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).
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.