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Acts of Peter

PETER, ACTS OF. The earliest direct evidence is the statement of Eusebius (Hist. III. iii. 2) that the Acts, Gospel, Preaching, and Revelation of Peter have not been transmitted among catholic writings, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies from them. Earlier references are mostly doubtful, but the Acts of Paul, known already to Tertullian, contains a clearly secondary VS of the “Quo Vadis” story in ch. 35, so that the book can be dated back into the 2nd cent. Like the other major apocryphal Acts, it was adopted by the Manichees, and subsequent hostility to these works led to its almost complete disappearance. Zahn calculated that about a third was missing; not much has been recovered since.

Extant remains.

The chief part of the surviving material is in a single Lat. MS, the Vercelli Acts (or Actus Petri cum Simone). It includes the Martyrdom, which also had a separate existence; there are Gr. and several oriental VSS, which show how widely it circulated. A Coptic fragment relates the story of Peter’s daughter, whereas a reference in Augustine proves that an episode in pseudo-Titus belongs to the Acts of Peter. The Vita Abercii and the later apocryphal Acts have borrowed from the book, and at some points provide further evidence for the text.


In the Coptic fragment, Peter is asked why he cannot heal his own daughter from paralysis, when he cures others. He heals her, but then restores her to her former condition, and explains the reason: outward suffering can be a gift from God if it has the effect of preserving virginity (NTAp. II. 270). The same moral is painted by the contrasting story in pseudo-Titus: Peter promises a peasant what is expedient for his daughter, and she falls dead. Restored to life at her father’s plea, she is soon afterward seduced and abducted.

The Vercelli Acts are largely concerned with the rivalry between Peter and Simon Magus (hence the other title, inferred by Lipsius). After Paul leaves Rome for Spain, Simon Magus leads the church astray. Sent to deal with the situation, Peter counters him in word and action (miracles include a talking dog, a dried fish restored to life, and resurrections from the dead), the story culminating in a contest in the forum. The emphasis is not on false Simonian doctrine but on Simon’s prowess as a magician, and Peter’s superiority. This section raises problems as to its relation to the pseudo-Clementines. Hostility aroused by the preaching of continence leads to Peter’s martyrdom, which, however, advances the peace and strength of the church.


ANT. 300ff.; NTAp, II, 259ff.

See also

  • Apocryphal New Testament