2 Peter and Pseudepigraphy

Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept the idea historical Peter was 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 deals with this issue in his popular book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility 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 “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 were rejected by the church because they were not authentic. If there was a possibility Peter was not authentic, it would have been treated the same as 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 very 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 the amanuensis was given a more free hand in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case the two letters are related. 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 in order to “sound like” Peter, I would include these details to give the letter the “ring of truth.” In fact, it is odd the is to Matthew when Peter was associated with Mark. The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This allusions sounds is too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than Galatians 2 might imply. Still, there 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 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 be less authoritative? Suppose 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 Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, a letter written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, most scholars are confident there was a “historical Clement” who wrote 1 Clement. If 1 Clement is authentic and 2 Peter is not, 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.

15 thoughts on “2 Peter and Pseudepigraphy

  1. Suppositions can never over come presuppositions of the Holy Scripture and Canon! We may not know and understand the history (both external and internal) of the Second Letter of Peter, but the internal itself says: “This now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you..” (2 Peter 3:1)

    Origen records the controversy (as Eusebius states, HE 6, 2, 58), but places the Epistle in his canon of Holy Scripture, and quotes from it some six different times, and sometimes naming St. Peter as the author. Bishop Firmilian, a contemporary of Origen, mentions in a letter to Cyprian, that St. Peter wrote as espistle against the heretics, which can only refer to 2 Peter. Also Athanasius quotes it twice. Clement of Alexandria, according to Euesbius, HE 6, 14, I, wrote a commentary on all seven Catholic Epistles, but this work has not come down to us.


  2. I would like to talk about whether or not a pseudepigraphic 2 Peter would make the book less authoritative. I think that in most people’s eyes it would cause most to question the book and probably dismiss it from any use for Bible studies or sermons. The post above states that Origen believed there was some controversy. Jobes also says, “It is true that the early church fathers record the doubts of others or their own about the authenticity of 2 Peter” (388). But I wonder does it even matter? In all honesty, there is a ton of evidence suggesting that it could have easily been a pseudepigraphal letter. I don’t really care who it was written by. I don’t think that 2 Peter introduces that much theology and has a lot of practical things that could be applied to make us all stronger Christians. In my opinion, some of the more theological stuff such as the Day of the Lord that 2 Peter does talk about, is consistent with what other New Testament writers have written. For example 2 Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…” Paul writes in 1Thessalonians 5:2 the same exact thing! I don’t know anything that sticks out as untrue or crazy from 2 Peter. Everything seems to match up so I don’t see what the problem is; even if Peter didn’t write it.

    • Well it did matter to the early Church, and the way they thought of and made Canon. My point, as I quoted, is as the text itself says..it is from “Simon (Simeon) Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” (1:1) And, “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you”. (3:1)

      We simply must over-come these statements and reality! And this in reality is the whole issue! And you yourself argue on internal evidence. If we move to allow pseudonymity, then we have a huge game changer, in my opinion. As Philip is asking with 1 Clement, etc. We can note that Roman Catholicism uses this idea easily, and makes the Church itself the basic authority, and thus well past the Apostolic age. But this was not the way the early church itself measured the Apostolic! As we can see here more with the Eastern Church Fathers. But, this is mostly an issue with the Church Epistles or Letters, than the Gospels. Though the Gospel of John certainly does appear to be from the Apostle John himself, (John 21: 23-24).

    • I am very intrigued by this whole “pseudonymous” idea. This historical and literal concept was not even introduced to me (as far as application against biblical books) until recently, so the fact that people question whether or not 2 Peter was even written by the apostle Peter, simply blows my Christian worldview away. I believe that Greg makes a great point on the Theological side of 2 Peter and it matching the content and statements of other New Testament books; however Jobes made a comment that sparked my curiosity. “Even the most conservative doctrine of Scripture does not allow us to prejudge whom the Holy Spirit may or may not have inspired to write, so the evidence for pseudonymous authorship needs to be seriously considered (Jobes, Locations 8877-8878).” We can certainly always quote from scripture that “all scripture is God breathed” (2Ti 3:16), but does this issue of 2 Peter being pseudonymous raise further questions? Jobes states that the early church accepted this book as authoritative and so I believe that should also bring some closure to the issue. If anyone would have found “red flags” in the letters it would have been by people living in the context of the authorship date. This may just be one problem that will never be fully understood in our lifetime!

  3. Usually we can find non-canonical books mixed in on Biblegateway, but I could not find 1 Clement in the list of Books. So if it didn’t get into that list there must not be much respect for this book. I found it interesting that there was both a Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter that were analyzed to see if they were canonical books. After taking a church history class it was encouraging to know just how these books were sifted through.

  4. 2 Peter being pseudepigrapical does not change the importance or need for the letter. The letter being written as one of Peter’s helped it to flourish in a roman society when it needed to be. God has a crazy way of making all things work together. Just as God made all of the scriptures pseudepigraphical or not God Breathed. This scripture is useful for teaching and rebuking. That is why it is still relevant to Christians now. God is timeless and the way He makes things work are unknown to us, but we can learn and grow from them at the end of the day. So whether it was Peter or Clement does not matter. What does matter is that we accept this letter as God’s truth to His people, and grow from what we read. At least grow from the parts that apply to us.

  5. Pseudepigraphal or not the book of 2 Peter is God’s word and is inspired. Karen Jobes, in the textbook, “Letters to the Church,” explains that there was a reason for pseudipgraphy. She says, “…writing in the name of an apostle who was known to be deceased provided continuity between contemporary church leadership and apostolic orthodoxy” (Jobes, 2011, pg. 361). Church leaders would write in an adopted name of an apostle that they shared the same beliefs with. “Pseudonymity is motivated by the assumption of Spirit-inspired interpretation given to an authorized group of teachers to indicate continuity between an apostolic source and its later interpreters” (Jobes, 2011, pg. 361). For this purpose, Clement may not have been the inspired word of God.
    -McKenzie McCord-

  6. This blog post clearly defines the New Testament book of 2 Peter as an excellent example of the concept of pseudepigraphy and a possible pseudepigraphical text. Throughout this semester, we have dove into numerous talks of pseudepigraphy and various pseudepigraphical texts. To some people, this may not seem important. Jobes (2011) claims that a pseudepigrapha represents a strong and vast collection of writings where various authors write in the name of a faithful hero of the time (p. 455). It is incredibly important to understand who is the true and genuine author of a specific Biblical text. This is important because understanding who is the author of a specific text allows for one to understand writing traits, tone, style, etc. to gain an even greater understanding and interpretation of the text. For instance, Paul is a well-known and established writer in the New Testament. Though some people disagree on Paul being the author of some literature in the New Testament that is considered Pauline literature, it is typically acknowledged that Paul is the writer of various New Testament texts. Because of this, we as readers and students of the Bible are able to connect various texts of the same author to each other to pick out specific writing traits that will help us understand and interpret the text that we are studying. This is why the discussions of who wrote a specific text are very important and should not be ignored whatsoever.

    According to the blog post, J. N. D. Kelley said in 1969 “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” One of the reasons that 2 Peter is considered pseudonymous is the fact that 1 Peter and 2 Peter do not share near as many similarities between writing styles, vocabularies, syntaxes, etc. as they do differences (Jobes, 2011, p. 357). This raises the question for me: is there a chance that 1 Peter is pseudonymous and 2 Peter was written by Peter? I do not know the definitive answer to this question, but it is something that could be brought into question. Another important idea and concept to note about the possible pseudonymity of 2 Peter is the fact that pseudonymity then the date of the book in which it was written is much more difficult to track and trace (Jobes, 2011, p. 355). Just like the author of the book is important when it comes to interpreting a Biblical text, the date of the text can offer insights and important information that can lead to a deeper and better interpretation of the text.

    To answer the final question of the initial blog post, I do believe that 2 Peter being pseudographic would make the book less authoritative. I believe the content of the book is strong and is in line with Christian theology and thinking, but Peter being the writer of 2 Peter is a big factor and boost in connection to the authority of the book and why it is placed in the canon. Peter was a disciple of Jesus Christ. He had real relationships and real experiences with Jesus Christ. This status of Paul is a clear indicator of his authority, especially for being in the New Testament canon.

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). The Letters to the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

  7. Authority of the Scriptures is not something to be taken lightly. 2 Peter has been a book in question for a very long time (and for good reason). One thing that I cannot question, however, is the sovereignty of God and his work through the Scriptures. Everything happens by the Lord (Proverbs 16:33) and he created everything and holds it together (Colossians 1:16-17). 2 Peter, while it contains many passages that are difficult to wrestle within this day and age, is considered canonical and has been placed in the Bible for a reason that has been allowed by God. If Peter was the author or not it makes no difference now because of the fact that it has been included. If someone found out somehow that 2 Peter was pseudepigraphic it would not shake my faith.
    Also, what is the point of the argument between 2 Peter and 1 Clement? One was rendered canonical because of its authorship? If the argument is between which one has more authority of authorship but both say similar, if not the same things, or at least portray the same principles it does not matter which one “made the cut.” Ultimately God is sovereign and whether 2 Peter is pseudepigraphic or not my faith will not be shaken. Its teachings may be difficult sometimes and it has a decent amount of points against its authorship but it is in the Bible for a reason and must be considered Scripture.

  8. When it comes to whether a pseudepigraphal book should be allowed in the canon, I think that the most important thing is the content of the letter, rather than the author. As long as it doesn’t contradict the rest of the Bible, and if it helps Christians live a life that is glorifying to God, I see no problem in allowing it in the canon. For example, 2 Peter 1:5-7 says, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” Regardless of whether this was actually written by Peter or not, this is great advice for all Christians and it seems to match what Jesus says in Mark 12:30-31, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

    Also, as Jobes says, it’s possible that “authoritative Petrine tradition is presented but not the true identity of the actual author of the letter” (p. 361). Even if Peter was not the author of this book, it is possible that a group of teachers who followed his tradition wrote it, in which case it would be very similar to Peter’s actual ideas. Again, I think that this should not prohibit the book from being in the canon because it is Peter’s ideas that are being presented.

    As to 1 Clement, I am not sure. I would be curious to see if all of the teachings within the book are consistent with those of Jesus and the rest of the Bible, like 2 Peter.

  9. if 2 peter was pseudepigraphal, does that change what was said in the letter? if the letter still has a solid point on how to live like Christ and how to better our walk with Him, does it change if someone else wrote it? when we look at the books during the inter-testimental period, some of those books were using pseudonyms. like the letters from Enoch, they weren’t really written by Enoch, but they are considered as a valuable source in the Jewish literature. if we do know who wrote 2 peter, will it change the authenticity of the letter? if so, will the Bible be a book less or kept in the Bible and still making it cannon? either way, God helped peter, or the person using the name peter, to allow the writer to be filled with the Holy Spirit and help him to be a guide to tell the writer’s audience what they needed to hear.

  10. Personally, I don’t see a problem with 2 Peter being pseudepigraphal. That said, I think if Peter were really the author of 2 Peter that would add a certain sense of credibility to the book. Then again, perhaps that is just my modern perception of credibility affecting my thinking. Regardless of who the writer was, the words of 2 Peter are at their core the inspired words of God. This is my belief not only for 2 Peter but for all books of the Bible. It all comes down to faith. Do you believe that the Bible is from God, or from man?

  11. One problem that might be noted regarding the pseudonymity of biblical books is this: if the author was another credible source (perhaps a prominent church leader of the time who was associated with the named author, as Ben Witherington suggests (366)), then there seems to be little need for them to write under another name. If they are considered credible church leaders, why not write under their own name, as Clement did? It seems like the use of another’s name would only be used to bolster the work of someone deemed not credible. However, Jobes notes that pseudonymity was feature of some genres in the first century (though forgery was never allowed), and was often used in a way that would not contradict scriptural inspiration (362). Sometimes an amanuensis was used, which affects the style and word choice, among other things (363). Sometimes church leaders would write under the name of an apostle who shared their own views (361). Other times a student would write down things said by their teacher, writing under the teacher’s name so as to not commit plagiarism (363). Thus, there are good reasons to think that a pseudonymous work can still be inspired scripture written without deceitful intentions.

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