Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept this historical Peter as the author of the book. As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, Bauckham), there has been little change in this consensus. Bart Erhman dealt with this issue in his popular level book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility that the traditional authors of many of the books in the New Testament are not likely the real authors.
In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said that “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11). Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.
Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter. Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter appeared and were rejected by the church because the were not authentic. If there was a possibility that Peter was not authentic, it should have been treated the same as these other spurious documents.
Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it? It is true that the second letter of Peter is quite a bit different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship. Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if that person was given a more free had in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case that the two letters are related. Frankly, statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.
There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.” In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed. Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31. And again, this evidence cuts both ways. Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter which “sounds like” Peter, I would include this sort of thing to give the letter the “ring” of truth. (In fact, it is odd that the words are the same as the gospels which Peter is not associated with, Mark.) The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This one sounds a bit too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than we might have guessed. Still, it is evidence for either side of the discussion.
Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view. As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out that the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers. The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.
Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter make it less authoritative? Suppose that someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to deal with important issues in the late first century. Does this make it less worthy of the canon? J. D. Charles (Faithful to the End, 129f) would say that it does indeed matter. If we now know for sure that Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, which would have been written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, we are confident that there was a historical Clement who write the letter, so it is at least authentic. Why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?
Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71.
Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.