The Epistle of Kallikrates


[THE document which follows is somewhat freely translated from a Greek MS. written in uncials of a form that suggests the second century. Thirty-four pages remain, but the last is a mere fragment, and the conclusion of the work is lost. These papyrus pages were discovered, along with other documents, far down in sand that filled the cellar of a ruined house. For reasons that may be easily guessed, the site of this house must remain a secret for some time to come. It may be said, however, that the discovery took place in a certain district of North Africa. All the papyri unearthed were carefully packed and forwarded to New York, where they arrived on June 7 of the past year.

Of the other documents found in the same cellar, only one is of general interest. It seems to be an account of the harbors of the eastern Mediterranean in the time of Vespasian. The rest are letters, accounts, recipes for cooking, and minutes of some guild meeting. These will be published later.

The present work purports to be a letter from a man of some little culture belonging to the Corinthian Church, addressed to the Apostle Paul at Rome. The tone is that of one genuinely desirous of spiritual light, though at certain points it sounds a little querulous. The writer seems most familiar with the Epistle known as First Corinthians in our New Testament, and gives no sign of having ever seen the Acts or the Pastoral Epistles.

Opinions are sure to differ on the genuineness of this little treatise. Some will take it for what it claims to be, a work of a Christian scholar about the year 64 A.D. Others will confidently pronounce it an obvious forgery of the time of Justin Martyr or later in the second century. In either case it makes a definite contribution to the discussion of religious problems that have excited keen interest in certain quarters both in Europe and in America.

The letter has been divided into paragraphs, with headings inserted. Some references to the sources of quotations have been given here and there. For these headings and references the translator alone is responsible. As the writer makes no claim to be writing sacred instruction for the Church, no attempt has been made to render his language into Biblical English.


KALLIKRATES, the son of Euphorbus, one of the faithful at Korinth, to Paul, the beloved apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ: grace and peace be yours always from the one true God who sent you to bring the word of life to Achaia.

It has ever been a sorrow to me that, living in a mountain village a day’s journey south of Sikyon, I never saw you, Paul, or indeed heard of you when you were preaching the Gospel in Korinth. Three years after you left Korinth for the last time, I came here to study the books of some of our celebrated teachers, and here I met Stephanas, your brother in Christ, and now mine. He taught me the way of salvation, which you had taught him. Through him I have been baptized and received into the number of the saints that are in Korinth. I live in the street that leads to the old harbor, the fourth house from the temple of Apollo.

Stephanas has been very kind to me, lending me your letters to the brethren in this city, and a copy of a letter you wrote to the brethren in Galatia and of another to the brethren at Rome. I have copied them all out and have read them again and again, thanking God our Father for the truth in Christ sent to me in my ignorance and unworthiness through your words, deep, eloquent, and persuasive. At many places in your works I feel as often as I read that the Lord Himself is speaking to me through you. I have fed at your hands, but am still hungry. I have drunk at your fountain, but I am thirsty still.

Besides all this, we your children in Korinth are in much anxiety about you. We hear you are again to be brought before Cæsar’s tribunal. We earnestly pray God night and day for you that you may be acquitted and set at liberty. And I pray also that you may come back to Korinth and guide us, for some are in need of guidance, I myself most of all. Meanwhile, I write of my difficulties and doubts to you in this letter, hoping you may wish to know the present beliefs of the church in Korinth and may be permitted by your jailer to answer.

You are our most profitable and convincing teacher. From Silas and Loukas we have received sayings of our Lord Himself and many of His parables, and from Apollos many interpretations of the Hebrew writers. But you are our greatest teacher of all men now living. And yet, as you said, you do not ‘lord it’1 over our faith. You reason with us when you write of the law courts, of the payment of apostles, of tongues in public worship, of the resurrection, and other subjects. But why reason with us, if we may not judge your argument? Surely you are implying that you wish us to use our own minds and judge what you say? Nay, at certain points you expressly invite us to form our own opinions. In discussing idolatry2 and again about unveiled women,3 and again about prophets4 speaking to the church, you tell us plainly to think for ourselves. I am sure you will not blame us for taking you at your word. Permit me, then, beloved teacher, to tell you what my judgment is on some points of your teaching, praying you not to be offended, but to be patient with me if I disagree, and with brotherly kindness explain to me the right doctrine on these points more perfectly.


First, then, I make mention of what you have written to the brethren here about human wisdom and knowledge. We all see quite clearly that by no cleverness or genius or learning do men enter the kingdom of God. We understand quite well that you rightly recommended the Gospel of Christ as an engine of power to change men’s hearts and conduct, using this appeal to fact in simple language rather than subtle argument and flashy rhetoric and display of erudition. About all this there is no difficulty. But here and there you use language which to some of us seems to go much further. Forinstance you say, ‘Sage, scribe, critic of this world, where are they all? Has not God stultified the wisdom of the world?’5 And again, ‘Whoever of you imagines he is wise with this world’s wisdom must become a fool, if he is really to be wise. For God ranks this world’s wisdom as sheer folly.’6

A certain section of our brotherhood here never tire of quoting these sentences of yours, especially when they see me or my companions present at the meeting on the day of the Lord or at the love-feast in the evening. Some of them are sure they are acceptable to the Lord because they can neither read nor write nor avoid solecisms in their speech, and that I, because I have studied logic, geometry, and philosophy, and the dramatic poets, am in danger of eternal perdition. They say that you, in mentioning sage and scribe, plainly censure both Greek and Hebrew culture, that all education is folly and therefore offensive to God everywhere, but especially in members or administrators of His Church, and that we Christians should know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. In vain do I plead with them that your words only mean that you despise flashy rhetoric in stating God’s offer of everlasting life, and that human art and learning and education, if applied to redeem a man’s soul, are utterly out of place and ‘sheer folly,’ in the sense of being entirely futile for that purpose. Thus I might call the rudder oar of a trireme an instrument of foolishness if I saw a man trying to build a house with it, but that would not prove that I thought triremes should have no rudders. So I plead that men should use some common sense when your epistles are read.

But this is all in vain. Some of these brethren reply to me that I must be wrong because you never admit that human wisdom is valuable for any purpose. They add that your reason probably is that you are sure the world is soon to end and the day of the Lord’s return is very near. When I hint that perhaps neither you nor anybody could be certain of this, and that if the day of the Lord should not come for one hundred and fifty years it would be unkind to deprive our young people of education to fit them for doing their work in the world, they are offended, and tell me to read again your words on the resurrection, ‘We shall not all sleep,’7 proving, as they say, that the day of the return must come in the lifetime of some of us now living. Others, again, add that most assuredly we should agree that with God human wisdom must be sheer folly, because God may be regarded as a mighty emperor and men in His eyes as less than spiders, and an emperor may well smile at the foolishness of the cleverest spider. To this I answered, ‘ I am sure that is not Paul’s conception. Did you ever,’ I asked, ‘hear of an emperor sending his son to die for spiders?’ But although this reduced my opponents to silence for a time, I did not convince them, and indeed I confess that, on reading again your words about human and divine wisdom, I myself remain uneasy in my mind. I cannot hide from myself that your whole trend and tone are hostile to human culture, and I cannot find much recognition of, or sympathy for, the noble and true sayings of our philosophers and poets, though you did once quote from the Thais.

I go back to one of my favorite books and I read, ‘Be sure of this, no evil can happen to a good man either in life or after death,’ and then I read in your letter to the brethren at Rome: ‘God will render to everyone who does good, glory, honour, and peace.’8 And I wish to know, beloved teacher, why I ought to call the second sentence divine wisdom in spiritual language and the first sentence human wisdom and sheer folly, and why I must renounce appreciation of the first if I wish to appreciate the second. Even when I narrow your meaning to a censure of flashy rhetoric in stating the Gospel, I find myself wondering whether you think it would be wrong to use good rhetoric stating the Gospel in a careful, educated way, in order to conciliate an educated hearer and win him to Christ. Surely not wrong? But if not, then, O beloved teacher, I do wish that at this point in your letter you had inserted some such word.

No Governing Officials

We have now several bishops at Korinth, as I hear our brethren in Philippi and Ephesus also have. They are wise and earnest, trying to settle our difficulties and superintend our worship in accordance with your instructions written for us in your letters. I never refer to these instructions myself without wondering why you did not appoint, or cause us to appoint, bishops or other administrators before you left Korinth the first time. You wrote that there were various teachers and governors under the apostles in the Church elsewhere. You knew that some brethren in Korinth were more or less qualified for this work. You actually named Stephanas and said you would like us to follow men like him.

For Discipline

But, O Paul, would it not have been wiser to have seen that such men were appointed directly it was certain that you yourself would have to leave? Naturally you were shocked at the adulterous person9 who brought discredit on our church in the early days. But for whom among the brethren was it a duty to put himself forward in the very unpleasant business of denouncing the offender and calling on the church to have him expelled? Can you be surprised there was some delay? We had no one to act or to judge because no one had been appointed. Your instructions in this affair bear the interpretation that an assembled congregation (men and women, married and unmarried, old people, and young boys and girls) may suitably hear and decide about such offenses. Surely you do not mean this? If your words about procedure here are insisted on as binding on the Church until our Lord come, I foresee grave trouble. In the ancient times of Hellenic freedom it was ever found, both in Athens and in Korinth, to be difficult to make a large assembly into a court of law. Will it be easy for us? The real difficulty lies here. Many of these disputes do not arise from little personal grievances. Thus the other day Eumenes, one of the brethren, came to my house and said, ‘ I have trouble with our brother Karpokrates.’

Or for Arbitration

Similar thoughts occur to me when I find you censuring the brethren for resorting to the Roman courts10 for judgment of disputes between one Christian and another. If the brethren had possessed already a court of their own, with power to enforce its award, they would never have dreamed of carrying some of their disputes to Cæsar’s magistrates. But no such court, no Christian arbitrators, had been given them, and I wonder why. Perhaps you smiled at your own irony when you assured your Korinthian converts of their competence to judge? However that may be, some of the ‘puffed-up persons’ in this city whom you had occasion to reprove more than once11 never doubted their competence to judge you and ‘the world’ and ‘the angels’ and everybody else. Your mention of the angels at this point,12 and also in the paragraph about women in public worship,13 has caused much perplexity, but I must not ask too many questions. I wish to say that modesty about ability to judge is not, and I think never was, a difficulty in the Korinthian church.

‘What is your trouble?’ I asked.

‘His brother Menon, who is now dead, was my dearest friend,’ said he, ‘and when dying made me promise to look after the money he bequeathed to his two little girls, still very young. Karpokrates and I were made executors of his will. And now Karpokrates wishes to spend this money, as I think, in a foolish way, likely to end in total loss. But he says it is a good investment, and will not listen to me. He has the money in his own name at the bank. What am I to do?’

‘O Eumenes,’ I replied, ‘I think you should tell the bishops.’

‘I have already done so,’ answered he, ‘but they said, “It is not for us to say what investment is wise or foolish; we can only tell our brother Karpokrates to be very careful.” But I know he means to carry out his foolish purpose, and what am I to do?’

And I answered him, ‘O Eumenes, your promise to your dead friend Menon, and your trusteeship for those two little girls, make it your duty to do your utmost to protect their rights. You must go to the Emperor’s court and tell your story. The judges will issue an order to Karpokrates that will restrain him. If not, you at least will have done your duty before God.’

And when Eumenes had gone, I took up again the papyrus leaf on which I had copied your words and I read again what you say on this topic:14 ’To have lawsuits with one another is in itself evidence of defeat. Why not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why not rather let yourselves be defrauded? ’

And I said, ‘Yes, honored master, about strictly personal affronts and hurts you are right, but about other matters ask a trustee!’ And is our life not filled with trusteeship?

Or to Dispense the Sacrament

What I have written about our former lack of bishops and other recognized officials might be repeated if I were to review your most wise and just and solemn rebuke to us for our mishandling of the Lord’s Supper. The disorders, the irreverence, the misconduct, grieve us now even to think about, though they are long past. I myself indeed never saw these offenses, but I join with the brethren in deploring that in our Korinthian church the Master could be so dishonored. We owe you a great debt, apostle beloved, for exposing our error to ourselves and for making so plain to us how this ordinance of the Lord should be observed.

And yet, most honored brother and father in the Lord, permit me to say that the faults you censured so justly were due partly to ignorance, but largely to the absence of any authorized and qualified dispenser of the bread and the wine. It would have been his easy duty to see that things were done decently as becomes the Church of God assembled for worship. He could have seen that the social feast was separated from the solemn communion. If at the feast any poor person were left hungry, the minister or bishop could have seen that this never happened again. Anyone presenting himself at the table too drunk to discern the body and blood of the Lord could have been warned and expelled. But in those early days it was nobody’s business to prevent a man observing the Lord’s Supper whenever he and his intimates saw fit, and drinking too liberally from the common cup.

And when you were reproving and correcting us, O Paul, I wonder why you did not say, ‘ I want you to appoint Stephanas or Fortunatus or such an one to give the loaf and share out the wine, and so at the table wait for the dispenser to give you the Lord’s Supper.’

No doubt for some wise reason you did not appoint or direct any officials to conduct this solemn ordinance, but considered disorders would right themselves if the brethren examined themselves and discerned the Lord’s body and then ate and drank worthily, waiting for one another. And now nearly ten years have passed away since you wrote on this subject. We think we now observe the Supper worthily. It is always dispensed by either Stephanas or Philokles or Sergius, who are our bishops, and once, when we met on the first day of the week, not one of them was present, owing to illness, and many said, ‘We will not have the Eucharist, for we cannot receive it worthily except from a bishop.’

I have written this that you may see how much we have changed and how careful we have become.

Conflict of Opinions

You were troubled about the factions that early appeared among us. I am sorry to say that they have not disappeared and are not likely to disappear. Do not misunderstand me. The old bitterness has gone, and we live and worship together as brethren, but there are differences of opinion strongly held, and sometimes, perhaps, too strongly expressed. These differences arise on various matters, but can be traced to one cause. We are not agreed on the nature and extent of your authority to speak for the Lord Jesus and to lay down universally and perpetually binding laws for His Church on earth. Again I say, most honored Apostle, do not misunderstand my words. We all believe in you and regard you as our father in Christ, the glory of these new churches in the West, the most instructive of all evangelists that the Spirit sent forth from Jerusalem. The old jealousies and narrow faultfindings that once moved you to wrath have gone, I believe, forever.

But one party among us has pushed this movement in your favor to an extreme length. There are certain among us who say, ‘An apostle is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Every sentence he writes on church matters for our guidance, nay, every word of every sentence, is given him by the Spirit of God.’ Even where you plainly state that you are not giving the Lord’s command, but your own opinion, they maintain that your opinion was given you by the Holy Spirit and must be received as the infallible word of God. God, being the God of truth, could not and would not, they maintain, use truth mingled with error to teach His people. And further, they assert, if by any incredible chance you should be shown to have made even one mistake, your whole authority would be overthrown. Untrustworthy in one point, you would be untrustworthy in all, for who could tell us on what points you were certainly to be believed?

So they argue. But they do not convince us all. I for my part receive what you call the Lord’s command as the Lord’s command, and what is called or seems to be your own opinion as worthy of my best attention and respect, but still only an opinion. I have seen God use imperfect men to render great service and teach valuable lessons in statesmanship, in the arts, and in philosophy, although they made some palpable errors. I had to use my conscience, my experience, and my common sense to separate the true from the false and the useful from the worthless in these affairs, and I see no reason for holding it impossible for God to act in the same way when He deals with men and women in the Church of Christ. Your word in Christ proved itself to be the power of God and the wisdom of God in this city and in my own heart and life. That is enough for me. I cannot at present see why I, your devoted pupil though I be, must also believe the Holy Spirit responsible for all your opinions and all your expressions.

Then we have another party here which comprises all those whom you once described as crying, ‘I am of Kephas.’ They are constantly growing in numbers and in confidence. They are quite friendly to you and accept all your teaching as given you by the Holy Spirit for the guidance of the Church, though I fear they do not understand your teaching on some grave matters. They quite admit you have authority from the Lord for the management of the churches which you yourself have founded. But they assert that the authority of Kephas as prince of all the apostles is greater than yours and covers all the churches. This may seem of small importance, seeing you and he agree with one another like brethren. But what makes me uneasy is that this party of Kephas is steadily introducing a number of regulations for worship and conduct for which it claims the authority of Kephas. These men tell us no one can be saved who is not baptized, that there is no Eucharist possible where water is not put into the wine, that it is not possible to eat the Lord’s Supper unless it be received from a bishop or a prophet, that no one can be saved unless he has partaken of the bread and the cup given by the right persons, and so forth. I do not know whether Kephas ever said such things or no. This I do know, that the passionate protest which you made in your letter to the brethren in Galatia against the idea of salvation by compliance with regulations is more and more forgotten, and when I listen to the prophets who address our meetings for worship I say sorrowfully to myself sometimes, ‘The very heart of the Gospel message as given by our glorious Apostle Paul will soon be utterly unknown.’ Oh, how I wish that you could come back to us and rehearse the fullness of the truth you drew from the saying, ‘The just shall live by faith’!

Then there is a third very small party which consists of four or five others and myself. We, like all the brethren, praise you for having brought us and our brothers the highest and truest religion in the world, for no reward braving unnumbered perils by land and sea. We, like all the brethren here, never cease praying God night and morning and every evening to spare you to us and all the churches. Wherever in your writings you say you are giving something from the Lord, my friends and I believe and obey without hesitation. Wherever you give a message of doctrine that strikes home to our hearts of itself without special claim on your part, we recognize the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that there also sounds the Word of the Lord. And there also, need I repeat, we believe and obey without hesitation.

In regard to other passages, we for our part think you are right on some points and mistaken on others. I have mentioned some of the latter, and here I will only add I could wish you had not assumed the truth of what some of the Alexandrians and the Stoics have taught about demons dwelling in the lower heavens and working mischief. I hope it is not necessary for a Christian to believe in demons. I also wish you could have omitted what you say about women’s veils and women’s hair. If the Lord come not for another hundred years, your words on this matter may be carried to quarters where they are sure to be misunderstood. In Abyssinia, I am told, veils are unknown among women. In one part of India, I am told, it is indecent for men to wear their hair short and for women to wear their hair long. The day may come when those who take your personal opinion as the Word of God will tell the women of those two lands and other lands that without veils and long hair they are offensive to God and cannot be saved. I feel sure you would regret such a use of your letter to Korinth.

In spite of these differences, we follow you and honor you and desire to learn more and more from you of the way of truth and love as it is in Christ. But because of these differences, which we think small, many of the brethren regard us with suspicion. Their principle seems to be that in all matters of worship and of personal conduct and of religious opinion all Christians should act and speak and think exactly alike. My friends and I, on the other hand, hold that, if brethren love and honor the Lord Jesus Christ with all their heart and with all their strength, they should be given their freedom in conduct and worship and belief so long as the freedom of other brethren is not injured, for, as you reminded the brethren at Rome, ‘To their own Master they stand or fall!’ But a different rule gains ground in Korinth. Here a man will say, ‘For me to disobey any regulation or differ from any generally received belief of the Church is a sin, therefore it must be a sin for everybody else.’ I have great fear, beloved brother in Christ, that those who pursue this phantom of an impracticable and unlovely and unwholesome uniformity will tear the body of Christ into fragments, so that the day may come when the saints in one province will disown the saints in another, and it may be even in the same city there will be saints calling the same Christ their Lord and their Saviour who will refuse to call one another brethren.

May these fears be dissipated by the speedy return of the Lord Himself!


Of all your friends who have visited us I have been most comforted by Loukas. He and I read over together your wonderful discourse on Resurrection. I asked him about my father and mother, who were good people. It is twenty years since they died, not having heard of Christ. And Loukas said to me, ‘Be of good cheer, Kallikrates, for God has no favorites and he who reverences Him and lives a good life in any nation is welcomed by Him.’ And I asked him, ‘Who said so?’ And Loukas answered, ‘Kephas.’

And I said, ‘Blessed be Kephas for . . . [lacuna of three lines] baptized for my dear parents.’15 But others said, ‘No, for were it utterly futile to be baptized for the dead, Paul never . . .’

[The conclusion is lost.]

  1. 2 Cor. I. 24
  2. 1 Cor. X. 14, 15
  3. 1 Cor. XI 13
  4. 1 Cor. XIV. 29
  5. 1 Cor. I. 20
  6. 1 Cor. III. 18, 19
  7. 1 Cor. XV. 51
  8. Rom. II. 10
  9. 1 Cor. v
  10. 1 Cor. VI
  11. 2 Cor. X. 12; 1 Cor. IV. 6
  12. 1 Cor. VI. 3
  13. 1 Cor. XX. 10
  14. 1 Cor. VI
  15. 1 Cor. XV. 29, 30