Apocalypse of Peter

PETER, APOCALYPSE OF. The Apocalypse of Peter is one of the few apoc. that enjoyed a measure of temporary or local canonicity. It is mentioned in the Muratorian Canon, with the comment that some did not want it read in church; there were thus reservations even at this early stage. Theophilus of Antioch alludes to it, Clement of Alexandria quotes it by name, and Sozomen in the 5th cent. records that it was still read annually in the churches of Pal. on Good Friday. Eusebius, on the other hand, rejects it with the other Petrine apocrypha (Hist. III. 3), including it with Hermas, Barnabas, and the Acts of Paul among the “spurious” (Hist. III. 25). The book, however, enjoyed a wide circulation in both E and W, and the ideas it presents survived through such works as the Sibylline Oracles (Bk. II) and the Apocalypses of Paul and Thomas right down to Dante’s Divina Commedia. The patristic attestation shows that it must be dated to the 2nd cent., and prob. to its first half.

Extant remains.

The text has been known since 1887 in a Gr. fragment discovered at Akhmim with part of the Gospel of Peter, and since 1910 in an Ethiopic VS. The identification is certain because of agreements with the patristic quotations mentioned above. In addition, there are two smaller fragments. The Ethiopic corresponds approximately to the length given in the Stichometry of Nicephorus and the catalog in the Codex Claromontanus, and prob. represents the original contents of the Apocalypse, although the text has suffered from the tr’s. deficient knowledge of Gr. The Akhmim fragment is considerably shorter, and presents the material in a different sequence.

Content (following the Ethiopic).

The disciples on the Mt. of Olives ask Jesus about the signs of the Parousia and the end of the world. After warning against deceivers, He bids them receive the parable of the fig tree, which at Peter’s request He then expounds. Section 3 begins, “And he showed me in his right hand the souls of all, and in the palm of his right hand the image of that which shall be fulfilled at the last day.” Seeing how the sinners weep in their distress, Peter recalls the saying, “It were better for them that they had not been created” (Mark 14:21 par.), which earns him the Savior’s rebuke: “I will show thee their works in which they have sinned.” Then the Savior in a prophetic discourse (chs. 4-12) describes the tortures of the damned, the proto-type of numerous other portrayals down to the Middle Ages (the Akhmim parallel has a short introduction converting it into a vision by Peter). A brief description of the lot of the righteous (chs. 13, 14) is followed by a parallel to the synoptic Transfiguration story (converted in the Akhmim fragment into a description of Paradise). After the voice (Matt 17:5 par.) Jesus, Moses and Elias are carried off in a cloud and received into heaven (this final section is not in the Gr.). The disciples go down from the mountain praising God.

Relation of the two versions.

As indicated, the Akhmim fragment varies at certain points from the Ethiopic; moreover, the description of Paradise there precedes that of hell. The Ethiopic, which contains all the early citations, prob. represents the original contents, and the Gr. is therefore a modification. There is much in favor of the view that the Akhmim fragment belongs to the Gospel of Peter with which it was found, but opinions differ as to whether it was the author of the gospel who incorporated the Apocalypse (Zahn, James) or a later redactor who knew only the fragments employed (Maurer, NTAp, II, 664ff.).


ANT, 505ff.; NTAp, II, 663ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)