Monday, 25 June 2018

The Authorship of Second Peter

     The NT document historically known as 2 Peter claims to be from “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1), and the author goes on to acknowledge this as the “second letter I am writing to you” (3:1).1 As would be expected, there are multiple allusions in 2 Peter to events recorded in the Gospels (e.g. 1:14, 16-18). Nevertheless, many modern-day scholars deny that the document was actually written by the apostle Peter.2 Here are the main reasons:

1. In the opening address a number of manuscripts read Sumeōn (“Simeon”), the Hebraic form of the Greek Simōn (“Simon”), which indicates the work of a pseudepigraphical writer.

2. A comparison of 1 Peter and 2 Peter shows that the same author did not write both books: (a) The writing styles are different, with 2 Peter being more solemn, repetitive, and cumbersome than 1 Peter, and about 60% of the vocabulary of 2 Peter is not found in 1 Peter. (b) There are several OT quotations in 1 Peter but practically none in 2 Peter. (c) In reference to the Lord’s return, the word apokalupsis (“revelation”) is used in 1 Peter, whereas parousia (“appearance”) is used in 2 Peter.

3. Second Peter seems to have been written after the apostolic generation had died (cf. 3:4) and expectations of the Lord’s imminent return had been disappointed (3:7-15).

4. The writer’s knowledge of a collection of Paul’s letters, particularly viewed in the context of “scripture” (3:15-16), presupposes a much later date.

5. If 2 Peter uses Jude as a source (as is commonly believed by a number of critical scholars) and if Jude was not written until the end of the 1st century, then 2 Peter must have been composed several decades after the apostle Peter’s death.

6. No NT book is as weakly confirmed among the patristic writers or was as slowly accepted into the NT canon as 2 Peter.

Responses to these objections

1. In the opening verse of 2 Peter there is textual variation among extant manuscripts between the Hebraic Sumeōn and the Greek Simōn; the “weight of external support for the two readings is almost equally divided” (B. M. Metzger, Textual Commentary [2nd ed.] 629). The former has been adopted by the NRSV, ESV and NEB, whereas the latter by the ASV, NASB, N/KJV, NIV, and RSV. If Sumeōn is original, it is more likely to have come from Peter himself rather than someone pretending to be the apostle (cf. Acts 15:14). A forger would have surely copied the more common form instead of using such an obscure form.

2. Any variations in style and vocabulary can easily be explained by the unique circumstances under which each document was written, the differences in subject matter, and the contribution of Silvanus to the first letter (1 Pet. 5:12) and his absence from the second.3 Moreover, any attempt to conclusively evaluate a hypothetical “Petrine style” or “Petrine vocabulary” is precluded by the brevity of these writings. While there are a number of OT allusions in 2 Peter (cf. 2:1, 4-8, 15-16; 3:2, 4-6, 9-13) and at least two OT quotations (2:22: 3:8), the theme of suffering in 1 Peter apparently called for more scripture references than the theme of false teachers in 2 Peter. Since the apostle Paul employs both apokalupsis and parousia in reference to the Lord’s return in 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians,4 what would be so unusual about the apostle Peter using both words on different occasions?

3. The allusion to hoi pateres (“the fathers”) in 3:4 does not necessarily refer to first-generation Christian patriarchs (which is nowhere else used as such) but rather to Jewish patriarchs. Further, the teaching of the Lord’s return in 2 Peter is not inherently suggestive of a much later date and is in fact comparable to 1-2 Thessalonians.

4. If Paul kept copies of his letters (which was customary among contemporary authors) and/or these copies were included among the “scrolls” and “parchments” that Timothy was requested to bring to Rome (2 Tim. 4:13), the entire collection could have easily been shared with Peter while the two apostles were in Rome, especially since Mark and Silvanus were colleagues of both of them (2 Tim. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:12-13). Nonetheless, Peter’s reference to Paul’s “letters” does not in itself imply the entire corpus (though historically possible), and recognition of these writings as “scripture” does not pose a problem for those who accept the self-claims of divine inspiration (e.g. 1 Cor. 2:7-13; 14:37; Eph. 3:1-5). 

5. Questioning 2 Peter because of its literary affinity with Jude is based on the twofold assumption of Jude’s priority and Jude’s late date, neither of which is proven or universally conceded (see The Epistle of Judas).

6. The apparently weak support of 2 Peter in the early church is a fair concern, although M. Green also notes that “no excluded book has nearly such weight of backing as 2 Peter” (The Second Epistle of Peter 13). The weakness of attestation should not be exaggerated, since several 2nd-century writings seem to betray an influence from 2 Peter (cf. R. J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter 162), and Eusebius, while acknowledging its disputed status, affirms its usefulness in study along with tō allōn graphōn (“the other scriptures”) (Eccl. Hist. 3.3.1). 
     While its absence from the Muratorian canon may very well be attributable to the fragmentary state of the text, D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo sensibly observe: “there is a good explanation for the neglect of 2 Peter. So many Petrine forgeries were in existence that the Fathers moved very cautiously in separating out 2 Peter from these other spurious books…. 2 Peter is not mentioned often by the fathers of the church—probably because it is short and so focused on false teaching that it makes little significant theological contribution” (An Introduction to the NT 662, 664).
     There are no close parallels to 2 Peter among the pseudepigraphical writings, and the 2nd century witnessed a whole body of pseudepigraphical literature attributed to Peter that was rejected from the NT canon.5


     No argument against the Peterine authorship of 2 Peter can decisively stand on its own. Even collectively, when evaluated in light of all the potential variables and available evidence, a convincing case is not made. Unless one is predisposed to doubting the integrity of NT writings, there is no legitimate reason to deny 2 Peter’s self-claim of authorship.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 R. E. Brown contends that 2 Peter is a “pseudonymous work” that was in all likelihood “chronologically the last NT book to be written …. Indeed, the pseudonymity of II Pet is more certain than that of any other NT work” (An Introduction to the NT 761, cf. 766-68); see also B. D. Ehrman, The NT: A Historical Introduction 421-24; R. E. Van Voorst, Reading the NT Today 504-505. For a good refutation of the arguments, see D. Guthrie, NT Introduction 828-48.
     3 Jerome (340-420) noted: “the two epistles, which circulate as Peter's, are also different in style among themselves and in character, and in word structure; from which we understand that he used different interpreters as necessary” (Ad Hedibiam 120).
     4 On the Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians, see The Thessalonian Letters, and Biblical Authorship Part 3 and Part 4.
     5 E.g., Acts of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, Gospel of Peter, Preaching of Peter, Martyrdom of Peter, Martyrdom of Peter and Paul, the Gnostic Letter of Peter to Philip, and the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter (see C. R. Holladay, A Critical Introduction to the NT 511).

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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.

Related PostsEpistle of JacobEpistle of Judas, Distinctive Features of 1 PeterDistinctive Features of 2 PeterIntroducing the Johannine Epistles

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