The Preaching of Peter is an early Christian text notable for being among the first to refer to Christians as a “third race” of people separate from Jews and Greeks. Due to its unusual fragmentary nature, relatively few scholars have devoted significant attention to the text. The known portions of the Preaching of Peter exist only thanks to two ancient authors, Clement of Alexandria and Origen of Alexandria, who quote parts of it in their own writings.
Because Clement wrote near the end of the second century CE and beginning of the third century CE, the Preaching of Peter can be dated to the second century with some confidence. Although the Greek text bears the name of Peter, the apostle Peter likely did not write it. Before quoting the text, Origen doubts that the Preaching of Peter was written by Peter himself and does not accept it in the emerging biblical canon. Clement, however, appears to believe that the text was written by Peter and granted it similar authority to biblical scripture.
What does the Preaching of Peter say about other religions? Does the Preaching of Peter create space for Christians at the expense of Jews and Greeks?
The Preaching of Peter covers a variety of familiar Christian topics, including the nature of the Divine, proper worship, the new covenant, Christian identity, evangelism, and salvation. Perhaps most interesting and surprising among these are the fragments detailing proper worship, which criticize non-Christian worship practices. The author of the text sternly warns his audience not to worship like Jews or Greeks. He calls the Greeks ignorant, ungrateful, and atheistic. He accuses them of worshipping animals, ancestors, and idols created from earthly materials. Oddly, the animal worship he describes more closely resembles Egyptian religion than Greek or Roman practices.
The author then moves on to condemn Jews, also accusing them of ignorance. He claims that they worship celestial beings—angels, archangels, and the moon. He further criticizes their attachment to the moon, alleging that when the moon does not appear, they do not celebrate their religious holidays. Later, the author gives reasoning for his critique: “[Christ] arranged a new covenant for us; for the ancient practices belong to the Greeks and Jews, but we, who worship him in a new way, as a third type (or race), are Christians” (translation by the Roman World Lab). The author implies that Greek and Jewish worship is no longer appropriate because it has been made obsolete by Jesus. Christian worship, on the other hand, is proper worship according to the author, although he does not describe this worship.
In many ways, the Preaching of Peter is a part of its second century environment. Critiques of pagan religion were a common theme in Jewish and Christian literature of the first two centuries CE. The text stands alongside several other texts from the second century in which we see Christians engaged in the process of self-identification through the use of the language of peoplehood, nations, and ethnicity to claim legitimacy. That this discourse is polemical and misrepresents both Jewish and Greek or Roman worship is also common.
Why isn’t the Preaching of Peter more well-known? And why is it significant?
The fragmentary nature of the Preaching of Peter makes it difficult to study, and the text raises as many questions as it answers. How many other topics were covered in the original? What were the contexts of the recovered fragments? What is the overarching message of The Preaching of Peter? The Preaching of Peter is also hard to locate in the landscape of early Christianity because the themes it addresses have parallels with such a broad range of early Christian texts. On the one hand, there are similarities to texts that will become part of the New Testament
. Both illuminate God’s all-powerful character, feature the Lord commissioning his disciples, describe the process of salvation, and summarize the major events of Jesus’s life as proof that he was the promised Messiah. On the other hand, there are clear similarities between the Preaching of Peter and apologetic texts from later in the second century that presented a public defense of Christianity.
Kathleen Arbogast, Zoe Grout, Rubén R. Dupertuis , "Preaching of Peter", n.p. [cited 16 Aug 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/main-articles/preaching-of-peter
Kathleen Arbogast (Class of 2021) is from Austin, TX and majored in Religion and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Trinity University.
Zoe Grout (Class of 2022) is from Houston, TX. She is currently an English major, with minors in Religion and Geosciences at Trinity University.
Rubén R. Dupertuis is Associate Professor of Religion and Chair of the Religion Department at Trinity University. His research interests include early Christian narrative, with a special interest in the Acts of the Apostles, The Gospel of Peter, education in the Greco-Roman world, and the role of the Bible in American popular culture. He currently coleads the Roman World Lab, a research lab featuring undergraduate research.