Course: New Testament Survey - Acts to Revelation

Lecture: 2 Peter - Authorship


Very, very few people today would argue for Petrine authorship of this book. The Word Biblical Commentary, which is a conservative commentary series, argues against Petrine authorship. Of all of the books of the Bible, this is the one that is most difficult to defend in regard to authorship. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are denied by many as being Pauline, and I can handle that. But for 2 Peter, I must admit that there are questions that come up that I don’t know how to answer.

As to 1 Peter and 2 Peter, their style and vocabulary are very different. And the writer of 2 Peter has a unique vocabulary. There are 50 words in 2 Peter that are not found anywhere else in the New Testament. That’s a large number for such a small book like this. In 3:15-16, he states, “And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand [I have no problem with that statement at all – there are things in Paul that are hard to understand], which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction [I hope I’m not one of those, however], as they do the other Scriptures.” In other words, Paul’s letters here are equated as Scripture. Now, remember, the critics say it would have taken some time for all of Paul’s letters to have been gathered together into a single corpus or entity, and to then be acknowledged as equal to the Old Testament as Scripture. Therefore, this kind of a statement had to have been written much later than AD 64 or 65, when Peter was martyred. 2 Peter is also related to the Book of Jude in a number of ways. And if he actually used Jude and some of the similarities are due to his having used Jude, then that also suggests a late date for 2 Peter.

Bauckham, in his commentary on Jude and 2 Peter, which is in the Word Biblical Commentary series, argues that this was a transparent fiction that everyone would have acknowledged. In other words, it’s not deceitful; it’s a legitimate literary genre of pseudepigrapha, just as you do not say that the writer of the Book of Enoch was deceitful. You would not argue that the writer of the Psalms of Solomon was deceitful, because they were trying to deceive as to who wrote it; this was a known genre of pseudepigraphy. So he’s arguing that 2 Peter is a pseudepigraphic work; it’s not deceitful, however, because it was transparent to everybody that Peter had not written it. It was written by someone saying in essence that if Peter were alive this is what he would write. So it’s a transparent fiction as such.

Another problem with this is that if Peter wrote it, why did the book have such a hard time being recognized as Scripture? Why was it part of the antilegomena (in other words, part of those books that were debated)? Some people thought it should not be included in the New Testament, whereas the homologoumena everybody acknowledged. Everybody acknowledged 1 Peter; some people argued against 2 Peter. Well, let’s note the opening verse, where it claims to be Peter, “Simon Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ ….” When we go on to vv. 16-18, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty [He’s an eyewitness!]. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” So he claims to be an eyewitness, and present at the transfiguration. And in 3:1 once again you have “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.” So 2 Peter claims clearly to have been written by the apostle.

As to style issues, this is a very small book, and it’s hard sometimes to say how much a small book can vary from larger books by the same author, and still be written by the same person. And this is especially true if you use a secretary. We know that in the first letter, Silvanus was actually the writer of the letter – it was dictated to him. When you ask who wrote Romans, your natural explanation is Paul, and that’s right – he’s the author of the book. But the person who technically wrote it down was a man named Tertius, who in 16:22 says “I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.” And so if you want to be technical, the one who had pen in hand, and dipped ink and wrote it on the papyrus was Tertius, not Paul. And if you allow freedom to your secretary (sometimes you may; sometimes you may not), maybe that allows for the various differences in style.

As to Bauckham’s argument in Jude and his commentary on 2 Peter, that this was a transparent fiction that everybody would have recognized, the fact is that it was NOT transparent, because no one recognized it. The argument was not whether this was a transparent fiction; it was, whether this was a fraud or Peter wrote it. Those were the only alternatives. So it was not a transparent literary genre that everybody recognized. The early church, when it was discussing the question of whether this book should be recognized as part of the Canon of Scripture, argued whether Peter wrote it or not. If Peter wrote it, it should be included in the Canon; if he didn’t write it, it should not be included, because it was fraudulent. It was not recognized at all as an open, transparent fiction. For 1500 years, plus, it was never recognized as pseuepigraphic, and if that’s true it’s not very transparent at all in that regard.

Pseudepigrapha is a good genre and works real well when there has been sufficient time that no one in the world can confuse you who are writing this, and the person’s name under which you’re writing it because the person’s been dead for a great number of years. In the case of the Book of Enoch, it’s not a problem; the guy’s been dead for thousands of years. So no one thinks Enoch is still writing this. In the case of the Psalms of Solomon, he’s been dead 900 years, so no one is really questioning that. This is not at all the case with regard to 2 Peter.

As to its canonical status, it’s true that it was debated. It was part of the antilegomena, not the homologoumena – not part of the group that everyone agrees to, but part of those which are debated. Yet, there was a third classification, and we’ll talk more about this on the last day of class, of books that everybody recognized were not part of the canon – the Notha. This book was never part of the Notha. It was always part of the disputed books, and it had far better argumentation for it than any of the other books that never were recognized, like the Shepherd of Hermas or 1 Clement, or something like that. So when you compare how the early church talked of 2 Peter, it had far better attestation and argumentation in favor of it than any book that was not accepted. The books that were not accepted were never as strongly supported as 2 Peter.

As to the reference to Paul’s letters being Scriptures, that is something of a problem. But does that mean that the writer had all of Paul’s books bound up in front of him, or does he know of individual letters, like Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and he refers to them in that sense? When Paul wrote these books, to say that he wrote Scripture, or he had an insight into it, that does look rather early in some ways, but it’s not impossible. As to the similarities between 2 Peter and Jude, there are all sorts of ways of explaining that. It could be that Jude used 2 Peter, not the other way around. They could both have been using a common source. It’s hard to argue that.

The lack of any clear ecclesiastical system of government in 2 Peter suggests that it’s not real late either. Later on, when you get into the early decades of the second century, you have the development of the monarchical bishop – a strong bishop ruling over a series of churches. Nothing like that comes up in 2 Peter at all. Finally, the latest possible date for 2 Peter is AD 135, because it is referred to in the Apocalypse of Peter v. 5. The Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Gospel of Thomas – there were a lot of what we call apocryphal books. This one, written around AD 135, alludes to 2 Peter, so that’s the latest that 2 Peter could have been written.

I just don’t really know enough about 2 Peter to be dogmatic about that. I’m just of the opinion that the author’s claim is as Peter, and until someone forces me to believe otherwise, I’ll maintain Petrine authorship in some way, having had a secretary perhaps write some of this material for him.