The (Apellean) Gospel of Peregrinus

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by Roger Parvus


This post continues from The Author of the So-Called Ignatians was an Apellean Christian

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.

Links to all posts in this series are collated at: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius



In the letters of Peregrinus there are some passages that concern his gospel. If, as I have proposed, he was an Apellean Christian, we can expect to find here too some rough-edged and clumsy corrections by his proto-Catholic editor/interpolator.




8:2. But I exhort you to do nothing in a spirit of faction—instead, in accordance with the teachings of Christ. For I heard some saying, “If I do not find [in] the archives in the gospel I do not believe.” And when I said to them, “It is written,” they responded, “That is what is in question.”

But my archives are Jesus Christ; the inviolable archives are his cross, his death, his resurrection, and the faith which is through him. It is by these that I desire to be justified, with the help of your prayers.

[9:1. The priests are good, but better is the high priest who has been entrusted with the holy of holies; he alone has been entrusted with the secrets of God. He is himself the door of the Father, through which enter in Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets and the apostles and the church. All these combine in the unity of God.

9:2. Nevertheless]

The gospel has a distinction all its own, namely the appearing of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering and his resurrection.

[For the beloved prophets announced him, but the Gospel is the completion of imperishability. All these things are good, if you believe with love.]

It seems incredible that Christians would not believe in the gospel if it could not be located in the Old Testament, so scholars have proposed radical alterations to the text.

The above passage begins by relating part of an exchange the prisoner had with his Judaizing opponents. There is almost universal agreement that the “archives” in the second sentence refers to the Old Testament. And most scholars are in agreement as to the general sense of the verse: The Judaizers were Christians but insisted that the gospel meet some Old Testament-related requirement of theirs. But beyond that, there has been much debate about the punctuation and precise interpretation of the verse. The biggest problem is that at face value it seems to say that if the Judaizers’ requirement is not met they do not believe in the gospel.

It seems incredible that Christians would not believe in the gospel. So, to avoid such a radical interpretation, a number of alterations have been proposed.

Some have wanted to simply delete the words “in the gospel” as a later gloss. Others, to arrive at the same result by another route, argue that the verse in question contains implied words that are lost in a literal translation. William Schoedel for example, proposes that

“the object (‘it’) should be supplied in the second part of the sentence just as it is in the first. And something like the verb ‘to be’ (or ‘to be found’) can also easily be supplied” (Ignatius of Antioch, pp. 207-8).

Thus Schoedel’s translation is:

“If I do not find (it) in the archives, I do not believe (it to be) in the gospel.”

In this way the Judaizers are made to reject only those parts of the gospel that are not found in the Old Testament. Michael Goulder, for one, considers that solution “implausible” (“Ignatius’ ‘Docetists’” in Vigiliae Christianae, 53, p. 17, n. 4), but to Schoedel it is definitely preferable to accepting at face value the statement that the Judaizing Christians do not believe in the gospel.

He writes:

Conceivably a group of Christians could have declared rhetorically their unwillingness to believe the gospel unless it was backed up by Scripture simply to make clear the importance of Scripture to them. But then why would Ignatius have replied by saying, ‘It is written’? And why would they have challenged him on that as if to suggest that the truth of the gospel itself was in doubt? (Ignatius of Antioch, p. 207, n. 3)

If the author of the letters is an Apellean these problems vanish.

My theory that the author of the letters was an Apellean can provide plausible answers to Schoedel’s questions. As I explained in an earlier post, the people who are stigmatized as ‘Judaizers’ in the letters are in fact proto-Catholics. Peregrinus calls them Judaizers on account of their full use of the Old Testament to support their Christianity. Their declaration of unwillingness to accept a gospel unless it is backed up by the Old Testament is not just “rhetorical.”

The reply — “I said to them, ‘It is written’” — is puzzling to Schoedel because it shows that the author of the letters can in fact appeal to the Old Testament after all to back up his gospel. So why then were the Judaizers contesting it? And why were they not satisfied with his reply?

If the author of the letters is an Apellean these problems vanish, for Apelleans rejected most but not all of the Old Testament.  The debate, then, between Peregrinus and the proto-Catholic Judaizers would be about whether the Apellean gospel was sufficiently based on the Old Testament.

His gospel displays a number of Johannine affinities: relies more on


— the wisdom literature of the Old Testament than on the Law and Prophets;

— and some mildly gnostic features.

Only twice in the letters does Peregrinus quote the Old Testament and both times the quote is from the book of Proverbs (Prov. 3:34 quoted by IgnEph 5,3; Prov. 18:17 quoted by IgnMag. 12,10). And his gospel, as I have pointed out in previous posts, displays a number of Johannine affinities. That is of interest because some scholars hold that the Fourth Gospel relies more on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament than on the Law and Prophets. And the Fourth Gospel’s possession of some mildly gnostic features is in many ways compatible with the mild gnosticism of Apelles’ doctrine.


“That is what is in question”

There are, then, at least a few reasons to think that the Apellean gospel was Johannine-like, and it is known that some second-century proto-Catholics did not accept the Fourth Gospel. But the fact remains that the only Old Testament book quoted by Peregrinus is the book of Proverbs. If the Apellean gospel’s sole or even primary connection to the Old Testament was the book of Proverbs, would that have been enough to satisfy the proto-Catholics? And would an Apellean interpretation of Proverbs have been acceptable to them? The response in IgnPhil. 8:2 is appropriate: “That is what is in question;” which words—in literal translation of the Greek—are “it lies before us,’ and are paraphrased by Schoedel as: “that deserves investigation.”

There is no question that the proto-Catholics used the book of Proverbs to support their gospel. Justin, in his Dialogue with Trypho, quotes extensively from chapter eight of the book to prove that

God begat before all creatures a Beginning, a certain rational power proceeding from himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos . . . (ch. 61).

But Apelleans could have involved the Son only in the creation of the higher world. The lower world was created by their Glorious Angel, and his attempt to model it on the higher world failed miserably. So how could the proto-Catholics have accepted any gospel that was based on an Apellean interpretation of Proverbs? Again, “that is what is in question” (IgnPhil. 8:2).


Peregrinus dismisses their obsession with the Old Testament

Frustrated with that proto-Catholic response, Peregrinus impetuously dismisses their absurd obsession with the Old Testament by saying,

my archives are Jesus Christ; the inviolable archives are his cross, his death, his resurrection, and the faith which is through him. It is by these that I desire to be justified, with the help of your prayers.

He thus makes clear that his gospel doesn’t need the backing of the Old Testament, for his gospel

has a distinction all its own, namely the appearing of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering and his resurrection.


The flustered interpolator responds

The proto-Catholic editor/interpolator of the letters could not allow Peregrinus’ brush-off of the archives to stand uncorrected. Once again he makes an awkward insertion (the first bracketed and bolded section) that brings helter-skelter into the letter the priests of the Old Testament, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets. There is no rhyme or reason to his particular choices. He could just as easily have opted for Noah, Moses and David. The point was to bring in some representatives of the Old Testament in order to temper Peregrinus’ dismissal of it. The interpolator sets his Old Testament representatives alongside the apostles and the rest of the church and makes them all part of one happy family:

All these combine in the unity of God . . . All these things are good, if you believe with love.

Notice, however, that he seems to have slipped up in allowing the “appearing” (Greek: parousia) of the Savior to remain in the text. The Apellean Jesus was not born into this world. He appeared in it, having made a human body for himself in the course of his descent:

This man (Apelles) having first fallen in the flesh from the principles of Marcion into the company of women, and afterwards shipwrecked himself in the spirit on the virgin Philumena, proceeded from that time to preach that the body of Christ was of solid flesh, but without having been born. (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, 6)

The Apellean gospel, again like the Johannine one, apparently did not have a nativity section.




A bit earlier in the letter to the Philadelphians there is another passage that required intervention by the proto-Catholic editor/interpolator:


5:1. Your prayer will perfect me, that I may attain God by the lot I have been mercifully granted. I take refuge in the gospel as in the flesh of Jesus, and in the apostle[s] as the presbytery of the church.

[5:2. And we also love the prophets, because they too proclaimed the gospel, and hoped in him and waited for him; and by believing in him they were saved, being united with Jesus Christ. Worthy of love and worthy of admiration, they are saints, attested by Jesus Christ and enrolled in the gospel of our common hope.]

6:1. But if anyone in his interpretation expounds Judaism to you, do not listen to him. For it is better to hear Christianity from one who is circumcised than to hear Judaism from someone who is uncircumcised. But I look on both of them, if they do not speak of Jesus Christ, as monuments and tombstones which bear nothing more than the names of men.

6:2. Flee therefore the evil wiles and snares of the ruler of this age, lest being wearied by his scheming you grow weak in love. But assemble together, all of you, with an undivided heart.


Suspicious: the digression on the prophets

In this passage, we see again a suspicious section on the prophets. The prisoner says he takes refuge in the gospel and apostle[s] but then immediately and inexplicably launches into extensive praise of the prophets. Nowhere in the letters is he anywhere near as effusive about the apostles. And nowhere in the letters is there a single quote from the supposedly saintly and Christian Old Testament prophets.


Suspicious: the switch from “I” to “we”


Suspicious too is how in the section about the prophets there is a switch over to the first person plural. Peregrinus had been speaking about himself, using the singular, and the recourse he has to the gospel and apostle[s]. But then a switch occurs to “we” when the section that praises the prophets is introduced: “And we also love the prophets . . .”

As I see it, this passage shows the editor/interpolator again at work correcting a perceived deficiency in the Apellean beliefs held by the author of the letter.


From Marcion’s Gospel and Apostle

to Apelles’ Gospel and Apostle

Apelles, when he was affiliated with Marcion, would have had a canon that consisted of Gospel and Apostle. When he broke with Marcion he replaced the ‘Gospel’ section with a new gospel of his own, but he likely still retained the basic twofold division of his Christian authorities. I think it is that arrangement that comes through in IgnPhil.5:1:

I take refuge in the gospel as in the flesh of Jesus, and in the apostle[s] as the presbytery of the church (my emphases).


The proto-Catholic interpolator’s Gospel, Apostles and Prophets

The Prophets

The proto-Catholic editor/interpolator changed this twofold division in favor of an arrangement that covered all of Scripture. The change entailed adding the Prophets (often used as shorthand for the Old Testament) and replacing the singular ‘Apostle’ with the plural ‘Apostles.’ This is the kind of rough proto-Catholic canon that is present, for example,

  • in Irenaeus: “the prophets . . . the Lord (i.e. Gospel) . . . the apostles” (Against Heresies, 1,8,1,);
  • and “the Lord himself, the apostles, and the prophets”(Against Heresies, 3,17,4).
  • And in Hippolytus: “the prophets, the Lord, and the apostles” (Commentary on Daniel, 4,49).

And note that, after the section praising the prophets, Peregrinus issues a warning about anyone who “in his interpretation expounds Judaism,” even if that interpretation is made by “someone who is uncircumcised.” If we lift the bold bracketed section from the passage we can see the train of thought that was originally present: Peregrinus expressed the comfort he found in the Gospel and Apostle but warned his readers not to listen to anyone who would interpret those writings in a Judaizing manner. In other words, he was putting his readers on guard against the proto-Catholic versions of the gospel and Paul’s writings.

And that is why, too, he makes mention here of the “evil wiles and snares of the ruler of this age.” For Apelleans it was the ruler of evil who inspired the Law and the Prophets that proto-Catholics absurdly continued to respect.



Some scholars hold that the episodes related by this passage are drawn from oral tradition, not from a written gospel. Why?

Another interesting passage that deals with the Apellean gospel is in the letter to the Smyrneans. Peregrinus appeals to the gospel for support against his docetic opponents:


For I know and believe that even after his resurrection he was in the flesh.

And when he came to those who were with Peter, he said to them, “Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless phantom.” And immediately they touched him and believed, being intermingled with his flesh and his spirit. Because of that they despised death, and were found to rise above death.

Moreover, after his resurrection he ate and drank with them as a being of flesh, even though spiritually he was united with the Father.

Some scholars hold that the episodes related by this passage are drawn from oral tradition, not from a written gospel. Why? Because in the passage the author doesn’t anywhere say that he is appealing to a gospel.

Why should anyone expect him to use his Gospel any differently than he uses Paul’s letters?

To which I respond: Scholars universally agree that the author of the so-called Ignatians knew and used at least some of the Pauline letters, yet when Peregrinus uses them he doesn’t give the slightest tipoff that he is doing so. That is to say, if the Paulines were not extant, we would not even be aware of his many allusions to them. So why should anyone expect him to use his Gospel any differently than he uses his Apostle? If in the letters we never find “as Paul says…,” or “heed these words of the Apostle…,” or “as we read in the letter to so-and-so….,” why should we expect to find words like “as is written in the gospel”?

Another argument sometimes used by scholars who contend that the Smyrnean passage is not based on a written gospel is that it contains no clear demarcation of where the source material ends and where the words of the author of the letter begin. If Peregrinus was using a written gospel, wouldn’t he have been careful to clearly distinguish his words from the words of his text? In the Smyrnean passage, as Schoedel points out, the words “being intermingled with his flesh and spirit” may very be the prisoner’s. (Ignatius of Antioch, p. 227).

The biggest obstacle preventing scholars from recognizing that the Smyrnean passage draws from a written source is that it cannot be matched up exactly with any of the extant ones.

In response, I would point out that mixing of that kind is something Peregrinus routinely does when he makes his borrowings from the Paulines. His method is to use Paul’s letters allusively, incorporating Pauline words, phrases, and expressions in his own writing to express his own ideas. So again, why should we expect him to treat his Apellean gospel any differently?

The biggest obstacle preventing scholars from recognizing that the Smyrnean passage draws from a written source is that it cannot be matched up exactly with any of the extant ones.

Origen says it comes from the Doctrina Petri, but there is no way to confirm his claim.

Jerome says it comes from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, but again there is no way to confirm it.

Most of the scholars who see a written gospel behind the passage think it comes either from Luke’s Gospel or an apocryphal one.

My own admittedly amateur opinion is that it comes from Apelles’ Gospel.

I too cannot prove my claim because Apelles’ Gospel — at least in its original form — is not extant. But I would argue that it was clearly for an anti-docetic purpose that Peregrinus brought forward Jesus’ denial of being a “bodiless phantom,” and the early record is clear that Apelles was deliberately anti-docetic. He taught that Jesus “showed them (his disciples) the prints of the nails and the wound in his side, desirous of persuading them that he was in truth no phantom, but was present in the flesh” (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 7,26).


In the flesh “even after the resurrection”?

And the peculiar comment that Peregrinus makes — that Jesus was in the flesh “even after the resurrection” — should be noted. That comment does not have Marcionites in view, for they denied that Christ was ever in the flesh at all. It seems rather to have proto-Catholics in view, who held that Christ rose from the dead with a glorified body. There would have been no place in the Apellean system for a glorified body. Jesus’ body was already made of top-of-the-line, grade A elements borrowed from the higher regions. And in the Apellean system men are essentially bodiless souls: “He (Apelles) teaches the salvation of souls alone” (Pseudo-Tertullian, Against All Heresies, 6). “He claimed that there is no resurrection of the dead.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 44,4,1). So by saying that Jesus was in the flesh “even after the resurrection” Peregrinus is saying that he was in the same body that he was crucified in, as evidenced by the continued presence of his wounds. He had presumably cleaned up a bit, but his flesh was the same and non-glorified. And it was that same flesh that he disposed of right before his ascension.


Why did Peregrinus so rarely appeal explicitly to Paul and the Gospel?

I can only speculate as to why Peregrinus, even though he had the highest regard for Paul (IgnEph. 12:2), did not feel the need to directly appeal to the apostle’s writings for support of anything he says in his own letters. And why he so rarely appealed to the gospel. Some propose that it was because he was a prisoner-in-transit and did not have his books with him. It may be too that the Apellean Gospel was still a work-in-progress. Based as it was on the revelations of Philumena, I expect it was added to and modified in accordance with her ongoing revelations.

But my gut feeling is that Peregrinus’ almost pathological self-importance is the real reason he didn’t directly appeal to his Gospel and Apostle more frequently. He enjoyed the attention that his arrest brought him, and the moral authority it conferred on him in the eyes of his co-religionists:

Am I not able to write to you of heavenly things? But I fear that I may harm you who are infants. Bear with me, then, lest you be choked by what you are unable to swallow. . . . I am in chains and am able to understand heavenly things, the angelic locations, the formations of the archons, things visible and invisible . . . (IgnTral. 5:1-1)

His letters were a kind of last will and testament for him and he wanted to fill them with advice and admonitions of his own, not of someone else. And since he was acknowledged as a prophet by his brethren, he had no real need to resort to written authorities. He had a direct line to God:

In my second treatise that I intend to write you, I will continue this exposition which I began of the divine plan regarding the new man, Jesus Christ, which consists in faith in him and love for him, in his passion and resurrection, especially if the Lord makes any revelation to me. (IgnEph. 20:1-2, my emphasis)

The Spirit is not deceived since it is from God. For it knows whence it comes and whither it goes, and it exposes the things which are hidden. I cried out when I was among you, I spoke with a loud voice, with the voice of God . . . he is my witness whose prisoner I am , that I learned it not from human flesh. But it was the Spirit who kept preaching in these words: ‘Do nothing without the bishop. Keep your flesh as a shrine of God. Love union. Flee divisions. Become followers of Jesus Christ as he was also of the Father. (IgnPhil. 3:1-1, my emphases)

I think Lucian was correct in his assessment of Peregrinus . . . he preferred to bestow his own words of wisdom rather than those of others

I think Lucian was correct in his assessment of Peregrinus, and that both as a Christian and as a Cynic he was the kind of person who preferred to bestow his own words of wisdom rather than those of others.


Because of that, they despised death

I’ll end this post with one additional and passing observation on the Smyrnean passage. William Schoedel may be right that it contains some words that are the prisoner’s contribution. The ones that I find interesting are: “Because of that they despised death . . . ”

The despising of death was apparently a theme that was ever on the mind of Peregrinus. We see it here during his Christian period. And I suspect he continued to harp on that theme up until the day he lept to his death as Cynic: “He alleges, however, that he is doing it for the sake of his fellow men, that he may teach them to despise death…” (TDOP 23, Harmon). And: “I wish, said he, to benefit mankind by showing them the way in which one should despise death” (TDOP 33, Harmon).

Roger Parvus

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Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus is the author of this post. Roger is the author of A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Other Apellean Writings and two series of Vridar posts: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius and A Simonian Origin for Christianity. In a previous life Roger was a Catholic priest.

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One thought on “The (Apellean) Gospel of Peregrinus”

  1. There are certain concepts in the gospels clearly not found in the Old Testament, chief among them, obviously, hell. And it isn’t that uncommon today for liberal Christians to reject the concept of hell because “it isn’t in the archives.”

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