Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Epistle of 2 Peter

A Thorough Look at the Scholarly Defenses of Petrine Authorship Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

In their zeal to attack the veracity and authority of the Holy Bible Muslims will often quote the views of liberal, critical scholarship, not caring whether these same criticisms and underlying presuppositions can be used to discredit the Quran and Muhammad’s prophetic claims. Despite such blatant inconsistency, Muslim apologists shamelessly reference liberal sources to prove that the NT contains forgeries, i.e. writings falsely attributed to men who never wrote them.

One such writing that some Muslims claim to be a forgery is 2 Peter. Citing liberal critics, these Muslims present a number of objections against the conservative view that the blessed Apostle Peter wrote this letter by inspiration from the Holy Spirit. An example of such attacks can be found in the following articles written by Shabir Ally, a taqiyyist who is notoriously inconsistent and not known for honesty and intellectual integrity:

Chapter 10. Did Peter Agree With Paul?
Chapter 11. Who wrote the Second Letter of Peter?
Chapter 12. What Christian scholars say about the Second Letter of Peter

In light of these criticisms we have decided to provide the responses of conservative Christian scholars that have already thoroughly refuted these liberal arguments time and time again. The problem is that Muslims could not care less about actually hearing what the other side has to say in response to these attacks. The sad fact is that Muslims are simply not interested in engaging and interacting with the arguments set forth by Bible-believing Christians who are committed to the inspiration and authority of the God-breathed Scriptures since they are not concerned about the truth. Their only concern is to discredit God’s only inspired revelation to mankind since they realize that the message of the Holy Bible condemns Muhammad as an imposter, a false prophet and antichrist whose teachings cause people stray from the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is their only means of obtaining salvation.     

With the foregoing in perspective we have decided to cite from noted Reformed Christian scholar and Pastor John MacArthur’s masterful defense of Petrine authorship of 2 Peter. The following lengthy quotation is taken from MacArthur’s superb commentary, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Peter & Jude, Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 2005, pp. 4-14.


While not normally wanting to dignify unbelieving skeptics, in this case it is helpful to see how this epistle rises to inspired integrity in the face of assaults on its legitimacy.

The authorship of 2 Peter has been disputed more sharply and to a greater extent than the authorship of any other New Testament book. Yet the letter itself plainly claims to have been written by "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1). The Greek text actually reads, "Simeon Peter," using the Hebrew form of Peter's name used elsewhere of him only in Acts 15:14. Such only strengthens the author's claim to be Peter, since a forger would not likely have used an obscure form of Peter's name. In 1:14 the author referred to Christ's prediction of his death (cf. John 21:18); in 1:16-18 he claimed to have been an eyewitness (of which there were only three; Matt. 17:1) of the Transfiguration; in 3:1 he referred to an earlier letter (1 Peter) that he wrote to his readers; and in 3:15 he referred to Paul as his "beloved brother," thus making himself the great apostle's spiritual peer. Those personal allusions further should be allowed to stand unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. As will be seen shortly, no such evidence exists.

Perversely, many critics view the personal allusions as the work of a forger attempting to pass himself off as Peter. Ironically, many of those same critics argue that 1 Peter lacks sufficient personal allusions to him. As Daniel B. Wallace remarks, "In reading the literature, one cannot help but see an element of caprice and double standard, where scholars have already made up their minds despite the evidence" ("Second Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline" [Biblical Studies Press:, 2000]).

In addition to the epistle's personal allusions to events in Peter's life, there are similarities between the language of 2 Peter and Peter's speeches in Acts. The verb translated "received" (1:1) appears only three other times in the New Testament, one of which is in Acts 1:17; "godliness" is used four times in 2 Peter (1:3, 6, 7; 3:11), but elsewhere (outside of the Pastoral Epistles) only by Peter in Acts 3:12 (NKJV); the "day of the Lord" (3:10) appears in Acts 2:20, and only in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:2 in the rest of the New Testament. The use of those uncommon words further suggests that the apostle Peter penned this epistle.

Many scholars, however, are not content to accept the epistle's claims at face value. Instead they insist that it was written decades after the apostle's death by someone claiming to be Peter. To support their rejection of the letter's authenticity, critics advance several arguments.

First, they note that the early church was slow to accept 2 Peter as part of the canon of Scripture. The first person to explicitly state that Peter wrote it was Origen, early in the third century. Critics claim there is no trace of the epistle's existence until that time. Further, although Origen accepted it as a genuine writing of Peter, he noted that others had doubts about its authenticity. Writing in the fourth century, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea also expressed doubts about 2 Peter. He did not reject it, but included it among the New Testament books whose authenticity was disputed. The silence of the church fathers before the time of Origen is taken to be a tacit denial of 2 Peter's authenticity.

Critics also point out several alleged historical problems that, they claim, indicate the epistle could not have been written in Peter's lifetime. First, they maintain that the reference to Paul's letters (3:15-16) reflects a time when those letters had been collected and recognized as Scripture. That, they argue, did not happen until long after Peter's death. Second, they believe the false teachers in view were second-century Gnostics. Third, the writer refers to "your apostles" (3:2) and says that the "fathers" (who are assumed to be the first generation of Christians) had already died (3:4). From a critical perspective, that suggests 2 Peter was written by someone who was neither an apostle nor one of the first generation of believers. Finally, critics argue that the reference to Christ's prediction of Peter's death (1:14) derives from John 20:18. John's gospel, however, was not written during Peter's lifetime.

A convincing argument in the minds of many critics is 2 Peter's alleged literary dependency on Jude. Since they date Jude later than Peter's lifetime, it follows that Peter could not have written 2 Peter. Further, they insist that an apostle would not borrow so extensively from a non-apostolic source.

Relentless critics also point to supposed differences in style, vocabulary, and doctrine between 1 and 2 Peter. The Greek of the first epistle, they suggest, is polished and sophisticated, while that of the second is coarse and stilted, with grandiose language and difficult constructions. The critics claim that the vocabulary of the two epistles is also very different, and 2 Peter shows a knowledge of Greek culture and philosophy far beyond the grasp of a simple Galilean fisherman. Finally, in their reckoning, many doctrinal themes found in 1 Peter are absent from 2 Peter. All of those factors lead many skeptics to insist that the same author could not have written both epistles.

Upon closer examination, however, each of the above arguments utterly fails to disqualify Peter as the author of this epistle.

It is true that the external attestation to 2 Peter in the writings of the church fathers is less extensive than that for most of the other New Testament books. It is, however, far more complete than the attestation given to any of the books excluded from the canon. In fact, 2 Peter was never rejected as spurious (even by the Fathers who had questions about its authenticity–such as Eusebius), nor was it ever attributed to anyone other than Peter.

While Origen was the first to attribute 2 Peter to Peter, others before him were familiar with the epistle. Origen was an astute literary critic, and he would not likely have been taken in by a recent forgery. Moreover, he repeatedly quoted the epistle as Scripture, strongly implying that 2 Peter was known and accepted as canonical long before his time. The epistle's inclusion in the third-century Bodmer papyrus P72 also indicates that it was considered part of the canon by that time. (The monumental fourth-century manuscripts Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and the fifth-century manuscript Codex Alexandrinus also include 2 Peter).

Origen's teacher, Clement of Alexandria, wrote a commentary on the catholic (general) epistles, including 2 Peter (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, 6.14.1). By writing a commentary on the book, Clement indicates that he considered 2 Peter to be Scripture (and therefore authentic). Furthermore, Clement's testimony provides strong evidence that the epistle's canonicity was generally accepted by the church in the first half of the second century.

Further evidence of the epistle's existence and acceptance at that time comes from Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-165). In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin wrote, "And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your [the Jews] holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware" (82.1). That passage bears a striking resemblance to 2 Peter 2:1, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." That the Greek word translated "false teachers" (pseudodidaskaloi) appears before Justin's time only in 2 Peter 2:1 further suggests that Justin was borrowing from 2 Peter.

The apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter, from the first half of the second century, shows clear evidence of literary dependence on 2 Peter. In the early part of the second century, the Epistle of Barnabas (5.4) declares "that a man shall justly perish, who having the knowledge of the way of righteousness forceth himself into the way of darkness," a passage reminiscent of 2 Peter 2:21: "For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them." Similarly, Barnabas 15.4, "In six thousand years the Lord shall bring all things to an end; for the day with Him signifyeth a thousand years; and this He himself beareth me witness, saying: Behold, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years," appears to have been drawn from 2 Peter 3:8: "But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day."

The Shepherd of Hermas, also dating from the early years of the second century, says, "Go, and tell all men to repent, and they shall live unto God; for the Lord in His compassion sent me to give repentance to all, though some of them do not deserve it for their deeds; but being long-suffering the Lord willeth them that were called through His Son to be saved" (Similitude 8.11.1). The similarity to 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance," is remarkable.

That 2 Peter was known in the second century is further suggested by two Gnostic works, The Gospel of Truth and The Apocryphon of John, which contain probable allusions to it.

At about the same time that the apostle John penned the book of Revelation (the midnineties of the first century), Clement of Rome wrote, "Let this scripture be far from us where He saith, 'Wretched are the double-minded, which doubt in their soul and say, "these things we did hear in the days of our fathers also, and behold we have grown old, and none of these things hath befallen us"'" (1 Clement 23.3). Clement seems to be echoing 2 Peter 3:4, which reads, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." Both passages relate the skepticism of false teachers, and both go on to warn that judgment is coming (1 Clement 23.5; 2 Peter 3:10).

Two other passages in 1 Clement use Greek phrases found in the New Testament only in 2 Peter and in no other extrabiblical writing of that era. Both use the phrase translated "excellent (the NASB renders the same Greek word "Majestic") glory" in reference to God (1 Clement 9.2; 2 Peter 1:17); both describe the Christian faith as "the way of truth" (1 Clement 35.5; 2 Peter 2:2).

Finally, if 2 Peter was written before Jude, then Jude is the earliest document to cite it (see the discussion of the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter in the "Introduction to Jude" later in this volume). The critics' argument that 2 Peter's supposed literary dependence on Jude proves it was written after Peter's lifetime depends on two assumptions. First, the author of 2 Peter had to have borrowed from Jude. Second, Jude had to have been written after Peter's lifetime. Neither assumption, however, can be proved.

The internal evidence indicates that 2 Peter came first, since Peter employed future tenses to describe the false-teaching apostates (2:1-3; 3:3). Jude, on the other hand, in paralleling 2 Peter, used tenses that say those who were prophesied had arrived (Jude 4). He used no future tenses with reference to the apostates.

The above-mentioned extrabiblical citations make a strong case that 2 Peter was known in the church from the first century onward. It is true that none of the Fathers who alluded to 2 peter before the time of Origen cited 2 Peter as a source. Yet that is not unusual; the Apostolic Fathers cite 1 Peter twenty-nine times without naming Peter, and Romans thirty-one times without naming Paul (see Robert E. Picirilli, "Allusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33 [1988], 74). (For a summary of the allusions to 2 Peter in the writings of the church fathers prior to the time of Origen, see Michael J. Kruger, "The Authenticity of 2 Peter," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42/4 [1999], 649-56; B. B. Warfield, "The Canonicity of Second Peter," in John E. Meeter, ed., Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 2 [Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973], 49-68.)

The allusions to 2 Peter in the church fathers do not prove Peter wrote his second letter. But they do remove the objection that the alleged lack of external attestation rules out a date in Peter's lifetime. It also explains why the epistle was eventually accepted by the church as canonical; it was not a second-century forgery as many modern critics allege, but had a pedigree reaching back into the apostolic times. Kruger notes the significance of 2 Peter's ultimate acceptance by the church as part of the canon of Scripture:

In our quest to determine the authenticity of 2 Peter we cannot overlook the fact that 2 Peter, despite the reservations of some, was finally and fully accepted by the church as canonical in every respect. The fact that 2 Peter faced such resistance–resistance coupled with the incessant competition of pseudo-Petrine literature–and still prevailed proves to be worthy of serious consideration. Is it so easy to dismiss the conclusions of Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Ephiphanius [sic], Athanasius, Augustine, Rufinus, Jerome, and the church councils of Laodicea, Hippo, and Carthage? Thus, if the epistle of 2 Peter held such a firm position in the fourth-century canon, then perhaps the burden of proof should fall on those who suggest it does not belong there. ("Authenticity," 651, emphasis in original).

Nor does 2 Peter discuss the key issues of the second century (e.g., the role of bishops in church government, fully-developed Gnosticism, and Montanism). The failure to mention specific second-century issues is especially noticeable in 3:8, "But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day." One of the major beliefs of the second century was chiliasm, an early form of premillennialism. If 2 Peter was written in the second century, it is unlikely that its author would have failed to mention chiliasm in connection with 3:8.

The author had already called himself an apostle (1:1), so the reference to "your apostles" (3:2) could not mean he was excluding himself from their number. Since the apostles were given by God to the church (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20; 4:11-12), it was fitting for Peter to describe them (himself included) as "your apostles." "The fathers" in view in 2 Peter 3:4 were not the first generation of Christians, but the Old Testament patriarchs. Both the context (the flood; vv. 5-6) and the usage of the phrase "the fathers" support that interpretation. In the New Testament (John 6:58; 7:22; Acts 13:32; Rom. 9:5; 11:28; 15:8; Heb. 1:1) and in the writings of the apostolic fathers, that phrase refers not to the first generation of Christians, but to the Old Testament patriarchs.

Nor is it necessary that the mention of Peter's impending death (1:14) derives from John 21:18. Obviously, Peter was there when Jesus made that prediction, and he heard it with his own ears.

Much has been made of the differences in style between Peter's two epistles. But the differences are not as significant as many confidently assert. The commentator Joseph Mayor, who denied that Peter wrote 2 Peter, nevertheless admitted, "There is not that chasm between [1 and 2 Peter] which some would try to make out" (cited in D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary [Greenville, S.C.: Unusual Publications, 1989], 12). Nor do the two brief epistles that Peter wrote provide enough material to definitively establish his style.

Some argue that the vocabulary of the two epistles is so different that the same author could not have written both books. However, the percentage of words common to 1 and 2 Peter is roughly the same as the percentage common to 1 Timothy and Titus, both written by Paul and similar in content. It is also similar to the amount of common vocabulary found in 1 and 2 Corinthians (Kruger, "Authenticity," 656-57).

The difference in vocabulary and style between 1 and 2 Peter can be accounted for in part by their different themes: 1 Peter was written to comfort those undergoing persecution, 2 Peter to warn of the danger of false teachers. Though it adds nothing to the argument, the differences in style may also reflect that Silvanus (Silas) acted as Peter's amanuensis for 1 Peter (1 Peter 5:12), a common practice in Peter's day. Under the apostle's direction, Silvanus may have smoothed out his grammar and syntax. But since Peter was more likely in prison when he wrote 2 Peter (see" Date, Place of Writing, and Destination" on page 14), he might not have had access to an amanuensis and thus may have written the epistle in his own had.

The charge that 2 Peter reflects a grasp of Hellenistic philosophy beyond what Peter could be expected to know not only foolishly presumes to know what Peter actually knew, but also overlooks the influence of Peter's environment on him. He was born and reared in Galilee, which even in Isaiah's was known as "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Isa. 9:1). Nearby was the Gentile region known as the Decapolis (Matt. 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:31). Further, it is now known that many of the Hellenistic terms Peter used were in common usage in his day. The apostle used terms his readers were familiar with, without investing them with the shades of meaning that the Greek philosophers gave them.

Despite the supposed differences in style of 1 and 2 Peter, there are remarkable similarities between the books. The wording of the salutations of both epistles, "May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure" (1 Peter 1:2) and "Grace and peace be multiplied to you" (2 Peter 1:2), is identical in Greek, and the phrase is found nowhere else in the New Testament. Other common words to both books but rare in the rest of the New Testament include arete ("excellence"; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3, 5); apothesis ("removal," "laying aside"; 1 Peter 3:21; 2 Peter 1:14), philadelphia ("love of the brethren," "brotherly kindness"; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7), anastrophe ("behavior, "way of life," "conduct"; 1 Peter 1:15, 18: 2:13; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Peter 2:7; 3:11), and aselgeia ("sensuality"; 1 Peter 4:3; 2 Peter 2:2, 7, 18). Further, 2 Peter, like 1 Peter, contains Semitic expressions consistent with Peter's Jewish background.

Although the different themes of each epistle required Peter to address different doctrinal issues, there is nonetheless a commonality in their teaching. Both letters speak of God's prophetic word revealed in the Old Testament (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:19-21), the new birth (1 Peter 1:23; 2 Peter 1:4), God's sovereign choice of believers (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:10), the need for personal holiness (1 Peter 2:11-12; 2 Peter 1:5-7), God's judgment on immorality (1 Peter 4:2-5; 2 Peter 2:10-22), the second coming of Christ (1 Peter 4:7, 13; 2 Peter 3:4), the judgment of the wicked (1 Peter 4:5, 17; 2 Peter 3:7), and Christ's lordship (1 Peter 1:3; 3:15; 2 Peter 1:8, 11, 14, 16; 2:20; 3:18).

There are only two possibilities regarding the authorship of 2 Peter. Either it was written by Peter as it claims, or it is pseudonymous and the work of a forger who pretended to be Peter. If the latter is true, the author would have been a hypocrite as well as a liar–a deceiver condemning false teachers for being what he himself was and giving severe warning about divine judgment.

Furthermore, if the book was written by a forger, it is difficult to see what the forger's motive was. The authors of pseudonymous works usually attached the name of a prominent person to their writings to give credence to their false teaching. But 2 Peter contains no teaching that contradicts the rest of the New Testament. Since it is entirely orthodox, the epistle could have easily gone out under the author's own name. The author even notes that the false teachers (whom he is condemning) rejected the apostolic authority of Paul (3:16). In fact, they were unimpressed with authority of any kind (2:1, 10). Thus, a forged appeal to apostolic authority would not have added much to the author's argument (especially since, in so doing, he would have been guilty of the very hypocrisy he was denouncing).

Pseudonymous works were also sometimes written because people were fascinated to know more about significant figures of the early church. But 2 Peter contains no new information about Peter.

There are numerous other difficulties with the view that 2 Peter is pseudonymous. For example, the difference in style between the two epistles is hard to account for, since most pseudonymous authors attempted to copy the style of the person they were pretending to be. Also, a forger would not have had Peter confess his inability to understand Paul's writings (3:15-16); pseudonymous authors tended to glorify their heroes (the stated "authors") and exaggerate their abilities. Nor would a pseudonymous author have referred to Paul as "our beloved brother" (3:15). The writings of the early church do not speak of the apostle in such familiar terms. For instance, Polycarp referred to him as "the blessed and glorious Peter" (Epistle to the Philippians, 3.1), Clement called him "the blessed Paul" (1 Clement, 47:1), and Ignatius described him as "Paul, who was sanctified, who obtained a good report, who is worthy of all felicitation; in whose footsteps I would fain be found treading" (Epistle to the Ephesians, 12.2).

Some argue that the writing of pseudonymous books (so-called pious forgeries) was an accepted practice. Since everyone knew that someone else wrote the book in the purported author's name, no deception was involved. But the obvious question is, What purpose would there be in writing a pseudonymous document if everyone knew it was pseudonymous? In the case of 2 Peter, why would a pseudonymous author have included all the personal allusions to Peter if his readers knew Peter did not write the epistle?

Despite the claims of some scholars, there is no evidence that the early church accepted the practice of pseudonymity. On the contrary, "No one ever seems to have accepted a document as religiously and philosophically prescriptive, which was known to be forged. I do not know a single example…. We are forced to admit that in Christian circles pseudonymity was considered a dishonorable device and, if discovered, the document was rejected and the author, if known, was excoriated" (L. R. Donelson, Pseudepigraphy and ethical Argument in the Pastoral epistles [cited in Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The new American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 272]).

From the beginning, the church rejected forged documents. In 2 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul warned the Thessalonians "not [to] be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come." Even at that early stage in the church' history, forgers were circulating letters purporting to be from Paul so they could more easily spread false doctrine. Hence the apostle warned his readers not to be fooled, and he took steps to authenticate his letters that were genuine (2 Thess. 3:17; cf. 1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18). The bishop who wrote the pseudonymous work The Acts of Paul and Thecla was removed from office, even though he protested that he had written it out of love for Paul and a desire to honor him (Tertullian, On Baptism, XVII; The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 3 [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 677). The Muratorian Canon, a second-century list of New Testament books, rejected two forged letters purporting to have been written by Paul "since it is not fitting that poison should be mixed with honey" (cited in F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture [Downers Grove Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988], 160). At about that same time Serapion, the bishop of Antioch, offered the following explanation for rejecting the spurious Gospel of Peter: "We, brethren, receive Peter and the other apostles as Christ himself. But those writings which falsely go under their name, as we are well acquainted with them, we reject, and know also, that we have not received such handed down to us" (cited in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, 6.12).

The New Testament placed a premium on truthfulness (cf. John 19:35; Rom. 3:7; 1 Cor. 13:6; 2 Cor. 4:2; 7:14; 13:8; Eph. 4:15, 25; 5:9; Col. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:7; 3:15). The Holy Spirit, the "Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 5:6), could never inspire a forgery. Therefore, the early church rightly rejected all such works. Had 2 Peter been a forgery, they would have rejected it too.

Thus, despite the skepticism and doubts of modern critics, the best answer to the question who wrote 2 Peter is "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1).

In the next section we will be citing the response of another noted Evangelical scholar.