Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Authorship of First Peter

     The NT document historically known as 1 Peter claims to be from “Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1).1 The author writes authoritatively (1:13-25; 2:1-2, 13, etc.), as an eyewitness of Christ’s sufferings (5:1), with parallels between 1 Peter and Peter’s speeches recorded in Acts: (a) Acts 10:34 and 1 Pet. 1:17; (b) Acts 2:32-36; 10:40, 41 and 1 Peter 1:21; (c) Acts 4:10, 11 and 1 Pet. 2:7, 8. First Peter was unanimously recognized in the early church as an authentic document from the apostle Peter.2 
     Nevertheless, a number of modern scholars reject Simon Peter as the author of this NT epistle.3 Here are the main objections:
1. The excellent quality of Greek and the use of the LXX seem at variance with the alleged authorship of a Galilean Jewish fisherman.
2. The close relationship between 1 Peter and the Pauline writings could suggest literary dependence, which is inconsistent with the apparent hostility between the two apostles (cf. Gal. 2:7-14).
3. The “fiery ordeal” (4:12) suggests a universal imperial persecution, which would not fit into the lifetime of the apostle Peter.
4. The church organization implied in 5:1-4, with an established eldership, points to a much later period in the development of the Christian movement.
5. “Babylon” (5:13) as a metaphoric allusion to Rome arose in Jewish apocalyptic works only after the fall of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Baruch 11.1; 67.7; 4 Ezra 3.1-2, 28).
6. References to the life and ministry of Jesus are almost entirely absent from 1 Peter.

Responses to these objections

1. Notwithstanding the fact that Greek was widely used in 1st-century Palestine and most of the populace was bilingual,4 the secretarial assistance of Silvanus (5:12) sufficiently answers the criticism regarding how the document was composed (see below).
2. Both the presumed hostility between Paul and Peter and any alleged literary dependence have been greatly exaggerated. If the apostles were proclaiming the same message, we would expect to find a number of similarities between their writings. Furthermore, Paul and Peter shared some of the same coworkers (e.g. Silvanus, Mark), whose contribution and influence are often too easily overlooked.
3. Nothing in 1 Peter necessitates a universal imperial persecution but would include any “fiery ordeal” with which the readers were faced.
4. Organized congregational leadership was in place much earlier than many critical scholars wish to concede (cf. Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:6; Phil. 1:1). Moreover, the various gifts the readers are admonished to utilize (1 Pet. 4:10-11) imply an earlier period.
5. While it is noteworthy that Jewish apocalyptic literature equates Rome with “Babylon” following Jerusalem’s destruction, this evidence does not consider the oral sentiments prior to the written accounts and represents a Jewish perspective but not necessarily that of suffering Christians under Nero (as in 1 Peter) and Domitian (as in Revelation). 
6. The author’s purpose was not to write a Gospel narrative about the life and ministry of Jesus but a letter of encouragement to suffering Christians.

Peter’s employment of an amanuensis

     In 1 Pet. 5:12 the statement is made, “Through Silvanus the faithful brother, as I regard [him], I have written to you briefly …” The question is whether egrapsa (aorist active indicative 1st person singular of graphō) indicates that Silvanus participated in writing the document or was simply its carrier. While some consider as a legitimate use of graphō the sense of to “bear” a letter,5 this is neither its primary meaning nor its most common usage (cf. Rom. 16:22). The verb graphō occurs in the NT 194 times, and in every instance it is used in the sense of “writing,” unless 1 Pet. 5:12 is the only exception.6 In reference to the letters Dionysius had been requested to write, the term egrapsa is used (Eusebius, Eccl Hist. 4:23.12), the exact form of the word found in 1 Pet. 5:12.


     When a NT document makes its own claim of authorship and is supported by ample internal and external evidence, a denial of that claim would require either irrefutable evidence to the contrary or a blind, anti-conservative or anti-biblical predisposition. Suffice it to say, the former is unavailable in the case of 1 Peter.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 The earliest apparent allusion to this epistle is in 2 Pet. 3:1, where the statement is made: “This now, beloved, I write a second epistle to you.” Not counting possible allusions in other writings (e.g. Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabas, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs), 1 Peter is quoted by Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians (1, 2, 5), Tertullian (Scorp. 6, 12), and Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 3.11; Inst. 1.6), and is mentioned by name by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 4.9.2; 4.16.5; 5.7.2). Eusebius notes Papias’ use of it (Eccl. Hist. 3.39.17) and classified 1 Peter among the “undisputed” NT writings (Eccl. Hist. 3.3.1; 3.4.2).
     3 R. E. Brown, Introduction to the NT 718-19; B. D. Ehrman, The NT: A Historical Introduction 400-401; R. E. Van Voorst, Reading the NT Today 493-94; L. M. White, From Jesus to Christianity 272-74.
     4 A. T. Robertson, Grammar 26-29; cf. D. A. Caron and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 240, 624, 644-45.
     5 See H. Elliott, First Peter 872-73; P. J. Achtemeier, First Peter 7-9; W. A. Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter 23-24. The following examples are submitted in BAGD (167): IRo 10:1 [Ignatius to the Romans]; IPhld 11:2 [Ignatius to the Philadelphians]; ISm 12:1 [Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans]; Pol 14 [Polycarp to the Philippians]. However, J. B. Lightfoot, A. Roberts, and J. Donaldson translate all of these instances of graphō as “write” rather than “bear” (see Early Christian Writings). 
     6 Some would point to Acts 15:23 as another exception (cf. BDAG 207; ESV, NASB, NIV, N/RSV), but the context does not demand a modification of the usual sense. It is true that the letter was sent with Judas-Barsabas and Silas (vv. 22, 27, 30-32), but someone had to write the letter on behalf of the group, and the most straightforward meaning of v. 23 is that these two men served as amanuenses (N.B. multiple letters would have been needed for the plurality of Gentile congregations). Even if 1 Pet. 5:12 is interpreted as Silvanus having merely been the letter-carrier, this does not rule out the probability that Peter used an amanuensis (which was the common practice of his day) nor does it discount Silvanus as both letter-carrier and amanuensis (cf. Acts 15:22-32).

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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The General Epistles: An Introduction

     Since at least the 4th century, the seven NT epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude have been collectively known as the “catholic” or “universal” or “general” epistles, mainly to distinguish them from the writings of Paul. This joint designation is intended to convey the sense of a broad, indefinite address to all Christians as opposed to a particular congregation or individual. C. R. Holladay suggests that one of the reasons these epistles were collectively so designated early on was because they were accepted and read by the church in general (A Critical Introduction to the NT 469).  

     Apparently 1 John was the first to receive the appellation that was eventually applied to all seven epistles for the sake of convenience (see Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 2.23.25; 5.18.5; 7.25.7), although 2-3 John were not initially written for the universal church and 1 Peter has a geographically limited address (cf. also 2 Pet. 3:1). The General Epistles bear the respective names of their authors, in contrast to the Pauline letters which bear the names of the recipients. While some have included Hebrews in this list, most recognize as the “General Epistles” only James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. The writings of James and 1 Peter are principally ethical, Jude and 2 Peter eschatological, and the Johannine epistles christological and ethical.

     B. M. Metzger observes that “our New Testament would be infinitely poorer without the variety of emphases supplied by the general letters…. As sunlight is composed of a variety of colors, so the spectrum of early Christian theology represented in the New Testament letters is remarkable for its diversity of emphases as well as for its unity in fundamentals” (The NT: Its Background, Growth, and Content 283).

Approx. Date
James the Lord’s brother (1:1)
1 Peter
Peter and Silvanus (1:1; 5:12)
2 Peter
Peter (1:1)
Jude the Lord’s brother (1:1)
1, 2, 3 John
John the apostle

     Five of these writings were contributed by apostles of Jesus Christ, while the other two were written by the Lord’s half-brothers. Chronologically they comprise the earliest and among the latest of the NT documents.1

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 For more chronological details, see K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament 201-21.

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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Original Form of Matthew’s Gospel

     Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-140?) reported: “Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and everyone translated it as he was able” (as quoted by Eusebius [ca. 263-339], Eccl. Hist. 3.39.16; translated by C. F. Cruse). An alternate translation is offered by W. J. Harrington: “Matthew, in Aramaic, grouped in order the sayings, and each translated them according to his ability” (Explaining the Gospels 40-41). This idea of the original composition of Matthew’s Gospel in the language of the Hebrew people was also propagated by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1-2), Origen (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.25.4), Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 3.24.6; cf. 5.10.3), John Chrysostom (Hom. Matt. 1.7), and Jerome (Epist. 20.5). 
     This statement, however, is not as simple as the above English translations suggest. Does sunetazeto suggest this was something Matthew purportedly “composed,” “collected,” “compiled,” or “arranged”? What is meant by ta logia: “history,” “sayings,” “oracles,” “gospel”? What is intended by Hebraidi (“Hebrew,” “Aramaic,” “Semitic,” “Jewish-Christian”)1 dialektō (“dialect,” “language,” “style,” “literary form”)? Does hērmēneusen mean this was something “translated,” “interpreted,” or “transmitted”?
     Perhaps ta logia is used by Papias in reference to the sayings/teachings of the apostles about the words and deeds of Jesus, i.e., the substance of Matthew’s Gospel. Compare Papias’ previous statement regarding Mark: “… being the interpreter of Peter whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy … he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary” (quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15). Alternatively, if ta logia is limited to “the sayings” of Jesus, it is interesting to note that in Matthew’s Gospel the Lord’s sayings are arranged in five long discourses (with no such arrangement in Mark or Luke).
     Since the Greek of Matthew does not read like a translation and no early Hebrew or Aramaic text of the Gospel has ever been found,2 how is Papias’ allusion to Hebraidi dialektō to be understood? Suggestions include the following:
o   The canonical Matthew was possibly based on a Greek translation of the Semitic original (W. J. Harrington, Explaining the Gospels 41-42).
o   Matthew could have constructed his Gospel around an Aramaic collection of the Lord’s teachings (F. F. Bruce, The NT Documents 34-38).
o   Matthew’s Gospel may have been written in the Greek language with a Semitic style or form, i.e., according to Semitic linguistic patterns (R. H. Gundry, Matthew 619-20).
o   Perhaps Papias (and later writers influenced by him) simply made a mistake, confusing Matthew’s Gospel with an Aramaic narrative3 or making a misguided assumption based on the Jewish context of the early Christian movement (D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 146).
     At the end of the day, we know the Gospel according to Matthew has been preserved through the centuries in the Greek language of the New Testament. Any questions, concerns, or debates about an alleged earlier form or similar writings do not detract from the inspired truth it conveys.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 “The author here, doubtless means the Syro-Chaldaic, which sometimes Scripture and primitive writers called Hebrew” (C. F. Cruse, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 436 n. 8; cf. W. J. Harrington, Explaining the Gospels 180 n. 2). Cf. John 5:2; Acts 1:19; 21:40; 22:2.
     2 This does not count medieval Hebrew forms of Matthew that appear to be translations from the Greek (see R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the NT 210). The numerous OT quotations in Matthew’s Gospel reflect more than one text-form, i.e., LXX, translations from a Semitic original, and other less conventional compositions. This suggests someone knowledgeable of and writing in Greek but acquainted with Semitic languages (cf. D. A. Caron and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 143-44; D. Guthrie, NT Introduction 21-22).
     3 A work known as “the Gospel according to the Hebrews,” which circulated among Jewish-Christian groups in Transjordan and Egypt (see Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.25.5; 3.27.4), apparently bore some affinity to Matthew’s Gospel (see Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.1; Jerome, Matt. 1, 2, 4; On Illustrious Men 2; Micah 7.6; Epiphanius, Panarion 29.9.4; 30.3.7; Origin, Matt. 19; cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.24.6; 5.10.3; 6.25.4). Jerome’s allusions to “the Gospel of the Nazarenes” may have been in reference to the same work (cf. On Illustrious Men 3; Isa. 30; Ezek. 6; 16.3; Against Pelagius 3.2) or possibly even to an Aramaic translation of Matthew’s Gospel. In disputes between orthodox Pharisees and Jewish Christians around the turn of the 2nd century, discussions focused on Christian writings referred to as Euangelion, which F. F. Bruce suggests “was most probably an Aramaic form of the Gospel according to Matthew, the favourite Gospel of the Jewish Christians in Palestine and the adjoining territory” (NT Documents 104).

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