The Authorship of 2nd Peter

Many scholars say the canonical text known as Second Peter was not actually written by the Apostle to whose name the work is attributed.  In fact, Hampton Keathley observes, “most critical scholars [conclude 2nd Peter] to be pseudepigraphal literature.”[1]  Pseudepigraphy (pseudo – false, epigraphos – superscription) is the attribution of a work to a writer who was not the genuine author.  This is similar, though not identical, to pseudonymous (pseudo – false, onoma – name) or falsely named writing.[2]  Each of these designations are not extremely uncommon among ancient writings, but there would certainly be serious implications if any of the biblical texts were placed under either label.  Laying aside these concerns for the moment, it is helpful to understand why one might consider identifying the text of 2nd Peter as pseudepigraphical.

Michael Gilmour’s article was very helpful to summarize 10 reasons why Petrine authorship of 2nd Peter is questioned.  Among those reasons cited, he listed 2nd Peter’s relationship to Jude (there are similarities between them), differences in style between 1st and 2nd Peter (distinctions may point to differing authors), and the early Church was reluctant to accept the text as canonical.[3]  He went on to explain that the similarities between the texts of 2nd Peter and Jude would suggest that the author might have been one and the same for both.  This would not allow Petrine authorship for the text in question.  Lending credibility to this argument, there are distinct differences in style between 1st and 2nd Peter.  This would seem to also point to an author other than Peter for this second epistle that bears his name.

Furthermore, the early church had three primary measures for canonicity concerning the many texts, which they weighed and either rejected as untrustworthy or received as God’s holy word.  One of the criteria was that the text must have been written by an Apostle or one very close to an Apostle (i.e. endorsed and/or supported by an Apostle).[4]  Each of these ‘problems’ is worth examining, but one must not conclude too early that these are cause to jettison Petrine authorship specifically or accept the notion of pseudepigraphical texts in the New Testament generally.

First, the similarities between 2nd Peter and Jude may be explained by the authors of each having close relationship to one another.  John Piper says 1st Corinthians 9:5[5] may imply that Peter and Jude, Jesus’ brother, traveled together.[6]  This would be a possible justification for the similarities found in each of their writings.  It is not necessary that they copy one another’s written text; traveling partners would inevitably speak regularly to one another and tend to gravitate towards a common vocabulary when speaking of frequently mentioned subjects.  This reasonable explanation need not be proven for the possible explanation to hold.  Unless demonstrated impossible, the possibility remains and is indeed plausible.

Second, the dissimilarities between 1st and 2nd Peter may be explained by the use of a secretary in authoring one or both of these texts.  Piper says that the explanation of stylistic and vocabulary differences may be explained by positing Jude as Peter’s scribe or amanuensis to help Peter write the second epistle.[7]  If we allow for the previously posited theory, namely that Peter and Jude were travel partners for some time, then is would also be a reasonable possibility that Jude may have served Peter in this way.  John MacArthur, on the other hand, says that the solution is found in the scribal provision of Silvanus for the first letter (1 Peter 5:12).[8]  Whether one suggests scribal assistance for 1st or 2nd Peter, or both, the use of such would provide plenty of room for style and verbiage variance.

Third, Apostolic authorship of any first-century text, or the endorsement of and contribution to such a text, was very important to the patristics – especially those who carried the burden of accepting or rejecting a given text’s canonicity.  The fact that 2nd Peter was not immediately recognized as canonical does not exclude it from being Apostolic in authorship, but it does demonstrate the close examination that each text was given.  It would seem that the slow and painstaking process of receiving a work as God’s holy word would lend to its credibility rather than take from it.  If one work was scrutinized more than another, one is not exactly wise to conclude that the findings are less credible.

At the end of the chatter, one is left with a decision between two serious choices.  On the one hand, one may choose to consider these plausible explanations and others credible and understand the text of 2nd Peter as authentic to the Apostle Peter.  On the other hand, one can allow for the possibility that 2nd Peter was written by someone other than the Apostle Peter and thereby call into question the text itself.  It is worth noting that the label of pseudepigraphy is in direct opposition to the assertions of the text.  The very first phrase of the work is a declaration of authorship, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1a).  Because of this, and several other reasons, a choice of the latter option means more than most who choose it are willing to acknowledge.

Because of the author’s designation in the first verse there is an immediate question that becomes nagging.  Why refer to this work as pseudepigraphical but not pseudonymous?  If Simeon Peter is not the true author, then the false author has taken a false name for some reason or another.  This, it seems, is the definition of pseudonymous writing.  Therefore, one is not merely looking at an anonymous document that some believe may have been written by Simeon Peter; instead, one is forced either to recognize Simeon Peter as the true author or to acknowledge that the author is intentionally misleading his or her readers from the beginning.  It is not hard to see that the stakes are quite high here.

What we are considering is not just who may have actually been the author of 2nd Peter, but whether or not the author of text labeled ‘2nd Peter’ can be trusted.  By extension, if the author of 2nd Peter cannot be trusted, then there is reason enough to question the trustworthiness of at least some other New Testament texts.  Finally, if there is even one untrustworthy text in the whole of the canon of Scripture, then there is cause enough for the average person to distrust the Bible generally.

Because of these high stakes it behooves us to ask what reason we have for throwing such contempt upon the Scriptures in this way.  Is it because there is strong evidence to suggest that 2nd Peter is not trustworthy?  Is it because there is something in  Peter that contradicts the rest of sacred Scripture?  Is it because someone has discovered that there was a conspiracy among the patristics that included the adoption of this text in spite of its pseudonymous authorship?  No, is the answer to all of these questions.  There is no strong evidence that would suggest the text is unreliable.  There is no contradiction between the text and the remainder of the Scriptures.  There is no evidence of any patristic conspiracy.  In fact, there is good reason to receive the text at face value, there is perfect harmony in this text and the other canonical books, and everything that we know of the patristics indicates that they would have thrown this text out in a second if they thought it pseudonymous.

The bottom line is that 2nd Peter simply does not make sense as a pseudepigraphical or pseudonymous writing.  After weighing the text, John MacArthur says that it does not introduce any new doctrine or teaching, and therefore it would not make sense that a false author would attribute such an inconsequential text to Peter.  A false writer would need the weight of an apostolic name only if he were intending some significant thrust in the work.  MacArthur says, “[I]f 2 Peter were a forgery, it would be a forgery written by a fool for no reason at all.” He determines, “This is too much to believe.”  Then MacArthur asserts, “The conclusion to the question of authorship is that, when the writer introduced the letter and referred to himself as Peter, he was writing the truth.”[9]  I concur with Mr. MacArthur.

[1] Keathley, Hampton, IV. “The Authorship of Second Peter.” June 3, 2004.

[2] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  337.

[3] Gilmour, Michael J. “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter.” The Evangelical Quarterly 73, no. 4 (October 2001): 291-309. Accessed November 21, 2013.

[4] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  736.

[5] “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (ESV)

[6] Piper, John. “Who Wrote 2 Peter?” Desiring God. April 27, 1982.

[7] Piper, John. “Who Wrote 2 Peter?” Desiring God. April 27, 1982.

[8] MacArthur, John. “Grace To You.” Second Peter. Accessed November 22, 2013.

[9] MacArthur, John. “Grace To You.” Second Peter. Accessed November 22, 2013.

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