What is Third Corinthians?

Can we know anything about the situation of the Corinthian church after the time of Paul?   There is an apocryphal letter of Third Corinthians which is know from Armenian manuscripts of the New Testament, some Latin fragments, and a 3rd century Greek copy in the Bodmer Papyri.  Both the Syriac and Armenian churches accepted the letter as authentic, but with the discovery of a Coptic version in 1894, it has been shown that the letter is actually part of the apocryphal Acts of Paul.  It is absolutely certain that the letter is a forgery.  About A. D. 200 Tertullian reported author of the Acts of Paul was a presbyter in Asia Minor who confessed that he forged the book “out of love for Paul” (de Baptismo 17).

What is Third Corinthians?In the letter of Third Corinthians Paul writes to two men, Simon and Cleobius.  They have recently arrived in Corinth and “pervert the faith of many with pernicious words.”  The letter then lists these pernicious doctrines:  God is not all powerful, he did not create humans or even this world.  Jesus did not come in the flesh nor was he born from Mary.  All this strikes me as Gnostic theology, indicating a much later date than the mid-first century.

The only element of this apocryphal letter which seems related to the problems of the authentic Corinthian letters is a denial of the resurrection.  The writer alludes to Jonah and the men raised by the bones of Elisha as examples of resurrection from the scripture.  If God can raise people just as Jonah, so too could he raise Jesus from the dead.  The forger of the letter did not bother  include any ethical issues drawn from the book, there is no allusion to any of the social problems found in the canonical books.

To me, this makes it a fairly poor forgery and probably why the man was found out so quickly!

It would be interesting to take this letter apart line by line in order to show what texts the author used to create this apocryphal letter.  There are lines which are clearly drawn from Paul, but in several cases there are allusions to the words of Jesus (“O ye of little faith” and calling the false teachers a “generation of vipers,” for example.)

Since the letter has little to do with the actual church at Corinth, there is little here which informs us of the situation in Corinth.


Dana Andrew Thomason, “Corinthians, Third Epistle To The,” in ABD 1:1153.
W. Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 2:213-237 for the introduction to the “Acts of Paul,” 2:254-257 for the text of 3 Corinthians.

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3 thoughts on “What is Third Corinthians?

  1. It is here I am reminded of just how little we have of the life of St. Paul, in Acts and his own Letters, but what we do have is both historical and Canon! And thankfully that is more important than much of our suppositions. I am not negating suppositions, but the grid is always Holy Scripture.

  2. It would be virtually impossible to write a modern “biography” of Paul, although we have more material to illustrate his life than any other NT personality except Jesus. I suppose that is what makes the Apocryphal Pauline material so interesting to me, others had the same sort of questions I do!

    • Personally, I like to grapple with the “heart & mind” of St. Paul, which I find in his Letters! A true Roman Jew, who was always a Jewish-Hellenist! And he must have read many of the Greek philosophers! (2 Tim. 4:13) And of course, “I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry.” (Rom. 11:13)

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