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The Apocryphal New Testament Easy to use collection of English translations of the New Testament Apocrypha.

The Apocalypse of Paul (Visio Pauli)

J. K. Elliott

Paul's description of his being caught up into Paradise (2 Cor 12) gave the cue for creating this Apocalypse which includes his vision of the afterlife. The prefaced introductory chapters (to be found at the end in the Syriac version) explain how and why his vision remained hidden until the time of the consulate of Theodosius and Cynegius. This introductory matter gives a valuable clue to the date of the composition: the consuls were in office about AD 388, and it is likely that the author of the Apocalypse launched it around that time as a recently discovered work. The original composition is likely to be earlier. In any case, in his compilation the author has made use of earlier material (the Apocalypse of Peter (for the descriptions of punishments—especially for those guilty of abortions), the Apocalypse of Elias (Elijah), the Apocalypse of Zephaniah). The theology is orthodox, although the author has ascetic interests.

The Apocalypse of Paul more than any other of the apocryphal apocalypses was responsible for the spread of many of the popular ideas of Heaven and Hell throughout Christianity and especially in the Western church of the Middle Ages. Dante's Inferno seems to owe its inspiration to some of the vivid descriptions of afterlife found here.

The first form of the work is likely to have been written in Greek about the mid‐third century and was translated into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and other languages. It probably originated in Egypt. It is a rambling, repetitive, and poorly constructed work, the developed and best form of which seems to be represented in a long Latin version of the fifth–sixth century now found in Paris MS 1631 of the eighth century. This text, originally published by M. R. James, forms the basis of the translation offered below. Because of the nature of the work, shorter recensions were produced, and at least eight Latin versions have been identified. A motive for these recensions was to provide admonitory sermons in which the revisers concentrated on the torments of Hell to the exclusion of the visions of Paradise.

Much of the research into these recensions was done by Brandes and later by Silverstein, and a useful family tree of the interrelationship of these recensions is to be found in Erbetta, iii. 355. The fourth recension seems to be the one that became the most popular. The full story of the history of the text in Latin and in other versions is, however, still not known, and much work needs to be done. Work on the rich Slavonic material is still to be undertaken. The only Greek manuscripts extant are the ones published by Tischendorf, a fifteenth‐century text in Milan and a thirteenth‐century text in Munich; this Greek text is only a summary of the original.

Patristic citations are few. Epiphanius, adv. Haer. 38. 2 (Holl, GCS 31, pp. 64–5), refers to a Gnostic Ascent of Paul but this is not our work. There are other ancient works of the same or similar title including the Coptic Apocalypse of Paul found at Nag Hammadi (now included in Hennecke5, ii. 628–33; Eng. trans. ii. 695–700). Origen, hom. V in Psalmos 36 (ed. C. H. U. Lommatzsch (Berlin, 1841), p. 233), describes the fate of souls after death and this seems to be drawn from the Apocalypse of Paul 13 ff.: if so, the early date of the original composition is fixed. Prudentius, Cathemerinon 5. 125 ff., of c.400, seems to know of the work (ed. J. Bergman, CSEL 61 (Vienna, Leipzig, 1926), p. 30). Augustine's Tractate on John 98. 8 of the early fifth century (ed. R. Willems, CC 36 (Turnhout, 1954), p. 581) refers to the Apocalypse of Paul not being accepted by the church. Sozomen at the end of the fourth century also refers to the work in his Historia Ecclesiastica 7. 19 (ed. J. Bidez and G. C. Hansen, GCS 50 (Berlin, 1960), p. 331). The Gelasian Decree and the List of Sixty Books include this apocalypse among the condemned writings.



  • Tischendorf, Apoc. Apoc., pp. xiv–xviii, 34–69.


  • T. Silverstein, Visio Sancti Pauli: The History of the Apocalypse in Latin together with Nine Texts (London, 1935) (= Studies and Documents 4) (with extensive bibliography of texts, manuscripts, and general studies (pp. 219–29)).

  • James, Apoc. Anec. i. 1–42 (oldest Latin text, Paris 1631, pp. 11–42; comparison of the contents of the Greek, Syriac, and Latin on pp. 4–7).

  • C. Kappler, ‘L'Apocalypse latine de Paul’, in id. (ed.), Apocalypses et voyages dans l'Au‐delà (Paris, 1987), 237–66.

  • T. Silverstein, Visiones et revelaciones Sancti Pauli: Una nuova tradizione di testi latini nel Medio Evo (Rome: Accademia nazionale dei Lincei, 1974) (= Problemi attuali di scienza e di cultura 188).

  • J. Silverstein and A. Hilhorst, Apocalypse of Paul (Geneva, 1997) (= Cahiers d'orientalisme 21).


  • G. Ricciotti, ‘Apocalypsis Pauli Syriace iuxta codices vaticanos’, Orientalia ii. 1, 2 (1933), 1–24, 120–49 (with Latin trans.).

  • J. Perkins, ‘The Revelation of the Blessed Apostle Paul. Translated from an Ancient Syriac Manuscript’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 8 (1864), 183–212 (English trans. of a Nestorian MS from Urûmiah) (repr. Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record 6 (1865), 372–401, and also to be found in the apparatus to Tischendorf's Greek text).


  • E. A. Wallis Budge, Miscellaneous Coptic Texts (London, 1915), 534–74, 1043–84 (with Eng. trans.—begins at Apocalypse of Paul 16 with frequent expansions of the original).


  • P. Vetter, ‘Die armenische Paulusapokalypse’, TQ 88 (1906), 508–95; 89 (1907), 58–75.

  • Leloir, CCA 3, 87–172.


  • de Santos Otero, Altslav. Apok. i. 170–87.

  • E. Turdeanu, ‘La vision de saint Paul’, Die Welt der Slaven 1 (1956), 406–30.


  • A seventh‐century adaptation of the Apocalypse of Paul 13–44 (and also of the Apocalypse of Peter) ed. M. Chaîne, ‘Apocalypse seu Visio Mariae Virginis’, in Apocrypha de Beata Maria Virgine: (Scriptores Aethiopici, series i, vol. vii; Rome, 1909; repr. Louvain, 1955) (= CSCO 39, Aeth 22, 51–80. Latin trans. in CSCO 40 = Aeth 23, 43–68).

  • Italian trans. Erbetta, iii. 455–70, and Moraldi, i. 901–26; Eng. summary in James, ANT 563–4.

Modern Translations


  • A. Walker, Ante‐Nicene Christian Library 16 (Edinburgh, 1870), 477–92 (trans. of Tischendorf's Greek).

  • A. Rutherfurd, in A. Menzies (ed.), Ante‐Nicene Christian Library: Additional Volume 9 (Edinburgh, 1897), 151–66 (trans. of James's edn. of the Latin from the Paris MS).

  • James, 526–55.

  • Hennecke3, ii. 755–98.

  • Hennecke5, ii. 712–48.


  • A. di P. Healey, The Old English Vision of St Paul (Cambridge, Mass., 1978) (= Speculum Anniversary Monographs 2).


  • Amiot, 295–331.

  • Éac, 777–824.


  • Hennecke3, ii. 536–67 (H. Duensing).

  • Hennecke5, ii. 644–75 (H. Duensing and A. de Santos Otero).


  • G. Ricciotti, L'Apocalisse di Paoli siriaca (Brescia, 1932).

  • Erbetta, iii. 353–86.

  • Moraldi, ii. 1855–1911.


  • St J. D. Seymour, ‘Irish Versions of the Visions of St Paul’, JTS 24 (1922–3), 54–9.

  • M. McNamara, The Apocrypha in the Irish Church (Dublin, 1975), 135–8.

  • M. Herbert and M. McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha (Edinburgh, 1989), 132–6.


  • C. H. Kraeling, ‘The Apocalypse of Paul and the “Iranische Erlösungsmysterium” ’, HTR 24 (1931), 209–44.

  • R. P. Casey, ‘The Apocalypse of Paul’, JTS 34 (1933), 1–32.

  • T. Silverstein, ‘Did Dante know of the Vision of St Paul?’, Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature 19 (1937), 231–47.

  • —‘The Date of the Apocalypse of Paul’, Mediaeval Studies 24 (1962), 335–48.

  • D. D. R. Owen, ‘The “Vision of St Paul” ’, Romance Philology 12 (1958), 33–51.

  • The Vision of Hell (Edinburgh and London, 1970).

  • M. Himmelfarb, Tours of Hell: An Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature (Philadelphia, 1983).

  • —‘The Experience of the Visionary and Genre in the Ascension of Isaiah 6–11 and the Apocalypse of Paul’, Semeia 26 (1986), 97–111.

  • R. Bauckham, ‘Early Jewish Visions of Hell’, JTS 41 (1990), 355–85.

  • —‘The Conflict of Justice and Mercy: Attitudes to the Damned in Apocalyptic Literature’, in La Fable apocryphe: Actes du colloque du centenaire de l’école pratique des hautes etudes, v (Turnhout, 1990), 181–96 (= Apocrypha. Le champ des apocryphes 1).

  • C. Carozzi, Escatologie et Au‐delà. Recherches sur l'Apocalypse de Paul (Aix‐en‐Provence, 1994). [Review: VC 50 (1996) 94–9.]

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