The Gospel of Matthias

The Gospel of Matthias is a lost text from the New Testament apocrypha. It is traditionally ascribed to Matthias according to itself. However, Early Church Fathers attributed it to heretical writings in the second century.

We have very little information about Matthias and the Gospel of Matthias. There is no mention of him among the lists of disciples or followers of Jesus in the three synoptic gospels. However, according to tradition he was one of the seventy-two disciples of Christ. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias was the apostle chosen by the remaining eleven apostles by lots to replace Judas Iscariot in the apostolate following Judas' betrayal of Jesus and his suicide (Acts 1:15-26).

No further information about Matthias is to be found in the canonical New Testament.

St Matthias, Trier Left: Statue at St. Matthias Abbey in Trier, where relics of the Apostle are kept.

According to Nicephorus in the Historia Ecclesiastica (1320), Matthias first preached the Gospel in Judaea, then in Aethiopia (believed to be a synonym for the region of Colchis, now in modern-day Georgia) in regions bordering the Caspian Sea. Traditionally it is believed that he was crucified in Colchis around 80 CE. A marker placed in the ruins of the Roman fortress at Gonio (Apsaros) in the modern Georgian region of Adjara claims that Matthias is buried at that site.

The Synopsis of Dorotheus (fifth century) affirms this tradition:

"Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Aethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun."

St Matthias tomb, Trier

Above: Monumental effigy over the Apostle's grave, St. Matthias' Abbey at Trier in Germany.

The bones of Matthias were supposedly sent to Trier in Germany on the authority of the Empress Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. However, the relics were only discovered in 1127 during demolition work on the predecessor of the present church buildings. Since that time the St. Matthias Abbey has been a major centre of pilgrimage.

Another tradition maintains that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem by the Jews, and then beheaded. According to Hippolytus of Rome, Matthias died of old age in Jerusalem.

The Gospel of Matthias and the Traditions of Matthias

The Gospel of Matthias is lost. However, its contents can be surmised from various descriptions of it in ancient works by church fathers. Some parts of Matthias's doctrine were conserved in the late second century by Clement of Alexandria, who attributes this sentence to the Apostle:

"We must combat our flesh, set no value upon it, and concede to it nothing that can flatter it, but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge.” (Stromateis, III, 4)

The Gospel of Matthias is also mentioned by Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-254); by Eusebius (c. 263-339), who attributes it to heretics; by Jerome (347-420), and in the Decretum Gelasianum (late fifth century) which declares it apocryphal. However, it also comes at the end of the list of the Biblical Canon in the Codex Baroccianus 206, formerly in the library of Francesco Barozzi of Venice (1537-1604).

Scholars believe that this lost gospel may be the document from which Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215) quoted in three passages, saying that they were borrowed from the Paradoseis ("Traditions") of Matthias. Clement claims that the Traditions had been invoked by the early second century heretics Valentinus, Marcion, and Basilides.

According to Hippolytus in the early third century Philosophoumena ("Refutation of All Heresies"), Basilides cited apocryphal discourses that he attributed to Matthias. Basilides and his son Isidore claimed to have learned from Matthias "secret words", which he had received in private teaching from the Savior.

"Basilides, therefore, and Isidorus, the true son and disciple of Basilides, say that Matthias communicated to them secret discourses, which, I being specially instructed, he heard from the Saviour. Let us, then, see how clearly Basilides, simultaneously with Isidorus, and the entire band of these [heretics], not only absolutely belies Matthias, but even the Saviour Himself." (Philosophoumena, VII.8)

This quotation raises a number of questions: Was Hippolytus referring to writings of the Basilideian sect? If yes, why does he not name them? If Basilides was claiming that Matthias had written a gospel, why does Hippolytus completely ignored him? Some scholars suggest that “belies Matthias" may refer to the heretics' misuse of apostolic authority, rather than to misuse of a text.

Theodor Zahn Left:Theodor Zahn (1838-1933)

Biblical scholar and Nobel Prize winner Theodor Zahn (1838-1933) insists that these three writings: the Gospel, the Traditions, and the apocryphal Discourses refer. However, the influential German higher critic Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) denied this identification.

Contemporary scholar Dr. Jon B. Daniels agrees there is too little evidence to decide whether the Traditions of Matthias is the same work as the Gospel of Matthias. Clement’s citations from the Traditions are merely brief exhortations. The work may also have contained some narrative material about Jesus. These citations are not overtly Gnostic. However, Clement claims that but according to Clement teachings of Matthias were used by the Basilideans.

Daniels suggests that the Traditions of Matthias may have been composed in Egypt in the early second century. As we have shown, some scholars identify it with the Gospel of Matthias, but Daniels insists there is too little evidence to settle the question.

The earliest written reference to a Gospel of Matthias is from Origen. Later, Eusebius mentions it along with the Gospels of Thomas and Peter, which he describes as works composed by heretics and were known to most of Anti-Nicene Fathers (Ecclesiastical History 3.25.6).

Clement of Alexandria

The only true witness to the text of a book entitled The Traditions of Matthias exist in the three small fragments in Clement of Alexandria’s writings, c. 210 CE.

"The beginning thereof [sc. of the knowledge of the truth] is to wonder at things, as Plato says in the Theaetetus and Matthias in the Traditions when he warns 'Wonder at what is present' establishing this as the first step to the knowledge of things beyond." (Strom. II 9.45.4)

"For in obedience to the Savior's command ...'[a man has] no wish to serve two masters, pleasure and Lord.' It is believed that Matthias also taught this, that 'we must fight against the flesh and treat it with contempt, never yielding to it for pleasure's sake, but must nourish the soul through faith and knowledge.'" (Strom. III 4.26.3, II 208.7-9)

"They say that Matthias the apostle in the Traditions explains at every turn: 'If the neighbor of one of the chosen sin, then has the elect sinned; for if he had so conducted himself as the Word commends, the neighbor would have had such awe at his way of life that he would not have fallen into sin.'" (Strom. VII 13.82.1)

Scholars pose various questions: Are these quotation or even paraphrases? Can the sources and ideals of the Traditions of Matthias be extracted from these fragments? Can it even be considered a Gospel of Matthias?

The Traditions explicitly claim that these gospel sayings of Jesus came from the "Savior". It appears that by Clement's time this book claimed to be from the apostle Matthias. Since this is a book which claimed apostolic authority for a tradition of Jesus’ sayings, I am inclined to agree with Zahn and those scholars who conclude that it must be compared with other Gospels; canonical or apocryphal...

...that the Traditions is the Gospel of Matthias.

The Gospel of Matthias in popular culture


Above: Screenshot of a fictional version of the Gospel of Matthias, as seen in the episode "Alamogordo, NM" in the HBO television series "Carnivale."

A copy of the lost Gospel of Matthias is used in the HBO series Carnivale (2003), where it describes the show's mythological creatures, the Usher of Destruction and Avatara. The image above is used as a source for showing that this book mentions the Avatara, makes Biblical references, and contains images of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as it is depicted in the show.

The Gospel of Matthias is also the subject of Wilton Barnhardt's book, Gospel: a novel (1993). The novel relates the search for and finding of Matthias' lost work. In Barnhardt's story we ultimately learn that according to Matthias; after his crucifixion, Jesus' body was smuggled to Egypt and mummified.

Return from the Gospel of Matthias to Lost Books of the Bible home page.

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