The Authorship of the Petrine Epistles

The Authorship of the Petrine Epistles

I and II Peter clearly claims to be written by the apostle Peter himself. If this is true, this would constitute the writing of one of the major eyewitness to the events in Jesus life. The discussions below will show that here, again, Christian tradition has lied to us, Peter could not have written those epistles attributed to him.

  • The First Epistle of Peter
  • The Second Epistle of Peter

    The First Epistle of Peter

    The First Epistle of Peter obviously claimed for itself Petrine authorship:


    I Peter 1:1
    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia

    The names mention above are provinces in Asia Minor (in modern Turkey). I Peter was written when the Christians in these provinces were undergoing persecution.


    I Peter 1:6
    ... now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials...

    I Peter 4:12
    Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you...


    There is a strong tradition that Peter died in the Neronian persecution around AD 64-67. The persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero (37-68) was the first specific persecution against the Christians. However it was only confined to Rome, where Nero blamed the Christians for the great fire of Rome in AD64. Therein lies the problem: there was no persecution of Christians in Asia Minor during the lifetime of Peter.

    Furthermore we do not even have evidence that there were Christian communities in some of the provinces mentioned. The earliest reference to Christians there come from Pliny the Younger (62-c.114), the Roman governor of Pontus-Bithynia who in AD 112 or 113 wrote to the Emperor Trajan (c.52-117) asking for a ruling on how to deal with Christians in his provinces. In his letter he implied that there were Christians there as early as twenty years before. This however, only brings us back to around AD 90. About a quarter of a century after the death of Peter. [1]

    We may add to this a psychological argument: is it believable that a human being (even an apostle!) undertaking the mindless and cruel persecution of Nero would ask the following rhetorical question?


    I Peter 3:13
    Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right?

    The answer to this, during Peter's lifetime, would have been obvious: Nero. [2]

    The most telling argument against Petrine authorship of this epistle is based on a simple consideration. I Peter is a work of an author who reveals an extensive knowledge of Greek and of Greek philosophical ideas, particularly Gnosticism. We know from the gospels and Acts that Peter was a simple, uneducated Galilean fisherman. (The Acts of the Apostles (4:13) called Peter and John, unschooled and ordinary men.) Based on this argument, it is even more improbable that I Peter could have been composed by the Galilean fisherman. [3]

    Okay, let's recap the main arguments that the apostle Peter could not be the author of I Peter:

    • There was no systematic persecution of Christians in Asia Minor during Peter's lifetime
    • The earliest recorded recorded case of Christians in Asia Minor was AD90 or more than a quarter century after the death of Peter.
    • The rhetorical question in I Peter 3:13 could not be understood if it were placed during Peter's lifetime.
    • The sophisticated prose and ideas in I Peter which could not have originated from am unschooled Galilean peasant.

    Now that we know Peter did not write I Peter, we need to find out when it was written. There is a rather straightforward way of attempting to determine the date of composition of I Peter. For the various provinces to have undergo persecution at the same time, as the epistle clearly implies, the persecution of Christians must have been an empire wide and systematic exercise. History tells us of such a systematic persecution during the first century AD. It was the persecution of the Jews, with which the Romans probably lumped the Christians together, under the Emperor Domitian around AD95. Thus the earliest possible date we can assign to I Peter would be around AD95, three decades after the death of the apostle. [4]

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    The Second Epistle of Peter

    The second epistle of Peter is an even later document than I Peter. There are many proofs of this, all of which adds to a compelling case both for its lateness and non-Petrine authorship.

    The first evidence involve the fact that it is later than I Peter for it calls itself the second epistle (II Peter 3:1).

    Secondly, the epistle is very closely related, both in style and content to the epistle of Jude, in itself a very late work, definitely written during the second century AD (probably around AD125). [5]

    A further evidence against Petrine authorship (and for its late date) is that the epistle refers to Paul's epistles as though they were already collected together and seems to consider them as scriptures (i.e., sacred writings):


    II Peter 3:15-16
    ... our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him ... His letters contain certain things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

    Clearly the historical Peter could not have seen the collected letters of Paul and considered them in the same breath as the other Scriptures. [6]

    Another indication of the lateness of II Peter was the fact that some of the readers of his epistles have grown impatient waiting for the second coming that was endlessly delayed. The early Christians certainly expected the second coming of Jesus Christ to happen during their lifetime. [a] We find the author of this epistle twisting words out of their normal meanings to explain this delay: [7]


    II Peter 3:8
    ... one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his coming, as some men count slackness...

    Perhaps one of the strongest argument against Petrine authorship is that its authenticity was denied by many Christians down to the fourth century.[8]

    Thus II Peter could not have been written by Peter for the following reasons:

    • It was a later epistle than I Peter.
    • It is very similar in style and content to Jude, a known second century document.
    • It considered the Pauline epistles as scriptures, something that did not yet happened during Peter's lifetime.
    • It tried to explain the delay of the second coming by postponing it indefinitely. Something which is in direct contradiction to the Christians during the lifetime of Peter, who expected the second coming very soon.
    • The Petrine authorship was denied by Christians themselves until the fourth century.

    The dating of II Peter is pretty uncertain business. Some scholars date it as early as around the last decade of the first century. However the balance of evidence seems to favour a later date. II Peter was written when Christians were beginning to accept a "New Testament" along with the Old which they considered to be sacred scriptures. As far as we know, this attitude started to take hold around AD150. II Peter, which accepts the Pauline epistles as scripture was very probably written around this date. The important thing to note is that all these dates, from the earliest (cAD95) to the latest (cAD150), excludes the idea of Petrine authorship for Peter died in around AD64-67. [9]

    Clearly, the epistles of Peter could not have been written by the apostle himself. Such epistles, which pretend to be written by prophets or apostles, are called pseudepigrapha. They were written in such a way so as to give the epistles enhanced authority. Pseudepigrapha are very common in Judeo-Christian history. The correct modern name for pseudepigrapha is not ghost writers but impostors. Even the theologians Robert Davidson and A.R.C. Leaney referred to them (I & II Peter & Jude) as "fictitious testaments". [10]

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    Notes

    a.See for instance Mark 13:24-30, Matthew 24:29-34, Luke 19:11,I Thessalonians 4:15, I Corinthians 7:29.

    References

    1.Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p316
    Riedel et.al., The Book of the Bible: p528
    2.Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p317
    3.Riedel et.al., The Book of the Bible: p528
    Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p316
    4.Parmalee, Guidebook to the Bible: p125
    5.ibid: p127
    Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p319
    6.Parmalee, Guidebook to the Bible: p127
    Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p1165
    7.ibid: p1167
    Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p320
    8.Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible: p85
    9.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p1165
    Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible: p85
    Parmalee, Guidebook to the Bible: p127
    10.Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p320

 

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