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2 Peter – Introduction

31 Dec 2018

Contents

In my last post I wrote of my intention to begin my study of each new book by looking into the book’s authorship, date and audience. I expect that this kind of investigation on a book will yield different results for each book. For 2 Peter, I discovered something I didn’t expect: for the first few centuries of the church, the status of 2 Peter along with certain other New Testament books was disputed.12

Not only did the early church initially have a low opinion of 2 Peter, Luther apparently rejected Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter and Revelation34 because they did not satisfy his criterion of them being ‘actually written by apostles or composed under their direction’ (Strong 1907: 237). Luther seems to have created a hierarchy of the New Testament books: the books of John, 1 John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Peter (in this order) are, according to Luther, ‘the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other books or doctrine’ (1999: 362).

See the rest of Strong’s section Certain books unworthy of a place in inspired Scripture for a fuller discussion of this topic where he argues for the value of these disputed books.

M. Green summarised the situation of 2 Peter, saying: ‘This Epistle has had a very rough passage down the centuries. Its entry into the Canon was precarious in the extreme. At the Reformation it was deemed second-class Scripture by Luther, rejected by Erasmus, and regarded with hesitancy by Calvin.’ (Green 1987: 19)

Nevertheless, 2 Peter was eventually accepted into the canons of all the major branches of Christianity. Eusebius noted that it ‘appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures’ (1980: 133) and that it was ‘recognized by many’ (ibid.: 156).

Authorship

Modern scholarship seems to largely reject the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter.5

2 Peter itself seems to claim Petrine authorship:

According to the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 2 Peter resembles a literary form known as testament:

2 Peter thus resembles other parting addresses or testaments contained in the NT … Generally pseudepigraphical, the testament was a literary form employed to address current issues as the anticipation or forecast of some venerable figure of the past and thereby secure for its teaching the authority antiquity offers. (Elliott 1992: 283)

This is not, however, a universally accepted argument:

2 Peter does not follow the conventions of the testamentary genre and is quite dissimilar to known testaments. (Green 2008: 149)

If we consider the internal claims to Petrine authorship, some of which I have outlined above, I think the most reasonable conclusion is that ‘the author intends that his readers will recognize this letter as an authentic work of the principal apostle, Peter’ (Green 2008: 139). There does not seem to be an easy way to view 2 Peter as a forgery and accept it in the canon of scripture. Thus, ‘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’ (Moo 1996: 23–24)

The arguments forwarded to affirm the authenticity of the letter have not received a favorable hearing [referring to Moo’s 1996 work among others], and the failure to convince cannot be fully ascribed to entrenched skepticism. Current literature mirrors the unevenness of the letter’s reception in the early church and the ancient concerns voiced about its origin. The contemporary reader must on one hand decide whether the arguments against the book’s authenticity are cogent, and on the other whether there is sufficient warrant to affirm that the letter came from Peter. (Green 2008: 139–140)

With regard to the early church, 2 Peter seems to be in a middle ground, with less evidence supporting it than other canonical writings but more evidence than any of the rejected writings.

G.L. Green concludes that ‘we may reasonably affirm that Simon Peter, the apostle, authored the book’:

The verdict of the early church was ambiguous at first, but the problem of literary style in comparison to 1 Peter accounts for the early doubts. The book was used early and, according to early witnesses, used widely. The book is decidedly dissimilar to later literature that went under the name of Peter, such as the Acts of Peter, the Preaching of Peter, the gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, and even the early-second-century Apocalypse of Peter. The concerns raised within the letter fit well within the struggles of the church of the first century, and we may reasonably affirm that Simeon Peter, the apostle, authored the book. The letter stands within the circle of early Christian theology and serves as a witness to the struggles and dangers that the faith faced during its youngest years. (Green 2008: 150)

In reply to Luther’s criticisms of certain books along with Huldrych Zwingli and Thomas Arnold’s rejection of Revelation, A.H. Strong wrote that ‘the testimony of church history and general Christian experience to the profitableness and divinity of the disputed books is of greater weight than the personal impressions of the few who criticize them’ (1907: 237). This is a helpful line of reasoning and, though I have doubts, along with certain arguments in Green’s commentary, and a belief that the Spirit worked through the church to bring and preserve the Scriptures, is enough to satisfy me for now as I move on to study the text of 2 Peter. I hope to return to the topic of the canon and inspiration for further study at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Date

There is some evidence that 2 Peter existed in the second century (cf. Green 2008: 140) and there are various discussions on whether 2 Peter preceded Jude or vice versa (it seems that many scholars have landed on the position that Jude preceded 2 Peter). The date of the book influences and is influenced by any conclusions on authorship. I could not come to a definitive conclusion on the authorship of the book in the time I had and thus I have not drawn any conclusions regarding its most likely date. The best I can do is offer a brief survey of what others say on the matter.

Estimates range from mid-first century to mid-second century. If Peter wrote the letter, then a date in the late 60s would make sense.7 If a secretary or disciple of Peter wrote the letter, then the date could be more like 80–90. Those who take 2 Peter to be pseudonymous generally support dates in the 110–125 range, though dates as late as 150 have been suggested.8

Audience

Several passages indicate that 2 Peter was intended for a specific church (cf. Estes et al. 2016):

While it does seem that the letter was written to a specific church, we don’t know the identity of this church. Perhaps it was the same audience as 1 Peter (if the first letter inferred from 2 Peter 3:1 is 1 Peter), but it could just as easily be a different church.

If one rejects this identification, then the only thing we know about the recipients is that they probably were not located in the eastern end of the Mediterranean (Syria, Palestine, and Babylon) nor were they predominantly Jewish (2 Peter expects them to be very familiar with Greco-Roman ideas, but it does not expect them to know a lot of Jewish literature). (Davids 2006: 132–133)

References

Bloesch, D.G., 1994. Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Davids, P.H., 2006. The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Elliott, J.H., 1992. Peter, Second Epistle of D. N. Freedman, ed. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, vol. 5.

Estes, D. & LePort, B., 2016. Peter, Second Letter of J. D. Barry et al., eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

Eusebius of Caesaria, 1890. The Church History of Eusebius. In P. Schaff & H. Wace, eds. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company.

Gamble, H.Y., 1992. Canon: New Testament D. N. Freedman, ed. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, vol. 1.

Green, G.L., 2008. Jude and 2 Peter, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Green, M., 1987. 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Luther, M., 1999. Luther’s Works, vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, eds., Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Moo, D.J., 1996. 2 Peter, Jude, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Strong, A.H., 1907. Systematic Theology, vol. 1, Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society.

  1. ‘So although the four gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul, 1 Peter, and 1 John were almost universally accepted, everything else was to some degree questionable.’ (Gamble 1992: 856) 

  2. Eusebius wrote that ‘we have learned that [Peter’s] extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures’ (1890: 133) and that ‘among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are … also the second epistle of Peter’ (ibid.: 156). 

  3. According to A.H. Strong, ‘Luther refused canonical authority to books not actually written by apostles or composed (as Mark and Luke) under their direction. So he rejected from the rank of canonical authority Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, Revelation. Even Calvin doubted the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, excluded the book of Revelation from the Scripture on which he wrote Commentaries, and also thus ignored 2 and 3 John.’ (Strong 1907: 237) 

  4. In the prefaces included in his translation of the Bible, Luther gave a range of thoughts on the New Testament and what the gospel is. After this, under the heading ‘Which are the true and noblest books of the New Testament’ (this section did not appear in any editions of Luther’s New Testament after 1537), Luther wrote ‘From all this you can now judge all the books and decide among them which are the best. John’s Gospel and St. Paul’s epistles, especially that to the Romans and St. Peter’s first epistle are the true kernel and marrow of all the books. They ought properly to be the foremost books, and it would be advisable for every Christian to read them first and most, and by daily reading to make them as much his own as his daily bread. For in them you do not find many works and miracles of Christ described, but you do find depicted in masterly fashion how faith in Christ overcomes sin, death, and hell, and gives life, righteousness, and salvation. This is the real nature of the gospel, as you have heard.’ (Luther 1999: 361–362) 

  5. ‘Why is it, then, that a quick survey of recent commentaries reveals that more than half of them do not think that the apostle Peter wrote this letter?’ (Moo 1996: 22) 

  6. ‘The allusion in 1:14 need not be a reference to the text of John 21:18–19 but could just as well have been a personal reminiscence of the author. Indeed, the note that his demise would come soon argues against such dependency since John includes no similar note.’ (Green 2008: 150) 

  7. ‘If it was written by Simon Peter (even if an assistant was primarily responsible for the composition of the letter), and if one accepts the tradition that Peter was martyred in ROme under Nero, then the work must have been written by A.D. 68 (the death of Nero), and most probably between A.D. 64 (the Great Fire in Rime, which marked the start of Nero’s persecution of Christians) and A.D. 68.’ (Davids 2006: 130) 

  8. ‘If what we have stated leaves us with some lack of clarity, we can say that it is absolutely clear that 2 Peter was written before A.D. 140 and most likely before A.D. 110 since that is the probable range of dates within which the Apocalypse of Peter was written, a work that borrows from 2 Peter. Thus we have the period of A.D. 64–110 as the range within which the work was probably written, whatever one holds about its authorship. (Davids 2006: 131)