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The Epistle of 2 Peter

A Thorough Look at the Scholarly Defenses of Petrine Authorship Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

We will now conclude with the comments of NT scholar Douglas Moo.

But we think this is an unfortunate move. The acceptance of 2 Peter as both pseudonymous and inerrant requires us to believe that the claim in 1:1 would not have been understood in its day as a claim to authorship-which is unlikely. We have many examples of certain kinds of books being written in someone else's name-apocalypses especially. And we have evidence that some people, even in the early church, wrote letters in other people's names (2 Thess. 2:2). But what we also find is that such books and letters were always regarded with suspicion. L. R. Donelson concludes after a thorough study: “No one ever seems to have accepted a document as religiously and philosophically prescriptive which was known to be forged. I DO NOT KNOW OF A SINGLE EXAMPLE.”

The very fact that 2 Peter was accepted as a canonical book, then, presumes that the early Christians who made this decision were positive that Peter wrote it. Those who did not think that Peter wrote it barred it from the canon for this reason. In other words, we have to choose between (1) viewing 2 Peter as a forgery, intended perhaps to claim an authority that the author did not really have-and therefore omit it from the canon; and (2) viewing 2 Peter as an authentic letter of the Apostle Peter. The ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too’ theory of a canonical pseudepigraphon does not seem to be an alternative.

As a matter of fact, however, we do not think the reasons scholars put forward for thinking that the apostle Peter could not have written this letter are at all convincing. Let me deal briefly with each of the objections we listed above.

(1) The Greek of 2 Peter has an undeniable literary and even philosophical flavor, quite different from the Greek of 1 Peter. But (a) there is nothing in the letter that Peter, after many years of ministry in the Greek world, could not have written; (b) Peter may have deliberately chosen to write in this style because of the needs of his readers, and (c) the more commonplace Greek of 1 Peter may be the result of the help of an amanuensis (Silvanus?-see 1 Peter 5:12).

(2) Nothing the false teachers were propagating is unknown in the first century church.

(3) Other New Testament texts suggest that (words?) of the Lord and certain New Testament books were being regarded as scriptural from an early period.

(4) While some Christians expressed doubts about 2 Peter, many others accepted the book from the beginning. People probably had doubts because the book was not widely used and because there were so many Petrine forgeries about.

(5) Nothing in 2 Peter suggests any kind of ecclesiastical organization or hierarchy; and ‘early Catholicism’ itself is a dubious concept.

(6) Resemblances between 2 Peter and the ‘testament’ form are undeniable. But the use of this form within a letter renders comparison with other ‘testaments’ dubious. We should accept the plain meaning of the letter's opening words and accept it as an authentic letter of the Apostle Peter. (Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Peter, Jude [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI 1996], pp. 23-24; bold emphasis ours)

Even though we could have quoted many other scholarly sources, these should suffice for now to demonstrate that the arguments against Petrine authorship do not hold any real weight and are easily refuted.


Concluding Remarks

With the foregoing in perspective we would like to conclude by making a couple of points.

First, the fact that certain Christians didn't accept 2 Peter is a testimony to the extreme care, caution and integrity of the early Church in discovering the list of NT books which the sovereign Triune God inspired for the salvation of the world and the edification of God’s redeemed people. The early Church didn't just accept any book simply because it claimed to be written by an apostle or because it was completely orthodox in content, but rather the book was accepted on the grounds that it could be shown to have originated from the time of the Apostles and was in agreement with the rest of the genuine Apostolic writings. Therefore, the Church's hesitance in accepting 2 Peter demonstrates that the first Christians weren't simply arbitrarily accepting books that agreed with their doctrines, but were more concerned with whether the book was handed down from the Apostles and/or their companions as inspired revelation. As the late Bruce Metzger, the mentor of anti-Christian critic Bart Ehrman, a favorite Bible critic of Muslim taqiyyists such as Paul Bilal Williams, noted regarding the Church's slow process of determining the NT canon:

"The slowness of determining the final limits of the canon is testimony to the care and vigilance of early Christians in receiving books purporting to be apostolic. But, while the collection of the New Testament into one volume was slow, the belief in a written rule of faith was primitive and apostolic… In the most basic sense neither individuals nor councils created the canon; instead they came to perceive and acknowledge the self-authenticating quality of these writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church." (Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth and Content [New York: Abingdon Press, 1965], p. 276; bold emphasis ours)

Second, as both Guthrie and Moo noted, 2 Peter circulated to a few communities at first and is therefore not surprising that not all Christians initially accepted 2 Peter. By the time the letter had reached them doubts would have naturally arisen regarding its genuineness, especially when there were other pseudonymous works claiming to be written by Peter.

In light of the above, the fact remains that there are no good, convincing reasons to reject Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, whereas there are plenty of solid arguments supporting it.


Further Reading

The following articles also provide thorough defenses and responses to the liberal attacks on both 1 and 2 Peter:

Question...are 1st and 2nd Peter NOT by Peter, but by someone using his name? Pt.1, Pt. 2