The Letter of the Apostles (Latin, Epistula Apostolorum), this “letter”, is actually considered a gospel by literary scholars. The name of the work comes from the introduction which describes the work as a letter from all the apostles to the church of the world:
“What Jesus Christ revealed to his disciples as a letter, and how Jesus Christ revealed the letter of the council of the apostles, the disciples of Jesus Christ, to the Catholics…[We] John and Thomas and Peter and Andrew and James and Philip and Bartholomew and Matthew and Nathanael and Judas Zelotes and Cephas, we have written to the churches of the East and West, towards North and South…”
A document of Christian polemics that presents (in the form of an alleged revelation of Jesus to his apostles) the position of a group of “catholic” Christians in opposition to that ascribed to their opponents in the church. Through this revelation, the “catholics” seek to legitimate their own interpretation of Christian traditions.
Although the Ep. Apost. describes itself as a letter in its opening, its epistolary format is dropped early on. ?The text is a collection of creedal formulas, catechetical instructions, and portions of abbreviated dogmatic treatises, all of which are used in the service of ‘orthodoxy’. The text takes the form of a post-Resurrection discourse which is similar in type to some Gnostic documents. There is also a considerable amount of anti-Gnostic polemics.
Origins and Provenance
Likely originated from Alexandria or other part of Lower Egypt, gaining dissemination from the growing number of either heretical groups located in the region and/por the rising scholastic popularity of Christianity and the Apostles. Contains a prediction about the Paraousia, which places its composition around the mid-second century.
“When the hundred and fiftieth year is completed between Pentecost and Passover will the coming of my Father take place.”
Early remains exist in Greek but no complete manuscripts are known to exist. Likely first translated into Coptic and later into Ethiopic, but possibly directly to Ethiopic from Greek. The Ethiopic copies have survived full and in tact while the Coptic is extant in several fragments but no full copies.
As to its authorship, scholars have the following to offer:
- ?Since the work seems to come from the middle of the second century this claim is dubious to say the least.
- ?Schneemlcher believes that the text originated in the Hellenistic-Jewish Christian circles that existed in the area of Alexandria.
- ?Carl Schmidt who discovered the Coptic version believed it was produced by an orthodox Catholic in Asia Minor around the year 160.
It is likely that the attribution to all 11 Apostles was meant to give the letter more authority than other writings circulating at the time that claimed authorship by individual apostles.
The narrative of the letter seems to be constructed from the stories of the Gospels of the New Testament and from an infancy gospel. There is evidence that the author was familiar with the four canonical Gospels which were viewed as authoritative, but were quoted without the type of preface that would have indicated “scriptural” status.
Where you can read it and more research: Early Christian Writings
Schneemelcher, Wilhelm. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. I.
Cameron, Ron. The Other Gospels.