Question: "What is the Apocalypse of Peter?"
Answer: The Apocalypse of Peter, also known as the Revelation of Peter, is a piece of literature believed to have been written around the middle of the second century A.D. The Apocalypse of Peter should not be confused with the Gnostic Gospel of Peter, a completely different work. The Apocalypse of Peter does not exist in an entire manuscript, but has been found in quotations from early church leaders and two partial fragments. The first fragment, written in Greek, was found in Egypt in 1886; a second, Ethiopian fragment was found in 1910. The text is short, no more than a few dozen verses, and the authorship is unknown.
The two fragments found represent separate versions of the Apocalypse of Peter. The Greek and Ethiopian versions differ considerably, although they involve much of the same subject matter. In the Greek version, the disciples ask Jesus to show them believers who have passed from this world into righteousness. Christ shows them a wonderful vision of the redeemed, but He also shows them a terrible and frightening picture of the condemned. This scene has many similarities to the Greek myths of the underworld. Readers of Dante’s Inferno would find the descriptions in the Greek fragment oddly familiar.
In the Ethiopian version, the disciples ask Christ to tell them some of the signs of the end times and to further explain the incident with the fig tree (Mark 11). Christ unveils a vision of the future that includes epic levels of destruction and chaos. This version also makes mention of the beautiful state of the righteous and the horrible torment of the unrighteous.
The Apocalypse of Peter was not accepted by early Christians into the collection of scriptures that became the Bible. There were some early Christian writers who considered it inspired, but the general consensus left it out of the final canon of Scripture. Not only do both versions of the text include imagery clearly drawn from Greek mythology, but the Apocalypse of Peter also diverges from well-established Biblical principles. For these reasons, the Apocalypse of Peter was not included in the list of books of the Bible.
The Apocalypse of Peter was probably in wide circulation at some point, given the frequency of quotations in other sources. As an historical document, it provides interesting insights into the beliefs and opinions of some early Christians. However, as a non-inspired work, it is valuable only for reference. Like the many other ancient documents that became part of the Old and New Testament Apocrypha, the Apocalypse of Peter is not a reliable source of doctrine.