The Temple as a House of Revelation in the Nag Hammadi Texts

George MacRae

George MacRae, “The Temple as a House of Revelation in the Nag Hammadi Texts,” in The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 175–90.

The “Gnostic library” discovered at Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt has vastly revised previous notions concerning the relationships of Christianity and gnosticism, and its pseudo-Gospels can be read with fascination by temple-minded readers. The codices reflect, or perhaps only echo (though often with presuppositions which are foreign to early Christianity), rituals and patterns which may have authentic first-century Jewish and Christian counterparts. In the present paper George MacRae looks at several documents which go back to the third century C.E.: the treatises of the great Seth, the Gospel of Philip, the letter of Peter to Philip, the Second Apocalypse of James, the Apocryphon of John, and the Apocalypse of Peter. These documents speak of the temple as the locus of divine revelation. There are parallels (which should not be exaggerated) to the Mormon conception of the temple as a house of divine glory, a house of faith, a house of prayer; to the concept that truth is manifest in ordinances as “the power of godliness”; and even to an elusive idea of sacred marriage, encapsuled in a mystery called “the bridal chamber.”

T. G. M.

In Gnostic literature the temple is a locus of revelation. There is also much of temple symbolism in Gnostic literature. It may prove in the long run that the symbolic uses of the temple are the most suggestive.

To provide a concrete focus, I will confine my investigation to the Coptic, Gnostic literature of the Nag Hammadi library. On the whole we have more references to the temple there than we do in the descriptions of Gnosticism in the writings of church fathers. And, I think, if any new light is to be shed on this whole question of the role of temple and Gnostic sources, it is going to come from here.

This collection of Gnostic documents was discovered accidently somewhat in the same manner as the Dead Sea Scrolls and almost in the same year. It is not a uniform collection of documents produced by, or perhaps even ascribed to, any particular grouping within or on the fringes of early Christianity in the fourth century A.D. The documents date from the fourth century A.D., but they represent somebody’s library, a library of documents that could be interpreted symphathetically, no doubt. Most of them are classic Gnostic works, recognizable at first glance as the kinds of works which so troubled the Christian church fathers from Justin onward into the fifth century. But since the collection is not a uniform one, we should not imagine that all these ideas about the temple circulated simultaneously in some one person’s head. They may instead represent slightly different phases of the development of this radically dualist religion in the early period.

Several uses of temples and temple symbolism in Gnostic writings have their roots in the biblical tradition, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. These provide some evidence, I think, of Gnostic dependence on the transformation of both Jewish and Christian traditions. There are examples of other uses, such as the tradition of the rending of the temple veil at the crucifixion of Jesus. These do not seem to have much significance in telling us about the Gnostic documents except that their authors read the Gospels. Look, for instance, at the document in the Nag Hammadi library collection called The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, which is about the crucifixion of Jesus.

Another suggestive image that the Gnostics derived from the New Testament, this time from the epistle to the Hebrews, is the image of Christ entering through the Holy of Holies into the presence of the supreme God in Heaven. This is found in a number of documents, including the one called a Valentinian Exposition, and it is also present in the Gospel of Philip.

Let me begin, then, with symbolic interpretations of the temple or of temple symbolism in these Gnostic works against the background of Judaism in this period.

Two main types of temple symbolism can be distinguished in Jewish sources, leaving aside a whole range of temple symbols which are represented in early Christian writings as well. Jesus speaks of the “temple” of his own body. Paul describes the body of the Christian as a temple. The Qumran community identifies the temple as its community. These kinds of temple imagery I am setting aside in order to focus on two rather graphic visual images. These provide the groundwork for an understanding of different uses of temple, particularly of heavenly temple imagery in the Gnostic documents.

Ever since the time of George Buchanan Gray (I am referring to his articles of 1908, and perhaps the idea is much older than that for all I know), scholars have distinguished in Jewish literature two different notions of a temple connected with Heaven. One of them is the idea of a temple which is located in Heaven, where God dwells in the sanctuary. The other is a radically different concept, perhaps even an older one. It is of a temple-structured universe in which Heaven represents the inner sanctuary of the temple where God dwells.

First let me say a word about the idea of the temple in heaven. It has its roots in the notion of the Heavenly pattern according to which Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle (in Exodus 25, for example). This passage does not necessarily suggest that there was a temple up there in Heaven which Moses was shown, then instructed “now do like that.” Rather the notion is of a model or a plan for a temple. Moses was commanded to execute a plan which had a prior Heavenly existence. This comes through in other sources in the Bible where the plan is communicated from a writing from the hand of God-in Chronicles, for example. The notion there is not that of a preexistence temple, but of a preexistent idea of, or plan for, or model of, the temple.

But it does not take long in the history of Jewish thought for this to develop into the full-blown notion of a temple in Heaven, of which the temple on earth is, to some extent, a copy. We can see that transition taking place in a line from the Wisdom of Solomon, particularly in chapter 9, verse 8. Solomon is supposedly speaking through this first century B.C. document, which contains a great deal of comment on some of the major events of Old Testament history, and Solomon speaks in this fashion to God: “Thou hast given a command to build a temple on thy holy mountain, and an altar in the city of thy habitation, a copy of the holy tent which thou didst prepare from the beginning.” This, then, assumes that the earthly tabernacle or temple, in this case the Temple of Solomon, of course, is nothing but a copy of the one that exists in Heaven where God dwells.

It is particularly significant that we have a notable development of this idea in the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic literature, where Heaven is visited often by the seer in the apocalyptic or Heaven is somehow described to the seer. It contains a temple, and God dwells in the inner sanctuary of that temple. Enoch 14, for example, describes the two houses through which Enoch passes to get to the more remote of the two houses, and there he discovers the throne of God. The Testament of Levi in chapter 5 of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs is very explicit about the temple in Heaven in which God dwells.

The most frequent references to the temple in Heaven as God’s dwelling place are to be found in the New Testament book of Revelation. From chapter 11 onward are many references to a temple in Heaven. However, the book of Revelation teaches that when the New Jerusalem is created after the destruction of the world there will be no temple in Heaven, because God will have direct contact with his people and will not need the mediation of the temple.

Other passages might be cited. My only point at the moment is to establish the Jewish apocalyptic setting for the concept of the temple in Heaven.

In contrast to this, we have in the writings of Josephus, for example, and in Philo, Jewish writers writing in Greek more or less as contemporaries. We find a completely different notion of the temple as representing the structure of the universe, in which the outer court or courts (depending on whether one uses a two-fold or three-fold structure) represent the earth, and heaven above represents the sanctuary. And the sky appears as the curtain which is the sanctuary veil. There are different forms of this kind of temple-structured universe. Josephus’s model, for example, is a three-court temple or three-part temple, a tripartite temple, in which the outer court is the sea, the second court is the land, and the inner court, the Holy of Holies, is Heaven itself, which one approaches by passing through the veil, namely the sky.

In Philo of Alexandria we have that, too. But in many passages in Philo we have a slightly different model, a model that is based upon Philo’s fundamental distinction between the spiritual realities of the world of God and the sense-perceptible realities of our world, of which the visible heavens are a part. In those passages Philo depicts the temple with the outer court or courts representing the sea, the land, and the visible heavens. That is the whole of the sense-perceptible world. The inner court of the temple represents the world of spiritual reality, which is, of course, another order of existence. That is the true world where God dwells. This is based upon the platonic dualism inherent in Philo’s philosophy.

The fact that these variations actually were recognized in antiquity is confirmed by a very interesting and brief passage from the church father Clement of Alexandria, writing early in the third century (book 5, chapter 6). Here he is commenting on the expression “the place within the veil,” and he says, “Some say this is the midpoint between Heaven and earth, while others say it is symbolic of the intelligible and the sense-perceptible world.” This shows he is familiar with the difference between these types of cosmic temple symbolism reflected in Josephus and in Philo. I don’t know whether this cosmic view of the temple has any continuity with the ancient cosmic view that underlay the structure of Semitic temples in the ancient world. I think it is likely that thousands of years before our era temple structure reflected the kind of dualistic view of the universe that Professor Cross mentioned in his presentation yesterday. But whether there is any continuity between that and Josephus and Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish writers of the first century of the common era, I just don’t know. There is no strong evidence in the Old Testament writings themselves of a continuity of understanding in Israel of this cosmic symbolism. It has been the subject of considerable debate among Old Testament scholars of our time, and I’m not qualified to take a position in the debate.

The idea of a temple in Heaven is reflected in several passages in the Gnostic literature describing the trappings of celestial beings. One finds these passages especially in documents which have an affinity to what might be called a Sethean Gnostic type. That is a particular type of Gnostic writing, well represented in the Nag Hammadi library in which Seth plays a prominent role. This kind of Gnostic writing seems not to be of Christian origin, though there are Christian forms of it.

Characteristic of the Sethean forms of Gnostic writing is a regular ambivalence towards Judaism. I believe it is fair to say that virtually all forms of Gnosticism known to us from antiquity are dependent on some kind of Judaism. It is not that the Gnostics merely read the Bible. Anyone could have read the Bible in this period; it was available in Greek. Rather, the Gnostic writings are indebted in some fashion to the Jewish tradition of interpreting the Bible, which is something very different. But they are ambivalent about Judaism, and we find both positive and negative notions about this kind of imagery. But in either case, they seem to me to be clearly dependent on the apocalyptic Jewish tradition. Let me provide an example or two by reading some short passages from a few documents in the Nag Hammadi library.

The first is a work that survives without any title from antiquity. Modern scholars title it “On the Origin of the World.” It purports to describe at great length, and with much repetition and a sort of pseudo-scientific footnoting, the story of where the world came from. It is all in terms of the Gnostic dualistic myth of the fall of the divine being. It portrays the world as governed by creator/lower-creator gods who manipulate the world. These ideas are all based to some extent on a perversion of Jewish understanding and biblical understanding, because some of them have biblical names, names associated with the creator-gods of Yahwehism. But they are portrayed as sinister. In creating the material world they have imprisoned the sparks of light and therefore caused the divine plan of the true God to be thwarted.

Further, they are pictured as creating their own heavens, and their own heavens are portrayed in terms of the Jewish apocalyptic notion of Heaven and can be paralleled in many of the Heavenly journey motifs. Since the first father had great authority, he is the father of the six other evil archons who dominate the world of people. He has created for each of his sons, by means of the word, beautiful heavens as dwelling places, and for each heaven great glories, seven times more exquisite than any earthly glory. Thrones and dwelling places and temples and chariots and spiritual virgins and their glories looking to an invisible realm-each one has these within his heaven. And also armies of divine, lordly, angelic and arch-angelic powers, myriads without number in order to serve. This kind of depiction, which is repeated again in only slightly different language, talks about the heavenly state, or rather the quasi-heavenly state, as these rulers who dominate the material world are not really from the Heaven in which the true God dwells. But the depiction portrays their quasi-heavenly state in the Jewish apocalyptic terminology of the throne in the temple in Heaven surrounded by armies of angels, and all the rest of it.

In this document a lot of things go in pairs. A group of rulers are cast out of that heaven above and come down into this world, where they have to recreate for themselves something like the same kind of royal apparatus. The author says: “Let us again come to the rulers of whom we spoke so that we might present their proof. For when the seven rulers were cast out of their Heavens down upon the earth, they created for themselves angels, that is demons, in order to serve them. But these demons taught men many errors with magic, and potions and idolatry and shedding of blood and altars and temples and sacrifices and libations to all the demons of the earth, having as their co-worker, Fate, who came into being according to the agreement by the Gods of injustice and justice.” The Gnostics are radical critics of the traditional religions of their world, including both Judaism and Christianity, so that even the concept of justice is a vice and not a virtue.

We can see how they have taken the same background from the apocalyptic scene of the temple in Heaven and all that goes with it, and have brought that into the world of these archons; then the archons, in being expelled to the earth, have brought about forces which have taught people how to do these evil things. In this instance, the people who have done them are the people we read about in the books of the Bible.

But I have said that the attitude towards Judaism and literature of this sort is ambivalent, and it always is ambivalent. In many ways the debt of Gnostic sources to Judaism cannot be expressed in a simple sentence or two; it has to be qualified. The following, for example, is just one example of a positive view of this same kind of apocalyptic vision of the temple in Heaven and its various trappings.

This account is found in two works in our library, works that are parallel to each other. One is generally referred to as the letter of Eugnostas, which seems to me, at my rate, to be a totally non-Christian Gnostic document, though it knows a lot about Judaism. And the document called Eugnostas is a sort of treatise about the formation of the emanations from God, the true God, in the Heavenly world above. It never really describes the process by which the material world was brought into being. This document seems to be taken over into a Christianized Gnostic document called “The Wisdom of Jesus Christ.” We are virtually certain that it was taken over into that document because the treatise is broken up into a series of statements taken almost verbatim out of the Eugnostas document and placed on the lips of Jesus Christ, the risen Savior, who reveals them to his disciples.

But here the idea is that God has produced from himself, in his Heaven, a series of emanations from him, each emanation producing its own aura of spiritual beings around it. Ultimately in the Gnostic myth someone in this process tries to imitate God’s productive power, and the result is the process by which the earth comes into being. Here we have coming forth from the power of one of these divine figures emanations called immortal man, corresponding to the anthropos God of antiquity and his consort Sophia (Wisdom), who is also called Silence (so named because she perfected her greatness in reflecting without a word). In Valentinean Gnosticism also the consort of God is called Silence.

The imperishable ones, since they have the authority, each provide for themselves great kingdoms, the immortal heavens and their firmaments, thrones and temples corresponding to their greatness, and so on. The image here of their producing their own heavenly kingdoms with their own thrones and temples is in Jewish apocalyptic language, taken in a quite positive sense as a heavenly counterpart. This use of Jewish apocalyptic imagery is tied in with one of the sources of Gnosticism, and I think that is why it is worth dwelling on. I believe that the whole phenomenon of Gnosticism, and the forms in which we know it in literature like this, has its origins in apocalyptic Judaism. What the exact connections are I am unable to say, but I think they are there. And this is evidenced not just by the heavenly temple motif, but in a great many other things which one could cite.

Now the cosmic temple image. That is the image of the universe structured like a temple-or, correspondingly, the image of the temple reflecting the structure of the universe. This too is found in the Gnostic literature, particularly in the Gospel of Philip, where it is closely associated with a kind of sacramental system. The Valentinean Gnostics had, as the Gospel of Philip suggests, a system of rites. Five are enumerated but not explained. We are not sure whether they had three or four or five or what. Through this system of rites they somehow symbolized in the life of this world the true realities which actually belong to another world above, a world that is inaccessible to humanity except through the symbolization of that world in our own world.

Two passages occur in the Gospel of Philip—familiar to Mormons who have had an interest in this writing-which show a background of this cosmic temple symbolism that was associated with the Hellenistic Jewish tradition.

The first one says:

There were three buildings specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The one facing West was called the Holy, the one facing South was called the Holy of Holies, and the third, facing East, was called the Holy of the Holies, the place where only the high priest entered. Baptism is the Holy building; Redemption is the Holy of Holies; and the Holy of the Holies is the bridal chamber. Baptism includes the resurrection and the redemption, the redemption takes place in the bridal chamber, but the bridal chamber is in that which is superior to it and the others, because you will not find anything like it. Those who are familiar with it are those who pray in the Holy in Jerusalem. There are some in Jerusalem who pray only in Jerusalem awaiting the Kingdom of Heaven. These are called the Holy of the Holies, because before the veil was rent we had no other bridal chamber except the image of the bridal chamber which is above. Because of this, his veil was rent from top to bottom for it was fitting for some from below to go upward.

To comment in detail on that passage would take me beyond my own competence. But at first sight such passages look like a mere allegorization of a three-part temple in Jerusalem. Apart from the details of which way the building faced and so on, the writer is talking about an outer court, a middle court, and the inner court which is the Holy of Holies. The allegory seems to identify these with three different sacraments in the sacramental system of the Valentinean Gnostics. But I think it is more than that. It is more than that because it builds on the concept that one moves toward the divine presence as one moves successively through the outer courts of the temple toward the inner Holy of Holies, to which only the priest has access. Consequently the order in which the courts are identified with sacraments becomes very important. The initiatory rite of baptism is the outermost one. The rite of redemption, whatever that may have consisted of, is the second one. And it is the bridal chamber, the rite of which was the supreme rite for the Valentinean Gnostic, which is the approach into the presence of God himself.

Nothing so far is cosmic in this use of symbolism. In order to see it as cosmic one must look to the other passage, which deals with the same imagery. Here we see the clear way in which the cosmic temple symbolism figures. The entry into the rite of the bridal chamber, which is at the same time the entry through the veil into the Holy of Holies, is in fact by some kind of mystical or spiritual foretaste an entry into the heavens where the real gods dwell. The language is not altogether clear in this paragraph, but I think the picture is there:

The mysteries of truth are revealed . . . in types or images. The bridal chamber, however, remains hidden. It is the Holy in the Holy. The veil at first concealed how God controlled the Creation. But when the veil is rent and the things inside are revealed, this house will be left desolate, or rather will be destroyed. But the whole lower Godhead will not flee from these places into the Holy of Holies. For it will not be able to mix with the unmixed light and the flawless fullness, but will be under the wings of the cross and under its arms. This ark will be its salvation when the flood of water surges over them. If some belong to the order of the priesthood, they will be able to go within the veil with the high priest. For this reason the veil was not rent at the top only, since it would have been open to only those above. Nor was it rent at the bottom only, since it would have been revealed only to those below. But it was rent from top to bottom, those above opened to us who are below in order that we may go into the secret of the truths. This truly is what is held in high regard since it is strong. But we shall go in there by means of lowly types and forms of weakness. They are lowly indeed when compared with the perfect glory. There is glory which surpasses glory. There is power which surpasses power. Therefore the perfect things are opened to us together with the hidden things of truth. The Holy of the Holies were revealed and the bridal chamber invited us in.

That passage is interesting for the way in which it weaves together biblical exegesis of many different passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The guiding image of this picture is the notion of passing into the sanctuary of the temple, that is to say, passing into the heavenly presence of God, by crossing through the veil by accomplishing the rite of the bridal chamber. The Gospel of Philip assumes throughout that the true spiritual realities are knowable only through images, as it calls them. Throughout the work words are presented as images of divine things, always imperfect images, never telling us the truth about divine things but only giving us some suggestions. The writer understands ritual action also to function in the same imagistic way. The dualism that underlies the cosmic temple symbolism is the same dualism that underlies Gnostic expression and Gnostic understanding of the way words and rituals function.

Now, much more briefly, let me talk about some New Testament temple traditions that leave a mark, somewhat superficial, on some Gnostic documents. Traditions about the temple in Jerusalem are reflected in the Gospels in particular, and also in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts there is a tradition of the primitive Christian community’s devotion to the temple. In the opening chapters especially, I have no doubt that the author, Luke, is concerned to idealize this primitive Christian community. The statements he makes about the tranquility and peace of the temple are for all practical purposes completely out of harmony with the discord in the community that Luke himself reveals to us in other portions of his book. Likewise his estimate that there are thousands and thousands of pious Jewish converts cannot be realistic. But he is concerned to show that this primitive Christian community in Jerusalem focused its life around the temple. They go to the temple, they worship at the temple, they pray at the temple. At the beginning of chapter 3 of Acts, Luke even says that they pray at the temple at specific hours of the day, as if the temple had set public prayer hours. They work miracles at the temple, they teach in the temple, in fact they teach in the temple by command of an angel of the Lord. Thus their temple-centered life is divinely sanctioned. I suspect, and I don’t want to be irreverent in saying this, but I suspect that Luke was able to say more and more about the temple because he knew less and less about it. In fact, I don’t think Luke had any acquaintance with Jerusalem itself and how the temple actually functioned in the lives of people. For him it was a great spiritual symbol, and of course it could have been in fact a great spiritual symbol. But our preceding presentations suggest that it had also some harsher aspects.

Some of our Gnostic works likewise speak of the Apostles as clinging to the temple or adhering to the temple. The references, though there are several of them, are not all that significant in themselves except that they introduce us, as it were, to another important genre of communication in Gnosticism-perhaps the most distinctive genre of communication. They are revelation—discourses or, if you like, revelation-dialogue. They portray a scene in which the risen Jesus meets with his Apostles and reveals to them the Gnostic understanding of the Christian message. Either they had not understood it before or they had not learned it before because they were not yet ready. After revealing the Gnostic understanding of Christianity to them, the risen Jesus departs and they go off to preach.

This is the scheme in the shortest and perhaps neatest of these dialogues, the Letter of Peter to Philip. It is not really a letter, but it begins with one. It is modeled to some extent on the Acts of the Apostles. It portrays the disciples after Jesus leaves them gathering at the temple in Jerusalem to teach in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to heal a multitude. The words of the document are very much like those describing the Apostles in Acts carrying on in their lives the work that Jesus has taught them. But this time what they have been taught are Gnostic secrets and not just messages of the kingdom of God. This is clearly a direct dependence on Acts.

We find elsewhere the same reliance on New Testament images—in the Second Apocalypse of James, for example. At the time of his martyrdom James is discovered in the temple, and he is led out from the temple to his martyrdom first by being cast down from the pinnacle of the temple. One of the two ancient traditions about the martyrdom of James has him die that way. In this document he is not only cast down from the pinnacle of the temple, but is also stoned when he reaches the ground. One would not have thought the stoning was necessary, except that at that point he utters a beautiful prayer. It is a prayer that is non-Gnostic in its theology. It is the prayer of a martyr.

Now, these terms of reference have no intrinsic significance except that they introduce some of the topical elements of Gnosticism. One final one may have some intrinsic significance of its own. That is the picture of Jesus giving a revelation-discourse in the temple. This is found particularly in the work called the Apocalypse of Peter. In the setting of the temple Jesus interprets some visions that Peter has had. Peter has had visions that relate to (a) the arrest off Jesus, (b) the crucifixion, and (c) the resurrection. He tells Jesus that he has had these visions and asks, “What do they mean?” Jesus then interprets them for him. In the course of the interpretation, he tells him a great deal more about the fundamental Gnostic myth. It is not an easy work to read, but it may be an important one.

It is important because it represents the Gnostics’ appropriation of the principal symbolic figure of orthodox Christianity in the early century, namely Peter, and claims that Peter was really one of them. It is also unusual for a revelation-dialogue. Usually in a revelation-dialogue or revelation-discourse genre the risen Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain, the Mount of Olives usually, or at least in some isolated place. The mountain is in most of the stories. For example, in the Apocryphon of John (of which we have so many copies now, thanks to the Nag Hammadi library), John is in the temple. He is there challenged by a Pharisee who asks some questions he cannot answer, and he leaves the temple and goes out into a desert place where Christ appears to him and gives him a revelation-dialogue. That is the normal pattern.

In the Apocalypse of Peter Jesus gives this revelation, that is, he interprets the visions of Peter in a revelatory form, in the temple itself. The temple then becomes the setting for a Gnostic revelation. Scholars disagree about the meaning of this temple setting. One suggests that it may be the Heavenly temple. The risen Christ, already in Heaven, speaks spiritually from the setting of his father’s temple to a Peter down on earth who is receiving a vision of Jesus there. In my opinion, the text does not support that.

I think it is meant to be the temple of Jerusalem, where Jesus, prior to his passion and suffering, is in fact predicting his own passion, death, and resurrection. That theme is common to the New Testament. If that is what the setting means, it has been suggested that perhaps the intention of the author of this document is to suggest, by locating it in the temple, that this is the Gnostic version of Jesus’ apocalyptic prediction about the temple in the synoptic tradition, Mark 13 and its parallel. Not that Mark 13 is necessarily spoken in the temple, but the Gnostic account uses a kind of shorthand by locating another type of discourse in the temple to serve the same purpose. And if that is so, perhaps it tells us something very significant.

The synoptic Apocalypse serves, not merely to predict events to come at the end of the world, including the destruction of Jerusalem and then the signs to come and so on, but also to tell something about the way in which Christians should live, not just the way in which they should wait for the end. It has implications for an attitude toward Christian living. The striking thing about the Apocalypse of Peter is that its intention is to provide a substitute to Gnostic Christians for the account of Jesus’ utterances in the synoptic tradition.

While on the surface Jesus interprets the visions of Peter that have to do with his coming arrest, suffering, death, and resurrection, nevertheless the real topic of interest in the Apocalypse of Peter (and it shines through in an unmistakable way) is the polemical situation which exists between a Gnostic community and an orthodox Christian community. And this is the work of a very strong polemic on the part of Gnosticism against the orthodox Christians who are persecuting them. It therefore suggests a situation in the life of Gnosticism wherein the Gnostic Christians have been distinguished by the orthodox Christian church; they have been singled out and are being expelled, or at least pushed forth on their own, to live their own kinds of life. And with the same resentment with which the Gospel of John rebels against the orthodox Christians’ expulsion from the synagogue, these Gnostics rebel against their expulsion from the Christian church.

The literary genre of this particular Apocalypse then given to Peter, and communicated to us presumably by Peter, is one of a talk about the present in the apocalyptic guise of a talk about the future. Of course, by the time the book is written, Jesus has died and has risen free from the dead. The future is in a sense already past, although the present remains the present. It is interesting to see how a key such as examining references to temple and temple usage in the Gnostic documents can introduce us to a number of issues which are central to the understanding of this kind of literature.