The gospel of Peter.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 November

It’s not really the gospel according to Simon Peter.

There were rumors among ancient Christians that Peter wrote a gospel. Serapion of Antioch (191–211) mentioned when he visited a church in Rhossus, they were reading a Gospel of Peter—which he read, and didn’t find legitimate. Nope, it wasn’t actually by Peter; it’s Christian fanfiction which claimed to be from Peter. Probably composed in Serapion’s day, in the mid to late 100s.

Eusebius Pamphili (260–339) said he heard of a Gospel of Peter, and that it was heretic and no real Christian saint taught from it. Origen of Alexandria (184–253) and Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393–457) mention and dismiss it. Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, 342–420) condemned it, but probably secondhand, ’cause he read Eusebius, not the gospel itself. That’s about it.

Yeah, Evangelicals popularly teach the Gospel of Mark is really the gospel of Peter,’cause tradition has it John Mark was Peter’s disciple. Or, in some traditions, his son. So Mark’s source for all his Jesus stories would be Peter—and maybe that’s true; I have no idea. Doesn’t matter: If you’re putting together a history, you optimally should get many testimonies, not just one; even the scriptures say so. Dt 19.15, 2Co 13.1 So if Mark quoted Peter alone, that’s not as good an argument for its validity as you think. (A far better one would be that all the other Christians who had lived to see and interact with Jesus personally, accepted it as true, and preserved it.)

Anyway. In 1886 French archaeologist Urbain Bouriant found a manuscript buried with an Egyptian monk in Akhmim, Egypt. It wasn’t the whole gospel, but a fragment. The fragment was dated from the 700-800s, and confirmed in 1972 by papyrus fragments from Oxyrhynchus.

Serapion found it docetist, which is an early Christian heresy which taught Jesus wasn’t really human. Bear that in mind as you read this version, translated by J. Armitage Robinson.

The text.

1 But of the Jews none washed his hands, neither Herod nor any one of his judges. And when they had refused to wash them, Pilate rose up. And then Herod the king commandeth that the Lord be taken, saying to them, “What things soever I commanded you to do unto him, do.”

2 And there was standing there Joseph the friend of Pilate and of the Lord; and, knowing that they were about to crucify him, he came to Pilate and asked the body of the Lord for burial. And Pilate sent to Herod and asked his body. And Herod said, “Brother Pilate, even if no one had asked for him, we purposed to bury him, especially as the sabbath draweth on: for it is written in the law, that the sun set not upon one that hath been put to death.” Dt 21.22

3 And he delivered him to the people on the day before the unleavened bread, their feast. And they took the Lord and pushed him as they ran, and said, “Let us drag away the Son of God,” having obtained power over him. And they clothed him with purple, and set him on the seat of judgment, saying, “Judge righteously, o king of Israel.” And one of them brought a crown of thorns and put it on the head of the Lord. And others stood and spat in his eyes, and others smote his cheeks: others pricked him with a reed; and some scourged him, saying, “With this honor let us honor the Son of God.”

4 And they brought two malefactors, and they crucified the Lord between them. But he held his peace, as though having no pain. And when they had raised the cross, they wrote the title: “This is the king of Israel.” And having set his garments before him they parted them among them, and cast lots for them. And one of those malefactors reproached them, saying, “We for the evils that we have done have suffered thus, but this man, who hath become the savior of men, what wrong hath he done to you?” And they, being angered at him, commanded that his legs should not be broken, that he might die in torment.

5 And it was noon, and darkness came over all Judaea: and they were troubled and distressed, lest the sun had set, whilst he was yet alive: for it is written for them, that the sun set not on him that hath been put to death. And one of them said, “Give him to drink gall with vinegar.” And they mixed and gave him to drink, and fulfilled all things, and accomplished their sins against their own head. And many went about with lamps, supposing that it was night, and fell down. And the Lord cried out, saying, “My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me.” And when he had said it he was taken up. And in that hour the veil of the temple of Jerusalem was rent in twain.

6 And then they drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord, and laid him upon the earth, and the whole earth quaked, and great fear arose. Then the sun shone, and it was found the ninth hour [3:30PM]: and the Jews rejoiced, and gave his body to Joseph that he might bury it, since he had seen what good things he had done. And he took the Lord, and washed him, and rolled him in a linen cloth, and brought him into his own tomb, which was called the Garden of Joseph.

7 Then the Jews and the elders and the priests, perceiving what evil they had done to themselves, began to lament and to say, “Woe for our sins: the judgement hath drawn nigh, and the end of Jerusalem.” And I with my companions was grieved; and being wounded in mind we hid ourselves: for we were being sought for by them as malefactors, and as wishing to set fire to the temple. And upon all these things we fasted and sat mourning and weeping night and day until the sabbath.

8 But the scribes and Pharisees and elders being gathered together one with another, when they heard that all the people murmured and beat their breasts saying, “If by his death these most mighty signs have come to pass, see how righteous he is”—the elders were afraid and came to Pilate, beseeching him and saying, “Give us soldiers, that we may guard his sepulcher for three days, lest his disciples come and steal him away, and the people suppose that he is risen from the dead and do us evil.” And Pilate gave them Petronius the centurion with soldiers to guard the tomb. And with them came elders and scribes to the sepulcher, and having rolled a great stone together with the centurion and the soldiers, they all together who were there set it at the door of the sepulcher; and they affixed seven seals, and they pitched a tent there and guarded it. And early in the morning as the sabbath. was drawing on, there came a multitude from Jerusalem and the region round about, that they might see the sepulcher that was sealed.

9 And in the night in which the Lord’s day was drawing on, as the soldiers kept guard two by two in a watch, there was a great voice in the heaven; and they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend from thence with great light and approach the tomb. And that stone which was put at the door rolled of itself and made way in part; and the tomb was opened, and both the young men entered in.

10 When therefore those soldiers saw it, they awakened the centurion and the elders; for they too were hard by keeping guard. And, as they declared what things they had seen, again they see three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them: and of the two the head reached unto the heaven, but the head of him that was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, “Thou hast preached to them that sleep.” And a response was heard from the cross, “Yea.”

11 They therefore considered one with another whether to go away and show these things to Pilate. And while they yet thought thereon, the heavens again are seen to open, and a certain man to descend and enter into the sepulcher. When the centurion and they that were with him saw these things, they hastened in the night to Pilate, leaving the tomb which they were watching, and declared all things which they had seen, being greatly distressed and saying, “Truly he was the Son of God.” Pilate answered and said, “I am pure from the blood of the Son of God: but it was ye who determined this.” Then they all drew near and besought him and entreated him to command the centurion and the soldiers to say nothing of the things which they had seen: “For it is better,” say they, “for us to be guilty of the greatest sin before God, and not to fall into the hands of the people of the Jews and to be stoned.” Pilate therefore commanded the centurion and the soldiers to say nothing.

12 And at dawn upon the Lord’s day Mary Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord, fearing because of the Jews, since they were burning with wrath, had not done at the Lord’s sepulcher the things which women are wont to do for those that die and for those that are beloved by them—she took her friends with her and came to the sepulcher where he was laid. And they feared lest the Jews should see them, and they said, “Although on that day on which he was crucified we could not weep and lament, yet now let us do these things at his sepulcher. But who shall roll away for us the stone that was laid at the door of the sepulcher, that we may enter in and sit by him and do the things that are due? For the stone was great, and we fear lest some one see us. And if we cannot, yet if we but set at the door the things which we bring for a memorial of him, we will weep and lament, until we come unto our home.”

13 And they went and found the tomb opened, and coming near they looked in there; and they see there a certain young man sitting in the midst of the tomb, beautiful and clothed in a robe exceeding bright: who said to them, “Wherefore are ye come? Whom seek ye? Him that was crucified? He is risen and gone. But if ye believe not, look in and see the place where he lay, that he is not here; for he is risen and gone thither, whence he was sent.” Then the women feared and fled.

14 Now it was the last day of the unleavened bread, and many were going forth, returning to their homes, as the feast was ended. But we, the twelve disciples of the Lord, wept and were grieved: and each one, being grieved for that which was come to pass, departed to his home. But I Simon Peter and Andrew my brother took our nets and went to the sea; and there was with us Levi the son of Alphaeus, whom the Lord…

Yep, it ends there. You probably know the next part from John 21.

Why it’s not bible.

A number of scholars suspect Peter is the same as the gospel the heretic Ebionite and Nazarene sects used, which evolved into the Ebionite Gospel and the Gospel According to the Hebrews, respectively. There are similarities.

We don’t have the whole of Peter, so we can’t see all the parts of it which’d immediately make Serapion recognize it as docetist. But we have a few hints in this fragment.

Like in the fourth paragraph, where it appears Jesus didn’t feel the pain of his crucifixion like a true human would. Like in the fifth paragraph, where he shouted out his power was taken from him, i.e. the power to continue the façade of looking human. Plus he “was taken up” instead of dying—his spiritual self left for heaven while his bodily shell remained for burial.

It contradicts the scriptures in that Antipas Herod, not Pontius Pilate, ordered Jesus’s death. Over time, the first African Christians grew to consider Pilate a saint, because legends grew about him being convicted by Jesus’s death, repenting, and becoming Christian. Peter even clears him of guilt in Jesus’s death: Pilate points out in paragraph 11, “I am pure from the blood of the Son of God,” not because he washed his hands of it, but because in Peter he really didn’t have him killed. So it’s no surprise the Egyptians still preserved this gospel way after the rest of the church dismissed it.

Not legitimately being by Peter even though it claims to be, is an extremely good reason for not including it with the other gospels. Plus of course contradicting the canonical gospels; plus docetism. It’s fine as a fictional account of Jesus’s teachings and life and death, much like any Jesus movie, but don’t go confusing it for scripture. The Egyptians may have… same as, every once in a while, I catch a Christian referring to something from The Chosen instead of the scriptures. Watch out for that sort of thing.