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.


Me said...

Interesting post. You some very valid points.

Anonymous said...

What do you base your faith on Gavin? If you do not believe that the New Testament is infallible, how do you determine what is true and what is false? The Old Testament only? Church tradition? What your minister tells you? What you feel the Holy Spirit is telling you personally? How do you know what true doctrine is?

Anonymous said...

I too have read of the objections that have been raised to the authenticity of II Peter as a work of St. Peter, and although these concerns are understandable, they're still not sufficient to establish II Peter as a pseudepigraph or as an example of a fictional Jewish testament.

Gavin said...

Jared, even my Catholic Pastoral Edition of the very fine "Christian Community Bible" (a Catholic version - originally produced in Spanish - that includes a color plate of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and with the face of John Paul II adorning the text of 1 Peter) tactfully notes: "This is the latest book in the whole Bible, probably written around the year 100, and it is presented as a second letter by Peter."

Translation: it's pseudonymous.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know of the comments in modern Catholic Bibles. Those comments frequently lapse into irresponsible statements of possibility as though they were fact, as in the case of the speculation that II Peter is a pseudepigraph. My New American Bible is just chock full of silliness, such as the claim that St. Luke traced the genealogy of Jesus back to Nathan the Prophet and that St. Matthew traced the genealogy of Jesus back to the prophet Amos. Unfortunately, you have to take a great deal of the commentary in modern Catholic Bibles with a hefty helping of salt.

Note that one of the reasons adduced for classifying II Peter as a pseudepigraph is that it's in the genre of "Jewish testament." Trouble is, that's not true. It's actually in the genre of "epistle." Yes, in a few places it bears some resemblance to Jewish patriarchal testaments, but it's obviously presented as a letter, an epistle, not a testament.

As for the close similarity between II Peter and Jude, that alone isn't sufficient to establish that II Peter is a pseudepigraph. Whether II Peter reworked Jude or Jude reworked II Peter, or both relied on an earlier work, those things have no bearing on the question who wrote II Peter.

Nor are the canonical disputes regarding II Peter enough to establish that it's pseudonymous. Those disputes only establish that not all Christians accepted the epistle as genuine back then, not that those Christians were correct in their estimation. Based on what we know, it simply is not justified to state as a matter of fact that II Peter was not really authored by St. Peter.

Gavin said...

A good born-again Catholic casting aspersions on episcopally sanctioned Catholic Bible translations? Jared, you do surprise me. There's a good Catholic link on the subject of 2 Peter and the status of the various NT books at (by a professor at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco).

So why you have a problem with issues like this when your church obviously doesn't is beyond me - there's a lot of genuinely good Catholic scholarship out there - unless you're (a) still an unreconstructed biblicist at heart (b) a lay member of Opus Dei???!!! or (c) a conservative "cafeteria Catholic"

My guess - Opus Dei! C'mon Jared, fess up, you wear a cilice!


PS. Sure, nobody can 100% prove that Peter didn't write 2 Peter - but given the strength of the textual and historical evidence the burden of proof lies with those who want to maintain that he did.

Just ask the Jesuits!

Anonymous said...

"A good born-again Catholic casting aspersions on episcopally sanctioned Catholic Bible translations?"

I wasn't casting aspersions on the translations (though the New American Bible sucks as a translation), but pointing out that the footnotes and commentary aren't always worth the paper they're printed with. You may not be aware of this, but orthodox Catholics have been criticising the questionable commentary in their Bibles for a good while now.

"Jared, you do surprise me. . . . So why you have a problem with issues like this when your church obviously doesn't is beyond me"

My Church has neither endorsed nor explicitly condemned the speculation that II Peter is a forgery. Some try to make a case that the Catholic doctrine of inerrancy is reconcilable with pseudepigraphal New Testament epistles, but I've considered their arguments and I'm just not buying it. The Catholic inerrancy doctrine requires that you have virtually unshakeable reasons to deny a biblical statement of authorship, and the reasons adduced for denying Petrine authorship of II Peter don't even come close to being virtually unshakeable.

"there's a lot of genuinely good Catholic scholarship out there"

I agree, but in my opinion mostly it's the bad, outdated scholarship that makes it into modern Catholic Bibles.

"unless you're (a) still an unreconstructed biblicist at heart"

Like all orthodox Catholics, I believe the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant. Not all modern Catholic scholarship is reconcilable with those doctrines, though at least the Catholic scholars usually try to reconcile their speculations with the Catholic faith, even if they don't always succeed.

"(b) a lay member of Opus Dei???!!!"

LOL! No, I'm not in Opus Dei.

"or (c) a conservative 'cafeteria Catholic'"

Since the denial of the Petrine authorship of II Peter is not a Catholic doctrine, my disbelief in that speculation couldn't make me a "cafeteria Catholic."

"Sure, nobody can 100% prove that Peter didn't write 2 Peter - but given the strength of the textual and historical evidence the burden of proof lies with those who want to maintain that he did."

No, that's not how it works in Catholicism. As I have said, the textual and historical evidence used to deny Petrine authorship is just not that strong. Since the epistle says it was authored by St. Peter, the burden of proof is on those who want to maintain that he was not the author, especially in light of the antiquity and longevity of the tradition that II Peter is a genuine product of the apostle, and in light of the fact that Church councils formally, but without comment, have endorsed the epistle's traditional authorship. The way Catholicism works, with that kind of a historical context, a Catholic scholar is obligated to exercise extreme caution in daring to suggest that a plain statement of Scripture is not to be taken as face value.

"Just ask the Jesuits!"

Which ones? Not all Jesuits today hold and teach the Catholic faith.