Serapion on Addition to Scripture

Serapion, bishop of Antioch

Serapion, bishop of Antioch

Serapion, bishop of Antioch at the turn of the third century, has no extant writing outside of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. He gave Christians at Rhossus permission to read the [now apocryphal] Gospel of Peter in their meeting, but, upon reviewing the gospel, changed his mind. Here is his summary reason:

Since we have been furnished with this gospel…, we have been able to go through it and find many things of the correct word of the Savior, but also some things which were added, which we arrange for you below.1

Compare the words of those who stole the 116 pages:

“And if God giveth him power again, or if he translates again, or, in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them” (D&C 10:17).

Also the revelation given to Joseph Smith concerning the OT Apocrypha:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men (D&C 91:1–2).

Now, lest anyone jump on me for “parallel-o-mania,” I bring up these parallels only to note 1) that the similarity exists, and 2) to put forth questions.

For instance, does this view of “heretical” gospels exists elsewhere among the early Church fathers? If so, in what context? Why did Serapion choose to highlight the dual nature of the writing instead of denouncing the entire thing as a heresy?

1. Eusebius. Hist. Eccl. 6.12.3–6. Translation is mine. In context, Serapion mentions that he obtained the gospel from the successors of the Docetists, who were using the gospel, and whose doctrine the gospel exemplified. Here is the Greek:

ἐδυνήθημεν γὰρ παρ᾿ ἄλλων τῶν ἀσκησάντων αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, τοῦτ᾿ ἐστὶν παρὰ τῶν διαδόχων τῶν καταρξαμένων αὐτοῦ, οὓς Δοκητὰς καλοῦμεν (τὰ γὰρ πλείονα φρονήματα ἐκείνων ἐστὶ τῆς διδασκαλίας), χρησάμενοι παρ᾿ αὐτῶν διελθεῖν καὶ εὑρεῖν τὰ μὲν πλείονα τοῦ ὀρθοῦ λόγου τοῦ σωτῆρος, τινὰ δὲ προσδιεσταλμένα, ἃ καὶ ὑπετάξαμεν ὑμῖν.


4 Responses

  1. Though not quite the same thing, I found an interesting thing when reading the Apocryphal book of Sirach. In the prologue the writer puts out a disclaimer asking the reader for patience due to the fact that he is translating an older text, and that his translation might not always reflect the original meaning. I quote:

    “Wherefore let me intreat you to read it with favour and attention, and to pardon us, wherein we may seem to come short of some words, which we have laboured to interpret. For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them: and not only these things, but the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their own language.”

    You can read it here:

    • No, that’s not quite the same thing, but it is worth noting that the author of Sirach acknowledged that something was lost in translation. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great post! Wouldn’t it be awesome to have the original, unmodified Gospel of Peter? It’s too bad we can’t know what is original and what is added, what is authentic and what is illegitimate in these apocryphal texts.

    • Of course it would be awesome to have the “original,” assuming, of course, that there was an original, authentic Gospel of Peter which, in its pure form, would carry the same weight as the canonical gospels as we have them today. Personally, I think it is more likely that the Gospel of Peter is itself an original work which mixed authentic Jesus traditions with other non-authentic stuff. The interesting part for me was the fact that, instead of condemning the entire work as heresy, he took an ambivalent stance—one which Joseph Smith would later take.

      I should do a post reviewing the Gospel of Peter itself. It’s available online in both English and Greek.

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