Thursday, September 13, 2007

Authorship of 2 Peter - Ethical Dilemma

If 2 Peter was not written by Peter, then do the autobiographical statements in this epistle constitute a false witness? As Kelly states:
The author certainly represents himself as the Apostle, starting off with a greeting from ‘Symeon Peter’, recalling his presence as an eye-witness at the Transfiguration (i. 16-18) and his receipt of a private communication from the Lord about his imminent death (i. 14), affirming in a clear allusion to 1 Peter that this is his second epistle (iii. 1), and speaking of Paul as his colleague (iii. 15).[1]
How can someone inhabiting the moral worldview of early Christianity, so clearly falsify the evidence so as to lead the readers to believe that Peter wrote this letter? Thus, does the author of 2 Peter misrepresent himself as the apostle Peter, and if so, does this constitute identity fraud? Conrad Gempf responds with this counter-example from modern experience:
A few years ago I met someone who claimed to be C.S. Lewis. He clearly knew a lot about the man whose identity he was appropriating and on occasion mixed what he said with genuine excerpts from Lewis's books. He was very entertaining to spend an evening with, but he was not the man he pretended to be. There were other people present - should I have denounced him to them? Should I have confronted this man: 'Impostor!'?
Perhaps your feelings will change when I tell you that this man was on a stage at the time, surrounded by props. I had gone to see a one-man show based on the life and writings of C.S. Lewis. Despite the fact that the great majority of the audience with whom I was seated were Christians who would claim to be against falsehood and deceit of any kind, no-one was unhappy with the actor or the playwright for the fraud they conspired to present to us. In this context, the pretence was not only acceptable, but laudable. We all paid good money to be lied to, and emitted loud noises of approval when it was complete.
If we can forget for just a moment our deeply-ingrained acceptance of theatre and fiction as valid genres, we may be able to glimpse just how peculiar the whole business is - how odd someone from outside our culture might find it. I submit that it is in this frame of mind that we are best able to approach the curious business of religious pseudonymity ('pseudo' = false; 'nym' = name): the practice of writing a literary work under the pretence that someone else, usually someone more famous, wrote it.[2]
Richard Bauckham has argued for a notion of an intentional pseudepigraphy with regards to 2 Peter which alleviates this ethical problem.[3] If Bauckham is right, my question is whether one is not safer to speak of the authorship of this epistle as rather allonymous rather than pseudonymous. This distinction is used by I. H. Marshall for understanding the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.[4] Marshall states:

I use the term pseudonymous to refer to documents that were intended to deceive their recipients into thinking that somebody other than the real author wrote them, and the term allonymous to refer to documents composed by somebody other than the purported author but in a way that was transparent and not intended to deceive the readers.[5]

If 2 Peter was recognised as a ‘testament’ of the deceased Peter, then there is no wilful deception which resolves the ethical dilemma. If this is accurate, then 2 Peter is closer to that of an allonymous writing rather than a pseudonymous writing, for it does not seek to mislead people, but rather is evidently a later writing under the auspices of some authority.
Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude, pg. 235
[2] Conrad Gempf “Pseudonymity and the New Testament” in Themelios 17.2 (January/February 1992): 8-10, pg. 8.
[3] See Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, pg. 286. Bauckham suggests that 2 Peter is pseudonymous but that it would have been recognised as such, and thus it never sought to intentionally mislead its primary audience.
[4] I. H. Marshall, New Testament Theology (IVP, 2004) pg. 398
[5] Marshall, New Testament Theology, pg. 398 n.4

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