What do you think about The Apocalypse of Peter regarding the eventual salvation of all sinners?

edited July 2019 in Coptic Orthodox Church
Scholars commonly estimate the date for the Apocalypse of Peter to be from c.90-150 AD and its place of writing to be Egypt. The Muratorian Canon and Clement Alexandrine included it as canonical, but it eventually fell out of use. In the link below are: an incomplete Greek version, citations from the Apocalypse of Peter by the Church
fathers, and an Ethiopic version:

What do you think about the passage below from the Apocalypse of Peter that
implies that all sinners will be eventually be saved? Does this imply
that their suffering in the afterlife would be something like the Catholic concept of purgatory?

First, Peter sees the Last Judgment, which separates the righteous from the sinners:
And he showed me in his right hand the souls of all men, And on the palm of
his right hand the image of that which shall be accomplished at the last day:
and how the righteous and the sinners shall be separated, and how they do that
are upright in heart, and how the evil-doers shall be rooted out unto all

Then, the modern editor M.R. James quotes the following conversation between Christ and Peter regarding the sinners, and he puts his own editorial comments in brackets:
The Father hath committed all judgement unto the Son.

[The destiny of sinners -their eternal doom- is more than Peter can endure: he appeals to Christ to have pity on them.]

And my Lord answered me and said to me: "Hast thou understood that which
I said unto thee before? It is permitted unto thee to know that
concerning which thou askest: but thou must not tell that which thou
hearest unto the sinners lest they transgress the more, and sin."

[Peter weeps many hours, and is at last consoled by an answer which,
though exceedingly diffuse and vague does seem to promise ultimate
pardon for all:]

"My Father will give unto them all the life, the glory, and the kingdom
that passeth not away,' . . . 'It is because of them that have believed
in me that I am come. It is also because of them that have believed in
me, that, at their word, I shall have pity on men."

M. R. James comments further: "The doctrine that sinners will be saved at last by the
prayers of the righteous is, rather obscurely, enunciated in the Second
Book of the Sibylline Oracles (a paraphrase, in this part, of the
Apocalypse), and in the (Coptic) Apocalypse of Elias."

Wikipedia's article on the Apocalypse of Peter gives the following interpretation and cites God's words from the Apocalypse of Peter:
Thus, sinners will finally be saved by the prayers of those in heaven. Peter then
orders his son Clement not to speak of this revelation since God had
told Peter to keep it secret:

[and God said]"... thou must not tell that which thou hearest unto the sinners lest they transgress the more, and sin."

Do God's words in the passage that Peter must not inform the sinners about their future salvation imply that Christians in Peter's own lifetime
hadn't heard the passage's teaching of universal salvation?


  • this book is not canonical, we don't use it.
  • That's right, Mabsoota. It was one of the writings from the first and second centuries that was once widespread and respected but then fell out of use.
  • edited July 2019
    It turns out that scholars generally think that the long passage about keeping the vision a secret and about universal salvation that I was asking about is a separate story, written centuries later as a continuation of the Apocalypse of Peter. I had taken it from M.R. James' translation, and he had begun this section with the heading "There is a great deal more of the Ethiopic text, but it is very evidently of later date; the next words are:"

    R. B. Bauckham explains that in the Ethiopic manuscripts, the Apocalypse of Peter
    forms the first part of the work called "The Second Coming of Christ
    and the Resurrection of the Dead." He writes that the Apocalypse of Peter
    is readily distinguishable from the secondary continuation which has been attached to it and which begins: 'Peter opened his mouth and said to me, 'Listen, my son Clement.'" [Its] relevance... is that [it refers] to the secret mystery revealed by Christ to Peter, of the divine mercy to sinners secured by Christ's intercession for them at the Last Judgment. In particular this is the central theme of the... work, 'The Second Coming of Christ and the Resurrection of the Dead,' and was presumably inspired by the passage about the salvation of the damned in ApPet 14... The other prominent feature of the teaching is the emphatic insistence on the need to keep the eschatological mercy of God for sinners hidden from sinners in this life, since this would rob the threat of damnation of its essential deterrent function in their lives. [It] is closely linked with exegesis of Psalm 30:20, and fulfils the apologetic function of explaining why universal salvation is not clearly taught in Scripture.)
    (SOURCE: R.B. Bauckham, The Fate of the Dead: Studies on the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses)

    In the passage above Bauckham refers to Chapter 14 of the Apocalypse of Peter, which in the earliest fragment found, the 3rd century Rainer Fragment, runs:

    Then will I give unto my called and my chosen whomsoever they shall ask me for, out of torment, and will give them a fair baptism in (or unto) salvation from the Acherusian lake which men so call in the Elysian field, even a portion of righteousness with my holy ones. And I will depart, I and my chosen, rejoicing, with the patriarchs, unto mine eternal kingdom, and I will perform for them the promises which I promised them, I and my Father which is in heaven.
    (SOURCE: M.R. James' translation in The Journal of Theological Studies)

    Bauckham translates the Rainer Fragment's passage similarly:
    Then I will grant to my called and elect ones whomsoever they request
    from me, out of the punishment. And I will give them [i.e. those for
    whom the elect pray] a fine baptism in salvation from the Acherousian
    lake (which is, they say, in the Elysian field), a portion of
    righteousness with my holy ones.

    Jason Pratt notes that the Ethiopic version refers to baptising the "peoples" in the Elysian Fields, and that the Elysian Fields were a pagan concept. Since the "peoples" were undergoing baptism,
    it seems that the reference is to the salvation of non-Christian
    peoples, because Christians would already have been baptised. (Does "Apocalypse of Peter" show UR in the Early Church?)

    Bauckham explains the thinking underlying Chapter 14 this way:
    The justice of the punishment of the persecutors is a justice owed
    primarily to the persecuted. But in that case it is a punishment that
    can be remitted if the martyrs themselves desire mercy for their
    persecutors. ... So if it is for his people's sake that God must punish
    their oppressors, then for his people's sake (as SibOr 2:355,
    interpreting ApPet 14, states) he can save those for whom they desire
    mercy... One obstacle to universal salvation - that of which the
    apocalyptic tradition, because of its origins in situations of injustice
    and persecution, was most aware - is effectively removed by the
    compassion and forgiveness of the saints. Other obstacles are not
    considered, and it is not, of course, actually stated that salvation
    will be universal, but as extensive as the compassion of the elect.

    Some part in the origin of this idea must have been played by Plato,
    Phaedo 114A-B, according to which a certain class of sinners, who have
    committed serious crimes but are curable, can escape from torment into
    the purifying waters of the Acherusian lake only by seeking and
    obtaining forgiveness from those they have injured... But it is tempting
    to guess that the idea found a home in a Christian apocalypse because
    of its coherence with the Christian tradition of forgiveness for enemies
    and especially of the martyrs' forgiveness for their persecutiors. If
    the martyrs, instead of predicting their persecutors' punishment in
    hell, prayed for their forgiveness, then surely (it would have been
    thought) they will do so all the more when their erstwhile persecutors
    beg their forgiveness and itnercession on the Day of Judgment.
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