironically, in contrast to 1 Corinthians 14:22, tongues in Acts function as much a sign for believers as for unbelievers, especially in Acts 10).

4. Acts and the Postapostolic Period.

There are no references to glossolalia in the apostolic fathers, although there are twelve references to the tongue in terms of speech ethics* and one to the peoples of the languages of the world gathered in judgment.* Thus it appears that by the second century this phenomenon was subsumed under the term prophecy (i.e., the lack of differentiation in Acts carried to its logical conclusion). This is clearly the case in Irenaeus (Irenaeus Haer. 3.12.15; 5.6.1; cf. Irenaeus Haer. 3.17.2; 2.32.4) and appears also to have been true of at least some Montanist "prophecy." M. T. Kelsey and A. Bittlinger therefore read Martyrdom of Polycarp 7.3 and the references to prophecy in Ignatius,* Didache* and Shepherd of Hermas* as including glossolalia. Whether their conclusion is accepted or not, what is clear is that speaking in tongues does not have a special significance in any of these works.

See also Acts of the Apostles; Holy Spirit; Pentecost.

Bibliography. A. Bittlinger, Glossolalia: Wert und Problematik des Sprachenredens (Schloss Cra-heim: Rolf Kühne Verlag, 1969); F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); S. D. Currie, " 'Speaking in Tongues'; Early Evidence Outside the New Testament Bearing on 'Glossais Lalein,' " Int 19 (1965) 274-94; J. G. Davies, "Pentecost and Glossolalia," JTS n.s. 3 (1952) 228-31; J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975); J. M. Ford, "Towards a Theology of 'Speaking in Tongues,' " TS 32 (1971) 3-29; K. Haacker, "Das Pfingstwunder als exegetisches Problem" in Ver-borum Veritas: Festschrift für Gustav Stählin, ed. O. Böcher and K. Haacker (Wuppertal: Brockhaus, 1970) 125-32; H. Haarbeck, "Word," NIDNTT 3:1078-81; M. T. Kelsey, Tongue Speaking: An Experiment in Spiritual Experience (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1964); G. J. Sirks, "The Cinderella of Theology: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit," HTR 50 (1957) 77-89; R. Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984).

P. H. Davids

—Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments