The authorship of Peter’s epistles (1 Peter 1)

Bilderesultat for apostle Peter

1 and 2 Peter both claim authorship by Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, 17:18) and “a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). The early church unhesitatingly received 1 Peter as authentic. Some examples:

  • Papias (A.D. 60-135) noted that “Mark is mentioned by Peter in his first epistle” (Eusebius, History, 2.15).
  • Clement of Rome (A.D. 30-101); The Didache (an anonymous early second century A.D. work dealing with a variety of doctrinal and practical matters of import to the early Christian church); and Polycarp (A.D. 69-156) all quoted from 1 Peter.
  • Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200) cited 1 Peter, using the apostle’s name (Against Heresies, 4.9.2, 4.16.5).
  • Eusebius summarized the canonical discussion by placing letter in four categories (History, 3.25): those recognized as genuine ba all Christians (e.g. 1 Peter); those that, though disputed, were still recognized as authentic by the church as a whole and were familiar to most Christians (e.g. 2 Peter); spurious, non-canonical works that were yet familiar; and those that were generally acknowledged as outright heretical.

Despite strong historical evidence supporting Peter as the author of the two letters that bear his name, some commentators hesitate to accept Petrine authorship for several reasons:

  • Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome (Tacitus, Annals, 15.44) set a precedent for Roman officials in all the provinces to consider Christians as criminals. 1 Peter includes several references to the persecution of Christians outside Rome (1:6, 2:15, 3:15-16, 4:12-13, 5:8-9). Since all scholars agree that Peter died during Nero’s reign (A.D. 64-68; cf. Eusebius, History, 2,25), and since persecution outside of Rome began after Nero’s reign, many New Testament commentators hold that both 1 and 2 Peter are pseudonymous works (falsely attributed to Peter). Their language, however, does not necessarily refer to a large-scale, official persecution and thus does not demand a date subsequent to Nero’s reign. The suffering Peter referred to was local and sporadic rather than universal and under imperial mandate. Indeed, Peter spoke more of Christians suffering verbal abuse and social ostracism than he did of martyrdom.
  • The enormous geographical area represented by the audience addressed in 1 Peter 1:1 (i.e. believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia) suggests to many scholars that these epistles were not composed until well after the 60’s. They argue that enough time would have had to elapse after Paul’s missionary journeys to allow for the growth of Christianity in these areas (especially since we have no record that Paul even visited Pontus, Cappadocia or Bithynia). As reflected in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, however, Christian churches were often founded in short periods of time, and Peter may have first met some of his readers when they came to Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:9-10).
  • 1 and 2 Peter demonstrate a refined vocabulary and rich literary style. Since Peter and John are called “unschooled, ordinary men” in Acts 4:13, many think it unlikely that Peter would have possessed the skill to write these epistles. However, the Greek word used in Acts 4:13 (agrammatos) most likely means something like “without advanced education” rather “illiterate”. The Jews prided themselves upon the education of their children (cf. Josephus, Against Apion, 1.12, 2.26). Peter evidently lacked the Talmud or “college” level of training. However, as a businessman in the fishing industry, he would have had to know how to read and probably would have been fluent in Greek, the language of common, public discourse. The picture of Peter that is frequently put forth today in popular expositions of Scripture – the notion that he was something of a buffoon – is most certainly invalid. In addition, 1 Peter 5:12 tells us that Silas assisted in the writing of the letter, indicating that Peter was not above seeking to make certain his letters read well.

The weight of evidence is in favour of the authenticity of these two letters. In addition, the early church did not on principle approve of books written under false names. For example, the church father Tertullian (On Baptism, 17) indicated that the elder who wrote the pseudonymous Acts of Paul in order to augment “Paul’s fame” was defrocked, and the so-called Gospel of Peter was criticized as false (Eusebius, History, 6.12). Moreover, pseudonymous materials tend to be drastically different from 1 and 2 Peter.


 

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