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Words from GOD – Words to GOD


 BIBLE RESEARCH- diving for pearls!

Nag hammadi codices-



Introduced by

Douglas M. Parrott

Translated by

Douglas M. Parrott and R. McL. Wilson

The title appears only at the conclusion of the tractate. At first glance it gives the impression of referring to thirteen apostles (Peter plus the twelve). But a reading of the text makes it clear that the title probably has to do with two different “acts”: an act of Peter (1, 30–5, 5) and an act of the apostolic group (5, 5–12, 19). The title, however, must nonetheless be secondary, since the number twelve contradicts the explicit statement of the text that the disciples numbered eleven (9, 20–21).

The tractate can be divided into four major units:

  1. An introductory section, which sets the stage for the tractate. The first seven lines probably contained some indication of initial setting and purpose. The narrator is Peter (1, 30) and the time is after the crucifixion, since the apostles undertake their journey on their own immediate initiative, and Jesus is not with them. The fact that there are only eleven disciples, however, suggests the preascension period. Having decided to undertake their ministry together, the apostles find a ship and set sail (1, 16–26). They appear to leave their destination to the Lord. The ship arrives at an island city called Habitation, and Peter goes to learn about lodgings.
  2. Peter meets a pearl merchant and sees the response of the rich and the poor to him (2, 10–5, 18). He observes that the rich turn away from him when he hawks his wares because they think he really has none. The poor, however, flock to him, although they lack the means to buy what he offers. They would be content to see a pearl. But the merchant says he will give them one without cost, if they would go to his city. The poor ask Peter about the hazards of the way to the city. Peter tells them what he has heard and turns to the merchant, asking about his name and the hardships of the way. The merchant tells him his name is Lithargoel, which is interpreted in the text as a lightweight, gazelle-like (i.e., gleaming like a gazelle’s eyes) stone, presumably a pearl.
  3. The journey of Peter and his friends to Lithargoel’s city (5, 19–8, 11), following instructions by Lithargoel. The only way to prepare for the journey to the city of “nine gates” is complete renunciation of possessions and a regimen of fasting, so that one will have nothing predators might want (5, 19–6, 8). All that is needed is the name of Jesus (6, 9–19). Then Peter sees a vision of the walls of the city surrounded by waves. The meaning of this is interpreted in a brief dialogue between Peter and an old man. Peter and the disciples then make the journey to the city.
  4. The appearance of Lithargoel as a physician, his revelation of himself as Jesus Christ, and the commissioning of the eleven disciples (8, 11–12, 19). Lithargoel comes out of the city disguised as a physician and says that he will show them where Lithargoel lives (8, 11–35). Instead of doing that, however, he reveals that he is Jesus Christ (9, 1–19), in a dialogue with Peter that has been traced to Matthew 16, 13–19. After the disciples prostrate themselves in worship and indicate their willingness to do his will, Christ, who is henceforth called the Lord, gives them a box and pouch of medicine and commissions them to return to Habitation, the city from which they came. They are to teach and minister to the faithful, with special emphasis on the poor (9, 1–10, 13). Peter objects that they have nothing to give the poor, since they have renounced everything, but the Lord points out that they have his name, which is of more value than anything else (10, 13–30). After further discussion, the dialogue concludes with the injunction to avoid the rich. The disciples accept the commission and the Lord departs.

The text is composite. This can be seen by the awkward relationship among the various sections. For example, between sections 2 and 3, the reader expects the poor to go to the pearl merchant’s city, but only the disciples do; two differing explanations are given for Peter’s request about the way; the reader is unprepared for Peter’s asking about the merchant’s name; the reader is surprised that journey from the island city can be undertaken by foot. Examples of problems between 4 and the earlier sections are these: the sudden shift to third person narrative; the information that the disciples are expected to continue a ministry to Christians (10, 4–6) (one had the impression at the start that the disciples were embarking on a mission to a non-Christian world), and the presence of explicit rules regarding church life at the conclusion of the tractate.

Four originally independent accounts seem to have been brought together by an editor. Three probably began as parables or allegories, somewhat resembling those found in The Shepherd of Hermas: the story of the pearl merchant who is rejected by the rich and accepted by the poor; the account of a city surrounded by walls (in part three, above) called Habitation; and the story of a journey whose successful completion required giving up food and possessions, rather than having enough of them. The fourth is the account of Christ’s commissioning of the disciples to undertake a ministry of preaching and healing among poor and sick Christians. These accounts are related to each other by the common presence of Peter and the other disciples, and by the name Lithargoel, which serves to connect the pearl merchant, in section 2, with the one who gives instructions about the way, in section 3, and, then, also, with Christ, in section 4, who commissions the disciples.

The narrative intention of the final editor appears to have been to depict the disciples’ preparation for apostolic activity. In the course of the account, he shifts the time frame from the earliest apostolic period to that of his own time. The result is that, at the conclusion of the final segment, it is not really the original disciples who are being commissioned, but their latter day representatives. In view of the shift, it appears that the editor wished to remind contemporary church leaders about their true mission.

Lithargoel may originally have been a non-Christian deity. But since no record of a Lithargoel cult has come down to us, it seems more reasonable to think that identification of Lithargoel with Jesus Christ (9, 8–15) was the intention when the word was first coined. (See Acts of Peter 20 and Rv 2:17.) The image of Christ as a physician may have been a way of dealing with the popularity of the cult of Asclepius.

It has sometimes been assumed that this tractate is gnostic. But that view has been based more on its presence in the Nag Hammadi library than on the text itself. As has been discussed elsewhere (see introduction to Asclepius 21–29 [VI,8]), the codex in which it is found is not itself gnostic, but rather a miscellaneous collection of spiritual writings reflecting on the ultimate fate of the soul. If one examines the tractate by itself, little is found that would have offended developing orthodoxy. The Christology is that of the divine sonship; the crucifixion and death of Jesus, although not mentioned, may be implied (see 2, 14). The theme of apostolic poverty is found in the Gospels, as is the polemic against the rich. A moderate encratite emphasis may be seen in the prohibition on the eating of meat, but there is nothing said about sexual activity or marriage. The tractate, then, does not appear to have sprung from or be directed to a sectarian group within early Christianity. The editor rather seems to be standing within the broad church and to be appealing for a return to apostolic practice on the part of the leaders.

It seems unlikely that this tractate would have been part of the lost portion of the apocryphal Acts of Peter, as has been proposed (see introduction to The Act of Peter [BG,4], for discussion).

The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles is to be grouped with the apocryphal Acts of the second and third centuries, rather than with the later ones, with which it has little in common. The similarity of portions of it to The Shepherd of Hermas suggests a second-century date for them.


VI 1, 1–12, 22

[…] which […] | purpose […: | after …] | us […] 5 apostles […]. | We sailed […] | of the body. [Others] were not | anxious in [their | hearts]. And in our hearts, we were 10 united. We agreed to fulfill | the ministry to which | the Lord appointed us. And we | made a covenant with each other. |

We went down to the sea at 15 an opportune moment, which came | to us from the Lord. We | found a ship moored at the shore | ready to embark, | and we spoke with the sailors of 20 the ship about our coming aboard with them. | They showed great | kindliness toward us as | was ordained by the Lord. | And after we had embarked, 25 we sailed a day and a night. After that, | a wind came up behind the ship and | brought us to a small city | in the midst of the sea. 30

And I, Peter, inquired about the name | of this city from residents | who were | standing on the dock. 2 [A man] among [them] answered, [saying, | “The name] of this [city is | Habitation, that is], Foundation […] | endurance.” And 5 the leader [among them | holding] the palm branch at the edge of [the dock]. | And after we had gone ashore [with the] | baggage, I [went] | into [the] city, to seek [advice] 10 about lodging.

A man came out | wearing a cloth | bound around his waist, | and a gold belt girded [it]. | Also a napkin was tied over [his] 15 chest, extending over | his shoulders and covering his head | and his hands.

I was staring at the | man, because he was beautiful in his | form and stature. There were four 20 parts of his body that | I saw: the soles of his | feet and a part of his | chest and the palms of his | hands and his visage. 25 These things I was able to see. | A book cover like (those of) my | books was in his left hand. | A staff of styrax wood was in | his right hand. His 30 voice was resounding as he slowly spoke, | crying out in the city, | “Pearls! Pearls!”

I, | indeed, thought he was a man [of] | that city. I said 35 to him, “My brother and my friend!” 3 [He answered] me, [then, saying, | “Rightly] did you say, ‘[My brother | and] my friend.’ What is it you [seek] | from me?” I said to him, “[I 5 ask] you [about] lodging for me | [and the] brothers also, because we | are strangers here.” He said [to] me, | “For this reason have I myself just said, | ‘My brother and my friend,’ 10 because I also am a fellow stranger | like you.”

And | having said these things, he cried out, | “Pearls! Pearls!” | The rich men of that 15 city heard his voice. | They came out of their hidden storerooms. | And some were | looking out from the storerooms | of their houses. Others 20 looked out from their | upper windows. And they did not see (that they could gain) | anything from him, because | there was no pouch on his back nor | bundle inside his cloth 25 and napkin. And because of their | disdain they did not | even acknowledge him. | He, for his part, did not reveal himself to them. | They returned to their 30 storerooms, saying, | “This man is mocking us.” |

And the poor [of that city] heard 4 [his voice, | and they came to] the man [who sells | this pearl. They said], | “Please take the trouble to [show us 5 the] pearl [so that we may], then, [see] | it with our (own) eyes. For we are [the poor]. | And we do not have this […] price | to pay for it. But [show us] | that we might say to our friends that [we saw] 10 a pearl with our (own) eyes.” He | answered, saying to them, “If | it is possible, come to my city, | so that I may not only show it | before your (very) eyes, but give it to 15 you for nothing.”

And indeed they, | the poor of that city, heard | and said, “Since we | are beggars, we surely | know that a man does not give a pearl 20 to a beggar, but (it is) bread | and money that is usually received. | Now then, the kindness which we want to receive | from you (is) that you show | us the pearl before our eyes. 25 And we will say to our friends | proudly that we saw a | pearl with our (own) eyes” — because | it is not found among the poor, especially | such beggars (as these). He answered 30 (and) said to them, “If it is | possible, you yourselves come | to my city, so that I may not only | show you it, but give it | to you for nothing.” 35 The poor and the beggars rejoiced because of 5 the man [who gives for] nothing.

[The men | asked Peter] about the hardships. | Peter answered [and | told] those things that he had heard about the [hardships] 5 of [the] way. Because they are [interpreters of the] | hardships in their ministry. |

He said to the man who sells this | pearl, “I want | to know your name and the hardships of 10 the way to your city because we | are strangers and servants of | God. It is necessary for us to spread | the word of God in | every city harmoniously.” He 15 answered and said, “If you | seek my name, Lithargoel | is my name, the interpretation of which is, | the light, gazelle-like stone. |

“And also (concerning) the road to the city, 20 which you asked me about, I will tell you | about it. No man is able to go | on that road, except one | who has forsaken everything that | he has and has fasted 25 daily from stage to stage. | For many are the robbers and | wild beasts on that road. | The one who carries bread with him | on the road, the black dogs 30 kill because of | the bread. The one who carries a costly garment | of the world with him, | the robbers kill 6 [because of the] garment. [The one who carries] water | [with him, the wolves kill because | of the water], since they were thirsty [for] it. | [The one who] is anxious about [meat] and 5 green vegetables, the lions eat | because of the meat. [If] he evades | the lions, the bulls | devour him because of the green vegetables.” |

When he had said [these] things to me, I sighed 10 within myself, saying, “[Great] | hardships are on the road! If only | Jesus would give us power to walk it!” | He looked at me since my face was sad, and I | signed. He said to me, “Why 15 do you sigh, if you, indeed, know | this name ‘Jesus’ and believe him? | He is a great power for giving strength. | For I too believe in the Father | who sent him.”

I replied, 20 asking him, “What is the name | of the place to which you go, | your city?” He said to me, | “This is the name of my city, | ‘Nine Gates.’ Let us praise God 25 as we are mindful that the tenth | is the head.” After this I went away | from him in peace.

As I was | about to go and call my friends, I | saw waves and large 30 high walls surrounding | the bounds of the city. I | marveled at the great things I saw. | I saw an old man | sitting and I asked him if the name of the 35 city was really 7 [Habitation]. He […], | “Habitation …].” | He said to me, “[You | speak] truly, for we [inhabit] here 5 because [we] endure.”

[I | responded], saying, “Justly | […] have men named it | […], because (by) everyone | [who] endures his trials, 10 cities are inhabited, | and a precious kingdom | comes from them, because | they endure in the midst of the | apostasies and the difficulties of the storms. 15 So that in this way, the city of everyone | who endures the burden of his yoke | of faith will be inhabited, | and he will be included in | the kingdom of heaven.”

I hurried 20 and went and called my | friends so that we might go to the city | that he, Lithargoel, appointed for us. | In a bond | of faith we forsook 25 everything as | he had said (to do). We evaded | the robbers, because they did not | find their garments with us. | We evaded the 30 wolves, because they did not find the water | with us for which they thirsted. | We evaded the lions, | because they did not find the desire | for meat with us. 8 [We evaded the bulls … 3 they did not find] green vegetables. |

A great joy [came upon] us [and a] 5 peaceful carefreeness [like | that of] our Lord. We [rested | ourselves] in front of the gate, [and] | we talked with each other [about that] | which is not a distraction of this [world]. 10 Rather we continued in contemplation | of the faith.

As we discussed the | robbers on the road, whom we | evaded, behold | Lithargoel, having changed, came out to 15 us. He had the appearance of a physician, | since an unguent box was under | his arm, and a young disciple was | following him carrying a pouch | full of medicine. 20 We did not recognize him. |

Peter responded and said to him, | “We want you to do | us a favor, because we are | strangers, and take us to the house of 25 Lithargoel before evening comes.” | He said, “In uprightness | of heart I will show it to you. | But I am amazed at how | you knew this good man. 30 For he does not reveal himself to | every man, because he himself | is the son of a great king. | Rest yourselves a little so | that I may go and heal this man 35 and come (back).” He hurried and came (back) 9 quickly.

He said to Peter, | “Peter!” And Peter was frightened, | for how did he know | that his name was Peter? 5 Peter responded to the Savior, | “How do you know me, | for you called my name?” | Lithargoel answered, “I | want to ask you who gave the 10 name Peter to you?” He | said to him, “It was Jesus Christ, the | son of the living God. He | gave this name to me.” He answered | and said, “It is I! Recognize me, 15 Peter.” He loosened the garment, | which clothed him — the one into which | he had changed himself because of us – | revealing to us in truth that | it was he.

We prostrated ourselves 20 on the ground and worshipped him. We | comprised eleven disciples. | He stretched forth his hand | and caused us to stand. We spoke with | him humbly. Our heads were 25 bowed down in unworthiness | as we said, “What you | wish we will do. But | give us power to do | what you wish at all times.” 30

He gave them the unguent box | and the pouch | that was in the hand of the young disciple. | He commanded them like this, 10 saying, “Go into [the] | city from which you came, | which is called Habitation. | Continue in endurance as you 5 teach all those who have believed | in my name, because I have endured | in hardships of the faith. I | will give you your reward. To the | poor of that city give 10 what they need in order to live | until I give them what is better, | which I told you that I will give | you for nothing.”

Peter answered | and said to him, 15 “Lord, you have taught us to | forsake the world and | everything in it. We have renounced them | for your sake. What we are concerned about (now) | is the food for a single day. 20 Where will we be able to find the needs that you ask | us to provide for the poor?” |

The Lord answered and said, | “O Peter, it was necessary | that you understand the parable 25 that I told you! Do you not understand | that my name, which you teach, | surpasses all riches, | and the wisdom of God | surpasses gold, and silver 30 and precious stone(s)?” |

He gave them the pouch | of medicine and said, | “Heal all the sick | of the city who believe 11 [in] my name.” Peter was afraid | [to] reply to him for the second time. | He signaled to the one who was beside | him, who was John: “You 5 talk this time.” | John answered and said, | “Lord, before you we are afraid | to say many words. | But it is you who asks us 10 to practice this skill. We have not been | taught to be physicians. How then | will we know how to heal bodies | as you have told us?” |

He answered them, “Rightly have you 15 spoken, John, for I know | that the physicians of this world | heal what belongs to the world. | The physicians of souls, however, | heal the heart. Heal 20 the bodies first, therefore, so | that through the | real powers of healing | for their bodies, without medicine of | the world, they may believe in you, 25 that you have power to heal | the illnesses of the heart also.

“The | rich men of the city, however, those | who did not see fit | even to acknowledge me, but who 30 reveled in their | wealth and pride — | with such as these, therefore, 12 do not dine in [their] houses | nor be friends with them, | lest their partiality | influence you. For many in the churches have 5 shown partiality to the rich, because | they also are sinful, | and they give occasion for | others to sin. But judge | them with uprightness, so 10 that your ministry may | be glorified, and that | my name also, may be glorified in the | churches.” The disciples | answered and said, “Yes, 15 truly this is what is fitting | to do.”

They prostrated themselves on the ground | and worshipped him. He caused them | to stand and departed from | them in peace. Amen. 20

The Acts of Peter |

and the Twelve |


[ 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.

| 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.

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. 287


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