Biblical Archaeology: The Letter of Peter which he sent to Philip

The Letter of Peter which he sent to Philip

Dating and Discovery

The Coptic versions currently known to exist were written between the late 2nd century CE and early 3rd century CE (170-220 CE), titled “The Letter of Peter which he sent to Philip“. Currently scholars have discovered two copies of this letter in Egypt. The first copy which was discovered in the Nag Hammadi Library (1945) and the second one in El Minya (1970), as part of the Tchacos Codex. This codex is more famously known to contain the Gospel of Judas, however, multiple other texts are in the codex. The version discovered in the Nag Hammadi library was found on the last 9 pages of Codex VIII. The dating of the original Greek versions are unknown.


The author is unknown, but was likely a Greek speaking Christian Gnostic who was well versed in Christian tradition. While the two copies we have of this letter are in Coptic writing, the originals were likely written in Greek. This is theorized because the number of Greek idioms and loan words found within the text. [Nag Hammadi Codex VII, edited by Birger Birger Albert Pearson, Frederik Wisse]


The reason for the letter start with Peter requesting Philip to return to Jerusalem to rejoin the other disciples. Jesus had appeared to them at the Mount of Olives and delivered a new revelation. For reasons not explained in the letter, Peter is requiring Philip to join them in order that they might spread this new message and the gospel.

The main theme of the letter stems from the questions that the apostles ask Jesus. These questions serve as the setup for the letter.

Then the apostles answered 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?” Further: “How did we come to this place?” And: “In what manner shall we depart?” Again: “How do we have the authority of boldness?” And: “Why do the powers fight against us?”

In the letter there is heavy use of the words aeons and pleroma. These terms were fairly common Gnostic thought. The definition of both are below.

Aeon: an indefinite and very long period of time, often a period exaggerated for humorous or rhetorical effect.
Pleroma: (in Gnosticism) the spiritual universe as the abode of God and of the totality of the divine powers and emanations. (in Christian theology) the totality or fullness of the Godhead that dwells in Christ.

Translation from Coptic to English

Translated by Frederik Wisse

The Letter of Peter which he sent to Philip

“Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ, to Philip, our beloved brother and our fellow apostle, 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 to give instruction and preach in the salvation which was promised us by 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 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 (words), and when he had read them, he went to Peter rejoicing with gladness. Then Peter gathered the others also. They went upon the mountain which is called “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 their knees, they prayed thus saying, “Father, Father, Father of the light, who possesses the incorruptions, hear us just as thou hast taken pleasure in thy holy child Jesus Christ. For he became for us an illuminator in the darkness. Yea hear us!”

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

Then a great light appeared so that the mountains shone from the sight of him who had appeared. And a voice called out to them saying, “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 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?” Further: “How did we come to this place?” And: “In what manner shall we depart?” Again: “How do we have the authority of boldness?” And: “Why do the powers fight against us?”

Then a voice came to them out of the light saying, “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 is the deficiency, when the disobedience and the foolishness of the mother appeared without the commandment of the majesty of the Father. She wanted 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 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. And he enclosed it in the aeons which are dead. And all the powers of the world rejoiced that they had been begotten. 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 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, 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 the semblance which had merged.”

“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. 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 who harkened today. And I gave him authority in order that he might enter into the inheritance of his fatherhood. And I took […] they were filled […] in his salvation. And since he was a deficiency, for this reason he became a pleroma.”

“It is because of this 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.”

“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 worshiped again saying, “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, “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 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 helped you by sending me. Be not afraid, I am with you forever, as I previously said to you when I was in the body.” Then there came lightning and 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 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 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 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 necessary that they bring you to synagogues and governors, so that you will suffer. But he who does not suffer and does not […] the Father […] in order that he may […].”

And the apostles 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, 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. 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 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 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, and walk in […].”

[…] Then Peter gathered together the others also, saying, “O, Lord Jesus Christ, author of our rest, 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, And each one performed healings. And they parted in order to preach the Lord Jesus. And they came together and greeted each other saying, “Amen.”

Then Jesus appeared saying to them, “Peace to you all and everyone who believes in my name. And when you depart, 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 into four words in order to preach. And they went by a power of Jesus, in peace.

Original translation of this text was prepared by members of the
Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate School.
The Coptic Gnostic Library Project was funded by UNESCO, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other Institutions.
E. J. Brill has asserted copyright on texts published by the Coptic Gnostic Library Project.

The translation presented here has been edited, modified and formatted for use in the Gnostic Society Library.
For academic citation, please refer to published editions of this text.

Nag Hammadi Codices from Claremont Colleges Digital Library

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