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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