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The “Letter of Peter to James” and its “Reception”

The “Letter of Peter to James” is one of a number of early Christian writings pseudonymously written in the name of Jesus’ disciple, Simon Peter (cf. the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter, both included in this collec­ tion). It does not survive as an independently transmitted letter, but only as the preface to the “Homilies of Clement” a collection of legendary stories and sermons of Clement of Rome (see below).1 The account of its “Recep­ tion” by James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, is also part of this preface. The Letter of Peter urges James to pass along the accompanying sermons carefully to those who are worthy to receive them, and to no one else. The clear concern is that Peter’s teachings not be corrupted by those who have a different understanding of the truth. Both the Letter and the Reception are Jewish-Christian in their orientation, as seen in their emphasis on emulating the actions of Moses, on keeping the Law, and on opposing the person Peter calls “the man who is my enemy.”2 Peter’s opponent here is commonly understood to be none other than the apostle Paul (cf. Gal 2: 11–14), who taught that salvation comes to all people, Jew and Gentile, apart from following the Law of Moses, and who urged Gentiles not to be circumcised (Gal. 5:2–12). This Pauline notion stood in sharp contrast to the views of Jewish Christians like the Ebionites, as seen here, for example, in the insistence by James (the brother of Jesus himself) that only “one who has been circumcised is a believing Christian.” It is difficult to determine the date of the composition of these works, but they are probably to be situated in the early third century.

1 For more information on the “Pseudo-Clementine” literature, see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 182– 85. 2On Jewish Christianity, see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 95–103.

Translation by Johannes Irmscher and George Strecker, in Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2 (rev. ed.: Cambridge/ Louisville: Lutterworth/Westminister/ John Knox, 1991) 493–94; used with permission.


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