Tuesday 25 July 2006
Who wrote 2 Peter?
John Ross Schroeder is up to bat on the canonical question in the latest Good News. And JR has a nifty new argument to offer in an article called Is the New Testament a Fraud?.
Let me begin by putting my cards on the table. The New Testament is an amazing collection of documents from the first century. It uniquely chronicles the diverse faith and testimony of those who first took on the name Christian. It is a source of inspiration to people of faith today, as in the past, and many of us have heard the voice of God speaking through its text. But why should anyone believe - let alone promote - nonsense in order to make it into something it's not.
- These are the founding documents of the faith, not objective history.
- These are documents that deserve great respect, but not idolatrous worship.
- These are documents that point beyond themselves in all their fallibility to something beyond words and opinion. They do not point to themselves.
- These are documents written by time-bound human beings attempting to express their experience of Jesus, the living Christ, the power of the Spirit and the unconditional grace of God. These documents are not honored by telling porkies about them in an effort to inflate their reputation.
Back to JR and the canon. Mr Schroeder suggests that both Peter and Paul contributed to the canonization of the New Testament - the gathering of these documents together as recognized scripture for the church. In part his argument revolves around 2 Peter 1: 12-15.
12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
That last verse, according to Schroeder, indicates that Peter is taking steps to create the canon. But there's a problem. Peter didn't write 2 Peter.
Richard Bauckham writes in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary: 2 Peter belongs not only to the literary genre of the letter, but also to that of "testament"... In Jewish usage the testament was a fictional genre... It is therefore likely that 2 Peter is also a pseudonymous work, attributed to Peter after his death... These literary considerations and the probable date of 2 Peter... make authorship by Peter himself very improbable.
Scot McKnight, writing in the Eerdmans Commentary notes that 2 Peter "was probably composed within two decades after his death. No book in the Bible had more difficulty establishing itself in the canon. As late as Eusebius (d. 371) some did not consider 2 Peter to be from the Apostle or part of the canon... doubts continued for centuries (e.g., Calvin and Luther)"
McKnight adds: There is clear evidence that 2 Peter is either dependent on Jude or on a later revision of a tradition used by the author of Jude and then by the author of 2 Peter... The letter probably emerges from a Hellenistic Jewish context, probably in Asia.
In his recent book "Peter, Paul, & Mary Magdalene" Bart Ehrman notes: whoever wrote 2 Peter, it was not Simon Peter the disciple of Jesus. Unlike 1 Peter, the letter of 2 Peter was not widely accepted, or even known, in the early church. The first time any author makes a definite reference to the book is around 220 CE, that is 150 years after it was allegedly written. It was finally admitted into the canon somewhat grudgingly, as church leaders of the later third and fourth centuries came to believe that it was written by Peter himself. But it almost certainly was not... As scholars have long recognized, much of the invective is borrowed, virtually wholesale, from another book that found its way into the New Testament, the epistle of Jude. This is one of the reasons for dating the letter itself somewhat later... it is dependent on another letter that appears to have been written near the end of the first century.
How ironic then that Mr Schroeder uses 2 Peter, a very late document, to "proof text" his view that the canon was created very early! The idea that our New Testament in its present form goes all the way back to the time of the apostles is wishful thinking at best, and dishonest at worst. The Good News understandably has an apologetic thrust, but good apologetics also requires being honest with and about the sources. Sadly, that doesn't happen very often in the unholy rush to protect the Bible from the facts.