Posted by Clark Bates
September 3, 2016
In the realm of biblical authorship, few books face as great a tension as that of the Epistle of 2 Peter. Difficulties abound regarding the style and language of the work, as well as its comparison to the Epistle of 1 Peter, and that is to say nothing of its less-than-stellar reception by the early church. In light of these barriers, most of the academic world reject 2 Peter as apostolic, preferring to view it as a pseudepagriphical writing from the second century. Below, I’ll acknowledge and briefly examine the evidence used for objection to traditional authorship and counter them, where possible, with a more measured understanding of what is accused.
To begin, the author of 2 Peter identifies himself as Simeon Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1). In addition the author includes several personal flourishes including his experience with the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration ( 2 Pet. 1:17-18 cf. Matt. 17:1-5; Mk. 9:2-7; Lk. 9:28-35). The author also seems to feel the imminence of his death while alluding to the prophetic utterances of Christ, as recorded in the Gospel of John (1:14; Jn. 21:18-19). The author refers to this as his “second letter”, inferring that he is the same author as that of 1 Peter (3:1) which, in the last article this was argued as being apostolic in origin, strengthening the apostolic authorship of this epistle as well. What’s more, the author speaks of himself as a companion in ministry with the apostle Paul (3:15-16), placing his own teachings on par with those of the apostle to the gentiles. Therefore, the internal evidence demonstrates that the author of 2 Peter sought to identify himself as the apostle Peter.
This notwithstanding, 2 Peter stands apart as one of the most contested New Testament epistles today. As previously mentioned, modern Academia believes it to be a pseudepigraphical writing of the 2nd century. According to NT scholar Richard Bauckham, “The Petrine authorship of 2 Peter has long been disputed, but only since the beginning of this century has the pseudepighraphical character of the work come to be almost universally recognized.”1 Attempts by many scholars to defend the traditional authorship of 2 Peter have not been received favorably, even to this day, and it would be disingenuous to attribute all of this opposition to entrenched skepticism within Academia. That is not to say that no response can be made, but that any response should be made with respect to the evidence presented.
“The contemporary reader must, on one hand, decide whether the arguments against the book’s authenticity are cogent,and, on the other, whether there is sufficient warrant to affirm that the letter came from Peter.”2
A common assertion in defense of forgery is that 2 Peter is not quoted in any church documents, prior to the third century.3 This is not universally accepted, however, given the argument from several regarding its limited use in the second century by way of allusion. While even Bauckham recognizes that there is better evidence than is sometimes admitted for second century use of 2 Peter, the evidence is decidedly weaker than that of any other accepted writing.4 writing from the fourth century but speaking of the second, the historian Eusebius recognized 1 Peter as authentic but doubted the authority of the 2 Peter, “The so-called second Epistle we have not received as canonical, but nevertheless it has appeared to be useful to many, and has been studied with other Scriptures.”5 However, even though 2 Peter finds itself within the Eusebius’ list of “disputed books” (2 Peter, James, Jude, 2 and 3 John), it is in good company as all these works were included into the canon of Scripture. Therefore, although inadvertently, Eusebius has given credence to the early disputation of the letter while simultaneously demonstrating its use in in the second century! By the fourth century 2 Peter found its way into the canons of Laodicea (AD 360), Athanasius (ca. 296-373), Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315-387), Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 390) and Carthage (AD 397), among others.
In modern scholarship, 2 Peter has been rejected as authentic due to its use of Jude, largely because the epistle of Jude is deemed to be “post-apostolic”, and if the author of 2 Peter utilizes Jude, it must have been written after the apostle’s death.6 However, if it can be ascertained that the dating of Jude is incorrect, this argument against 2 Peter fails. Another argument against Petrine authorship as linked to the epistle of Jude is the use of imitation from one letter to the other. 2 Peter appears to mimic sections of Jude, making it submissive to the latter. Given the apostle Peter’s primacy in the early church, it is considered doubtful that, were his letter authentic, it would be in a secondary position.7 However, even this argument is based on suppositions. If the epistle of Jude is authentically penned by the brother of Jesus, it would be customary that the higher status would be bestowed upon the family member over the apostle.
Literary Style and Language
Concerning literary style and language, the letter contains a considerable amount of rare words gleaned from a variety of literary works, poetry and obscure sources. This would suggest that the author is widely read, something the biblical accounts seem to contradict, regarding the nature of the apostle (Acts 4:13). This is deemed so conclusive that the “Hellenistic influence . . . rules out Peter definitely.”8 This uniqueness in style, when compared to the first epistle, is so distinct that it is concluded that each letter is written by separate authors. 1 Peter speaks of the “revelation” of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:7), while 2 Peter refers to His “coming” (2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4) and “the day of the Lord” (3:10). 1 Peter describes God’s redemption as “the salvation of your souls” (1:9), but 2 Peter prefers to speak of “entry into the eternal kingdom” (1:11). 1 Peter quotes the OT extensively, while 2 Peter scarcely; and while 2 Peter refers back to the first letter, there is virtually no intersection between the two.
While a great deal of credence is given to the differences in style and vocabulary of the two epistles (and the differences should not be minimized) there simply is not enough of a corpus of Petrine literature to determine what the apostle could, or could not, have written. The apostle could have referred to Christ’s “revelation” in one instance, and to His “coming” in another. Similarly, the use of Hellenistic terminology is insufficient grounds to reject apostolic authorship given the Hellenistic world within which the apostles lived, wrote and ministered. It is a well-known fact in the early church that the apostle Peter was in need of linguistic help. Thorough knowledge of Greek was not as widespread in Galilee and the ability to write well was not universal by any means.9 The use of an amanuensis has been discussed in previous articles and was common practice, especially for the apostle. To quote the Beatles, Peter “got by with a little help from his friends.”10 While there is little documented on either side of this debate regarding the license which the apostle may have given his “secretary”, it is common knowledge that various amanuensis throughout the centuries would contribute as little as dictation or as much as linguistic style and language. Because of the broad range of secretarial practices it becomes impossible to say what kind of style Peter could have used.
It is also argued that the letter provides historical clues to a late dating. The author speaks against heretics “since the time the fathers died” (3:4) suggesting the letter was written to a problem occurring after the first generation of Christians. In 3:2 the author speaks of “your apostles” suggesting the apostles were a group to which the author did not belong, and in 3:16, the author speaks of Paul’s letters as “Scripture,” indicating that that the book was written in a post-apostolic age.11
Regarding the use of the term “fathers” in 3:4, there is no reason to see this as a referent to first generation Christians unless you operate from a position of skepticism regarding the dating of the text. The early church did not refer to the first generation of Christians as “the fathers”, however it was a term utilized for the Jewish ancestors.12 Likewise, in 3:2 the use of the term “your apostles” does not suggest a post-apostolic authorship, but is merely a designation of those who have preached and ministered the gospel to the readers. Regarding the use of “Scripture” in light of the apostle Paul’s writings, a suggestion of pseudonymity must be forced upon the text. While it is true that during the apostle Peter’s time the term “Scriptures” referred to the divinely inspired works of the OT, but early into the life of the church, the same term was applied to the teachings of Jesus (1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:6).
The majority opinion that 2 Peter exists as a pseudephigrical text is not without its difficulties, even given its wide acceptance. As has been discussed in early articles, there is no secured reasoning that a document, known to be pseudonymous, would ever be allowed into the canon. Very little attention is given to this feature because most who argue for the pseudonymous nature of this epistle already accept a limited canon of authentic Pauline writings and presuppose a New Testament filled with pseudepigraphy! Ironically, the above-mentioned “personal flourishes” within the epistle are also used as a reason to accept pseudonimity!13 It is argued that the emphasis on Petrine authorship is too heavily stressed and suggests the author is covering their work. This approach tends to overflow with an unnecessarily extreme form of hyper skepticism to the text, and cannot explain why the author would use the instances that they did, rather than more foundational events that ascribe higher authority to the apostle.
The contemporary objections to Petrine authorship are not without their weaknesses, and we must not allow the volume of opinion to decide a case such as this. These objections should be received and analyzed, but also responded to. The verdict of the early church was certainly ambiguous but the epistle was clearly used, and widely so. What’s more, while the epistle bears little similarity to its earlier counterpart, it bears no similarity to the later apocalyptic literature that also bore the apostle Peter’s name. Academic consensus aside, we are left with three options regarding the authorship of this epistle:
The prima facie claim of the letter to be apostolic should be accepted.
The evidence of its forgery is determinative, therefore it does not deserve canonical status.
Or, the evidence is inconclusive.
Many prefer a form of the second option but seek to keep the epistle’s canonicity, but this is disingenuous. Others, in the face of the dispute, find the third option best. I see the acceptance of the epistle into the canon as a clear rejection of the second option, and while I can sympathize with the third, only the first is permissible in light of the existing evidence and a high view of biblical inerrancy.
1Richard Bauckham, “2 Peter: An Account of Research.” Aufsteig und Niedergang der romischen Welt, 2.25.5 (New York: de Gruyter, 1988), 3719.
2Gene L. Green, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Jude & 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 140.
3Pheme Perkins, Interpretations: First and Second Peter, James and Jude, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995), 160.
4Richard Bauckham, World Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter, (Waco: World Press, 1983), 160.
5Esuebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.3.1.
6Green, Jude & 2 Peter, 144.
7It has been argued by some that Jude imitates 2 Peter, but this line of argumentation is not corroborated by the evidence.
8W.G. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, transl. H.C. Kee, 2nd. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 431.
9Green, Jude, 146.
10 Mark, Sylvanus, and a certain Glaucias are three such “friends”.
11Earl Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary, (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 308.
13Kummel, Introduction, 430, 433.