Second Epistle of Peter

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The Second Epistle of Peter, also abbreviated as simply 2 Peter, is a book of the New Testament of the Holy Bible. Written, at least in part, by the apostle Peter, the letter denounces false teachers who pervert the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles. Saint Peter also discusses the end of the world, employing the beautiful phrase, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8), and explaining that God wishes all to be saved.

Authorship

Perhaps no other letter has been subject to such criticism and accusations of forgery as the second epistle of Peter. These arguments have been advanced in spite of the fact that certain unique aspects of the letter all but exclude this possibility. Here careful analysis of these positions will be made.

The opening verse of the letter states that it has been written by “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). In many places, the author clearly presents himself as Peter the Apostle, stating that the Lord revealed to him the approach of his own death (2 Peter 1:14), that he was an eyewitness of the Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18), that he had previously written another epistle to the same audience (2 Peter 3:1; presumably a reference to the First Epistle of Peter), and he called Paul the Apostle “our beloved brother” (2 Peter 3:15).

The internal claim to have been written by “Simeon Peter” is unique. “Simeon” is an archaic Hebrew form of the standard "Simon", and out of all the ancient literature it appears only in Acts 15:14, and then just as “Simeon” (not “Simeon Peter”). “Simeon” is not used in any other place in the New Testament, in any of the Apostolic Fathers, or in any pseudepigraphic (forged) literature.[1] The First Epistle of Peter uses simply the name “Peter”, and it is unlikely that a later writer attempting to feign an original letter would use a different name than one used in the genuine text, especially an archaic and obscure naming convention like "Simeon Peter."

This is not the only characteristic that distinguishes the letter from the known forgeries of antiquity. First, the common convention in ancient forgeries, when attempting to add a sense of realism to their claims to authoritative authorship (by an apostle or the like) was to adopt a first-person narrative style. However, 2 Peter nowhere employs this convention, even in the passage concerning the Lord's Transfiguration, where it would be most expected.[2] Furthermore, the account of the Transfiguration differs in certain details from the accounts in the Holy Gospel – something unexpected of a forger. Additionally, forged documents, which are later in date than the apostolic texts, tend to added embellishments to the gospel accounts, a feature completely lacking in this letter.[3] Also unusual is the description of Paul as “our beloved brother” (2 Peter 3:15). Later literature referred to Paul as “the blessed Paul”, “the blessed and glorious Paul”, and “the sanctified Paul right blessed”, and thus the subdued usage in the letter is more fitting of genuine Petrine use than of a later forgery.[4] Lastly, the statement that the author finds Paul’s letters difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16) runs counter to the tendency of forgers to enhance the heroic qualities of the alleged author.[5] Hence, Donald Guthrie concluded that, if the letter were pseudepigraphy, it would be in many respects unparalleled with other such literature, so much so that it would be “of its own class”.[6]

One of the main points cited by critics is the textual evidence that the author incorporated elements of the Epistle of Jude, and from this it has been conjectured than an apostle would not himself use another source (often in such arguments the authenticity of Jude is also disparaged). Before any refutations are elaborated it is worth observing that such speculation need not be accepted as definitive.[7] Donald Guthrie stated simply that it was “a fallacious supposition” to assume that an apostle would not have made use of an earlier source, and that, though it might be unexpected, it would be equally or more unexpected for a forger to do so.[8] But, besides this, another possibility is that the textual evidence can be interpreted to point the other way, namely that the Epistle of Jude used 2 Peter. In this interpretation, Jude would have extracted information from 2 Peter and added a doxology, perhaps being motivated by the recent fulfillment of the prophetic statements of 2 Peter.[9] Lastly, the opinion of Ben Witherington III should be noted. The scholar argued that 2 Peter, as we have today, is a composite document including points taken from the Epistle of Jude but containing a genuine “Petrine fragment”, which he identified as 2 Peter 1:12-21.[10] Hence, even if credence is given to some points of the critical scholarship, from this it in no sense follows that the text’s claim of Petrine authorship is an error.

Given the flurry of arguments, mostly wholly speculative, that have been made against the authenticity of the letter, it is impossible to sufficiently address every point. However, it is necessary to address the majority of them in brief. The different styles of language between 1 Peter and 2 Peter are often cited as proof that the same author (i.e. Saint Peter) could not have written them both. Very often these linguistic differences are overly stressed, and, even accepting such arguments, it is simply a fallacy to deduce, from such a tiny sample, a complete picture of the style and vocabulary of one author in a way that could exclude either of the letters. But the real difficulty with this position is that it ignores the widespread practice in antiquity of employing secretaries in drafting letters at one’s behest, and it is even explicitly stated in 1 Peter that such a secretary (Silvanus, also called Silas) has been so utilized. Moving on, other objections include a reference within the letter to the writings of Paul, which is often misinterpreted to be necessarily referring to a complete collection of all his epistles, which would not have been in circulation before Peter’s death. However, the reference in question does not in any sense imply the existence of a complete or authorized corpus of Paul’s letters.[11] Historically, Peter and Paul can both be located in Rome around the same time, creating a plausible opportunity for Peter to become acquainted with some of Paul’s writings - writings which, whatever the case, could have been partially in circulation before Peter’s martyrdom. The penultimate objection to be addressed is the accusation that the letter's reference to “the fathers”, interpreted as a reference to a bygone generation of Christian founders, presents a perspective that Peter himself could not have had, since he would not have been far enough removed from this generation. Perhaps the most significant part of this point is the absurd position it puts the critics in, who are perfectly willing to accept that a forger was of such skill as to create a letter wholly unique amongst ancient forgeries on so many points, yet was able to make such an obvious blunder. This aside, the solution to the objection is to observe the misinterpretation of the reference in question. The phrase “the fathers” (οι πατέρες) is not used to refer to Christian “patriarchs”, or the first generation of Christian leaders, anywhere else in the New Testament or in the Apostolic Fathers and, given the context, is much more likely a reference to the Jewish Patriarchs of the Old Testament.[12]

Lastly, critics often cite the lack of early attestation amongst ancient Christian sources as evidence of the letter’s late authorship, and the general hesitancy that the Church Fathers had in accepting the genuineness of the epistle. Though there is admittedly a lack of definite early quotations from the letter in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, many scholars have found evidence of possible use of the epistle, or signs of its influence, in the writings of certain early Fathers. This includes the works of Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 211), Theophilus of Antioch (d. c. 183), Aristides the Athenian (d. c. 134), Polycarp of Smyrna (d. 155), and Justin Martyr (d. 165).[13] Hence, the evidence before Origen’s time is best described as inconclusive,[14] and thus the evidence does not go nearly as far as the critics would wish to make it seem. The earliest record of doubts concerning the authorship of the letter were recorded by Origen (c. 185 – 254), though Origen mentioned no explanation for the doubts, nor did he give any indication concerning the extent or location. As D. Guthrie put it, “It is fair to assume, therefore, that he saw no reason to treat these doubts as serious, and this would mean to imply that in his time the epistle was widely regarded as canonical.”[15] Origen himself, in another passage, would seem to have considered letter to be Petrine in authorship.[16] It is unfortunate that the vague comments of Origen have been taken too far. The first author of record to have professed his own doubts concerning the letter was Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275 – 339), though he stated that the majority supported the text, and by the time of Jerome (c. 346-420) it had been mostly accepted as canonical.[17] Hence, the evidence from the authors may best be summed in the negative: "nowhere did doubts about the letter's authorship take the form of definitive rejection."[18]

See also

Second Epistle of Peter (Translated)

Notes

  1. M. R. James, ‘The Second Epistle General of St. Peter and the General Epistle of St. Jude’, in, Cambridge Greek Testament (1912), p. 9; Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 820.
  2. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 820.
  3. E. M. B. Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered, p. 27.
  4. J. B. Major, The Epistle of St Jude and the Second Epistle of St Peter (1907), p. 166; Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 826; references to quotes from antiquity are 1 Clement 47.1 and Polycarp, Ad Phil. 11; Polycarp, Ad Phil. 3; Ignatius, Ad Eph. 12.2.
  5. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 827.
  6. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 820.
  7. E. M. B. Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered (1961), p. 10-11; ibid., ‘The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude’, in Tyndale New Testament Commentary (1987).
  8. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 831; on a reason for the use of Jude, see E. H. Plumptre, ‘The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude’, in The Cambridge Bible of School and Colleges (1879), p. 80.
  9. S. T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament II p. 250; F. Spitta, Der Zweite Brief des Petrus und der Brief des Judas (1885), pp. 145-146; C. Bigg, ‘The Epistles of St Peter and St Jude’, in International Critical Commentary (1901).
  10. Ben Witherington III, “A Petrine Source in 2 Peter”, Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers (1985), pp. 187-192.
  11. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 824.
  12. R. J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word) 1983, p. 290; Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 829.
  13. C. Bigg, ‘The Epistle of St Peter and Jude’, in International Critical Commentary (1901), pp. 202-205; R. E. Picirilli, ‘Allusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers’, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33 (1988), pp. 57-83; J. W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (1934), p. 141.
  14. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 807.
  15. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 806.
  16. M. R. James, ‘The Second Epistle General of St. Peter and the General Epistle of St. Jude’, in, Cambridge Greek Testament (1912), p. xix; cf. Origen, Homily in Josh. 7.1.
  17. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), pp. 808-809, though the exception of the Syrian canon is noted, with acceptance occurring sometime before 509; cf. Jerome, De viris illustribus chapter 1.
  18. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), p. 806.
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