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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

NAG HAMMADI CODICES- Letter of St.Peter to Philip- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

koptische Gnosis

Gnosis- Brief des Petrus and Philipus



by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Introduced by

Marvin W. Meyer

Translated by

Frederik Wisse

The Letter of Peter to Philip fills most of the concluding nine pages of Codex VIII. Situated immediately after the tractate Zostrianos, The Letter of Peter to Philip opens with a superscribed title (132, 10–11) derived from the letter which forms the first part of the tractate. Like several other tractates in the Nag Hammadi library (Ap. Jas., Treat. Res., Eugnostos), The Letter of Peter to Philip is presented, in part, as a letter. Besides these letters in the Nag Hammadi library, other letters were also in use among the Gnostics (for example, Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora, and letters of Valentinus, Monoimus the Arabian, and perhaps Marcion). Furthermore, just as a magnificent epistolary tradition developed around Paul and the Pauline school, so also a more modest collection of letters came to be ascribed to Peter. These Petrine or pseudo-Petrine letters include, in addition to The Letter of Peter to Philip, the catholic letters of Peter in the New Testament, the Epistula Petri (“Epistle of Peter”) at the opening of the Pseudo-Clementines, and perhaps another letter of Peter known only from a brief quotation in Optatus of Milevis. Of these letters the pseudo-Clementine Epistula Petri is of special interest, since it shares a number of features with The Letter of Peter to Philip. Not only is it prefixed to a collection of materials relating to Peter; it also seeks to attest the authority of Peter, and as it concludes, the Contestatio begins by referring to the recipient – James the Just – reading and responding to the letter in a manner like that of Philip in the Letter of Peter to Philip 133, 8–11. The Letter of Peter to Philip, however, is not to be identified with any of these letters attributed to Peter and must represent a newly discovered work in the Petrine corpus.

In its present form The Letter of Peter to Philip is clearly a Christian Gnostic tractate. Taken as a whole, the tractate is to be seen as a part of the Petrine tradition: Peter is the leader, the spokesman, the preacher among the apostles, and he may very well be described as having his own disciples (139, 10). The only other apostle mentioned by name is Philip, who is submissive to the authority of Peter and whose place in the tractate seems intended to highlight the pre-eminent authority of Peter. With their leader, Peter, the apostles gather at Olivet and are taught by the risen Savior; upon returning to Jerusalem, they teach in the temple and perform healings; and eventually they go forth to preach, filled with holy spirit. In other words, not only the place of Peter but also the scenario of the narrative would suggest that The Letter of Peter to Philip shares important features with part of the first (Petrine) section of the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 1–12).

That the author of The Letter of Peter to Philip makes use of Christian traditions cannot be doubted. In particular, numerous parallels between this tractate and the first half of the Acts may be noted, including scenes, themes, and terms which are similar to these two documents. Even the genre of literature they represent – a narrative on Peter and the apostles within which are included revelatory, liturgical, and edificatory materials – is similar, although in the case of The Letter of Peter to Philip the narrative has been prefixed with a letter of Peter. Furthermore, the author of The Letter of Peter to Philip is familiar with other Christian traditions besides Lukan materials. The Savior’s second revelatory answer (136, 16–137, 4) resembles the Johannine Logos hymn (Jn 1:1–18), but the similarities must not be overdrawn. Again, the traditional kerygmatic formulae in the credo of the sermon (139, 15–21) show affinities with similar formulae to be found throughout early Christian literature (the parallels in John 19 are particularly close to the credo in The Letter of Peter to Philip), and the little “Pentecost” of The Letter of Peter to Philip (140, 1 [?]–13) shares features with the Johannine “Pentecost” account (20:19–23). Moreover, the author of this tractate also mentions previous revelatory utterances of the Savior (135, 5–6; 138, 2–3, 22–24; 139, 11–12), utterances frequently said to have been given while Jesus was embodied. Presumably these revelations of the embodied Savior could refer to such teachings as are presented in the canonical gospels, and the “four words” of 140, 25 could have been understood as the four gospels to be sent to the four directions. (Hans-Gebhard Bethge suggests that originally the text of 140, 25 may have read “the four directions,” which eventually could have been modified to read “four words.”) Hence, it is clear that the author of The Letter of Peter to Philip is conversant with early Christian materials and desires to establish continuity with these earlier traditions.

Gnostic emphases are clearly visible in the narrative framework of The Letter of Peter to Philip. In particular this observation applies to the gnostic “dialogue,” the revelatory discourse of the Savior uttered in answer to the questions of the apostles. The first four revelatory answers (135, 8–137, 13) are at most marginally Christian, though they have been taken over and legitimated as revelations of the risen Lord. The first answer (135, 8–136, 15), which provides an abbreviated version of the myth of the mother, illustrates no overtly Christian features at all. It reflects a rather simple version of the myth, and is similar to the Sophia myth of The Apocryphon of John and the Barbelognostics of Irenaeus (Haer. 1.29.1–4) in terminology and general presentation. This set of four revelatory answers furnishes a gnostic perspective on the fall into deficiency and the attainment of fullness, and the imprisonment and the struggle of Gnostics in the world. To this set of answers has been appended an additional question and answer (137, 13–138, 3) which utilizes different terms and focuses upon the life and mission of the apostles. Gnostic in perspective like the other answers, this additional answer does show Christian concerns, and illustrates a dominant interest of The Letter of Peter to Philip, the suffering of the believer.

In addition to the questions and answers in the gnostic dialogue, other materials similarly used in the tractate may also show gnostic proclivities. The two prayers of the gathered apostles (133, 17–134, 9) contain traditional terms and themes commonly found in early Christian prayers, but also proclaim a luminosity and glory which make them especially appropriate as the prayers of Gnostic Christians. Likewise, the description of the resurrected Christ as a light and a voice (134, 9–14; 135, 3–4; 137, 17–19; 138, 11–13, 21–22) represents a primitive way of depicting the appearances of the risen Lord (Mk 9:2–8 par.; 2 P 1:16–19; Ac 9:1–9; 22:4–11; 26:9–18; 1 Co 15; Rv 1:12–16), but among Gnostic Christians such theophanic descriptions were particularly appreciated.

In the brief sermon of Peter (139, 9–140, 1[?]) gnostic tendencies are even more clearly seen. To be sure, a traditional Christian credo constitutes the first part of the sermon (139, 15–21), and traditional terms are applied to Jesus (“the Lord Jesus,” “the Son,” “the author of our life”), but the credo is interpreted according to the Gnostic Christian theology of the author of The Letter of Peter to Philip. From the time of his incarnation Jesus suffered, but he suffered as one who is “a stranger to this suffering” (139, 21–22). A Christological tension remains as the sermon stresses both the reality of Jesus’ sufferings and the glory of his divinity. In contrast to the suffering illuminator Jesus, the sermon continues, the followers of Jesus suffer because of “the transgression of the mother” (139, 23). This phrase is reminiscent of references to the fall of mother Eve, and refers, for the Gnostic Christian author, to the mother often named Sophia in other versions of the myth. She is also called “the mother” at 135, 12, and her tragic fall is seen as the source of human sufferings. Hence, this reference to “the transgression of the mother” may provide another point of contact between the figures of Eve and Sophia in gnostic literature.

It is possible, then, to suggest a general outline for the literary history of The Letter of Peter to Philip. On the basis of the parallels with The Apocryphon of John and Irenaeus, we suggest that The Letter of Peter to Philip was written around the end of the second century C.E. or into the third. The author of the text presumably wrote in Greek: such may be intimated by the presence of Greek loan words and Greek idioms. The author apparently was a Christian Gnostic who was well versed in the Christian tradition, and who used and interpreted that tradition in a Christian Gnostic fashion. A gnostic dialogue has been constructed, though it is less a true dialogue than a revelatory discourse of Christ in answer to questions raised by the apostles. Within this dialogue are included gnostic materials which are non-Christian or only marginally Christian; these materials have been adopted as revelatory disclosures of the risen Christ. On the basis of the Christian and gnostic traditions with which the author was familiar, the author compiled a narrative document with a revelatory focus. The letter itself was added at the beginning of this narrative in order to stress the authoritative place of Peter, and The Letter of Peter to Philip subsequently received its present title. Finally, the Greek tractate was translated into Coptic, and found its way into Codex VIII of the Nag Hammadi library.

According to the reports of James M. Robinson and Stephen Emmel, another Coptic text of The Letter of Peter to Philip is to be found in a papyrus codex which, at the present time, is neither published nor available for study.


VIII 132, 10–140, 27

The letter of Peter Which He |

Sent to Philip |

“Peter the apostle of Jesus | Christ, to Philip our beloved | brother and our fellow apostle 15 and (to) the brethren who are with you: greetings! | Now I want you to know, our brother [that] | we received orders from | our Lord and the Savior of | the whole world that [we] should come [together] 20 to give instruction and | preach in the salvation | which was promised us by 133 our Lord Jesus Christ. But as for you, | you were separate from us, and | you did not desire us to come together | and to know how we should organize 5 ourselves in order that we might tell the good news. | Therefore would it be agreeable to you, our brother, to | come according to the orders of our | God Jesus?”

When Philip had received these, | and when he had read 10 them, he went to Peter | rejoicing with gladness. | Then Peter gathered | the others also. They went upon | the mountain which is called 15 “the (mount) olives,” the place where they used | to gather with the blessed | Christ when he was in the body.

Then, | when the apostles | had come together, and had thrown themselves upon 20 their knees, they prayed thus | saying, “Father, Father, | Father of the light, who | possesses the incorruptions, | hear us just as [thou hast] 25 [taken pleasure] in thy holy | child Jesus Christ. For he | became for us an illuminator 134 in the darkness. Yea hear us.” |

And they prayed again another time | saying, “Son | of life, Son of 5 immortality who is in | the light, Son, Christ of | immortality, our Redeemer, | give us power, for they | seek to kill us.”

Then 10 a great light appeared | so that the mountain shone | from the sight of him who had | appeared. And a voice called | out to them saying, 15 “Listen to my words that I may speak | to you. Why are you asking | me? I am Jesus Christ who | am with you forever.”

Then | the apostles answered 20 and said, “Lord, | we would like to know the deficiency | of the aeons and their pleroma.” | And: “How are | we detained in this dwelling place?” 25 Further: “How did we come to this place?” And: “In what | manner shall we depart?” Again: “How do we have 135 [the] authority of boldness?” | [And]: “Why do the powers fight against us?” |

Then a voice came to them out | of the light saying, 5 “It is you yourselves who are witnesses | that I spoke all these things to you. | But because of your unbelief | I shall speak again. First | of all concerning [the deficiency] of the aeons, this 10 [is] the deficiency, when the disobedience | and the foolishness | of the mother appeared | without the commandment of the majesty | of the Father. She wanted 15 to raise up aeons. And when she | spoke, the Arrogant One followed. | And when she left behind a | part, the Arrogant One | laid hold of it, and it became a 20 deficiency. This is the deficiency | of the aeons. Now when the Arrogant One | had taken a part, he sowed it. | And he placed powers over | it and authorities. 25 And [he] enclosed it in the aeons | which are dead. And all the | powers of the world rejoiced | that they had been begotten. 136 But they do not know the | pre-existent [Father], since they are | strangers to him. But this is the one to whom | they gave power and whom they served 5 by praising him. But he, the Arrogant One, | became proud on account of | the praise of the powers. He became | an envier and he wanted to | make an image in the place [of an image] 10 and a form in the place of a form. | And he commissioned the powers within | his authority to mold | mortal bodies. And they came | to be from a misrepresentation, from 15 the semblance which had emerged. |

Next concerning the pleroma: I am the one who | was sent down in the body | because of the seed which had fallen away. | And I came down into their mortal mold. 20 But they did not | recognize me; they were thinking of me that I | was a mortal man. And I | spoke with him who belongs to me, and he | harkened to me just as you too 25 who harkened today. | And I gave him authority in order that | he might enter into the inheritance | of his fatherhood. And I took 137 […] they were filled | […] in his salvation. And since | he was a deficiency, for this reason he | became a pleroma.

It is because of this 5 that you are being detained, because you | belong to me. When you strip off | from yourselves what is corrupted, then | you will become illuminators | in the midst of mortal men. 10

And this (is the reason) that you will fight against the powers, | because [they] do not have rest like | you, since they do not wish | that you be saved.”

Then the apostles | worshipped again saying, 15 “Lord, tell us: In what | way shall we fight against the archons, since | [the] archons are above us?”

Then | [a] voice called out to them from | the appearance saying, 20 “Now you will fight | against them in this way, for the archons are | fighting against the inner man. And you | are to fight against them in this way: Come | together and teach in the world 25 the salvation with a promise. And | you, gird yourselves with the power | of my Father, and let | your prayer be known. And he, the | Father, will help you as he has 30 helped you be sending me. 138 Be not afraid, [I am with you forever,] | as I previously [said to] | you when I was in the body.” Then | there came lighting and 5 thunder from heaven, and | what appeared to them in that place was taken | up to heaven.

Then | the apostles gave thanks to | the Lord with every blessing. And 10 they returned to Jerusalem. | And while coming up they spoke with | each other on the road concerning the light | which had come. And a remark was made | concerning the Lord. It was 15 said, “If he, our Lord, | suffered, then how much (must) we (suffer)?” |

Peter answered saying, | “He suffered on [our] behalf, | and it is necessary for us too 20 to suffer because of our smallness.” | Then a voice came to them | saying, “I have told you | many times: It is necessary for you | to suffer. It is 25 necessary that they bring you to synagogues | and governors, | so that you will suffer. But he | who does not suffer and does not 139 […] | [… the] Father | […] in order that he may | […].”

And the apostles 5 rejoiced [greatly] and came up | to Jerusalem. And they came up to the temple and gave | instruction in salvation in the name of | [the] Lord Jesus Christ. And they healed | [a] multitude.

And Peter opened his mouth, 10 he said to his (fellow) disciples, | “[Did] our Lord Jesus, when he was in the body, | show us everything? For he | came down. My brothers, listen to my voice.” | And he was filled with a holy spirit. 15 He spoke thus: “Our illuminator, Jesus, | [came] down and was crucified. And he bore | a crown of thorns. And he put on | a purple garment. And he was | [crucified] on a tree and he was buried in 20 a tomb. And he rose from the | dead. My brothers, Jesus is a stranger | to this suffering. But we are | the ones who have suffered through the transgression of the mother. | And because of this, he did everything 25 like us. | For the Lord Jesus, the Son of the immeasurable glory of the | Father, he is the author | of our life. My brothers, let | us therefore not obey these lawless ones 30 and walk in 140 [… Then] | Peter [gathered together the others also] | saying, [“O, Lord Jesus] | Christ, author [of our] rest, 5 give us a spirit of understanding | in order that we also may | perform wonders.”

Then Peter | and the other apostles saw [him] | and they were filled with a holy spirit. 10 And each one | performed healings. And they parted | in order to preach the Lord | Jesus. And they came together | and greeted each other 15 saying, “Amen.”

Then | Jesus appeared saying | to them, “Peace to you [all] and | everyone who believes in | my name. And when you depart, 20 joy be to you and | grace and power. And be not | afraid; behold, I am with you | forever.”

Then the apostles | parted from each other 25 into four words in order to | preach. And they went | by a power of Jesus, in peace.

| Small strokes above the line indicate line divisions. Every fifth line a small number is inserted in place of a stroke; the frequency of these numbers, however, may vary in tractates which are quite fragmentary. A new page is indicated with a number in bold type. When the beginning of a new line or page coincides with the opening of a paragraph, the line divider or number is placed at the end of the previous paragraph.

( Parentheses indicate material supplied by the editor or translator. Although this material may not directly reflect the text being translated, it provides useful information for the reader.

[ Square brackets indicate a lacuna in the manuscript. When the text cannot be reconstructed, three dots are placed within the brackets, regardless of the size of the lacuna; a fourth dot, if appropriate, may function as a period. An exception to this rule is the occasional use of a different number of dots to estimate the extent of the missing portion of a proper noun. In a few instances the dots are used without brackets to indicate a series of Coptic letters which do not constitute a translatable sense unit. A bracket is not allowed to divide a word, except for a hyphenated word or a proper noun. Other words are placed entirely inside or outside the brackets, depending on the certainty of the Coptic word and the number of Coptic letters visible.

Robinson, James McConkey ; Smith, Richard ; Coptic Gnostic Library Project: The Nag Hammadi Library in English. 4th rev. ed. Leiden; New York : E.J. Brill, 1996, S. 431


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