Hippolytus (d. 235) was a leader of
the church in the city of
Several compositions are attributed to Hippolytus, including Apostolic Tradition, Against Noetus, On Christ and Antichrist, Peri Charismaton (About the Gifts), Commentary on Daniel, and segments of some works better known by different titles, such as the composite Apostolic Constitutions. Hippolytus is known for proposing December 25th as the day of Christ's birth.
First, Hippolytus made a strong allusion to Mark 16:18 in Apostolic Tradition 32:1: “Let every one of the believers be sure to partake of communion before he eats anything else. For if he partakes with faith, even if something deadly were given to him, after this it cannot hurt him.”
The evidence for Apostolic Tradition 32:1 is not limited to works in which it has been absorbed and edited. This particular part of the composition is extant in four non-Greek transmission-lines of the text of Apostolic Tradition: in Latin, in Ethiopic, in Sahidic, and in Arabic. (When Hort formed his opinion of the authorship of this part of the text, he was not aware of this.) Apostolic Tradition 32:1 is also preserved in Greek. In the 1992 edition of Gregory Dix’s book on Apostolic Tradition, revised by Henry Chadwick, the reader is informed of the following:
“Two new Greek fragments have to be reported here. The first is preserved in a dogmatic florilegium of patristic quotations contained in two manuscripts, cod. Ochrid.86 (saec. XIII) f.192 and Paris.gr.900 (saec. XV) f. 112. The discoverer, Professor Marcel Richard, printed the excerpt from the Apostolic Tradition in Symbolae Osloenses 38 (1963), page 79 . . . . This new fragment preserves the original Greek of chapter xxxii.1 (= Botte 36):
’Εκ των διατάξεων των αγίων αποστόλων∙
πας δε πιστος πειράσθω, προ του τινος γεύσασθαι,
ει γαρ πίστει μεταλάβοι [v. l.: μεταλάβη], ουδ’ αν θανάσιμόν τις
αυτω μετα τουτο, ου κατισχύσειαυτου (cf. Mark xvi. 18).”
The term θανάσιμόν, which refers to a “deadly thing,” is the same word that is used in Mark 16:18. It appears nowhere else in the New Testament.
In the 1870s, John Burgon regarded a statement made by Hippolytus in On Christ and Antichrist, part 46, as if it includes a reference to Mark 16:19. In Homily on Noetus, Hippolytus wrote, “This is the One who breathes upon the disciples, and gives them the Spirit, and comes in among them when the doors are shut, and is taken up by a cloud into the heavens while the disciples gaze at Him, and is set down on the right hand of the Father, and comes again as the Judge of the living and the dead.” This looks like a simple credal statement, but Burgon claimed, “In the creeds, Christ is invariably spoken of as ανελθόντα: in the Scriptures, invariably as αναληφθέντα. So that when Hippolytus says of Him, αναλαμβάνεται εις ουρανους και εκ δεξιων Πατρος καθίζεται, the reference must needs be to St. Mark 16:19.”
Hippolytus also quoted Mark 16:16-18
in material incorporated into the beginning of Book Eight of Apostolic Constitutions (which was put
together mainly as an edited combination of already-existing materials in 380).:
“With good reason did he say to all of us together, when we were perfected
concerning those gifts which were given from him by the Spirit, ‘Now these
signs shall follow those who have believed: in my name they shall cast out
demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if
they happen to drink any deadly thing, it shall by no means hurt them; they
shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’ These gifts were first
bestowed on us the apostles when we were about to preach the gospel to every creature.”
Samuel Tregelles commented about this: “Amongst the works of Hippolytus, enumerated as his on the ancient marble monument now in the Vatican, is the book περι χαρισμάτων αποστολικη παραδοκις [Peri Charismaton Apostolike Paradokis], in which this part of St. Mark’s Gospel is distinctly quoted: (apostoli loquuntur) ως αν τετελειωμένων ημων φησιν [ο κύριος] πασιν αμα περι των εξ αυτου δια του πνεύματος διδομένων χαρισμάτων,” followed by the Greek text of Mark 16:17 through 18 (with καιναις transposed before λαλησουσιν, and without και εν ταις χερσιν at the beginning of verse 18).
Tregelles maintained that although a later writer, in the course of incorporating Hippolytus’ work into the fourth-century work known as Apostolic Constitutions so as to make it all appear to consist of words spoken by the apostles, “The introductory treatise is certainly, in the main, genuine,” and, “This citation is almost essential to introduce what follows,” and, “I see no occasion for supposing that the compiler made other changes in this treatise, except putting it into the first person plural, as if the apostles unitedly spoke.”
Hort disagreed, stating, “Even on the precarious hypothesis that the early chapters of the Eighth Book were founded to some extent on the lost work, the quotation is untouched by it, being introduced in direct reference to the fictitious claim to apostolic authorship which pervades the Constitutions themselves (τούτων των χαρισμάτων προτέρον μεν ημιν δοθέντων τοις αποστόλοις μέλλουσι το ευαγγέλιον καταγγέλλειν πάση τη κτίσει κ.τ.λ.).”
To allow a full understanding of this disagreement between Tregelles and Hort, the paragraph from Book Eight of Apostolic Constitutions which Tregelles and Hort quoted is provided here in English:
“With good reason did he say to all of us together, when we were perfected concerning those gifts which were given from him by the Spirit, ‘Now these signs shall follow those who have believed: in my name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they happen to drink any deadly thing, it shall by no means hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’ These gifts were first bestowed on us the apostles when we were about to preach the gospel to every creature, and afterwards were of necessity afforded to those who had by our means believed, not for the advantage of those who perform them, but for the conviction of unbelievers.”
Tregelles’ point seems valid to me: erase the features of this text which give it the appearance of being an address from the apostles, and the quotation of Mark 16:17-18 are still entirely appropriate in a treatise on spiritual gifts. Hort’s objection is not a strong one, because the second sentence is more plausible a reworked statement rather than an insertion. In other words, Hort’s objection does not stand in the way of the idea that Hippolytus cited Mark 16:17-18 and commented on it by saying something like, “These gifts were first bestowed to the apostles when they were about to preach the gospel to every creature,” etc., and that this was reworded in Apostolic Constitutions.
Although it is currently impossible to separate the voice of Hippolytus from the mild interference that has been introduced by those who altered his compositions, the evidence from On Christ and Antichrist, Homily on Noetus, the reworked opening paragraph of Apostolic Constitutions, and Apostolic Tradition 32:1 effectively shows that Hippolytus knew and used Mark 16:9-20.
Hippolytus’ comment in Apostolic
Tradition 32:1 may reflect a sentiment that is also found in the writings
of Justin Martyr: that for a Christian
who is sincerely resolved in his heart and aware of his sanctification, no experience, not even
suffering and death, can be ultimately harmful.