Friday, June 20, 2008

Witherington on authorship of 2 Peter

Ben Witherington in his recent book on 1-2 Peter argues that 2 Peter is clearly dependent upon Jude (following R. Bauckham, D. Watson, and M. Gilmour [pp. 260-72]). He surmises that 2 Peter is a composite document based on genuine Petrine testimony (2 Pet. 1.12-21), Jude, and interaction with Paul's letters. According to Witherington, 2 Peter exhibits a form of grandiose Asiatic Greek rhetoric and he considers it unlikely that a fisherman had picked up such "bookish Greek" and there is no reference to an amaneuensis being used. 2 Peter is a truly "catholic" letter in that it is an attempt at mass communication to all Christians in the empire. Witherington is quick to add that 2 Peter is not a pseudepigraphon and he rejects Bauckham's view that 2 Peter follows the "testament" genre. Witherington urges a way beyond the impasse of Petrine vs. pseudepigraphal: "But it is equally surprising that many scholars today do not seem to realize that there are other options besides declaring this document to be a pseudepigraphon or a letter composed by Peter himself" (p. 269). Unlike the pseudepigrapha, 2 Peter has no special axe to grind and no unique doctrine to promulgate. He concludes that: (1) 2 Pet. 1.12-21 (and perhaps 2 Pet. 3.1-3) must be seen as the testimony of Peter passed on orally at Rome before his martyrdom; (2) It uses Jude and is good Hellenistic rhetoric but not bombastic; (3) we should see 2 Pet. 3.3-11 as a summary of apostolic teaching written in asiatic Greek; (4) It is likely that this document was written up after Peter's (and Paul's?) death by someone in the Petrine circle, a colleague, probably not an understudy. Witherington gives tacit approval to Baukham's suggestion of Linus the second bishop of Rome (2 Tim. 4.21; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.13, 21). Thus: "Second Peter is a composite document that draws on material from both Peter and Jude, two earlier apostles, and reflects some knowledge of Paul as well. It bears neither the form nor character of a pseudepigraphon, and since it includes some genuine Petrine material, it is understandably attributed to tis first and most famous contributor' (p. 271).

On a side note, I had a wry smile on my face when I read the CT interview with Tom Schreiner concerning his recent NT Theology (which looks like a very fine book indeed). When asked about possible objections to his volume,  Tom replied: "Peter affirms Paul's writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Of course, the standard view in critical scholarship is that Peter did not write 2 Peter, but I argue in my commentary on that letter that there are solid grounds for affirming Petrine authorship. At the end of the day, those who think the NT contradicts itself buy into a philosophical worldview opposed to the NT message. Adolf Schlatter rightly observed that too many do NT scholarship from atheistic presuppositions." The irony is that Schlatter himself did not believe in Petrine authorship of 2 Peter! Go ye and read the end of his book The Theology of the Apostles.

Whatever one's view of 2 Peter, this all makes for good conversation over a bottle of Spanish vino!


Jim said...


Tom isn't unaware of Schlatter's view on 2 Peter. . . that fact was bantered around quite a bit while I was a student at SBTS. Various comments were made about how some people let Schlatter "count" as a critical scholar only because he denied Petrine authorship of 2 Peter.


Naomi said...

I wasn't trying to imply that Tom was unaware of Schlatter's view. I just thought it strange that he should invoke Schlatter's fine essay against "atheistic presuppositions" as a rejoinder to those who deny Petrine authorship of 2 Peter.

Jim said...

Perhaps he would say that in denying Petrine authorship, Schlatter has been unfaithful to his own dictum.

That's what I would say. . . as I agree with Gordon Wenham's statement that "'pseudonymous' . . is a posh word for forgeries."