“ ‘Epiphanius’ and Patristic Debates on the Marital Status of Peter and Paul”

in Vigiliae Christianae
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A Syriac fragment erroneously ascribed to Epiphanius of Salamis allegedly preserves the names of the wives of Peter and Paul and draws our attention to patristic debates over the marital status of the apostles. In these contexts scriptural interpretation and ascetic ideals interacted, producing varied conclusions about the apostolic teaching and examples. Some patristic authors accepted the married apostles as a matter of fact, while others saw such suggestions as offensive and dangerous. This essay examines the exegetical approaches to key New Testament passages and explores how this fragment fits within the history of interpretation and biographical reception of Peter and Paul.

Vigiliae Christianae

A Review of Early Christian Life and Language




Herbert L. Kessler, “The Meeting of Peter and Paul in Rome: An Emblematic Narrative of Spiritual Brotherhood,” in Studies on Art and Archeology in Honor of Ernst Kitzinger on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday, ed. Irving Lavin and William Tronzo (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 1987) 267-75; J.M. Huskinson, Concordia Apostolorum: Christian Propaganda at Rome in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, BARIS 148 (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1982); Charles Pietri, “Concordia Apostolorum et renovatio urbis (Culte des martyrs et propagande pontificale),” MEFR 73 (1961) 275-322.


Palladius, V. Chrys. 17.185-205 (SC 341, 348).


Origen, Comm. in Rom. 10.29 (FC 2.5, 254).


Ambrosiaster, Rom. 16.12.2 (CSEL 81.1, 484).


Clement of Alexandria, Str. 3.6.53 (GCS 15, 220).


Eusebius, H.E. 3.30.1 (GCS 9.1, 262).


Theodore of Mopsuestia, Phil. 4.3 (Theodori episcopi Mopsuesteni in epistolas b. Pauli commentarii, ed. H.B. Swete, 2 vols. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1880] 1:245-46).


Theodoret of Cyrus, Phil. 4.3 (PG 82, 585).


Elizabeth A. Clark, Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) 259-329, at 259.


Clark, Reading Renunciation, 260-61.


Jerome, Iou. 1.7 (PL 23, 229); David G. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 247-48.


Augustine, Man. 1.35.79 (CSEL 90, 85); John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 19.3 (PG 61, 154-56). See also Hunter, Marriage, 273-77.


Origen, Comm. in 1 Cor. 35.1-39 (C.H. Turner, “Notes on the Text of Origen’s Commentary on I Corinthians,” JTS o.s. 10 [1909] 503-4). Cf. the encouragement of remarriage among younger widows in 1 Tim 5:11-14.


Methodius, Symp. 3.12 (PG 18, 80).


Clark, Reading Renunciation, 137.


Tertullian, Mon. 8.4 (CCSL 2, 1239).


Tertullian, Cast. 8.3 (CCSL 2, 1027). The first half of this quotation is no doubt a reference to 1 Cor 9:5.


Jerome, Ep. 22.20 (CSEL 54, 170).


Bar Hebraeus, Horr. myst. Rom. 16.12 (Gregorii Abulfaragii Bar Ebhraya in epistulas Paulinas adnotationes, ed. Maximilian Löhr [Göttingen: Dieterich, 1889] 10).


Clement of Alexandria, Str. 7.11.63 (SC 428, 202).


Eusebius, H.E. 3.30.2 (GCS 9.1, 262).


Origen, Comm. in Jo. 10.11(9) (GCS 10, 181-82); Comm. in Mt. 15.21 (GCS 40, 411). Martin Hengel (Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle, trans. Thomas H. Trapp [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010] 107-8) sees another possible allusion to Peter’s marital status in the Lukan version of this pericope. After Peter’s claim of leaving everything, Luke’s Jesus adds “wife” to the list of losses for which they will be repaid in the age to come (Luke 18:29). Hengel contends that the gospel writers “knew that the disciples of Jesus, at the least the majority of them, were married, with Peter himself at the head of that list.”


Clement of Alexandria, Str. 3.6.52 (GCS 15, 220), repeated in Eus. H.E. 3.30.1 (GCS 9.1, 262).


Hilary of Poitiers, Comm. in Mt. 6.11-13 (SC 254.1, 184-86). He notes that he will return to the image of the mother-in-law as the representation of infidelity, and he does this in sections 10, 23, and 27 of the commentary. It is notable that he treats her not as a real person who was guilty of infidelity, but merely as an allegorical figure.


Clement of Alexandria, Str. 3.6.53 (GCS 15, 220).


Eusebius, H.E. 3.30.1-2 (GCS 9.1, 262).


Augustine, Mon. 4.5 (CSEL 41, 539).


Ambrosiaster, Cor. 1.9.5 (CSEL 81.2, 98).


Isidore of Pelusium, Ep. 3.176 (PG 78, 865-68).


Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part 1, Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE (TSAJ 91; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002) 242-48.


Irenaeus, Haer. 3.1 (SC 211, 22-24). Eusebius claims that Clement of Alexandria also made this connection in his (now lost) Hypotyposeis (H.E. 2.15.1-2 [GCS 9.1, 140]) and later cites Papias on this same point (H.E. 6.25.5 [GCS 9.1, 290-92]).


James Rendel Harris, “Introduction” in Commentaries of Isho‘dad of Merv, ed. Gibson, op. cit., 5:xv-xxiii. Harris notes that he is aware of the existence of several copies of Isho‘dad’s commentary on Acts—one copied in Iran, another in Southern India—but to my knowledge neither has ever been published. I would be curious to know if this commentary could provide more details of interest in the section on Acts 12.


Epiphanius, Gemm. 2.6 (extant in Georgian: Epiphanius de gemmis: The Old Georgian Version and the Fragments of the Armenian Version, ed. Robert P. Blake and Henri de Vis [London: Christophers, 1934] 41).


Epiphanius, Haer. 30.22.8 (GCS 25, 363).


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