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The Authorship of Second Peter

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I. Introduction

There has been much debate over the authorship of 2 Peter. Most conservative evangelicals hold to the traditional view that Peter was the author, but historical and literary critics have almost unanimously concluded that to be impossible. For example: Ksemann states that 2 Peter is “perhaps the most dubious writing” in the New Testament.1 Harris says, “virtually none believe that 2 Peter was written by Jesus’ chief disciple.”2 And Brevard S. Childs, an excellent rhetorical critic, shows his assumption when he says, “even among scholars who recognize the non-Petrine authorship there remains the sharpest possible disagreement on a theological assessment.”3

The result of this debate is that 2 Peter is concluded by most critical scholars to be pseudepigraphal literature. But the evangelical world rejects the critics’ claims. Conservatives say this has serious ramifications for the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. The critics, on the other hand, claim this was standard procedure and therefore not dishonest.4

But was pseudepigraphy a normal convention? F.F. Bruce writes that Origen rejected many letters “not only because they falsely claimed apostolic authorship (as some of them did) but more especially because they taught false doctrine.”5 So we can see that early church fathers used this as one criterion. We also have Paul’s words in Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17 and Philemon 1:19 in which he states that he is writing that section with his own hand. Why would he do this? Perhaps someone was circulating letters in Paul’s name and to counter this he signed them himself.6

We also have the evidence of ancient literature itself. Although there is evidence that some pseudepigraphy was accepted, the only known examples are of apocalyptic literature.7 There are only two known examples of pseudepigraphical letters that fit the epistolary format (Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans and 3 Corinthians), but neither one of these was accepted into the canon.8 Therefore, the critics should not claim that it was an accepted convention when dealing with New Testament epistles.

Guthrie concludes that if pseudepigraphy was accepted into the New Testament canon, it was done without awareness of the epistle’s true character.9 We can conclude, therefore, that the claim that 2 Peter is pseudepigraphy does matter. Pseudepigraphy of this nature would definitely be considered deceptive and not an accepted characteristic of an inerrant canon. Therefore, we need to examine the critics claims. On what basis do the critics derive their conclusions? Each criticism will be explained and then examined as to its validity in order to determine if it is based on provable fact or assumption.

II. External Evidence

There is no external evidence prior to Origen indicating that Peter wrote 2 Peter. Origen himself mentions that there were some doubts as to its authenticity, but he himself did not deal with the problem which seems to imply that he didn’t take the doubts seriously.10

The Muratorian Canon did not contain 2 Peter, but it also omits 1 Peter, so this is not a decisive factor. Eusebius rejected it but indicated that the majority accepted the epistle, including James and Jude. Jerome also accepted 2 Peter as authentic.11

It seems that the reason there were doubts about 2 Peter is because Gnostics were circulating letters with Peter’s name on them to try to gain acceptance for their doctrines. Consequently, the orthodox church was probably suspicious of any letter attributed to Peter. The fact that 2 Peter was accepted into the canon in spite of these suspicions argues favorably towards its authenticity.12

III. Internal Evidence

A. Personal References

The first criticism is of the personal references to Peter as the author. A quote from Edwin D. Freed reveals the typical attitude towards these references: “That the author wants to be identified with the apostle Peter and as the writer also of 1 Peter is clear from his allusion to 1 Peter in 3:1, his claiming to be present at the transfiguration (1:16-18), his reference to Paul as ‘our beloved brother’ (3:15), his pretending to be about ready to die (1:13-15) as Jesus predicted (John 21:18-19), and his professing to be an eyewitness to Jesus (1:16).”13

His rejection of the internal evidence is obvious by the choice of words (italicized), and most critics see these references as the author’s attempt to gain authority and acceptance by his readers. They base this claim on the fact that it is typical pseudepigraphal genre similar to that done in the pastoral epistles.14 But as we have seen, this is an assumption. It is also circular reasoning, because it has not been proven, nor is it unanimously accepted, that the pastoral epistles are pseudepigraphal.

The reference to Paul as “our beloved brother” in 3:15 is especially interesting because this is not the typical reference a second century church father would make of an apostle. Their tendency was to venerate them, not show familiarity with them. Therefore, this would seem to strengthen Petrine authorship.

Claims that personal references prove forgery are based purely on prejudice because unless the ink is still wet and the author long dead, it cannot be proved to be false. Charles Bigg says, “As regards what an author says about himself, we can ask only whether…it is possible or impossible. But no document was ever condemned as a forgery upon this ground.”15

B. Historical References

The second major area of criticism is based on interpretation of certain historical references. One critic states, “The pseudonymous author’s claims are not persuasive, however, because 2 Peter contains too many indications that it was written long after Peter’s martyrdom in about 64 or 65 CE.”16 What one must ask is whether or not their interpretations of these indications are valid.

    1. Reference to Paul’s Writings

Paul’s letters are referred to in 3:16 and critics see pavsai" ejpistolai'''" as indicative that Paul had completed all his epistles.17 The critics also feel that including Paul’s letters with taV" loipaV" grafaV" means these letters had already been accumulated and canonized.18 This process would have taken some time, and consequently, it means that 2 Peter could not have been written in the first century. Brevard Childs illustrates that he has adopted this idea when he says, “Moreover, the reference to Paul’s letters indicates that the effect of the canonical process was already at work.”19

One problem with this argument is that it is based on assumptions. First, it assumes that the author of 2 Peter was referring to all the letters ever written by Paul. However, he could easily mean all those written up to that time, or even those that the author currently knew about. The second assumption is that the author’s inclusion of Paul’s writings with the rest of scripture requires that Paul’s letters had been canonized by the church fathers. It certainly does not require that. What it shows is that the author, if in fact Peter and an apostle himself, under inspiration understood that what Paul wrote was also scripture.

The second problem with this argument is even if some critics insist that the author is referring to an unofficial, uncanonized collection of Paul’s writings, they are assuming this collection could not have been assembled until the second century. A recent article by Young Kyu Kim sheds new light and casts doubt on that argument also. One of the most important manuscripts, P46, which contains the writings of Paul, with the exception of the pastoral epistles, has traditionally been dated at AD 200. Kim conducted extensive analysis of P46 and came to the conclusion that a more accurate date for the manuscript is the last half of the first century.20 If this is true,21 it would indicate that the assumption that Paul’s writing could not be collected until the second century is false.

The reference to Paul as “our beloved brother” in 3:16 seems to support Petrine authorship. This was not the normal form 2nd century church fathers used when referring to an apostle. Their tendency was to place them on a pedestal, not call them “beloved brother.” Although critics would argue that this was simply an attempt by the author to give the letter credibility, it seems a little too bold.

    2. Reference to the Fathers

Another historical reference is seen in 3:4. The statement, “since the fathers fell asleep” is seen as a sign of the post-apostolic age.22 Who the “fathers” refers to is commonly understood by the critics to mean the apostles. Consequently, this verse is interpreted to mean that since the apostles had all died, and the rapture had not occurred, some were doubting the imminent return of Christ. For the passing of the fathers (apostles) to have occurred would necessitate a second century date.

However, the reference to the “fathers” does not necessarily refer to the apostles. According to Guthrie, nowhere does oiJ patevre" refer to the apostles.23 Therefore, this could in fact refer to the same thing all the other references to the “historical fathers” refer. These are the fathers such as Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That this is true is evident by the statement at the end of verse 4, “from the beginning of creation.” “Father Adam” certainly fits better in the setting of creation than “father Paul.” The critics need to look at the context to determine the meaning and not try to impose a unique interpretation on a passage to support their view.

Another criticism of this reference to Old Testament fathers is the OT fathers would not have anticipated Jesus’ second coming. Rather than becoming embroiled in a debate about progressive revelation and how much the Old Testament saints knew, perhaps we should again appeal to the context. The author of 2 Peter is not saying that the fathers were concerned about the second coming. His readers are the ones who are concerned. It is possible that the author is using hyperbolic language and is only commenting that although things have continued much the same way since father Adam was created and father Abraham lived, do not worry. Christ will return. Again, context is the key to determining the meaning.

There is one other possible interpretation oiJ patevre". Bauer says in reference to 2 Peter 3:4, “in some places the patevre" are to be understood as the generation(s) of deceased Christians.”24 If this be the case, it still would not require a 2nd century date because a date of AD 64 or 65 for 2 Peter would still leave ample time for the death of many Christians. Thus we have the concern of 2 Peter’s readers based on Jesus’ teaching that “…this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place.”25

We can conclude that since there are other valid explanations for the reference to the fathers, the reference does not necessarily mean “apostles.”

    3. Reference to False Teachers

A third major historical clue for the critic is the reference to false teachers. Guthrie says, “… a tendency exists for all references to false teachers in the New Testament in some ways to be connected up with second-century Gnosticism.”26 This is exactly what the modern critics claim for 2 Peter. They use the reference to false teachers in 2:1-22 and 3:16 to refer to full-fledged Gnosticism from the second century. This assumes that no heresy with similar teachings could have appeared during the apostles’ time. However, Cole concludes from Galatians that Paul was dealing with an incipient form of Gnosticism.27 And Guthrie says, “care must be taken to ensure that tendencies are not confused with fully developed systems.”28

C. Stylistic Differences

Another major basis of criticism is the stylistic differences between 1 Peter and 2 Peter. The critics contend that the same author could not have written both because 2 Peter has a unique vocabulary and unique theological ideas.29 Childs says, “The differences in style, vocabulary, and conception between 1 and 2 Peter are too great to be understood as the result of different secretaries, changing situation, or diverse audiences, but reflect different authors.”30

Indeed, there are differences between the two letters. The vocabulary of 1 Peter has only 153 words in common with 2 Peter while 543 are unique to 1 Peter and 399 unique to 2 Peter.31 There are fewer particles in 2 Peter than in 1 Peter. And there are more repetitions in 2 Peter.32 One common example given by critics is the use of apokaluyi" in 1 Peter and parousiva in 2 Peter to refer to the Lord’s coming. However, this is not uncommon. Paul uses these terms on separate occasions when writing 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians.33

There are also differences between the two letters in doctrinal themes, but this is also insignificant. Differences should be expected if the author is dealing with different problems. The assumption that an author must deal with the same topics in both letters is unrealistic.

But not only are there differences, there are also many similarities between 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Although 2 Peter has more, they both are characterized by repetition of words. Bigg says, “The habit of verbal repetition is therefore quite as strongly marked in the First Epistle as the Second.”34 There are similarities of thought: the fruits of redemption and testing, the inspiration of scripture, the second coming of Christ.35 And Bigg adds, “…no document in the New Testament is so like 1 Peter as 2 Peter.”36

One plausible explanation for the differences between 1 Peter and 2 Peter is that Peter used an amanuensis to do the actual writing of 1 Peter with Peter checking and approving the final product.37 That this was a common practice is evidenced by Longenecker who states, “The Greek papyri, therefore, indicate quite clearly that an amanuensis was frequently, if not commonly, employed in the writing of personal letters during the time approximating the composition of the NT epistles.”38 If Peter himself wrote 2 Peter, this would explain the differences between the two letters.

As one examines the arguments for both sides, it becomes evident that analysis of stylistic differences is subjective and can be used to prove any hypothesis. When dealing with such a small corpus as 2 Peter, it is difficult to make strong conclusions.

IV. Conclusion

We examined the criticisms to determine whether they were based on provable fact or assumption. The external evidence is not very strong for this epistle, but as we have seen, the fact that it was accepted into the canon in spite of the other pseudo-Petrine literature argues favorably for it. Concerning the internal evidence, it should be obvious that the critics’ interpretations of historical references are based on assumption. Valid explanations can be given for each historical reference fitting in the first century. The dependence on stylistic differences is too subjective to place much emphasis on, and it can be explained as caused by use of an amanuensis for 1 Peter. The denial of personal references seems to display an unwarranted prejudice and plain unbelief on the part of the critic. Until actual, objective proof is shown to the contrary, this author will continue to consider the author of 2 Peter to be the apostle Peter himself.


Bauckham, Richard J., Jude, 2 Peter, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983.

Bauer, Walter and others, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Bigg, Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, Edinberg: T&T Clark, 1901.

Bruce, F. F., The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1988.

Childs, Brevard S., The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Cole, R. Alan, Galatians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

Conzelmann, Hanz and Andreas Lindemann, Interpreting the New Testament, Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988.

Farkasfalvy, Denis, “The Ecclesial Setting of Pseudepigraphy in Second Peter and its Role in the Formation of the Canon,” Second Century, Vol. 5, No. 1. (Spring 85/86)

Freed, Edwin D., The New Testament: A Critical Introduction, Belmont, Cal: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1986.

Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1990.

Harris, Stephen L., The New Testament: A Students Introduction, Mountainview, Cal: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1988.

Ksemann, Ernst, “An Apologia for Primitive Christian Eschatology”, Essays on New Testament Themes, Studies in Biblical Theology, 42, Naperville, Ill: Alex. R. Allenson, 1964.

Kim, Young Kyu, “Palaeographical Dating of P46 to the Later First Century,” Biblica, 69 (1988).

Longenecker, Richard N., “Ancient Amanuenses and the Pauline Epistles,” New Dimensions in New Testament Study, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974.

New American Standard Bible, La Habra, Ca: The Lockman Foundation, 1960.

Martin, Ralph P. , New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students, Revised ed. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

1 Ernst Ksemann, “An Apologia for Primitive Christian Eschatology,” Essays on New Testament Themes, Studies in Biblical Theology, 42, 1964, p. 169

2 Stephan L. Harris, The New Testament: A Student’s Introduction (Mountainview, Cal: Mayfield Publishing Co.), p. 269.

3 Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 468.

4 Denis Farkasfalvy, “The Ecclesial Setting of Pseudepigraphy,” p. 29.

5 F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1988), p. 194.

6 Ibid., p. 255-56.

7 Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1990), p. 1012.

8 Ibid., p. 1016.

9 Ibid., p. 1020.

10 Ibid., p. 806.

11 Ibid., p. 808.

12 Ibid., p. 809.

13 Edwin D. Freed, The New Testament: A Critical Introduction (Belmont, Cal: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1986), p. 389 (italics mine).

14 Farkasfalvy, “The Ecclesial Setting of Pseudepigraphy,” p. 4.

15 Charles Bigg, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, International Critical Comentary (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1901), p. 232.

16 Harris, The New Testament, p. 269.

17 Farkasfalvy, “The Ecclesial Setting of Pseudepigraphy,” p. 8.

18 Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 384.

19 Childs, The New Testament as Canon, p. 472-3.

20 Young Kyu Kim, “Palaeographical Dating of P46 to the Later First Century,” Biblica, 69, (1988), p. 248.

21 This author could find no evidence of a textual critic who has attempted to refute his argument.

22 Childs, The New Testament as Canon, p. 467. Also cf. Freed, The New Testament, p. 389.

23 Guthrie, New Testament Introduction ,p. 829.

24 Walter Bauer and others, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) . p. 635 2.d.

25 Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30.

26 Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 828. For examples cf. Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations , p. 388.

27 R. Alan Cole, Galatians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 24.

28 Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, p. 848.

29 Freed, The New Testament, 386. Also cf. Farkasfalvy, “The Ecclesial Setting,” p. 27.

30 Childs, The New Testament as Canon, p. 466.

31 Martin, New Testament Foundations, p. 387.

32 Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, p. 832.

33 Ibid., p. 836.

34 Bigg, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, p. 227.

35 Farkasfalvy, “The Ecclesial Setting of Pseudepigraphy,” p. 17-18.

36 Bigg, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, p. 232.

37 1 Peter 5:12 says, “Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!” (NASB)

38 Richard N. Longenecker, “Ancient Amanuenses and the Pauline Epistles,” New Dimensions in New Testament Study (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), p. 286.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines