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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