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We have been kicking the idea of pseudepigraphy around quite a bit lately. A few years ago, one of my students once made this comment on the issue of the authorship of Second Peter.

Perhaps we might have to reconsider the presuppositions of inspiration and inerrancy. How can a fraudulent document be inspired? Would not this be contrary to the nature of Scripture, to the nature of God?

I agree that the way in which most American evangelicals define inerrancy requires the “historical Peter” to be the author of 2 Peter.  Not only is the name attached to the first verse, but there are several clear hints that Peter is the author in the book.  On the other hand, as I have said before, if I were forging 2 Peter, I would include these very things. My student was correct to say a pseudepigraphical author of  any New Testament book would be contrary to inerrancy (as typically defined).

Is This a Forgery?

Is This a Forgery?

But what if the definition of inerrancy could be expanded to include pseudepigraphy as a literary genre in the first century?  Here’s what I am thinking: those of us who hold to inerrancy would never say that there was a real, historical “prodigal son” behind Jesus’ parable in Luke 15.  In the genre of Parable, the characters are by definition a fiction.  When Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son it conveyed truth, but the story of a prodigal son is not true: Jesus created it. Like Jotham’s fable in Judges 9 or Nathan’s Story in 2 Sam 12, the genre of a parable means that the point of the story is true even when the details of the story are clearly created by the author. Inerrancy must be defined broadly enough to include genres such as a parable or illustration, perhaps “testament” is another category that needs to be included.

It is possible to argue that the genre of Testament Literature allows for the use of a pseudonym? No one really thought the Testament of Levi was written by Levi; in fact it is clear the “historical Levi” did not write the book. One might argue the same about 2 Peter – it is really a “Testament of Peter,” using the literary conventions of the first century. Scholars frequently observe that Peter is the subject of many post-biblical, non-canonical books. Second Peter could be an example of that type of literature in the New Testament. (This point is similar to Neinhus and Wall, Reading The Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude as Scripture, 112, although the stop short of comparing 2 Peter to the Testament genre).

One advantage of seeing 2 Peter as a Testament is that it removes the stigma of the word “forgery.” If it is a letter, then it is a forgery; if it is a Testament, then it is following the requires of the genre. One does not call Jesus a liar because there was no real, historical Prodigal Son. Not one refers to the writer of the Testament of Levi as a forger nor do they denigrate the book as “bogus.”

I am not sure how far I would want to push the argument, but it would allow for an evangelical to read 2 Peter as pseudonymous and still hold to inerrancy.

Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept this historical Peter as the author of the book. As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, Bauckham), there has been little change in this consensus.  Bart Erhman dealt  with this issue in his popular level book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility that the traditional authors of many of the books in the New Testament are not likely the real authors.

In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said that “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11). Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.

Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter. Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter appeared and were rejected by the church because the were not authentic. If there was a possibility that Peter was not authentic, it should have been treated the same as these other spurious documents.

Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it? It is true that the second letter of Peter is quite a bit different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship. Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if that person was given a more free had in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case that the two letters are related. Frankly, statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.

There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.” In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed. Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31. And again, this evidence cuts both ways. Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter which “sounds like” Peter, I would include this sort of thing to give the letter the “ring” of truth. (In fact, it is odd that the words are the same as the gospels which Peter is not associated with, Mark.) The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This one sounds a bit too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than we might have guessed. Still, it is evidence for either side of the discussion.

Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view. As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out that the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers. The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.

Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter make it less authoritative? Suppose that someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to deal with important issues in the late first century. Does this make it less worthy of the canon? J. D. Charles (Faithful to the End, 129f) would say that it does indeed matter. If we now know for sure that Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, which would have been written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, we are confident that there was a historical Clement who write the letter, so it is at least authentic. Why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?

Bibliography:

Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71.
Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.

Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept this historical Peter as the author of the book. As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, Bauckham), there has been little change in this consensus.  Bart Erhman dealt  with this issue in his popular level book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility that the traditional authors of many of the books in the New Testament are not likely the real authors.

In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said that “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11). Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.

Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter. Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter appeared and were rejected by the church because the were not authentic. If there was a possibility that Peter was not authentic, it should have been treated the same as these other spurious documents.

Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it? It is true that the second letter of Peter is quite a bit different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship. Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if that person was given a more free had in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case that the two letters are related. Frankly, statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.

There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.” In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed. Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31. And again, this evidence cuts both ways. Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter which “sounds like” Peter, I would include this sort of thing to give the letter the “ring” of truth. (In fact, it is odd that the words are the same as the gospels which Peter is not associated with, Mark.) The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This one sounds a bit too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than we might have guessed. Still, it is evidence for either side of the discussion.

Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view. As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out that the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers. The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.

Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter make it less authoritative? Suppose that someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to deal with important issues in the late first century. Does this make it less worthy of the canon? J. D. Charles (Faithful to the End, 129f) would say that it does indeed matter. If we now know for sure that Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, which would have been written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, we are confident that there was a historical Clement who write the letter, so it is at least authentic. Why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?

Bibliography:

Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71.
Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.

The Letter of James is often described as pseudonymous, meaning that the letter is attributed to James but not actually written by him.  That someone named “Jacob” would write to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora sounds quite a bit like the Testament of the 12 Patriarchs, a well know Pseudepigraphic book in the Second Temple Period.  It is important therefore to think a bit about the practice of pseudonymity in the ancient world, especially as it relates to the authority of the text.

James Dunn wrote the article on Pseudepigraphy in the Dictionary of Later New Testament (IVP, 1997, 977-984).  Beginning with the alleged Pauline pseudonymous letters, Dunn creates a methodology for identifying a letter as post-Pauline.  Simply put, compare the letter to the others which are undeniably from Paul.  In his view, Ephesians and Colossians may or may not be pseudonymous, the pastorals likely represent a “post Pauline tradition.”  But as Dunn admits, this method is hard to use on James, Jude, and the letters of Peter.  There is no other undisputed work of James, so it is difficult to judge.  In fact, he says that the distinction between genuine and pseudonymous with respect to James and 1 Peter is a meaningless argument since in the end we cannot really tell.

On the other hand, Karen Jobes argues that there is enough evidence to suggest the likelihood that the tradition that James the Just was the author of the letter.  The fact that the author of the letter of James knew Jesus’ teaching is important, but there are also some  similarities with the speech of James in the book of Acts (Jobes has a chart tracking these similarities).  These observations track with Dunn’s method (compare the letter to a known source), but at least the comparison to Acts is potentially week since we read the speech of James as reported by Luke, who was not yet a companion of Paul.  The character of James in Acts is so consistent with the writer of the Letter that I have no trouble equating the two.

But the issue of pseudonymity remains.  If a letter can be proven to be pseudonymous, does that reduce the authority of that letter in the New Testament canon.  Perhaps not.

A writer may choose to attach another name to their work for a variety of reasons, some of which are entirely innocent. For example, it is entirely possible that a writer knew the teaching of James very well and created a letter which accurately reflected the teaching of James, and perhaps this writer even used snippets of James’ teaching. In this case, the Letter of James was not actually penned by James, but is an accurate record of his teaching.  There are still some ramifications for inerrancy since the first lines of the book claim to be a letter from James to churches in the Diaspora, but this sort of soft-pseudonymity is not a serious problem.  In fact, it is likely that prophets of the Hebrew Bible were assembled in just this way by anonymous editors who accurately recorded the words of their prophet.

On the other hand, a writer may have attached the name of James to the letter in order to give credence to his own ideas, whether they came form James or not.  Usually any theory of this sort places the writing of the book well beyond the time of James life, perhaps as late as the second century.  This strong-pseudonymity is a much bigger problem for the authority of the text, since the books of the New Testament are assumed to have Apostolic authority. If the letter comes from a much later date and a non-Apostolic author, does it have the same level of authority?

For someone like J. I. Packer, “Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive” (Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, 184).  Conservative scholars appeal to Eusebius, who reported that the church fathers rejected anything that was not known to have come from an apostle or someone from within the apostolic (Eccl. Hist. 6.12.3).  I think most conservatives would agree with this assessment and dismiss any argument against the traditional answer that James, the brother of Jesus wrote the letter.

If James was a collection of sayings of the historical James rather than a letter written by him, would that change the authority of the Letter of James for you?

Karen Jobes deals with the issue of pseudepigraphal authorship in her recent Letters to the Churches (Zondervan, 2011).  As she defines it, a document is pseudepigraphical if the author intentionally uses another name rather than his own (page 6).  This is different than a pen name (she cites Samuel Clemens, more commonly known as Mark Twain), and it is also different than using an amanuensis, or scribe, to compose a letter.  If a person was not “officially commissioned” to write a document then it should be considered pseudepigraphic.

Here is the problem for evangelicals with a commitment to inerrancy.  If Second Peter says Peter wrote it, then that means Peter wrote it (or commissioned a scribe to write what he intended).  Many scholars consider 2 Peter to be written well after Peter’s death by a well-meaning disciple of Peter, but without Peter’s direct authorization.  That 2 Peter is a “pious forgery” is almost axiomatic in NT studies.

I agree that the way in which most American evangelicals define inerrancy requires the “historical Peter” to be the author of 2 Peter.  Not only is the name attached to the first verse, but there are several clear hints that Peter is the author in the book.  On the other hand, if I were forging 2 Peter, I would include these very things.   So yes, Justin is correct.  A pseudepigraphical author of  any New Testament book would be contrary to inerrancy.

But what if the definition of inerrancy was expanded to include pseudepigraphy as a literary genre in the first century?  Here’s what I am thinking: those of us who hold to inerrancy would never say that there was a real, historical “prodigal son” behind Jesus’ parable in Luke 15.  In the genre of Parable, the characters are by definition a fiction.  That Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son is true, but that there was a prodigal son is not true.  That part is a story.  I would say the same for Jotham’s fable in Judges 9.  Inerrancy must be broadly defined to include genres such as a parable or illustration.

Can you argue that the genre of Testament literature allows for the use of a pseudonym? No one really thought the Testament of Levi was written by Levi, it was fairly clear that it was not.  One might argue the same about 2 Peter – it is really a “Testament of Peter,” using the literary conventions of the first century.

I am not sure that I agree with this line of argument, but it would allow for an evangelical to teach that Peter is a pseudonym still hold to inerrancy.

On the other hand, it is difficult to accept that letters which claim to be from eye-witnesses of Jesus and “teaching the truth” as opposed to falsehood would themselves be foundation on a lie, even if that was a culturally acceptable literary genre.

We have been kicking the idea of pseudepigraphy around quite a bit lately, and I think we should probably bring some closure to the topic.

The ever-perceptive Justin Hanberry made this comment in a response to my post of a few days ago:

Perhaps then we might have to reconsider the presuppositions of inspiration and inerrancy. How can a fraudulent document be inspired? Would not this be contrary to the nature of Scripture, to the nature of God?

I agree that the way in which most American evangelicals define inerrancy requires the “historical Peter” to be the author of 2 Peter.  Not only is the name attached to the first verse, but there are several clear hints that Peter is the author in the book.  On the other hand, as I stated in the previous post, if I were forging 2 Peter, I would include these very things.   So yes, Justin is correct.  A pseudepigraphical author of  any New Testament book would be contrary to inerrancy.

But what if the definition of inerrancy was expanded to include pseudepigraphy as a literary genre in the first century?  Here’s what I am thinking: those of us who hold to inerrancy would never say that there was a real, historical “prodigal son” behind Jesus’ parable in Luke 15.  In the genre of Parable, the characters are by definition a fiction.  That Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son is true, but that there was a prodigal son is not true.  That part is a story.  I would say the same for Jotham’s fable in Judges 9.  Inerrancy must be broadly defined to include genres such as a parable or illustration.

Can you argue that the genre of Testament literature allows for the use of a pseudonym? No one really thought the Testament of Levi was written by Levi, it was fairly clear that it was not.  One might argue the same about 2 Peter – it is really a “Testament of Peter,” using the literary conventions of the first century.

I am not sure that I agree with this line of argument, but it would allow for an evangelical to teach that Peter is a pseudonym still hold to inerrancy.

Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy.  Outside of conservative circles, few accept this historical Peter as the author of the book.  As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.”  Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, AB, Bauckham, WBC), there has been little change in this consensus.  In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said that “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” ( Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11).  Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.

Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter.  Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter appeared and were rejected by the church because the were not authentic.  If there was a possibility that Peter was not authentic, it should have been treated the same as these other spurious documents.

Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it?  It is true that the second letter of Peter is quite a bit different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship.  Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if that person was given a more free had in one letter than the other.  And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case that the two letters are related. Frankly, statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.

There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.”  In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed.  Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31.  And again, this evidence cuts both ways.  Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter which “sounds like” Peter, I would include this sort of thing to give the letter the “ring” of truth.  (In fact, it is odd that the words are the same as the gospels which Peter is not associated with, Mark.)  The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul.  This one sounds a bit too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than we might have guessed. Still, it is evidence for either side of the discussion.

Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view.  As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out that the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers.  The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.

Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter make it less authoritative?  Suppose that someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to  deal with important issues in the late first century.  Does this make it less worthy of the canon?   J. D. Charles makes a point that deserves some though it Faithful to the End (129f):  If we now know for sure that Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, which would have been written about the same time for approximately the same reasons.  What is more, we are confident that there was a historical Clement who write the letter, so it is at least authentic. Why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?

Bibliography:

Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71.
Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.

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