Who Wrote 2 Peter?

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 9 0

Introduction

The authorship of the Bible is a hot topic in both the scholarly and popular worlds. One of the most debated books in Scripture concerning its author is 2 Peter. This article will examine skeptical arguments against 2 Peter to see whether or not they are correct. Did Peter write the second epistle with his name attached to it?

Skepticism about 2 Peter

2 Peter is by far one of the most difficult books to study in regards to authorship. Christian scholar Craig Blomberg says it plainly, “With 2 Peter we come to the most difficult of all the New Testament epistles to situate in its original context.”[1] This epistle is one of liberalism’s favorite books to use to cast doubt on the integrity of Scripture. The infamous skeptic Bart Ehrman says, “Whoever wrote 2 Peter, it was not Simon Peter.”[2] He continues:

the writing styles [between 1 and 2 Peter] are vastly different. Already in the early church there were Christian scholars who argued that Peter did not write 2 Peter…The book called 2 Peter was written long after Peter’s death, by someone who was disturbed that some people were denying that the end was coming soon.[3]

Skeptical scholars typically assign 2 Peter “a date from 124 to 150 [A.D.]”[4] Raymond Brown notes that, “Thus a date of 130, give or take a decade, would best fit the evidence.”[5] If correct, then 2 Peter could not have been written by Peter since he was killed in the 60s.

There are many different arguments used against the authenticity of 2 Peter including, but not limited to: (1) poor attestation in the early church; (2) some teachings, such as the fact that Christ had not returned yet, seem to point to a late date of composition; (3) Peter borrowing from Jude (why would Peter use material from someone who was not an apostle?); and (4) drastic stylistic differences between 1 and 2 Peter. We will examine these and other arguments throughout this article.

External Testimony

The best place to start is with the attestation of the epistle in the early church. The book has a “bad” record concerning early church testimony according to skeptics. If 2 Peter was genuinely written by Peter, then why were so many Christians skeptical about it? Brown says, “Of the twenty-seven NT books [2 Peter] had the least support in antiquity. In the Western church (unlike Jude) [2 Peter] was either unknown or ignored until ca. 350, and even after that Jerome reported that many rejected it because it differed in style from [1 Peter].”[6]

2 Peter is first cited by the early Church father Origen (c. 182-251). He recognizes that some people doubted the authenticity of the epistle, even though he accepted it as genuine. Eusebius (c. 265-339) notes that most in the church accepted 2 Peter although he had some reservations about it himself.

Scholar Michael Kruger says, “[Eusebius] mentions that his doubts stem from the fact that writers he respected did not affirm its canonicity and that it was not to his knowledge quoted by the ‘ancient presbyters.’”[7] Even though he was cautious about it, Eusebius listed the epistle with the disputed books which also included James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, but not with the spurious books such as the Apocalypses of Peter and other books rejected by the Church.

Other Church Fathers such as Gregory of Nazianus, Athanasius, and Augustine all accepted 2 Peter as genuine. Jerome accepted the epistle, but he noted the stylistic differences between 1 and 2 Peter, but he believed that Peter probably used two different amanuenses (literary or artistic assistants – more on this below).

The Muratorian Canon (written around the year 180) does not list 2 Peter, but it also doesn’t list 1 Peter, James, and Hebrews either. However, there is good evidence that other early Christians knew 2 Peter. These include Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), Irenaeus (,c. 130-200), Justin Martyr (c. 115-165), the Apocalypse of Peter (c. 110), and 1 Clement (c. 95-97).

Clement of Alexandria wrote a now-lost commentary of 2 Peter. Irenaeus seems to use 2 Peter 3:8 when quoting Psalm 90:4. Both quotes of this verse are very similar which is interesting since they are different from the LXX and diverge from it in the exact same way. Justin makes a striking allusion in his Dialogue with Trypho (82.1) to 2 Peter 2:1. The Apocalypse of Peter (c. 110) “certainly” shows evidence of influence from 2 Peter.[8] We also have a number of connections with 1 Clement and 2 Peter (1 Clement 21.5 and 2 Peter 2:1ff; 1 Clem 23 and 2 Pet 3:4, etc.).

Kruger sums up the external evidence nicely:

In our quest to determine the authenticity of 2 Peter we cannot overlook the fact that 2 Peter, despite the reservations of some, was finally and fully accepted by the church as canonical in every respect. The fact that 2 Peter faced such resistance—resistance coupled with the incessant competition of pseudo-Petrine literature—and still prevailed proves to be worthy of serious consideration. Is it so easy to dismiss the conclusions of Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Ephiphanius, Athanasius, Augustine, Rufinus, Jerome, and the church councils of Laodicea, Hippo and Carthage? Thus, if the epistle of 2 Peter held such a firm position in the fourth-century canon, then perhaps the burden of proof should fall on those who suggest it does not belong there.[9]

Blomberg notes that “The external evidence in favor of [2] Peter is still strong and much stronger than for any noncanonical Christian text that was occasionally put forward as a candidate for the canon.”[10] The external evidence for 2 Peter is not “bad” like skeptics claim. It shows that the epistle was accepted by the majority and was even in circulation among church leaders as early as the early to mid-first-century. This strongly suggests a date earlier than what liberal scholars put forward for the epistle.

The authorship of 2 Peter.

Internal Evidence

  1. A Delayed Return

Let us now turn to the internal arguments that are used against Petrine authorship. One of the most popular of these is that the audience of 2 Peter was disappointed that Jesus had not yet returned (3:8). The argument is that Christians around the time Peter died (the mid-60s) were still expecting Christ to return at any moment. Because Jesus had not come back, an explanation was needed to understand why Christ had not yet returned. Since the original readers of 2 Peter needed that explanation, it is thought by skeptics that this means that the epistle was written way after the lifetime of Peter.

However, the dilemma about Christ’s second coming was already an issue in Thessalonica as early as 50 AD (see the Thessalonian epistles). This is more than a decade before the death of Peter. This means that the concern over Christ’s return was an issue well before skeptical scholars realize. Thus, this is not a valid objection against Petrine authorship.

  1. The Deaths of First Generation Christians

A second common argument used against the traditional understanding of the epistle is that it mentions that the first generation of Christians had all died (3:4). In this verse, Peter is repeating what the scoffers are saying (“Ever since our fathers died…”). It is believed that the “fathers” in this verse are the apostles. The conclusion is that the epistle is too late for Peter to have written if the apostles were mostly dead. However, there is a problem with this argument. Conservative scholar Donald Guthrie notes that problem when he says,

Nowhere in the New Testament nor in the Apostolic Fathers is [the fathers] used of Christian “patriarchs” and the more natural interpretation would be to take it as denoting the Jewish patriarchs [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], in which case the statement would amount to a rather exaggerated declaration of the changelessness of things. This would certainly give a reasonable connection with the allusion to the creation account and later to the flood.[11]

  1. A Collection of Paul’s Letters

Thirdly, skeptics like to point out that 2 Peter teaches that there was a collection of Paul’s letters in existence (3:15-16). According to Brown, this gathering up of Paul’s letters “probably did not take place much before 100” AD.[12] The problem is that critical scholars tend to make Peter say more than what is written. There is nothing in Peter’s statement that indicates the exact number of letters that Paul had written. The “all” only has to indicate the letters of Paul that Peter knew about. This is hardly “proof” of a late date for 2 Peter.

  1. Peter’s Imminent Death

A fourth argument against Petrine authorship is that the letter mentions Peter’s imminent death in 1:12-14, and he wants his readers to have to focus on remembering his teaching. The prediction of Peter’s death is only recorded in John 21:18-19 which was not written until the late first century. This points to, according to liberal thinking, a late date for the epistle.

Guthrie counters this argument when he says, “If Peter himself wrote 2 Peter and heard with his own ears the Lord’s prediction, there would be nothing extraordinary in the connection.”[13] There is also nothing wrong with an old man knowing his death may be coming soon. If he was in Rome where hostility against Christians was high, then there is nothing wrong with someone like Peter knowing his fate is coming.

  1. Borrowing from Jude

Liberals also argue that 2 Peter borrows a lot of material from the epistle of Jude. According to them, Peter would never have borrowed from Jude, who was not an apostle. This is an argument that is simply blown out of proportion. Firstly, it can be argued that Jude borrowed from Peter. But for the sake of argument let us assume that Peter borrowed from Jude.

There is no problem with 2 Peter taking material from Jude. If Peter believed that the brother of Jesus wrote the epistle of Jude then why not borrow from a family member of the Lord. What is wrong with Peter liking the arguments Jude made against some false teachers and using them for his own purposes? Writers today borrow from other writers in the form of quotations (which did not exist in the ancient world) and paraphrasing. Why can’t Peter do this? In fact, “Using someone else’s material without documenting it was apparently acceptable practice” during the time of the New Testament so this cannot be used as evidence of forgery.[14]

  1. Gnostic Opponents

Lastly, Mack believes that the opponents in 2 Peter are “of a Gnostic persuasion.”[15] This means, according to those who make the point, that 2 Peter was written in the second century since Gnosticism wasn’t a major player in religious thought until then. However, there are problems with this. D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo note that “the lack of some of the characteristic [Gnostic] doctrines – such as dualism – renders this hypothesis unlikely.” In fact, “we do not have enough evidence to identify the false teachers that lie behind 2 Peter.”[16] Because of this, to identify Peter’s opponents as second century Gnostics is a bit of stretch.

Each of the historical arguments used against the traditional authorship of 2 Peter are not as strong as skeptics assume. Let us now turn to the major problem that scholars have with the epistle.            

Stylistic and Literary Problems

The number one reason why scholars believe that 1 and 2 Peter could not have been written by Peter is the stylistic and literary differences between the letters. Brown lists some reasons when he says, “For instance, there are OT quotations in [1 Peter] but not in [2 Peter]; some 60 percent of the vocabulary of [2 Peter] is not found in [1 Peter]; the style of [2 Peter] is more solemn, even pompous and labored; and the mind-set about issues like the second coming is quite different.”[17]

Ehrman goes further by saying that Peter was uneducated and illiterate. Most people in the ancient world were illiterate, and only those in the upper class had the luxury of literacy. To add to this, most Jews spoke Aramaic and not Greek. Capernaum, Peter’s hometown, was an insignificant little village where everyone was illiterate. Ehrman says,

a lower-class fisherman…[who] probably didn’t attend [school, but] if he did attend, it would have been in order to receive rudimentary training in how to read Hebrew. But that almost certainly never happened. Peter was an illiterate peasant.[18]

He adds that Acts 4:13 supports this by saying that Peter, and John, were “unlettered.”

There are a few different things to note when it comes to this kind of thinking. First, there is no reason why someone has to use the same vocabulary and themes every time they write. Does a person who is writing two different letters to different recipients have to use the exact same words and themes? Of course not. The fact is that if there were more commonalities between 1 and 2 Peter, scholars would probably argue that they were too similar to have been written by the same person. It would be argued that the author of 2 Peter was trying too hard to present himself as the same author of 1 Peter. Skeptics will never be satisfied when it comes to similarities and differences in style and vocabulary.

Secondly, the idea that Peter was a peasant has not gone unchallenged. He was a merchant tradesman, and it is unlikely he would have been uneducated. Knowledge of Greek is known to have existed in the region where Peter is from.

Thirdly, it could be argued that if Peter was illiterate, then he could have learned how to write in Greek between the time of the Gospels and the writing of 2 Peter (a period of about thirty-five years or so if Peter wrote the epistle). Fourth, Acts 4:13 does not teach that Peter was illiterate. The context of the verse points to the fact that Peter and John were looked upon as having no education in rabbinic training. “[T]he authorities were surprised because they thought they would be ignorant and instead they proved to be knowledgeable.”[19]

Although it is possible that Peter was originally illiterate and learned Greek in his later life, there is another argument to be made that solves every alleged “literary problem”: the use of a secretary in writing a letter. Since most people were illiterate practically everybody, even those who could write, hired someone who was trained in the art of writing. This was common during the time of the New Testament. Even Paul, who was educated, did this. It is highly likely that Peter did the same.

Ehrman, however, argues against the use of a secretary because of Peter’s language. Ehrman’s argument is that “Peter could not have dictated this letter in Greek to a secretary any more than he could have written in Greek.”[20] This would have meant that he was fluent in Greek and been familiar with the Greek Old Testament. This is not plausible according to Ehrman. He continues, “Nor can one easily think that he dictated the letter in Aramaic and the secretary translated it into Greek. The letter does not read like a Greek translation of an Aramaic original.”[21] He adds that the secretary would then be the author, not Peter.

Ehrman’s argument is riddled with problems. Secretaries had the training and knew the “proper formatting and language [needed] for various contexts.”[22] Also, it is known that Josephus’s works were written in a Greek that was beyond his skills. That is why scholars believe that he had help from people with good Greek skills to help him produce “a finely written Greek document” even though he was an Aramaic speaker. No one doubts that Josephus wrote his books.[23] We even have as evidence “many, many examples of well-written Greek letters from common Egyptian soldiers and farmers [who didn’t know Greek]. In fact, this assistance was a good reason for hiring a secretary.”[24] Ehrman’s argument about the secretary being the author is no different than a ghost writer today.

Conclusion

The arguments put forth against Petrine authorship of 2 Peter are weak. Every historical argument has a logical answer, and the external evidence and the literary argument for a secretary fit the context of the first century. There is no reason why Peter could not have written 2 Peter.

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[1] Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), 490.

[2] Bart Ehrman, Forged (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011), 68.

[3] Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009), 135.

[4] Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1995), 208.

[5] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1997), 767.

[6] Ibid., 769.

[7] Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity of 2 Peter,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42, no. 4 (December 1999): 650.

[8] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 662.

[9] Kruger, 651.

[10] Blomberg, 493.

[11] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1990), 829.

[12] Brown767.

[13] Guthrie, 821.

[14] E. Randolph Richards, “Will the Real Author Please Stand Up? The Author in Greco-Roman Letter Writing,” in Come let us Reason, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012), 118.

[15] Mack, 211.

[16] Carson & Moo, 658.

[17] Brown, 766.

[18] Ehrman, Forged, 75.

[19] Andreas J. Kostenberger, Darrell L. Bock, and Josh D. Chatraw, Truth in a Culture of Doubt (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2014), 144.

[20] Ehrman, Forged, 76.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Richards, 125.

[23] Ibid., 131.

[24] Ibid.

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