Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter

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The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, also known as the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter and Revelation of Peter, is the third tractate in Codex VII of the Nag Hammadi library. The work is part of Gnosticism, a sect of early Christianity, and is considered part of the New Testament apocrypha. The work was likely originally written in the Koine Greek language and composed around 200 AD. The surviving manuscript from Nag Hammadi is a poor-quality translation of the Greek into Coptic, and likely dates from the 4th century.[1][2][3]

The work's author is unknown, although it is purportedly written by the disciple Peter (pseudopigrapha) describing revelations given to him during Holy Week by the Savior Christ. The main thrust of the work is docetism: that the divine Christ was invulnerable and never suffered the pains of the mortal world, and certainly did not die during the apparent crucifixion. Rather, only Jesus-the-man suffered in a variant of the substitution hypothesis. The work also criticizes other Christian groups, comparing them to the blind and deaf, while saying that certain blessed ones (presumably Gnostics) have immortal souls.


In the opening of the text, Jesus is sitting in the temple and talking to Peter about the importance of righteousness and knowledge. Peter envisions that the priests and the people may try to kill them. Jesus tells Peter to put his hands over his own eyes and see the truth. When Peter does so, he sees a new light and Jesus explains to him the blindness of the priests and the people. Jesus instructs Peter to listen to what the priests and the people are saying, and Peter says that they are praising Jesus. Jesus states that many people will initially accept the teachings but will turn away due to the will of the Father of their error.

Jesus continues, saying the guileless and pure will be pushed towards death, while those who have been contaminated by false teachings will be prisoners. Some will proclaim evil teachings and say evil things against each other, and they will be named as those who stand in the strength of the archons. These people will ask about dreams and will be given perdition instead of incorruption. The text emphasizes that evil cannot produce good fruit and that the soul is always a slave to its desires. On the other hand, the immortal souls resemble mortal ones but do not reveal their nature, and are in the life of immortality. What does not exist will dissolve into non-existence, and the deaf and blind will only join with their own kind.

The text describes the actions and attitudes of different groups of people, who either misunderstand or deliberately spread false information about spiritual truths. Some individuals will be arrogant and envious, spreading lies and haughtiness about the truth. Others will be involved in error and deceit, setting up false laws and harsh fates. There will also be those who pretend to have authority from God and oppress others, but they will be cast into darkness. The text discusses "little ones," referring to the innocent and the ignorant who are misled by these false teachers. A time is determined for these false leaders to rule over the little ones, but eventually, the error will be completed and the little ones will rule over their oppressors. The Savior tells Peter not to be afraid, as those who bring judgment will come and put the false teachers to shame. Peter will stand in their midst and the invisible one has opposed the false leaders, whose minds will be closed.

Peter has a vision of the crucifixion of Jesus. The vision reveals to Peter that the physical form of Jesus being crucified is not the true form of Jesus but only a substitute. The real Jesus is the spiritual being who is filled with a Holy Spirit and is joyful. This Jesus is seen as the intellectual Pleroma, which is united with the Holy Spirit and the perfect light. The text also reveals that the teachings of this vision should be presented to those of a different race, those who are not of this world. Finally, the text encourages Peter to be courageous and not to fear, since Jesus will be with him. After this vision, Peter comes back to reality.[4]


Translator James Brashler considers the text "important source material for a Gnostic Christology that understands Jesus as a docetic redeemer,"[5] based on a vision near the end of the text in which Jesus states that someone else was crucified rather than the living Jesus.[4] Comparable language is used in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, in which Jesus laughs at the ignorance of those who tried to kill him but failed to realize that he "did not die in reality but in appearance."[6] Docetism was later rejected at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD[7] and regarded as heretical by most non-Gnostic churches.[8]

The text has a strong polemical aspect in inter-Christian debates. It emphasizes seeking truth and knowledge (Gnosis), and warns that many people will be misled by false teachers: Christians who believed Jesus died, and that this death was what brought salvation in some sense. To the Gnostic view, proto-Orthodox Christians completely misunderstood the divine nature of Jesus, and worshipped the "dead" mortal remnant. To the Gnostic view, the true Savior would certainly never die nor be able to be harmed at all. He was a transcendent Savior from a higher world.[1] 74.13-15 directly writes "And they will hold fast to the name of a dead man, while thinking that they will become pure". The work echoes the condemnation while also possibly criticizing the Shepherd of Hermas or its author; it writes "For they will create an imitation remnant in the name of a dead man, who is Hermas, the first-born of unrighteousness, in order that the real light might not be believed."[9] The work seems to blame the intransigence of these rival Christians on "the father of their error", perhaps a reference to the Demiurge, the chief archon.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Luttikhuizen, Gerard (2003). "The Suffering Jesus and The Invulnerable Christ in the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter". In Bremmer, Jan N.; Czachesz, István (eds.). The Apocalypse of Peter. Leuven: Peeters Publishers. pp. 187–200. ISBN 90-429-1375-4.
  2. ^ Kirby, Peter. "Coptic Apocalypse of Peter". Early Christian Writings. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  3. ^ Reaves, Pamela (13 May 2016). "The Apocalypse of Peter (Coptic)". e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  4. ^ a b Brashler, James; Bullard, Roger A. "The Apocalypse of Peter". The Gnostic Society Library. The Nag Hammadi Library. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  5. ^ Brashler, James (1981). The Nag Hammadi library in English. San Francisco: Harper & Row. p. 338. ISBN 9780060669294. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  6. ^ Barnstone, Willis. "The Second Treatise of the Great Seth". The Gnostic Society Library. The Nag Hammadi Library. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  7. ^ Ridgeon, Lloyd V. J. (2001). Ridgeon, Lloyd V. J. (ed.). Islamic Interpretations of Christianity. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-23854-4. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  8. ^ Arendzen, J. (2012) [1909]. "Docetae". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  9. ^ Michel Desjardins and James Brashler (1995). Pearson, Birger (ed.). Nag Hammadi Codex VII. Leiden: Brill,