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Having completed the books of the Bible, we are now featuring various books of the New Testament Apocrypha by Bible scholar and lecturer Mary Jane Chaignot. Unlike the Biblical canon, these have no special order. Still, we will use the outline of the Bible in our study of them.
This month we will look at The Acts of Paul. The first comment on these Acts was by Tertullian (ca 160-230 CE), so the Acts manuscripts were already circulating before his death. Scholars estimate that it was written between 150-180 CE. Tertullian deemed the work heretical because it encouraged women to preach and baptize. He stated that it was a forgery; the author was a presbyter (an elder in the Presbyterian Church) from Asia Minor who claimed to have written it "out of love for Paul." This has never been confirmed, but it's generally accepted. Despite Tertullian's efforts, these Acts were extremely popular well into the mid-fourth century. Several Church leaders considered them to be orthodox until the Manicheans began using them.
Ancient evidence suggests this was a very long document. Little was known about the Acts until 1904, when scholars published a 6th century Coptic document with three main sections: The Acts of Paul and Thecla, III Corinthians, and the Martyrdom of Paul. Each of these had existed in various other manuscripts and publications, but this was the first time they had been united under a common author. Scholars estimate it was over 3600 lines long (the canonical book of Acts has only 2600), but roughly a third has been lost. The earliest copy is a Greek papyrus scroll from the late third century, which is kept at Hamburg. The Coptic version is from a century or two later and is kept at Heidelberg.
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The Acts of Paul
The text starts abruptly, which means that the beginning has been lost. Skipping over Paul and Thecla, we'll begin with Paul leaving Antioch and going to Myra to teach. There, he met Hermocrates, who had dropsy and asked for healing. Paul told him he would heal him in the name of Jesus Christ. He touched the man's body and drew his hand downwards. His belly split open and a lot of water ran out. Hermocrates fell down as if he were dead, and many people thought he was. But Paul wasn't done yet; he took the man's hand and raised him up. Hermocrates was given bread to eat, and he was well. He and his wife converted on the spot.
Sometimes, however, life can be complicated. In this case, Hermocrates had a son who was impatiently awaiting the death of his father, so he could take over the family business. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen now. So he and his friends plotted how they could kill Paul. When their battle was about to begin, Paul cried out to the Lord. Right away, the son was rendered blind and confessed his evil intentions. After considerable prayer and intrigue, Paul healed him and everyone rejoiced.
We know from Acts that Paul spent at least two years in Ephesus, much of it preaching in Tyrannus Hall. His teachings were so popular that business started to fall off at the Temple of Artemis. Instead of worshipping at the Temple, visitors were listening to Paul. Artisans began to accuse him of leading people astray. The artisans' concerns were twofold: one, no one was buying their products; two, and more importantly, the Temple of the great goddess Artemis was being discredited, and the goddess herself, who was worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, was being robbed of her divine majesty.
These concerns resonated in the hearts of the Ephesians. Their lives and culture were intimately entwined with the Temple. It didn't take long for the people of Ephesus to get all riled up. This resulted in a riot with 25,000 people racing through the city and ending up at the coliseum. Paul was aware of what was happening, so he wanted to go to the coliseum to defend himself. His disciples, however, absolutely refused to allow that to happen. Even some of the city officials begged him to stay away. Eventually, the city magistrate got the people to quiet down, and Paul left the city. This entire story was chronicled in Acts.
It is told a bit differently in the Acts of Paul. There, people of the city became fiercely enraged, put Paul's feet into irons, and shut him up in the prison until he could be exposed as prey for the lions. But two wives of eminent Ephesian men who were his disciples visited him at night. With angels to escort them, Paul, was loosed from his iron chains, went to the seashore, initiated them into holy baptism. Afterwards, he returned to his bonds without any of those in care of the prison perceiving it. The next day he faced the lions.
A lion of huge size and unmatched strength was let loose upon him, and it ran to him in the stadium and lay down at his feet. When many other savage beasts were let loose, the lion would not allow any of them to touch his holy body, and stood like a statue, in prayer. At this juncture, a violent, vast hailstorm poured down all at once with a great rush and shattered the heads of many men and beasts. The governor was injured, but then came to Paul to receive the baptism of salvation. The lion escaped to the mountains. There is also a story in which Paul meets up with a lion, which is employed later on to kill him. The lion not only refused to kill him, but he also prayed with Paul and asked to be baptized. There are at least three variations on that story among the fragments known as the Acts of Paul.
Let's talk about the major section involving Paul's martyrdom. Most people know that Paul was beheaded, but that story is not in Acts or any of his letters. The story of Paul's martyrdom is in the Acts of Paul.
It opens with Paul being in Rome, where he was again doing much teaching. Word of this spread throughout Rome, and many people came to him from the household of Caesar. They became believers, and there was great joy.
Patroclus, the cupbearer for Caesar, came one evening but was not able to enter where Paul was teaching because of the crowd. So he sat in a high window and listened to Paul teaching the word of God. Not long after, he fell down from the window and died; immediately this was told to Nero. But Paul knew this had happened, so he told others to get the young man and bring him over. Paul prayed and the young lad received his spirit again. So they put him on a mule and sent him back to Caesar.
In the meantime, however, Nero had already been told of Patroclus' death, and he was very upset. He could not be without a cupbearer, so he immediately appointed someone else to serve in this position. This became problematic when his servants told him that Patroclus was back. At first, Caesar was so scared that he would not go in to see him. But when he finally did go in and saw Patroclus, he was beside himself. He asked, "Who is he that made you to live?" The lad said, "Christ Jesus, the king of the ages." This troubled Caesar greatly and he asked, "Shall he, then, be king of the ages and overthrow all kingdoms?" Patroclus answered affirmatively. With this Caesar struck him on his face saying, "Patroclus, are you also a soldier of that king?" Patroclus, boldly responded affirmatively.
Nero found himself in an untenable position. Though he loved many of his converted staff, he had them shut up in prison after severely tormenting them because he felt threatened by their conversions to Christianity. He also set forth a decree that all who were found to be Christians and soldiers of Christ would be slain. Paul was among those who were bound and brought to Nero. Nero accused Paul of coming by stealth into the government of Rome and converting soldiers out of his province. But Paul, also speaking boldly, praised the Lord and suggested that Nero should consider serving him. "It is not wealth or splendor that shall save you; but if you submit and entreat him, you shall be saved; for one day he shall fight against the world with fire." And when Caesar heard that, he commanded that all prisoners except Paul be burned with fire, but Paul was to be beheaded after the law of the Romans.
Nero went on to slay many Christians in Rome with no hearings whatsoever. It was so onerous that even the Romans stood before the palace and asked him to stop. They said, "The men are our own! You are destroying the strength of the Romans!" Finally, Nero was persuaded to stop killing them, but he commanded that no man should touch any Christian. Until he knew everything about them.
After this decree, Paul was brought back before him, and Nero said that he should be beheaded. Paul said, "Caesar, if you behead me,… I will arise and show myself unto you that I am not dead but live unto my Lord Jesus Christ, who came to judge the world."
Then Paul stood with his face to the east, lifted up his hands unto heaven, and prayed for a long time. In his prayer, he conversed in Hebrew with the fathers, and then stretched forth his neck without speaking. When the executioner struck off his head, milk spurted upon the cloak of the soldier. The soldier and all who were there marveled when they saw it and glorified God who had given such glory unto Paul. They also told Caesar all about it.
This perplexed Nero very much. While he was still unsettled, Paul appeared before him and many others who were with him. Paul stood before them all and said, "Caesar, behold, I, Paul, the soldier of God, am not dead, but live in my God. But unto you shall many evils befall and great punishment, you wretched man, because you have shed unjustly the blood of the righteous." Then Paul departed from him. But Nero, upon hearing Paul's warning and being greatly troubled by it, commanded that the prisoners (including Patroclus) be loosed. Needless to say, many were converted that day.
The next morning two disciples went to the gravesite and saw Paul between two "men/angels." The angels tried to run away, but the disciples chased them down, asking for the life that Paul had promised. Then the angels, identified as Titus and Luke, rejoiced and glorified God and the Lord Jesus. Unto whom be glory without end. Amen."