Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Who is the "Author" of 2 Peter?

I wrote the following over the weekend, and then found Mike Bird's comments on the same topic today, so at least I'm glad that I'm thinking along the same lines as a NT geek!

Did the apostle Peter author the work known as 2 Peter? There are two distinct elements, among others, that compound the problem faced in discussions of the authorship of 2 Peter. Firstly, there is the complicated notion of what constitutes an “author” of a particular work, and secondly, given the ethical world the early Christians sought to express, does narrating a story under the auspices of someone else constitute giving a false witness? These issues inspire various possibilities with little confidence in acquiring certainty in our understanding.
The authorship of 2 Peter is often discussed with the majority favouring some form of pseudonymous authorship.[1] As Kelly noted nearly four decades ago:
“Scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous, although it must be admitted of the few who do that they defend their case with an impressive combination of learning and ingenuity.” [2]
This first issue plunges one deep into contemporary philosophical and literary debates. Without getting too complex, biblical scholars must realise that our current definitions and conceptions of “authorship” may be to simple.[3] It is possible that Peter did not strictly pen the work known as 1 Peter, Silvanus did (1 Pet 5:12).[4] Although, we could use a broader definition of authorship (namely the figurative definition), so that Peter is clearly the originator of the ideas and teachings present in 1 Peter, but not the actual person who penned them on to papyri. But if that is true, and allowable, then what prevents one from suggesting that a disciple, after Peter’s death, penned 2 Peter, believing that he was in fact merely restating and formulating the teachings of his teacher? Is Peter then still the author, and would the first century Christians have had a problem with this? Thus, Davids writes:
1 Peter (or 2 Peter, for that matter) is just as much “by Peter” whether he dictated every word or whether he told a co-worker, “Write a letter to x to combat y – you might use argument z, as well as any others you can think of.” In either case an ancient would think of the letter as being “by Peter,” even if in the latter case we would lack any certain knowledge of how Peter himself thought.[5]
So in what sense are we suggesting that Peter was the author of this work? And does Peter remain the author, if a disciple recounts and relays his teachings, despite the fact of his being dead? [6]
In out next post, we'll consider the claim that if Peter was not the author of 2 Peter, this constitutes wilfull deception.
[1] J. H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, pg. 128 does not even seek to argue the matter of pseudonymity, but merely assumes this is the case.
[2] J. N. D Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (A & C Black, 1969) pg. 235. However, M. J. Kruger “The Authenticity of 2 Peter”, JETS 42 (1999): 645-71, argues that the case against Petrine authorship is not conclusive.
[3] The Oxford English Dictionary offers a few options that are instructive. Author: A) a writer of a book, article, or report. B) someone who writes books as a profession. the writings of such a person. C) figurative: an originator or creator of something, especially a plan or idea.
[4] Contrary to this however, see the study of E. R. Richards “Silvanus Was Not Peter’s Secretary: Theological Bias in Interpreting dia Silvanou… egrapsa in 1 Peter 5:12,” JETS 43:3 (2000) 417-32. Although, this does not negate the possibility of Silvanus, or someone else, as an amanuensis. See P. H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Eerdmans, 1990) pg. 198-90. But Davids has subsequently changed his mind. See Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, (Eerdmans, 2006) pg. 128.
[5] Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, pg. 128
[6] A contemporary example is that of G. B. Caird and his student L. D. Hurst. Hurst took Caird’s notes, books, ideas and practically wrote most of the script of Caird’s New Testament Theology (Oxford, 1994). Did Caird author this work, or did Hurst? Or more poignantly the question must be asked, are they Caird’s ideas, or Hurst’s?

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