Question: "What is the Gospel of Peter?"
Answer: The Gospel of Peter is a pseudepigraphal work that purports to be written by Peter but in fact relates a false view of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Peter contains 60 verses and deals with events surrounding the end of Jesus’ life. The original is thought to have been written c. AD 150, although the earliest extant manuscript dates from the 8th or 9th century.
The first mention of the Gospel of Peter was made by Bishop Serapion of Antioch (c. AD 200) in a letter titled “Concerning what is known as the Gospel of Peter.” In this letter Serapion advised church leaders not to read the so-called Gospel to their congregations because of its Docetic content. He also condemned the Gospel of Peter as a forgery.
What is Docetism? One form of Docetism (Marcionism) maintained that Christ was so divine He could not have been human. He only appeared to be made of flesh and blood, His body being a phantasm. Other groups held that, while Jesus was a man in the flesh, Christ was a separate entity who entered Jesus’ body in the form of a dove at His baptism, empowering Him to perform miracles. The “Christ entity” then abandoned Jesus on the cross. Docetism was unequivocally rejected at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and is regarded as heretical by Catholics and Protestants alike. Docetism largely died out during the first millennium.
The Gospel of Peter says that on the cross Jesus cried out, “My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me,” rather than “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In the account of the crucifixion, the Gospel of Peter carefully avoids saying that Jesus died, asserting instead that He “was taken up.” This idea of escaping actual death is mirrored in the Qur’an, Sura 4:157–158: “But Allah took him up unto Himself.” The Gospel of Peter suggests that Christ was “taken up” to the Divine Presence at the moment His divine power left His bodily shell, which had only been a temporary residence. This teaching, together with the claim that Jesus “remained silent, as though he felt no pain” on the cross, highlights the error of Docetism.
Another way in which the Gospel of Peter differs from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is the description of events after Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb. The Gospel of Peter says that the guards “saw the heavens opened, and two men descend with a great light and approach the tomb. . . . Again they saw three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them. And the heads of the two reached to heaven, but the head of him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, ‘You have preached to them that sleep.’ And a response was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’” This passage has some Gnostic leanings.
Here are some of the main problems with the Gospel of Peter:
Joseph of Arimathea is said to be a personal friend of Pontius Pilate.
Pontius Pilate is exonerated from all responsibility. Herod Antipas takes over for him, assuming the responsibility which, in Luke’s Gospel, Herod declines to accept.
Jesus is “taken up” from the cross, and His death is not mentioned.
Two supernatural beings enter the tomb, and three emerge.
The cross is described as floating out of the tomb and saying “Yes” to a voice from heaven.
There is no mention of witnesses seeing Jesus alive after He was dragged out of the tomb.
And if that is not enough to shed doubt on the veracity of the Gospel of Peter, we also have the testimony of Eusebius. The historian made reference to the Gospel of Peter in his writings, claiming that Apollo was the god originally mentioned in the Gospel of Peter, not Jesus Christ. Eusebius said the name of Jesus Christ was written over the name of Apollo.
The Gospel of Peter disagrees with the four canonical Gospels in vitally important areas, including the physical death and bodily resurrection of our Lord and Savior.