The Development of the Canon of the New Testament
Acts of Paul (Asia Minor, 185-195 CE)
The Acts of Paul is a romance that makes arbitrary use of the canonical Acts and the Pauline Epistles. Many manuscripts have survived, there is an English translation in [Schneemelcher] v. 2 pp. 237-265, but there is not yet a critical edition. The canon list in the 6th century codex Claromontanus includes it with an indication that it contains 3560 lines, somewhat longer than the canonical Acts with 2600 lines.
The author, so Tertullian tells us, was a cleric who lived in the Roman province of Asia in the western part of Asia Minor, and who composed the book about 170 CE with the avowed intent of doing honor to the Apostle Paul. Although well-intentioned, the author was brought up for trial by his peers and, being convicted of falsifying the facts, was dismissed from his office. But his book, though condemned by ecclesiastical leaders, achieved considerable popularity among the laity.
Certain episodes in the Acts of Paul, such as the 'Journeys of Paul and Thecla', exist in a number of Greek manuscripts and in half a dozen ancient versions. Thecla was a noble-born virgin from Iconium and an enthusiastic follower of the Apostle; she preached like a missionary and administered baptism. It was the administration of baptism by a woman that scandalized Tertullian and led him to condemn the entire book. In this section we find a description of the physical appearance of Paul:
A man small in size, with a bald head and crooked legs; in good health; with eyebrows that met and a rather prominent nose; full of grace, for sometimes he looked like a man and sometimes he looked like an angel.
Another episode concerns the Apostle and the baptized lion. Although previously known from allusions to it in patristic writers, it was not until 1936 that the complete text was made available from a recently discovered Greek papyrus. Probably the imaginative writer had read Paul's rhetorical question: 'What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with the wild beasts at Ephesus?' (I Cor. 15:32). Wishing to supply details to supplement this allusion, the author supplies a thrilling account of the intrepid apostle's experience at Ephesus. Interest is added when the reader learns that some time earlier in the wilds of the countryside Paul had preached to that very lion and, on its profession of faith, had baptized it. It is not surprising that the outcome of the confrontation in the amphitheater was the miraculous release of the apostle.
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