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Finally. Why Did the Apocalypse of Peter Not Make It Into the Canon?


Sometimes in my courses on the New Testament my students have trouble understanding why I’m so interested (OK, obsessed) with the small details of the text, rather than the “big picture.”  Who cares if this or that little detail is a possible contradiction or problem for other reason?  What matters is the overall message, right?

Yes, that’s right on one level.  But on another level (or two or three) the small details really matter.  Not only is the big picture made up of very small brush strokes – so if there are problems at the brush-stroke level there are problems with the picture itself – but also sometimes the details are the absolute key to understanding what’s happening in the big picture.

And so I illustrate: when a detective arrives at the crime scene of a murder, he might start looking around for clues.   A finger print, a strand of hair.  And you can imagine the frustration of someone looking on:   There’s a DEAD BODY surrounded by BLOOD here!  Why are you looking for a strand of hair???   It’s because looking at the body itself will probably not solve the mystery of who killed the person.  The tiny clue will.

I say this in preface to my discussion now of one of the details that I think may have been responsible for keeping the Apocalypse of Peter out of the canon.  It seems like a tiny little thing.  But it may have had a big consequence.

Yesterday I pointed out that …

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The Aberrant View of the Afterlife in the Apocalypse of Peter
Other Manuscripts of the Apocalypse of Peter, And Why It Matters



  1. Avatar
    saavoss  January 29, 2019

    So… even in Heaven, it’s not what you know, but who you know…

  2. Robert
    Robert  January 29, 2019

    “… a very big problem by many of the orthodox Christian thinkers …”

    No doubt. But many later Catholics would easily claim this to be nothing else but the intercession of the saints for the poor suffering souls in purgatory.

    Tangential question: what was the original meaning of ‘the communion of the saints’ in the Apostles Creed or earlier? Was it merely in aposition to the church as a kind of explanatiry gloss? When did Catholics start seeing it a a heavenly club eventually with intercessory prerogatives?

    • Robert
      Robert  January 29, 2019

      Or maybe it originally referred to charitable works by church members, ie, a collection for the poor,
      hearkening back to the language of Rom 15,26 εὐδόκησαν γὰρ Μακεδονία καὶ Ἀχαΐα κοινωνίαν τινὰ ποιήσασθαι εἰς τοὺς πτωχοὺς τῶν ἁγίων τῶν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ.

      Who knows, or perhaps something else altogether?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2019

      Yes indeed. I did a series of posts on Purgatory last year in March. Communion of the Saints: I’ve never looked into it, but have always thought that it did have something to do with the fact that the living and dead in Christ were one community and those up there could be a bit more effective in praying for the things those down here need….

  3. Avatar
    RedMex_Reason  January 29, 2019

    Great Read – Thank You!

  4. Avatar
    fishician  January 29, 2019

    In Luke’s version of the crucifixion Jesus says, ““Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Yet in Revelation 6:10 we hear the martyred saints asking God “how long will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” So even in the writings accepted into the New Testament we see some disparity about how the saved should view the unsaved.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2019

      Yes indeed! (Luke’s account, of course, ties into his broader theme that “the Jews” acted in ignorance for what they did in condemning Christ — a view not widely shared among other Christians, and especially among Christians thinking of their own persecutors…)

  5. Avatar
    rivercrowman  January 29, 2019

    Bart, here’s a small detail to trouble you with. … In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says divorce is allowed *only* in the case of “unchastity” or “fornication” or “adultery.” In Mark and Luke, this exception is not mentioned, so is presumably not allowed? What does that underlying Greek word (porniea?) mean in Matthew? … Could it possibly save a lot of annulments? Thanks very much!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2019

      Yup, it’s a famous issue. Matthew is softening the proscription. Big!

      • Avatar
        jhague  January 30, 2019

        Are these comments concerning divorse the authors opinions or do you believe Jesus actually said something like Mark writes?

  6. Avatar
    godspell  January 29, 2019

    Much as I don’t believe in hell (and am inclined to agree with you that Jesus didn’t either), I don’t find much merit in the notion that if you had done something that merited punishment (supernatural or otherwise), expressing regret for your deeds only after you are paying the price for them should be sufficient to get you out of it. That makes no sense. Nobody would ever be punished for anything! Human evil is a thing, and was before religion was ever invented (though maybe we didn’t call it that before then).

    The filmmaker, Sam Fuller (a devout Jewish Atheist) served in WWII with the Big Red One, saw a whole lot of death, and described the general mindset of himself and his buddies. If an enemy soldier surrendered to them, they’d check his gun. If he had even one bullet left, they’d take him in. But if the gun was empty, they’d shoot him on the spot. Because, as they saw it, he hadn’t really surrendered. And as soon as he got some more bullets…..

    Repentance only counts if you repent when you still have other options. Though you know, some Nazis didn’t repent even when they were absolutely defeated–went on killing fellow Germans for perceived disloyalty, and slaughtering prisoners in concentration camps, when the Russians were days away.

    Hitler wanted to get rid of Christianity entirely, because he felt it had weakened the Aryan race to believe in it. This whole notion of showing compassion to your enemy–destroy him! Nietzsche, who would have despised Nazism, still held to a version of atheism that said it was a religion of slaves, who only preached compassion for the poor and weak because they were themselves poor and weak. He admired the barbarian conquerors.

    I think the idea is, while we’re still in this world, we should show compassion, because there’s still a chance for all of us to repent while we’re alive. But once we’re dead, it’s too late to surrender. We have no bullets left in the gun. And if God is just, those who are in hell are there for a reason.

    Again, I don’t believe in it, but that’s beside the point. Some people, regardless of belief, are given to vindictive thoughts when confronted by human evil. And I would know.

    • Robert
      Robert  January 30, 2019

      Very interesting. Why do you say Neitzsche would have despised Naziism? I do not disagree, but neither do I know enough, apparently, about his ideas to agree, hence my question.

      ETA: I see in Wikipedia that Nietzsche was opposed to anti-semitism and nationalism.

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 1, 2019

        There are still debates as to whether Nietzsche had some anti-semitic views–which were extremely common among most Non-Jewish Europeans of that time (not so uncommon today). Nietzsche had very close relationships with both his sister Elizabeth, and Cosima Wagner, both of whom devoted much of their lives to promoting anti-semititic views (Elizabeth ended up in control of both Nietzsche’s estate and Nietzsche himself, after his mental collapse, and she famously gave Hitler Nietzsche’s walking stick).

        But whatever prejudices he might have had, he had a visceral dislike of those who tried to gain influence through hate-mongering, and he felt that nationalism in the sense that he was familiar with it, was a bad influence on the individual.

        And for the rest, I cannot recommend highly enough the new biography “I Am Dynamite!” by Sue Prideaux. There is much there to confound both Nietzsche’s critics and his worshipers. Since I myself am neither, I loved it. 😉

  7. Avatar
    Hon Wai  January 29, 2019

    If the Apocalypse of Peter had made it into the canon, it would surely be the favourite book of contemporary fundamentalists.

  8. Avatar
    forthfading  January 29, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I recently heard Lawrence Krauss (famed atheist physicist) claim the Bible to be the most morally corrupt document he has ever seen. He offered no specific examples of what led him to this conclusion beyond “Jews and Christians are crazy to follow the God of the Bible”. Is this a common perspective held by atheists? Set aside if one actually believes the Bible to be true in theological teachings, does the books that make up the Bible represent an immoral God in teachings? I think much of the stories are wishful thinking but thought the basic story was of a just and loving system of believing. Did I miss something?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2019

      He’s probably thinking of such things as God commanding the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, and child in Jericho and take over their houses (Joshua 6). There’s a lot of that kind of thing in the Bible, not just the Old Testament. (In the New Testament, God himself slaughters every man, woman, and child on the planet — except for the believing few — in the book of Revelation).

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  February 2, 2019

        The Israelites didn’t take over any houses in Jericho; the entire city was burned down (Joshua 6:17, 24).

        • Bart
          Bart  February 3, 2019

          That’s right. They rebuilt on the foundations that were left. But the foundations were still there.

          • Avatar
            JohnKesler  February 3, 2019

            A new foundation had to be laid for the city, but Joshua didn’t want the city to ever be rebuilt:

            Joshua 6:26: “Joshua then pronounced this oath, saying, ‘Cursed before Yahweh be anyone who tries to build this city—this Jericho! At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation…”

            1 Kings 16:34 records the laying of a new foundation for Jericho: “In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn…

          • Bart
            Bart  February 4, 2019

            Ah, right. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      godspell  February 1, 2019

      I assume Mr. Krauss isn’t much of a reader, since immorality is rampant in all ancient mythology, in all cultures. He’s just holding the Judeo Christian tradition to a higher standard, which is his right, but it’s a rather interesting form of ethnocentrism–he just ignores the traditions of other peoples, implying that only the traditions that gave birth to modern western civilization really matter.

      I don’t think people like that deserve to be taken seriously. And I find myself doubting their own morality is all that much. 😉

      • Avatar
        hankgillette  February 8, 2019

        I assume Mr. Krauss isn’t much of a reader, since immorality is rampant in all ancient mythology, in all cultures.

        The difference, as I see it, is that Zeus, for example, doesn’t claim he is an all-loving and holy god. He cheats on his wife (who is his sister) with other goddesses, including another sister and his daughter, and with numerous mortals. He hurls thunderbolts at humans on a whim. But he doesn’t turn around and say that he is love, and perfect in every way.

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