The Third Epistle to the Corinthians is believed to be a pseudepigraphical text under the name of Paul of Tarsus. It is also found in the Acts of Paul, and was framed as Paul's response to the Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul. The earliest extant copy is Bodmer Papyri X.
In the West it was not considered canonical in the 4th century AD, becoming part of the New Testament apocrypha. In the East, in the Syriac Orthodox Church, Aphrahat (c. 340) treated it as canonical and Ephraem of Syria (d. 373) apparently accepted it as canonical, for he wrote a commentary on it. The Doctrine of Addai includes it, however it was not included in the Syriac Peshitta translation of the Bible (but nor were 2-3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, or Revelation, which are almost universally recognized as canonical, see also Antilegomena). Although part of the Oskan Armenian Bible of 1666, it was in an Appendix to the Zohrab Armenian Bible of 1805 which follows the Vulgate canon, and it is not currently considered part of the Armenian Orthodox New Testament. It was not part of the canon list of Anania Shirakatsi in the 7th century but is part of the canon lists of Mechitar of Ayrivank` in the 13th and Gregory Tat`ew in the 14th.
The text is structured as an attempt to correct alleged misinterpretations of the earlier First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians of which the author (usually called "pseudo-Paul") has become aware due to the (similarly dubious) Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul. According to the preceding part of the Acts of Paul, when the letter was written Paul was in prison, on account of Stratonice, the wife of Apollophanes. In particular the epistle seeks to correct the interpretation of the phrase "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" by which some taught that the resurrection of the dead could not be physical.
Gnostics were known for quoting this part of 1 Corinthians, infuriating Christians such as Irenaeus who wished to claim that the dead were physically, rather than spiritually, resurrected. Irenaeus remarked "All heretics always quote this passage". It is thought that the argument of the Gnostics won so much ground that some orthodox Christians felt the need to forge 3 Corinthians to counter them.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The ancient Syrian (Edessene) Church revered as canonical a Third Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, which is accompanied by a letter from the pastors of that Church, to which it is an answer. But about the beginning of the fifth century the Syrian Church fell under the influence of the Greek, and in consequence the spurious letter gradually lost its canonical status. It was taken up by the neighbouring Armenians and for centuries has formed a part of the Armenian New Testament. Latin and Greek writers are completely silent about this pseudograph, although Greek and Latin copies have been found. It was obviously suggested by the lost genuine Pauline letter referred to in I Cor. v, 9; vii, 1. It was composed by a Catholic presbyter about 160-170, and is a disguised attack on some of the leading errors of Gnosticism. This correspondence long had an independent circulation, but recently it has been proved that the document was incorporated into the Acts of St. Paul (q.v.).
In 2000, Fr. Vahan Hovhanessian, Pastor of the Armenian Church of Holy Martyrs in Bayside, New York, published his Fordham University Ph.D. dissertation as Third Corinthians: Reclaiming Paul for Christian Orthodoxy.
- First Epistle to the Corinthians
- Second Epistle to the Corinthians
- Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul
- English Translation of the Third Epistle to the Corinthians
- Hovhanessian, Vahan. Third Corinthians: Reclaiming Paul for Christian Orthodoxy. Peter Lang Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8204-4527-4