Malankara World



By W. Sanday, M.A.



We pass on, still in a region of fragments--'waifs and strays' of the literature of the second century--and of partial and indirect (though on that account not necessarily less important) indications.

In Melito of Sardis (c. 176 A.D) it is interesting to notice the first appearance of a phrase that was destined later to occupy a conspicuous position. Writing to his friend Onesimus, who had frequently asked for selections from the Law and the Prophets bearing upon the Saviour, and generally for information respecting the number and order of 'the Old Books,' Melito says 'that he had gone to the East and reached the spot where the preaching had been delivered and the acts done, and that having learnt accurately the books of the Old Covenant (or Testament) he had sent a list of them'--which is subjoined [Endnote 244:1]. Melito uses the word which became established as the title used to distinguish the elder Scriptures from the younger--the Old Covenant or Testament ([Greek: hae palaia diathaekae]); and it is argued from this that he implies the existence of a 'definite New Testament, a written antitype to 'the Old' [Endnote 245:1] The inference however seems to be somewhat in excess of what can be legitimately drawn. By [Greek: palaia diathaekae] is meant rather the subject or contents of the books than the books themselves. It is the system of things, the dispensation accomplished 'in heavenly places,' to which the books belong, not the actual collected volume. The parallel of 2 Cor. iii. 14 ([Greek: epi tae anagnosei taes palaias diathaekaes]), which is ably pointed to in 'Supernatural Religion' [Endnote 245:2], is too close to allow the inference of a written New Testament. And yet, though the word has not actually acquired this meaning, it was in process of acquiring it, and had already gone some way to acquire it. The books were already there, and, as we see from Irenaeus, critical collections of them had already begun to be made. Within thirty years of the time when Melito is writing Tertullian uses the phrase Novum Testamentum precisely in our modern sense, intimating that it had then become the current designation [Endnote 245:3]. This being the case we cannot wonder that there should be a certain reflex hint of such a sense in the words of Melito.

The tract 'On Faith,' published in Syriac by Dr. Cureton and attributed to Melito, is not sufficiently authenticated to have value as evidence.

It should be noted that Melito's fragments contain nothing especially on the Gospels.


Some time between 176-180 A.D. Claudius Apollinaris, Bishop of Hierapolis, addressed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius an apology of which rather more than three lines have come down to us. A more important fragment however is assigned to this writer in the Paschal Chronicle, a work of the seventh century. Here it is said that 'Apollinaris, the most holy bishop of Hierapolis in Asia, who lived near the times of the Apostles, in his book about Easter, taught much the same, saying thus: "There are some who through ignorance wrangle about these matters, in a pardonable manner; for ignorance does not admit of blame but rather needs instruction. And they say that on the 14th the Lord ate the lamb with His disciples, and that on the great day of unleavened bread He himself suffered; and they relate that this is in their view the statement of Matthew. Whence their opinion is in conflict with the law, and according to them the Gospels are made to be at variance"' [Endnote 246:1]. This variance or disagreement in the Gospels evidently has reference to the apparent discrepancy between the Synoptics, especially St. Matthew and St. John, the former treating the Last Supper as the Paschal meal, the latter placing it before the Feast of the Passover and making the Crucifixion coincide with the slaughter of the Paschal lamb. Apollinaris would thus seem to recognise both the first and the fourth Gospels as authoritative.

Is this fragment of Apollinaris genuine? It is alleged against it [Endnote 247:1] (1) that Eusebius was ignorant of any such work on Easter, and that there is no mention of it in such notices of Apollinaris and his writings as have come down to us from Theodoret, Jerome, and Photius. There are some good remarks on this point by Routh (who is quoted in 'Supernatural Religion' apparently as adverse to the genuineness of the fragments). He says: 'There seems to me to be nothing in these extracts to compel us to deny the authorship of Apollinaris. Nor must we refuse credit to the author of the Preface [to the Paschal Chronicle] any more than to other writers of the same times on whose testimony many books of the ancients have been received, although not mentioned by Eusebius or any other of his contemporaries; especially as Eusebius declares below that it was only some select books that had come to his hands out of many that Apollinaris had written' [Endnote 247:2]. It is objected (2) that Apollinaris is not likely to have spoken of a controversy in which the whole Asiatic Church was engaged as the opinion of a 'few ignorant wranglers' A fair objection, if he was really speaking of such a controversy. But the great issue between the Churches of Asia and that of Rome was whether the Paschal festival should be kept, according to the Jewish custom, always on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, or whether it should be kept on the Friday after the Paschal full moon, on whatever day of the month it might fall. The fragment appears rather to allude to some local dispute as to the day on which the Lord suffered. To go thoroughly into this question would involve us in all the mazes of the so-called Paschal controversy, and in the end a precise and certain conclusion would probably be impossible. So far as I am aware, all the writers who have entered into the discussion start with assuming the genuineness of the Apollinarian fragment.

There remains however the fact that it rests only upon the attestation of a writer of the seventh century, who may possibly be wrong, but, if so, has been led into his error not wilfully but by accident. No reason can be alleged for the forging or purposely false ascription of a fragment like this, and it bears the stamp of good faith in that it asks indulgence for opponents instead of censure. We may perhaps safely accept the fragment with some, not large, deduction from its weight.


An instance of the precariousness of the argument from silence would be supplied by the writer who comes next under review-- Athenagoras. No mention whatever is made of Athenagoras either by Eusebius or Jerome, though he appears to have been an author of a certain importance, two of whose works, an Apology addressed to Marcus Aurelius and Commodus and a treatise on the Resurrection, are still extant. The genuineness of neither of these works is doubted.

The Apology, which may be dated about 177 A.D., contains a few references to our Lord's discourses, but not such as can have any great weight as evidence. The first that is usually given, a parallel to Matt. v. 39, 40 (good for evil), is introduced in such a way as to show that the author intends only to give the sense and not the words. The same may be said of another sentence that is compared with Mark x. 6 [Endnote 249:1]:--

Athenagoras, Leg. pro Christ. 33.

[Greek: Hoti en archae ho Theos hena andra eplase kai mian gunaika.]

Mark x. 6

[Greek: Apo de archaes ktiseos arsen kai thaelu epoiaesen autous ho Theos.]

All that can be said is that the thought here appears to have been suggested by the Gospel--and that not quite immediately.

A much closer--and indeed, we can hardly doubt, a real--parallel is presented by a longer passage:--

Athenagoras, Leg. pro Christ. 11.

What then are the precepts in which we are instructed? I say unto you: Love your enemies, bless them that curse, pray for them that persecute you; that ye may become the sons of your Father which is in heaven: who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.

[Greek: Tines oun haemon hoi logoi, hois entrephometha; lego humin, agapate tous echthrous humon, eulogeite tous kataromenous, proseuchesthe huper ton diokonton humas, hopos genaesthe huioi tou patros humon tou en ouranois, hos ton haelion autou anatellei epi ponaerous kai agathous kai brechei epi dikaious kai adikous.]

Matt. v. 44, 45.

I say unto you: Love your enemies [bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you], and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may become the sons of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.

[Greek: ego de lego humin, agapate tous echthrous humon [eulogeite tous kataromenous humas, kalos poiete tous misountas humas], proseuchesthe huper ton diokonton humas hopos genaesthe huioi tou patros humon tou en ouranois, hoti ton haelion autou anatellei epi ponaerous kai agathous kai brechei epi dikaious kai adikous.]

The bracketed clauses in the text of St. Matthew are both omitted and inserted by a large body of authorities, but, as it is rightly remarked in 'Supernatural Religion,' they are always either both omitted or both inserted; we must therefore believe that the omission and insertion of one only by Athenagoras is without manuscript precedent. Otherwise the exactness of the parallel is great; and it is thrown the more into relief when we compare the corresponding passage in St. Luke.

The quotation is completed in the next chapter of Athenagoras' work:--

Athenagoras, Leg. pro Christ. 12.

For if ye love, he says, them which love and lend to them which lend to you, what reward shall ye have?

[Greek: Ean gar agapate, phaesin, tous agapontas, kai daineizete tois daneizousin humin, tina misthon hexete;]

Matt. v. 46.

For if ye shall love them which love you, what reward have ye?

[Greek: Ean gar agapaesaete tous agapontas humas tina misthon echete;]

Here the middle clause in the quotation appears to be a reminiscence of St. Luke vi. 34 ([Greek: ean danisaete par' hon elpizete labein]). Justin also, it should be noted, has [Greek: agapate] (but [Greek: ei agapate]) for [Greek: agapaesaete]. If this passage had stood alone, taking into account the variations and the even run and balance of the language we might have thought perhaps that Athenagoras had had before him a different version. Yet the [Greek: tina misthon], compared with the [Greek: poia charis] of St. Luke and [Greek: ti kainon poieite] of Justin, would cause misgivings, and greater run and balance is precisely what would result from 'unconscious cerebration.'

Two more references are pointed out to Matt. v. 28 and Matt. v. 32, one with slight, the other with medium, variation, which leave the question very much in the same position.

We ought not to omit to notice that Athenagoras quotes one uncanonical saying, introducing it with the phrase [Greek: palin haemin legontos tou logou]. I am not at all clear that this is not merely one of the 'precepts' [Greek: oi logoi] alluded to above. At any rate it is exceedingly doubtful that the Logos is here personified. It seems rather parallel to the [Greek: ho logos edaelou] of Justin (Dial. c. Tryph. 129).

Considering the date at which he wrote I have little doubt that Athenagoras is actually quoting from the Synoptics, but he cannot, on the whole, be regarded as a very powerful witness for them.


After the cruel persecution from which the Churches of Vienne and Lyons had suffered in the year 177 A.D., a letter was written in their name, containing an account of what had happened, which Lardner describes as 'the finest thing of the kind in all antiquity' [Endnote 251:1]. This letter, which was addressed to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia, contained several quotations from the New Testament, and among them one that is evidently from St. Luke's Gospel.

It is said of one of the martyrs, Vettius Epagathus, that his manner of life was so strict that, young as he was, he could claim a share in the testimony borne to the more aged Zacharias. Indeed he had walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, and in the service of his neighbor untiring, &c. [Endnote 252:1] The italicized words are a verbatim reproduction of Luke i. 6.

There is an ambiguity in the words [Greek: sunexisousthai tae tou presbuterou Zachariou marturia]. The genitive after [Greek: marturia] may be either subjective or objective--'the testimony borne by' or 'the testimony borne to or of' the aged Zacharias. I have little doubt that the translation given above is the right one. It has the authority of Lardner ('equalled the character of') and Routh ('Zachariae senioris elogio aequaretur'), and seems to be imperatively required by the context. The eulogy passed upon Vettius Epagathus is justified by the uniform strictness of his daily life (he has walked in all the commandments &c.), not by the single act of his constancy in death.

The author of 'Supernatural Religion,' apparently following Hilgenfeld [Endnote 252:2], adopts the other translation, and bases on it an argument that the allusion is to the martyrdom of Zacharias, and therefore not to our third Gospel in which no mention of that martyrdom is contained. On the other hand, we are reminded that the narrative of the martyrdom of Zacharias enters into the Protevangelium of James. That apocryphal Gospel however contains nothing approaching to the words which coincide exactly with the text of St. Luke.

Even if there had been a greater doubt than there is as to the application of [Greek: marturia], it would be difficult to resist the conclusion that the Synoptic Gospel is being quoted. The words occur in the most peculiar and distinctive portion of the Gospel; and the correspondence is so exact and the phrase itself so striking as not to admit of any other source. The order, the choice of words, the construction, even to the use of the nominative [Greek: ámemptos] where we might very well have had the adverb [Greek: amémptôs], all point the same way. These fine edges of the quotation, so to speak, must needs have been rubbed off in the course of transmission through several documents. But there is not a trace of any other document that contained such a remark upon the character of Zacharias.

This instance of a Synoptic quotation may, I think, safely be depended upon.

Another allusion, a little lower down in the Epistle, which speaks of the same Vettius Epagathus as 'having in himself the Paraclete [there is a play on the use of the word [Greek: paraklaetos] just before], the Spirit, more abundantly than Zacharias,' though in exaggerated and bad taste, probably has reference to Luke i. 67, 'And Zacharias his father was filled with the Holy Ghost,' &c.

[Footnote: Mr. Mason calls my attention to [Greek: enduma numphikon] in § 13, and also to the misleading statement in S.R. ii. p. 201 that 'no writing of the New Testament is directly referred to.' I should perhaps have more fault to find with the sentence on p. 204, 'It follows clearly and few venture to doubt,' &c. I have assumed however for some time that the reader will be on his guard against expressions such as these.]

Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

eBooks Home | Inspirational Articles | General Essays | Sermons | Library - Home | Baselios Church Home

Malankara World
A service of St. Basil's Syriac Orthodox Church, Ohio
Copyright © 2009-2017 - ICBS Group. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer
Website designed, built, and hosted by International Cyber Business Services, Inc., Hudson, Ohio