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The Letter of Peter to Philip is a gnostic Christian epistle found in the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt. It was dated to be written around late 2nd century to early 3rd century CE and focuses on a post-crucifixion appearance and teachings of Jesus Christ to the apostles on the Mount of Olives, or Mount Olivet.
The Letter of Peter to Philip, found in the cache of texts at Nag Hammadi and bound into Codex VIII, contains a brief letter purporting to be from Saint Peter to Saint Philip, followed by a narrative and gnostic discourse upon the nature of Christ. It was probably written in the late 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd, originally in Greek, but translated into Coptic in the Nag Hammadi text. The title of the Letter is originally "The Letter of Peter Which He Sent to Philip", but is commonly simplified to "The Letter of Peter to Philip". Another copy of the letter has more recently been found in the Codex Tchacos and is titled plainly as "The Letter of Peter to Philip".
The Nag Hammadi Library
The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of thirteen codices that was found near the Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi in 1945. Many writings found in this library are referred to as “Gnostic Gospels” because most of the documents contain gnostic teachings that conflicted with the beliefs of proto-orthodox Christianity, which at the time was becoming the predominant form of Christianity. Therefore, most were rejected from the canon as Orthodox Christianity was formed in the early centuries C.E.
Summary of the Text
The Letter of Peter to Philip begins with a greeting from the apostle Peter, the presumed author of this letter. It continues with Peter speaking directly to Philip, expressing his (Peter’s) wish that Philip rejoin the apostles in their evangelization mission. When Philip and the apostles meet on the Mount Olives, they prayed together twice, each time emphasizing light as a symbol of Jesus. After their prayers, the apostles are visited by a great light from the sky identifying itself as “Jesus Christ who is with you forever”. He began teaching the apostles of the aeons and their pleroma, followed by a series of questions from apostles about their struggles against the archons and how much they must suffer for the sake of their faith. Once the light disappeared from them, the apostles left the Mount Olives to go to Jerusalem, continuing their evangelization.
Analysis and Scholarly Reception
The Letter of Peter to Philip is the last concluding tractate of the Nag Hammadi Codex VIII. Its predecessor is the Sethian text, Zostrianos. It is speculated by scholars that the Letter of Peter to Philip was chosen as the last tractate for its convenience of brevity. This is supported by the fact that the Letter and Zostrianos share little theological or literary relationship. The Letter uses passages that are reminiscent of the Gospel of John and Acts of the Apostles which indicates that the author may have attempted to classify the text as one of the acts of the apostles.
The Letter is considered to be Petrine in nature because of Peter's position as the leader of the apostles. The addressee of the Letter, Saint Philip, is portrayed as submissive, answering to Saint Peter's authority. In early Christianity, there was a conflict between the traditions associated with Peter and Philip. This letter is supposed by some scholars to be a "Petrine document designed to promote Peter's primacy in the early church." In addition, this document attempts to claim true apostolic authority by connecting the teachings Jesus gives in this post-crucifixion appearance with those he delivered during his earthly ministry. This would have been a bold assertion in the face of the proto-orthodox Christianity that was gaining power over other types of early Christianity.
- Marvin, Meyer; Robinson, James M. (2009). The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. HarperCollins Publishers. p. 585. ISBN 9780062046369.
- "Nag Hammadi Library". www.gnosis.org. Retrieved 2015-12-04.
- “The Letter of Peter to Philip.” Trans. Frederik Wisse. The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition. Ed. James M Robinson. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990. PDF.
- Os, Bas van. “The Role of the Apostles in the Letter of Peter to Philip.” Annali di storia dell’esegesi 29.2 (2012): 155-60. ATLA Religion. Web. 15 Oct 2015.