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Was the Apocalypse of Peter Originally Part of the New Testament?

The Apocalypse of Peter was a reasonably popular book in some Christian churches of the first three or four Christian centuries.  It was not as massively influential as the four Gospels or the writings of Paul, but even so, a number of Christian individuals and churches saw it as a Scriptural text, written by Peter.

The book is first mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment, a late second century text written from Rome, which discusses the books that, in the anonymous author’s opinion, made up the Christian New Testament.   The list, oddly, does not include James, 1 and 2 Peter, or 3 John, but it does include two apocalypses, the apocalypse of John (i.e., the book of Revelation) and the apocalypse of Peter.  About the latter it says that some Christians do not think it should be read in church – i.e., that it was not to be accepted as part of the canon.  But since he says that was the opinion of “some,” it appears that “most” did indeed accept it, as the author himself does.   This is our earliest “canon list” of the New Testament, and it comes from the largest and most influential church in Christendom.

A few years later the Apocalypse of Peter is explicitly cited by the important and influential….

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How Would an Early Christian “Know” Which Books Peter Wrote?

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Comments

  1. nbraith1975  December 19, 2018

    Bart –

    When you say “Christian churches” in the first sentence it gives the impression, by today’s standard, of large congregations that meet every week in a central location in a big brick and mortar building.

    From my research, early “churches” (Which weren’t called “churches” BTW) were small groups that met in private homes. If this is the case, how does one go about figuring out how and when the Apocalypse of Peter was in use among Christians? Simply finding a copy of something seems far different than attributing it to its being used in any circumstance.

    Can you please clarify what you mean by “churches” with respect to the historical age you are speaking of in this post?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      I’m definitely not talking about brick and mortar buildings. I’m referring to Christian communities — that is gatherings of Christians and their leaders who function together as social groups. They were indeed called churches. But since the language wasn’t English, you won’t find the word “church” but, e.g., in Greek, ecclesia εκκλησια.

  2. Lev
    Lev  December 19, 2018

    “There is no indication that they engaged in a serious literary analysis of it to see if Peter wrote it (they *did* do that, by the way, with the book of Revelation, to see if it was really written by John the son of Zebedee!)”

    Oh, that’s interesting – could you tell us where we can find the ancient analysis of Revelation?

  3. AstaKask  December 19, 2018

    Maybe it was just too unpleasant to read?

  4. Bamayorgo  December 19, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, off topic but,
    I recently read from a blog that the Gospel of Matthew was written first as a Gospel for the Ebionites, and then the Virgin Birth story was added later.
    Have you heard this theory, and do you think it is potentially true?
    Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      The Gospel of the Ebionites is a later work, from teh second century. Whether or not Matthew originally had the first two chapters has been debated, but there’s not very good evidence that they were added later.

  5. fishician  December 19, 2018

    Oh, you’ve got me on tenterhooks! Looking forward to your theory…

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      You’ll have to wait till after Christmas!

      2
      1
      • Lev
        Lev  December 21, 2018

        Noooooooooooooo!!!!

        I shall do my best to remain patient, but I can’t wait to read your theory!

      • James Chalmers  December 21, 2018

        Meanie!

  6. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  December 19, 2018

    Thank you for the very detailed post. Can you give us an idea of what geographic area “Palestine” comprised during the period you referenced it (5th Century)?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      I suppose what we would think of today as Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan?

  7. fedcarroll77  December 19, 2018

    Good afternoon Professor,

    Off topic question here…. I was doing some studying and came across the notion that the Synoptics were written earlier than currently accepted. I think this was brought forth by 2 men JT Robinson and John Wenham back in the late 70’s and early 90’s. John Wenham especially proper an earlier date to the 40’s possibly even earlier mostly on the premise of 2 Cor 8, and early church tradition. I know for a fact this is not accepted as universal in the scholarly community. Have you read his book? And what are your thoughts concerning this?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      Yes, that view is occasionally put forth, most famously by Robinson; I don’t know anyone it’s convinced, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong! Still, the evidence is pretty good that the Gospels are well after Paul. 2 Cor. 8 doesn’t contain anything to make us think Paul must have read narrative accounts of Jesus’ life.

  8. AnthonyGriffin  December 19, 2018

    Dear Erhman,
    I could see why, from the perspective of the early church, that this book would be appealing; it would be a good authority for evangelists to use to put the *fear of God* into someone to make them turn away from sin. However, I could imagine the highly *religious* abusing this text to condemn any and every type of sin. Do you think that had an affect on it being excluded from the canon?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      Not sure. My sense is that most later Christian authorities were hell-bent, so to say, on attacking sin in all its guises.

  9. Hume  December 20, 2018

    Do you think Mary was pregnant, ashamed it was not her husband’s child and lie that it was God’s? Hitches used to say “what is more likely, Mary was pregnant with the son of God or a Jewish minx could tell a lie?”

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      I don’t think we know anything about Mary’s internal thought processes, or about the actual historical circumstances of her pregnancy.

  10. HarryJecs  December 20, 2018

    Hello Dr Ehrman,
    When do you think Acts was written? Around AD 85 along with Luke or as late as AD 150 in response to Marcionism? I have seen some arguments for the latter and was surprised because I thought Luke and Acts were written by the same person.
    Thank You

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      I don’t think it was a reaction to Marcion, definitely not. I usually date it to the mid-80s, but I’m open to a date later, even into the second century.

  11. rivercrowman  December 20, 2018

    Great post!

  12. Silver  December 20, 2018

    What was the outcome of the serious literary analysis into the book of Revelation to see if it was written by John Zebedee which you mention here, please?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      It was shown not to be written by the same author who produced the Gospel of John. Maybe I’ll post on that!

  13. Hormiga  December 20, 2018

    With regard to Peter’s competency in Greek, Papias and others have Mark as being Peter’s interpreter. Is “interpreter” used in the sense of translating one language to another? If so, presumably one of them was Aramaic , Peter’s native language, and the other was… Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      Yes, that is probably what Papias means.

      • Hormiga  December 21, 2018

        So the implication is that the Peter Papias is talking about was less than fluent in Greek, no?

  14. Rita Gomes  December 20, 2018

    I had never heard of the Muratorian fragment. Here in Brazil we do not have any of this information.
    When reading your text I went to search, obviously in the only tool I have for this type of information: Google – I know the source is not reliable.
    I have found few things on the subject, some say that this fragment would be a copy of an old list and that this fragment dates from the seventh century, but the original would date approximately 170 CE.

    On the exclusion of the Apocalypse of Peter, something must have happened between the second and third centuries, historically for which they raised doubts about its veradicity.
    This is only a deduction, since there are no apparent reasons, my reasoning led me on that path.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      Yes, the Fragment itself was produced by a rather incompetent scribe of the 7th century or so, but the text he was copying appears to date to the final part of the second century.

  15. Brandman0485  December 21, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Is there any reference to the fundamentalist notion that the Holy Spirit guided the selection of canon? I hear this as the main defense often and I don’t know where they are getting this idea from. Was it written about by any early church fathers or historians?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      Yes, this was a concern already back in the early church. It may be hinted out already in the description of Scripture as “God-breathed” (or “God-spirited”), since who could detect the books breathed by the Spirit other than the Spirit? Off hand (I’m out of the country and away from my books) I don’t know references in church fathers for discussions — maybe someone else on the blog knows of some?

    • Morphinius  December 21, 2018

      My understanding of the attitude the early church fathers had towards the scripture is a bit different. All Christians believed their scriptures were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. However, it was not the Holy Spirit that directly determined which writings were scripture and which were heretical. It was the church who determined which works were orthodox, regardless of their methodology. By default any decision made by the apostolic church leaders were authoritative because their authority, and the inspiration for their decisions, came directly from the Holy Spirit. It is similar to the old argument that when a king issues a decree it is inherently authoritative because his kingship and power come from God.

      Tertullian argued that the true scriptures, and their proper interpretation, are to be found amongst those who held to the true Christian rule—rule of the the apostolic church.
      “‘With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?’ For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.”

  16. DennisJensen  December 31, 2018

    Just read a little of the Apocalypse of Peter. I can see why much of the church might have questioned it merely from its contents. Some of it’s like a crude forerunner of Dante’s Inferno. A special punishment for each particular sin. It’s interesting that eastern religions often had similar descriptions of hell. In Waddell’s old book on Tibetan Buddhism he records a special punishment for those who complain about the weather. He wryly comments that this must be the special punishment of the English.

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