Date of Award
Master of Arts in Theology
Graduate students at St. Catherine University are often introduced to the Acts of Paul and Thecla (APTh) in our New Testament class. As we approached the end of the section of the course dedicated to exploring Paul’s extant letters, we examined the Thecla story vis-à-vis the Pastoral Epistles as a glimpse into second-century appropriations of the Pauline legacy. Thus the Thecla narrative offers another second century perspective. As an example of extra-canonical writing in the early church we see how the cultural values of honor-shame provided part of the framework for early Christian views on gender and sexuality. In my graduate studies I was drawn to Thecla and her story because it seemed to depict social disruption that the early church may have caused in some Greco-Roman communities as the early Christians tried to find their way in the matters of women’s roles and sexuality. There is no evidence that Thecla of Iconium actually existed, therefore some historically-focused scholars have been dismissive of apocryphal works based on their presuppositions about the priority of canonical works over non-canonical and on the notion that the Thecla text contains fantastic stories that could not represent wie es eigentlich gewesen, how it really was, that is, what actually happened. A good example of this sort of rejection is Robert Grant’s perspective that can be found on the Claremont School of Theology website, which concludes with: “...It should be added that since the norms for determining authenticity must lie in the canonical gospels, it is hard to see what contribution apocryphal gospels could make even if some of the materials in them should be judged genuine.” Grant’s use of the word “genuine” represents a gross undervalue of extra-canonical texts for appreciating the spectrum of religious experiences that make up early Christian theology and spirituality beyond the narrow confines of canonical texts. The story of Thecla provides an important glimpse into second century Christian theological ideas. For example, an examination of the Sitz im Leben of second-century Christians reveals that the delay in the parousia was felt more acutely than the very earliest post-resurrection Jesus movement who shared heightened eschatological expectations, as can be seen in Paul’s earliest epistles and Mark’s Gospel. That is to say, the second century, when the Apocryphal Acts were written, was a time in Christian history when the notion of the immediate return of Christ was slowly changing into the idea of a heavenly experience or a post-death union with God. The change in the treatment of the parousia is not the only theological concept that is found the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. We also find other examples of Christian theologies that were ultimately rejected or that differed in important ways from the canonical texts, most notably the focus on chastity. Additionally, we are shown how house churches were employed to spread the message (kyrygma) about Jesus’ ministry and mission, death and resurrection, and return at the parousia. The apocrypha reveal additional Christian appropriations of cultural myths and literary styles. In these important texts, we receive a glimpse into a different perspective on some of the earlier apostles and their works, and in several of the texts there are stories about the roles of women that offer specifics not available in the accepted canon.
Christ, Gina Lea. (2013). The Thecla Narrative: Gender, Eschatology, and Divine Patronage in Second Century Social-Sexual Identity. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website: https://sophia.stkate.edu/ma_theology/3