Pseudepigraphy and Jewish Christian Literature


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.