Since the turn of the century, people have speculated about how the “lost” books of the Bible might have radically transformed Christianity and the way we view Jesus if they had been accepted as canonical. One book that is often mentioned as being a “lost” book of the Bible is the Gospel of Peter. Because it is not in the Bible, many Christians aren’t sure what the Gospel of Peter is or whether it should be canonized.  So, What is the Gospel of Peter?

What is the Gospel of Peter?

The Gospel of Peter, so called because it was claimed that Peter wrote it, is primarily a passion narrative comprised of sixty verses describing the trial, crucifixion, and ascension of Jesus. It is generally thought to have been written around A.D. 150 but the earliest extant manuscripts date to the 8th and 9th Century. We know that it is older than that though because ancient Christian writers such as Eusebius of Caesarea and Serapion, bishop of Antioch knew of a supposed Gospel of Peter. [1] In Akhmim, Egypt, In the winter of 1886-1887, fragments of a gospel  were found in a codex which were  attributed to Gospel of Peter. In the 1970s and 1980s, more fragments believed possibly to be portions of Peter were also published. [2]

Why Accept the Gospel of Peter?

A reason often offered for accepting the Gospel of Peter is that there are similarities between the Gospel of Peter and the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). For example, Peter mentions the passion narrative, the historical figure Pilate,  the mistreatment of Jesus while in custody, Joseph of Arimathea, the washing of Pilate’s hands and proclamation of innocence, and the women visiting the empty tomb.[3] Given the multitude of parallels, it seems reasonable for some to conclude that the Gospel of Peter should have been included in the New Testament Canon.

 Is the Gospel of Peter Early?

John Dominic Crossan, formerly a member of the Jesus Seminar, believes that there is a whole early Christian tradition within the Gospel of Peter. Known as the “Cross Gospel,” Crossan hypothesizes that the Gospel of Peter provides the single known source for the death and resurrection narratives found in the canonical gospels. [4] If Crossan is correct, the Gospel of Peter would be earlier than, and independent of, the four canonical gospels. Crossan even states that the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, knew of the source and used it. [5]

Objection to the Early Dating of The Gospel of Peter

Is Crossan’s assessment of the Gospel of Peter correct? While the work is attributed to the apostle Peter, contemporary scholars believe that it is actually a second-century writing for two reasons: 1. it includes historical errors, and 2. It contains legendary embellishments. [6] There is much to say on these two topics. In my next blog, I’ll investigate these two objections to the Gospel of Peter.