The Apocalypse of Peter

Prepared by Julieta Sanchez for Capstone Seminar at St. Mary’s University, Department of Theology

Apocalyptic Literature

Apocalyptic literature is a literary genre that foretells supernaturally inspired catastrophic events that will occur at the end of the world.

Early Jewish Apocalypses include

Early Christian Apocalypses include

Early Christianity showed a deep interest and passion for the “Second Coming” of Christ who would preside over the last judgment and the end of the world. This apocalypticism can be seen in the Gospels, for example in the “little apocalypse” (sermon by Jesus found in Mk 13, Mt 24, Lk 21) which foretells of a collective tribulation. As we have seen, some Pauline Epistles also contain apocalyptic content. The last book of the Christian Canon, the Apocalypse of John, ends the canon on an apocalyptic note.

The Apocalypse of Peter

As Himmelfarb states, “the Apocalypse of Peter, the earliest surviving apocalypse to focus on paradise and hell, was probably composed in the second century CE.” (98) There are three different versions of the Apocalypse of Peter: Ethiopic, Akhmim (Greek), and Rainer. The Ethiopic text of the Apocalypse does not include a tour but is a prophecy by Jesus to his disciples. The Apocalypse reveals how the righteous will be rewarded and how sinners will be punished. The way reward and punishment are presented in the text lead to the understanding that the time of repentance is at hand for those who are still living. In many ways the text is providing a warning/threat and revealing that in order to escape eternal torment humans need to avoid sin. The Apocalypse of Peter influenced Christian writers in their compositions by the inclusion of tours of paradise and hell. Lastly, it is important for us to remember that “the Apocalypse of Peter is a striking example of a Jewish Christian text that draws freely from Jewish and Hellenistic eschatological ideas and images.” (Hanneken)

Questions on the text

  1. What does reward and punishment look like in the Apocalypse of Peter?
  2. What types of sins does the Apoc. of Peter care about? How are people who commit these sins punished?
  3. How does Peter respond to what he is shown by Jesus?
  4. Which biblical figures are mentioned? Why?
  5. Who are the different angels and what do they do?
  6. What is the role of repentance in the Apoc. of Peter?

Questions for discussion

  1. McDowell and Kirkland describe Apocalypsis as “unveiling,” peeling back appearances and seeing things as they really are.” (1) What did the Apocalypse of Peter unveil to early Christian Communities?
  2. The Apoc. of Peter was well known in early Christianity and more than likely used by churches among the New Testament Scriptures. What criteria would have been important to consider when removing the Apoc. of Peter from the Christian Canon? Why was it removed?
  3. How does the Apoc. of Peter enhance our eschatological understanding? What kind of eschatology is presented?
  4. What are the similarities and differences between the Apoc. of Peter and 1 Enoch? Which other parallels can we make based on previous course readings?