New TestamentHow 2 Peter Made It into the Bible The story of how the most doubted book in the New Testament was recognized as canonical Darian R. LockettPainting of St. Peter by Pompeo Girolamo BatoniOctober 13, 2021 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint The issue of 2 Peter’s inclusion into the New Testament canon is of particular interest. More than any other New Testament text, 2 Peter’s authorship and authenticity have been questioned. This is true not only in the modern period (modern critical scholarship almost uniformly deems 2 Peter as written under a false name or pseudonymous), but concerns over the authorship and thus authenticity of 2 Peter reach back to the early church as well. More than any other New Testament text, 2 Peter’s authorship and authenticity have been questioned. The central issues are a lack of citation by early church fathers and the stylistic and literary difference between 1 Peter and 2 Peter combined with the significant literary similarities between 2 Peter and Jude—such that some argue 2 Peter should actually be called 2 Jude! Authorship Problems for 2 Peter Vocabulary and Style Though the authorship of 2 Peter has been disputed from the earliest years of the church, it is only since the beginning of the twentieth century that the scholarly consensus has deemed the letter pseudepigraphal. Both ancient and modern interpreters have noted the sharp differences between 1 Peter and 2 Peter in style and vocabulary. For many, the two letters contain such discrepancies in vocabulary and style that they cannot share the same author. For example, with respect to vocabulary, 2 Peter contains fifty-seven words occurring only once in the New Testament (known as hapax legomena), the largest percentage of any writing in the New Testament. Only twenty-five of these occur in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This means that 2 Peter uses many words (thirty-two) that do not appear in any other biblical text. Because 1 Peter does not have near the number of nonbiblical terms, many have drawn the conclusion that this is evidence that 2 Peter could not have been written by the same author as 1 Peter. The two letters are also different with respect to style. Unlike 1 Peter, the Greek of 2 Peter is more complicated, repetitive, and somewhat grandiose. Interpreters as early as Jerome noted the stylistic differences: “He [Peter] wrote two epistles, which are called Catholic, the second of which, on account of its difference from the first in style, is considered by many not to be by him” (Lives of Illustrious Men 1). Use of the Old Testament Beyond vocabulary and style, perhaps more significantly the two letters differ in their use of the Old Testament. First Peter is heavily dependent on the Old Testament, either citing or alluding to the Old Testament some forty-six times. Second Peter, on the other hand, seems to hardly use the Old Testament at all, perhaps containing as few as five references.1 Many argue that 2 Peter alludes to the Old Testament only five times: Is 52:5 in 2 Pet 2:2; Prov 26:11 in 2 Pet 2:22; Ps 90:43 in 2 Pet 3:8; Is 34:4 in 2 Pet 3:12; and Is 65:17 in 2 Pet 3:13. See Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, WBC (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 138. However, references to the Old Testament might not be as sparse as some note. This difference might be more significant than style or vocabulary because it could indicate different conclusions regarding the authority and theological place of the Old Testament. However, it is possible that scholars have overemphasized 2 Peter’s lack of references to the Old Testament on account of how they track such references. A Traditional Explanation A traditional argument accounting for many of these differences, which finds its roots in the early church, is Jerome’s argument that the one author (Peter) used two different secretaries. Yet, in order to account for the differences between the letters, one would have to assume that rather than merely taking down dictation, the secretary would be given a degree of freedom to compose all or part of the letter. In other words, one, or both, of the letters could have been composed by a secretary, with Peter approving the end product at some point in the process (see Cicero, Letter to Atticus 11.5, for an ancient example). Related The New Testament Use of Jewish Pseudepigrapha Evidence for Canonicity 2 Peter’s Own Testimony The internal evidence of the letter suggests Petrine authorship. The letter opens by naming its author as “Simeon Peter” (Symeōn Petros, 2 Pet 1:1) which uses the Aramaic form of Simon. This could indicate a Palestinian setting for the letter (James calls Peter “Simeon” in another Palestinian setting, Acts 15:14) and thus may support the authenticity of Petrine authorship. It might be assumed that a forger would either copy more closely the opening to 1 Peter or use the more common spelling of Simon. Furthermore, the author claims to be an eyewitness of the transfiguration (2 Pet 1:16–18) and refers to Paul as a “dear brother” (3:15). The Church Fathers’ Testimony External evidence, though thinner than for other New Testament letters, offers a mixed portrait of the letter. Second Peter is not included in the Muratorian Fragment which is often seen as an early witness to the New Testament canon. One should note, however, that the Fragment is incomplete and also omits 1 Peter among other texts and thus is not definitive. There are strong similarities between 2 Peter and 1–2 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas (early writings of the apostolic fathers). These similarities could be understood to indicate that the author of 2 Peter used these texts, or, quite the opposite, that these apostolic fathers use 2 Peter as their source. Definitively settling the direction of dependence is likely impossible, but for some this is an indication that 2 Peter was used early on by these early Christian writings. The first unambiguous citation of 2 Peter by name comes to us from Origen. The first unambiguous citation of 2 Peter by name comes to us from Origen (c. 182–251) who quotes the letter six times. Origen notes that some had doubts about the letter, saying, “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.25.11). But it seems that he still considered the letter on par with the authority of 1 Peter (Origen, Hom. In Josh. 7.1). Therefore, in Origen’s estimation the doubts of some which he registers were not serious enough in the end for him to question 2 Peter’s membership in the canon. How much earlier than Origen 2 Peter was known is hard to determine with confidence. Though it is disputed, some argue that the phrase “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one date” (2 Pet 3:8) is used in Irenaeus (c. 130–200) and that the passage in Irenaeus (Haer. 5.23.2) is closer to 2 Pet 3:8 than to Ps 90:4 (LXX). Also disputed is the claim recorded in Eusebius that Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215) cited 2 Pet 2:19 and wrote a commentary on the letter (in his Hypotyposeis) that is now lost (Hist. eccl. 6.14.1). Furthermore, Justin Martyr (c. 115–165) calls attention to both “false prophets” and “false teachers” in a single passage (Dialogue with Trypho 82.1) which is strikingly similar to 2 Pet 2:1. After the time of Origen, Eusebius (c. 265–339) also registers doubts regarding 2 Peter, noting that the letter was not quoted by the “ancient presbyters” (Hist. eccl. 3.3.1). Furthermore, he lists 2 Peter, along with James, 2–3 John, and Jude, among the “disputed books” (antilegomenoi) yet at the same time acknowledges that these books were “nevertheless … known to most” (Hist. eccl. 3.25.1–4). Church Fathers coming after Origen, including Jerome, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianus, and Augustine, all acknowledged the canonical status of 2 Peter. Testimony from Canon Lists Furthermore, in several canon lists, 2 Peter was uniformly named along with the seven Catholic Epistles (James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude). About fifty years after Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350) notes, “Receive . . . these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude” (Catechesis 4.36).2E. L. Gallagher and J. D. Meade, The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 115. In the Synod of Laodicea (363), each of the Catholic Epistles were listed by name and placed after the four Gospels and Acts and before the Pauline letters. Athanasius’s Easter Letter (367) lists the “Acts of the Apostles and seven letters, called Catholic . . . one by James, two by Peter, then three by John, and after these, one by Jude”(Festal Letters 39.5).3Gallagher and Meade, Biblical Canon, 123. Roughly thirteen years after Athanasius, Amphilochius (c. 380) registers some doubt as he notes: “Of the Catholic Epistles some say we must receive seven, but others say only three should be received—that of James, one, and one of Peter, and those of John, one. And some receive three [of John], and besides these two of Peter and that of Jude a seventh” (Iambi ad Seleucum).4See Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 314. Manuscript Evidence In addition to its mostly uniform inclusion in the canon lists of the fourth century and beyond, 2 Peter was found in several early New Testament manuscripts. P72 (the Bodmer papyrus) is a third or early fourth-century papyrus codex containing the oldest complete text of Jude and 1–2 Peter along with several other ancient Christian texts. The unusual collection of texts suggest that the manuscript was possibly for private use (rather than for reading in the church). The major majuscule codices of the fourth and fifth century combine Acts and the Catholic Epistles into what’s called the Praxapostolos and place it either before (Vaticanus, 4th c. and Alexandrinus 5th c.) or after (Sinaiticus 4th c.) the Pauline corpus. All three of these majuscules include 2 Peter in the Catholic Epistles. Precisely because of its added scrutiny, 2 Peter should be given every confidence as Scripture now. Reason for Confidence Despite the misgivings of some, by the fourth century, 2 Peter was consistently included in the New Testament canon alongside 1 Peter. Though it faced some of the most serious difficulties in its journey into the canon, one might argue that, precisely because of its added scrutiny by early believers, the fact that it was eventually accepted into the canon means it should be given every confidence as Scripture now. Darian R. Lockett Darian (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is professor of New Testament at Biola University. His publications include Letters from the Pillar Apostles, Understanding Biblical Theology, and most recently Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude as Canon. Darian also spoke at the Text & Canon Institute’s Sacred Words conference. View all posts Notes1 Many argue that 2 Peter alludes to the Old Testament only five times: Is 52:5 in 2 Pet 2:2; Prov 26:11 in 2 Pet 2:22; Ps 90:43 in 2 Pet 3:8; Is 34:4 in 2 Pet 3:12; and Is 65:17 in 2 Pet 3:13. See Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, WBC (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 138. However, references to the Old Testament might not be as sparse as some note. 2E. L. Gallagher and J. D. Meade, The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 115.3Gallagher and Meade, Biblical Canon, 123.4See Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 314.