Authorship of the Epistles of Peter

24 Oct
from Google Images

from Google Images

It almost seems like a ridiculous question to ask: who is the author of the epistles ascribed to Peter? However, modern Biblical critics have made it almost necessary to show who the author of first and second Peter actually is.[1] Nevertheless, it needs to be mentioned that, until the dawn of modern criticism, scholarly opinion of authorship had been for over a millennium that Peter wrote both epistles. First of all, the epistles, themselves, attribute authorship to Peter, an apostle of Jesus (1Peter 1:1 and 2Peter 1:1), and early attestation that Peter wrote the first epistle ascribed to him comes from second, third and fourth century church fathers such as Irenaeus: Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius. Moreover, the author of first Peter claims to have witnessed the suffering of Jesus (1Peter: 5:1). Therefore, either the author is Peter, the apostle, or the author lied.

Authorship of second Peter isn’t as clear, as far as Biblical scholarship is concerned. However, as said above, Peter is claimed to be its author (2Peter 1:1). Moreover, the author also claims to be an eyewitness to the majesty of Jesus (2Peter 1:16), which he describes in 2Peter 1:17 as Jesus’ Transfiguration, which only three of the apostles witnessed: Peter, James and John (cf. Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34). So, once more, either the author is deliberately seeking to deceive his reader, or authorship must be ascribed to Peter who is named in 2Peter 1:1.

Some scholarship tries to cloud the issue of forgery by claiming that in ancient times, if one admired an author, using his name to promote one’s similar ideas was socially accepted and wouldn’t be frowned upon in Christian churches. Nevertheless, this seems to be not only avoiding the issue of lying about authorship, but also laboring to make the lie look like a good thing. It seems clear, at least to me, that pseudepigrapha was not readily embraced by early Christianity. On the contrary Paul warned his churches of letters sent in his name that he didn’t write (2Thessalonians 2:2). Indeed, Paul made it known in his letters if anyone coauthored one of his epistles and named anyone who helped him with the content, or if the letter was written by someone else at his dictation or organized it from his notes (Romans 16:22; 1Corinthians 1:1; 2Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 4:18; 1Thessalonians 1:1; 2Thessalonians 1:1; 3:17).

A third century Bishop named Serapion forbad the reading of the Gospel of Peter saying it was pseudepigrapha or a ‘false’ writing. Notice what Dr. Bruce Metsger says about the event:

from Google Images

from Google Images

About the year 200 Bishop Serapion of Antioch prohibited the reading of the Gospel of Peter in the parish of Rhossus, a city of Syria lying northwest of Antioch. On a former visit to that place he had indeed permitted the church to read the book (a work till then unknown to him) in its services. Soon afterward heresy broke out in Rhossus, and some appealed to the Gospel of Peter in support of Docetism. Thereupon Serapion examined the book and, finding some parts of it to be unorthodox, he rejected it peremptorily as a forgery (ψευδεπίγραφον).[2]

It seems apparent to me that the category into which Bishop Serapion places the Gospel of Peter (ψευδεπίγραφον – pronounced pseudepigraphon) isn’t a category of high social esteem. Moreover, the fact that he does this seems to indicate the value he (and Christian orthodoxy) placed upon Peter’s authentic writings. Whether he based his conclusion upon literary proof or upon an assumption of what he understood Peter would or would not write is immaterial. Pseudepigrapha was not then considered a legitimate enterprise. On the contrary, it was considered forgery!

Another interesting event that comes down to us from the early Christian fathers is their analysis of the origin of the Gospel of Mark. It is claimed by Papias, Ireneaus and Clement of Alexandria that Mark wrote down what Peter preached in Rome. It was in fact Peter’s Gospel that he normally preached wherever he went. Nevertheless, when he preached at Rome, the believers there wanted a hard copy of Peter’s Gospel and asked Mark to write it down. Mark did so. Yet, we don’t know the Gospel of Mark by Peter’s name today. Why is that? Rather, it has come down to us as the Gospel according to Mark. Nevertheless, Clement of Alexandria tells us that Peter reviewed it and didn’t hinder Mark from giving it to the Roman Church. Thus, it was written down by Mark, but not at the command of (although with the permission of) Peter. And, perhaps this is precisely why it is not known as Peter’s Gospel. Peter had nothing to do with offering it as a hard copy to the Roman church. That responsibility was totally Mark’s undertaking.

Therefore, it seems to me that it would be quite contrary in the ancient world that the epistles of Peter would be accepted by orthodoxy and included in the Canon, unless they were known to have been written by Peter, the apostle of Jesus. Inevitably, some trust must be placed by us in the hands that have given us what we call our New Testament. I see absolutely no legitimate reason for not accepting both the epistles that carry Peter’s name as the genuine work of the Apostle Peter.


[1] If authorship of the book of the Bible can be put in question, then the modern critic has won his case, namely, the New Testament has no authority. If authorship is in doubt, the New Testament is hearsay at best and a collection of lies at worst. Nevertheless, the modern critic has no real foundation for his claim that authorship is in doubt. Merely saying, for example, that authorship of first and second Peter is spurious doesn’t mean that this is so. The critic has not proved his case. There is no legitimate reason to doubt their authorship. They seem to fit into the context of the other New Testament books very nicely.

[2] Bruce M. Metzger, “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha,” JBL 91 (1972): 3-24; cited from The Seriousness of Forgery in Antiquity by Stephen Carlson.

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