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How Do We Know What Was Originally in the Apocalypse of Peter?

It was a long time ago that I started a thread dealing with the question of why the Apocalypse of Peter did not make it into the New Testament but 2 Peter did.  I’ll give a summary here of where we are in the discussion just now, but if you want the full play-by-play, use the search function to look up Apocalypse of Peter; I’ve been blogging on it, on and off, since November 11.  And it’s time finally to bring it to a close.

I’ve been delaying for a lot of reasons, the two most prominent are that I’m not completely confident in my views and that the matter is complicated and it has seemed like an inordinate amount of work for me to try to make it simple enough to be interesting to someone who isn’t completely obsessed with the manuscript tradition of the early Christian writings.  I.e., most people!

A brief recap.  The Apocalypse of Peter provides an account of a guided tour of heaven and hell, given to Peter himself.  He sees the realms of the damned, where the torments reserved for sinners is laid out in gory detail, different torments for different kinds of sin.  He then goes to the realms of the blessed and, in much shorter order, very brief indeed, provides a description of the saved in heaven.

The book was reasonably popular in the second and third centuries, and is quoted by Scripture by important Christian church fathers.  But its popularity waned and by the fourth century it was widely considered not to be part of Scripture, until it pretty much disappeared from sight, until discovered in modern times.   Before the modern discoveries we knew about it only in the surviving quotations of it in church fathers starting with Clement of Alexandria (roughly around 200 CE).

The book appears, at first glance, to be completely orthodox; it was widely known and accepted; its views of the afterlife were widely held in the early centuries (tactile torments for the damned; fantastic blessings for the saved); it was said to be written by the apostle Peter himself; and generally it had all the requisites for being admitted into the canon.  So why did it not make it?  That’s my question.

A fortuitous find of the book – or at least a later, heavily edited version of it (as scholars later realized) – was made in the winter archaeological season of 1886-87, by …

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Other Manuscripts of the Apocalypse of Peter, And Why It Matters
Does Eternal Punishment Even Make Sense?



  1. Avatar
    Eric  January 25, 2019

    M.R. James’ ghost stories are great, can’t speak to his works on apocrypha!

  2. Avatar
    Lopaka  January 25, 2019

    Off topic-
    Is it plausible the writers of Matthew and Luke wanted to replace Mark as the official story? Or did they see their writing as harmonious with it?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2019

      I think Luke definitely saw his as a replacement (see 1:1-4: he’s improving on his predecessors), and I suspect that for Matthew as well.

      • Avatar
        ddorner  January 31, 2019

        How do fundamentalists then reconcile Luke saying he’s improving on the (presumably) imperfect work of Mark if it’s all the perfectly inspired word of God and historically infallible?

  3. Avatar
    seahawk41  January 25, 2019

    This is another comment not directly related to the current blog topic, but I think might be interesting to blog members. A week or so ago I watched a thing on the Smithsonian channel titled “Jefferson’s Secret Bible”. This was about how Jefferson created a Bible (NT actually) by *literally* cutting and pasting segments he thought were the true sayings/life of Jesus. I was aware that he had done this, but had no idea of the details. It turns out that he used *two* copies each of NT in English, French, Latin, and Greek. So his “Bible” was like one of those interlinear things, giving the text in multiple languages. He used two copies of each so he could cut out pieces of both sides of the page. The show moves back and forth between the effort to conserve the original document and how he prepared it.

    As I watched this, I thought that it sounded like he was doing some of the stuff that scholars have done over the years re the Gospels: Trying to sort out what was original to Jesus from what was later theology tacked on. So I thought folks on the blog might find this interesting. Here is the URL for the show:


  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 26, 2019

    Did the Church Fathers try to address the Euthyphro dilemma and if so, how?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2019

      I don’t recall any of them explicitly referencing the Euthyphro on the matter, no. They do express related opinions, but off hand, well, I haven’t thought about it much!

  5. Robert
    Robert  January 27, 2019

    Did both versions have universalist aspects? If I remember correctly (and I often do not), I think some of us presumed that the universalist aspect of the Greek text might have been one of the factors militating against its ultimate inclusion in the canon.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2019

      No, neither one does, as it turns out. But yes, I’ll be arguing that it’s view of ultimate salvation for some sinners is what did it in. It’s a complicated argument, which is why it’s taking me a while to get there. But it largely has to do with the manuscript tradition.

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