The Authenticity and Authorship of 2 Peter

Over the past two thousands years of Christianity the epistle known as 2 Peter has come under progressively higher levels of suspicion. This paper will attempt to evaluate the various questions surrounding 2 Peter’s authorship and determine if those questions arouse enough suspicion to disallow 2 Peter from the canon.

Introduction

Over the past two thousands years of Christianity the epistle known as 2 Peter has come under progressively higher levels of suspicion. Initially, Church Fathers such as Origen mentioned that there were some doubts about it, but fully accepted it as genuine. In the Reformation, it was treated with more suspicion – Luther accepted it, Calvin questioned it, and Erasimus rejected it.1  Today, the majority of scholarship rejects the work as authentic, at best considering it the faithful work of a pseudepigrapher2 and at worst an outright forgery.

This paper will attempt to evaluate the various questions surrounding 2 Peter’s authorship and determine if those questions arouse enough suspicion to disallow 2 Peter from the canon.3 This paper will consider three areas: (1) the epistle’s attestation in the early church, (2) the internal evidence for and against Petrine authorship, and (3) its relationship to other New Testament writings, notably 1 Peter and Jude.

Attestation of 2 Peter in the Early Church

It is clear that of the books accepted into the New Testament canon, 2 Peter has the poorest attestation from early Church Fathers.4 One of the earliest commentators, Clement of Alexandria (d. 215), writes several phrases that appear to be copied directly from 2 Peter, but he does not mention the book by name.5 Irenaeus too appears to quote or allude to 2 Peter, but he also does not mention 2 Peter by name.6 The first reference to 2 Peter by name is from Origen, writing at the beginning of the 3rd century. He noted that some had doubts about the epistle, although he did not indicate their reasons. Origen himself had full confidence in the 2 Peter, quoting it six times7 and making two clear allusions to it.8

Regarding canonical lists, 2 Peter was fully accepted in the Canon of Laodicea and the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in the fourth century.9 These councils notably rejected respected works such as the letters of Barnabus and Clement considering them sub-apostolic. In all, although there were some doubts surrounding 2 Peter, it has considerable support especially when compared against the background noise of a multitude of pseudepigraphic writings attributed to Peter.

Pseudepigraphy

Closely related to the subject of early church attestation is the concept of pseudepigraphy.  In the second century and later, many writings surfaced claiming to be written by Apostles. The majority of these works contained heretical theology and used the names of Apostles to give their ideas credibility. Some scholars have argued that pseudepigraphy was an accepted practice in the early church and that it was done with the highest respect to the Apostles. But several events show this hypothesis to be false. First, Paul himself warns against accepted such false writings (2 Thess. 2:2; 3:17). Second, the author of the Acts of Paul was removed from his post by Tertullian for falsely writing the book in Paul’s name.10 Third, Serapion, the Bishop of Antioch (c. 180), initially accepted the Gospel According to Peter, but later rejected it when he discovered it was not written by Peter.11

The early church did not accept pseudepigraphic writings and would not have accepted 2 Peter if they had not thought it written by Peter.

Internal Questions

We will now consider the various questions about Petrine authorship raised from the text itself. Two major areas will be considered: (1) references to the apostle Peter that may or may not be authentic and (2) the style and theological content.

Claims of Petrine Authorship

The author of 2 Peter introduces himself as Simon Peter. The inclusion of Simon is peculiar because 1 Peter does not use the double name. It is often claimed the inclusion of Simon is an attempt to impersonate the Apostle12 by using the double name more common in the Gospels.13 But if a writer wanted to imitate 1 Peter, would he not use the same name as used in 1 Peter to ensure credibility? It is possible that a pseudepigraphist could slip, but it seems odd that he would do so so early. Further, the use of Hebraism Συμεών instead of Σιμών as used in the Gospels is strange because it does not appear in any of the Apostolic Fathers or in any of the other pseudo-Petrine literature of the same time period.14 The name Simon Peter argues in favor of Petrine authorship.

2 Peter 1:14 indicates that the apostle considered his death near (“I will soon be put aside”). Some have assumed that this is a clear indication of a writer after Peter’s death either trying to create the illusion that Peter knew the time of his own death or attempting to make an allusion to John 21:18. But this view not only presupposes the impossibility of a true prediction, but also supposes that an older man could not logically know he was near the end of his days and that Christians were not suffering persecution at the time of Peter. Further, there is no evidence of any literary dependence on John’s gospel by the author of 2 Peter15 which means it is more natural to assume this linkage is the result of Peter writing 2 Peter and recalling Jesus’ words to him.

2 Peter 2:16-18 contains a retelling of the Transfiguration of Christ (cf. Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). Two problems arise with this account. First, as in the previous cases, some immediately assume this is merely an attempt to add credibility to the epistle and its authorship.16 While it is acknowledged that pseudepigraphists often make references to known events, they typically embellish the stories with extra, and often fantastic, details.17 It is also perfectly natural for Peter to make a reference to an event with such enormous significance in his life. The account in 2 Peter is quite short and has no markings of pseudepigraphy unless it is already assumed. Second, the use of ἁγίῳ ὄρει (“holy” or “sacred mountain”) is considered late terminology because early Christians did not generally consider sites as “sacred.” Yet this precise fact, that early Christians did not consider venerate sites, points more clearly to Peter reflecting his experience of the event. Why would a pseudepigrapher in the second century venerate a site when no Christians in his time did so?

Lastly, 2 Pet. 3:1 clearly references a prior letter. Again, this is sometimes assumed to be evidence of forgery, but as we will see in the discussion below on theology, 2 Peter makes almost no use of any content in 1 Peter.18 On the one hand it is argued on this fact the 1 and 2 Peter must have two different authors, but on the other hand it seems strange that a pseudepigrapher would not use any content from the prior book he was attempting to imitate.19

Stylistic and Theological Concerns

There have been attempts to show that certain Hellenisms within 2 Peter preclude it from being written by a Jewish fisherman.20 Kümmel considered the phrase in 2 Peter, “participate in the divine nature,” to be an idea not present in Peter’s day. But more recent research has shown this idea present in the Decree of Strationicea to the honor of Zeus and Hecate and in the writings of Philo, Stobaeus and Josephus.21 Other supposed Hellenisms are virtue (ἀρετή) and knowledge (γνῶσις), but virtue also appears in 1 Peter and Paul emphasizes knowledge in Colossians.

2 Peter 3:9 explains that the delay in Christ’s return is due to God’s patience and his desire that all men might come to know him. This statement is often considered to be evidence that the second century church idea was embarrassed by the delay of Christ’s return22 and that 2 Peter was written to adjust the doctrine of the second coming.23 While this passage certainly does explain any delay of the Parousia, Jerome Neyrey argues that Peter was combating the more common heresy that God can not or will not judge the sinner.24 The reference to “our fathers” (2 Pete 3:4) is made by the objector whom Peter is combating and refers not to the first Christians who are now dead,25 but to all of humanity who lived and died without the punishment of God. Peter’s opponents believe they can continue doing evil with no fear of God’s judgment, but Peter insists that the delay in judgment is not due to God’s weakness, but to his patience and kindness. Rather than a second century excuse for the delayed Parousia, “the same apology can be found in Jewish sources where the delay of judgment is based on divine kindness which postpones judgment.”26 

The references to Paul in 2 Peter 3:15-16 have also been questioned. First, the author of 2 Peter calls Paul “our dear brother.” According to the Tübingen school of thought, there was a deep and bitter divide between Peter and Paul caused by their disagreement in Gal. 2. But there is no reason to assume that an early disagreement from which Peter clearly repented precludes Peter from considering Paul a dear brother. Further, a second century writer might more likely refer to Paul as an “apostle” instead of a brother.

The second noteworthy reference to Paul is the idea that Paul’s writings were on par with “other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16). There are two problems here. First, the author of 2 Peter makes reference to “all of his letters,” but there is no evidence of a Pauline Corpus until after Peter’s day. Yet it is not farfetched to assume that Peter may have in fact collected and studied Paul’s writings and that “all of his letters” does not mean every letter written by Paul, only the ones that Peter had available to him. Further, Paul’s own writings indicate that he saw his writings as the Word of God (2 Thess. 2:13) inspired by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13), that they were to be shared with other churches (Col. 4:16), and that rejection of them invited excommunication (2 Thess. 3:14; 1 Tim 4:3, 6).27

A third point of interest is the reference to Paul’s writings being difficult to understand. It seems odd that a second century writer would use this in his case for Petrine authorship.

Comparison to Other New Testament Writings

1 Peter

Much has been made over the differences between 1 Peter and 2 Peter. In fact, the primary reason given for doubt by the early church appears to be the large difference in both style and vocabulary between the two. There are also differences in the theological content and this we will consider first. The major complaints are as follows: there is too much emphasis on human effort,28 salvation is mostly in the future sense, and the major themes in 1 Peter (the cross, resurrection,29 ascension, baptism, and prayer) do not occur in 2 Peter.30 Due to space all of these objections cannot be considered, but all of them can be accounted for by considering an author writing two separate letters for two separate problems. The content is admittedly different, but nothing in 2 Peter falls outside of orthodox teaching and there is nothing in 2 Peter that makes it so incompatible with 1 Peter that the same man could not have penned both works. Further, had 2 Peter been too similar to 1 Peter in theological content, some may have used this as evidence of pseudepigraphy.

The stylistic differences are more problematic. Grammarians agree that, in general, 2 Peter is of a rougher style and that its vocabulary is less refined and more “grandiose” than 1 Peter.31 The most common explanation for this is that either Peter used two difference amanuenses or that an amanuensis wrote 1 Peter while Peter himself wrote 2 Peter. 1 Peter 5:2 says that the epistle was written “with the help of Silas” who may have cleaned up Peter’s grammar. Paul also used amanuenses (Rom. 16:22 cf. Col. 4:18) and the early church considered this to be the reason for the difference in style.32

Although the vocabulary is notably different between the two epistles, the difference appears exaggerated when compared to other New Testament writings clearly written by the same hand. While not all scholars agree that Paul wrote 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, the scholars do agree that all three letters were written by the same hand. Yet in comparing 1 Timothy and Titus, we find nearly as many differences in vocabulary as between 1 and 2 Peter.33 Much like the differences in theology, the differences in style between 1 and 2 Peter are not enough to conclusively say both epistles could not have been written by the same hand.

Jude

The most peculiar problem with 2 Peter is its inclusion of 21 of the 24 verses in Jude. The content is arranged differently in Peter and Jude, with Peter holding to the chronology of the Old Testament. Many attempts have been made to show one author’s literary dependence on the other and while most agree that 2 Peter is dependant on Jude, there are respected works arguing for Jude’s dependence on 2 Peter.

If Jude’s date can be shown to be any later than the death of Peter (A.D. 64) and that 2 Peter is dependant on Jude, then the author of 2 Peter obviously could not have been Peter. Unfortunately, the evidence for Jude’s dating is no better than for 2 Peter and it remains possible that Jude could be written after 2 Peter. With no conclusive evidence either way, we are left to speculate on why either author may have used so much of the other. Probably, the best ideas propose that Peter included Jude’s content because Jude’s epistle was not widely known, either because it was rejected for some reason or because it only had a limited circulation at the time of 2 Peter’s writing.34

Speeches in Acts

Lastly, some work has been done to consider any links between Peter’s speeches recorded in Acts and his epistles. All that can be said is that some general similarities exist and these similarities are enough to assume that the man speaking in Acts could have written 1 & 2 Peter.

Conclusion

The objections raised concerning 2 Peter should be duly considered by anyone studying the New Testament. But rather than finding a spurious or questionable addition to the canon, the believer may use these questions as added reason to give 2 Peter his or her full attention. If 2 Peter contains ideas somewhat outside the norm of other New Testament writings, its study is all the more important to avoid the norm of the Christian life.

1Green, E. M. B., 2 Peter Reconsidered (London: Tyndale, 1961), 12.
2Cavallin, H. C. C, “The False Teachers of 2 Pt as Pseudo-prophets,” Novem Testamentum 21, (July 1979).
3This approach admittedly gives the benefit of the doubt to 2 Peter, but due to the length of this paper and that 2 Peter has long been accepted as authentic, the burden of proof lies with those who would prove 2 Peter inauthentic.
4Kruger, Michael J., “The Authenticity of 2 Peter,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42, (December 1999).
5Bigg, Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1978), 200.
6Kruger, Michael J., “The Authenticity of 2 Peter,”, 653.
7Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1990), 806.
8Bigg, Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, 201.
9Kruger, Michael J., “The Authenticity of 2 Peter,”, 650.
10The Acts of Paul contains no heterodox teaching. It was not rejected for its theology, but because it was not an authentic work of Paul.
11The order and content of the three previous statements is condensed from Kruger, 647.
12Hillyer, Norman, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 95.
13cf. Matt. 16:16; Luke 5:8; John 1:40; 21:15.
14Kruger, Michael J., “The Authenticity of 2 Peter,”, 662. The only use of Συμεών is in Acts 15:15.
15Green, E. M. B., 2 Peter Reconsidered, 28.
16Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction, 813.
17For example, the Resurrection account in The Gospel According to Peter has Jesus coming out of the tomb supported by two angels. A cross follows him and answers the voice of God from heaven (The Gospel According to Peter 10).
18Hillyer, Norman, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, 10.
19Bigg suggests that this verse prompted the writing of the various pseudo-Petrine literature such as The Apocalypse of Peter and The Gospel According to Peter. Bigg, Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, 215.
20Green, Michael, The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude (Leicester: IVP, 1987). mentions Kümmel (Introduction to the New Testament) as one who argues for Hellenisms in 2 Peter.
21Ibid., 25-6.
22Talbert, Charles H., “II Peter and the Delay of the Parousia,” Vigilae Christianae 20, (September 1966).
23“Käsemann thinks that the author loses the entire tension of the NewTestament eschatological hope by explaining the delay in the Parousia as due to the relativity of time.” Green, E. M. B., 2 Peter Reconsidered, 15.
24Neyrey, Jerome H., “The Form and Background of the Polemic in 2 Peter,” Journal of Biblical Literature 99, (September 1980).
25Which would of course give 2 Peter a late date.
26Neyrey, Jerome H., “The Form and Background of the Polemic in 2 Peter,”, 423.
27Green, E. M. B., 2 Peter Reconsidered, 30-31.
28Ibid., 15.
29Some claim that the Transfiguration has replaced the Resurrection in importance for this author.
30Hillyer, Norman, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, 15.
31Green, E. M. B., 2 Peter Reconsidered, 11.
32Bigg, Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, 199.
33Green, E. M. B., 2 Peter Reconsidered, 12.
34Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction, 831.