Date: 60-65 AD
The second epistle of Peter is widely regarded as not only inauthentic, but one of the latest books in the New Testament, with a date of composition of around 100-150.
Dependence upon Jude
The connections between Jude and 2 Peter can be clearly seen. 2 Pet. 1:5 with Jude 1:3, 1:12 with 1:5, 3:2-3 with 1:17-18, 3:14 with 1:24, 3:15 with 1:11, 3:18 with 1:25. The dependence has rightfully been judged to be that of 2 Peter using Jude, not the other way around. But this dependence cannot be said to be one of lifting material from the epistle of Jude. Neither did the author of 2 Peter simply add to the parallels he has in Jude; the connection is that of similarly themed expressions, which are scattered in a different order than they are in Jude. This suggests that the author had a personal theme in mind, one which was not artificially created out of Jude's parallels. This relationship is exactly what we see in 2 Thessalonian's relationship with 1 Thessalonians (for those scholars who accepted the genuineness of 2 Thess.), and Ephesians with Colossians: the dependency is not literary, but seems much more like the product of a man who had recently written about the same topic to the same audience. This is especially intriguing if we attribute 2 Peter 3:1 to refer not to 1 Peter but to Jude. After all, there is not a hint of the major theme of persecution in 1 Peter to be found in 2 Peter, and nothing of the controversies of 2 Peter in 1 Peter, which would be rather odd (but not impossible) if 2 Peter 3:1 refers to 1 Peter. But if we take into account the similarities between Jude and 2 Peter as well as the curious note in Jude 1:3 betraying urgency (perhaps the reason as to its shortness), it would be much more fitting.
If Jude is the earlier epistle referred to in 2 Peter 3:1, then this solves not only the problem of the parallels, but also it explains why some of them seem more natural in Jude. In 2 Peter, the situation is reiterated, but it would be odd for the author to state exactly what he had written to them in his previous letter. This would also explain the removal of all of the quotations found in Jude. Proof of this is that although Jude 1:9a comes from the apocryphal text The Assumption of Moses, the statement to the devil, "the Lord rebuke you!" comes from Zechariah 3:2, which 2 Peter certainly would have quoted if his intention was to remove apocryphal texts. Furthermore, 2 Peter is certainly not opposed to apocryphal texts as is evident from 2 Pet. 2:22b, which cites The Story of Ahiqar. Overall, the dependence upon Jude can be explained in light of the authenticity of 2 Peter.
The language of 2 Peter is in Greek that is too good for a Galilean fisherman. The fact that Greek was fairly widespread in Judea, especially in Galilee which for that cross-cultural demographic was called 'Galilee of the nations' would not explain for Peter to have such a good grasp of Greek. As Raymond Brown notes,
The response that people in business in Galilee, especially on a trade route such as that around Capernaum, learned Greek is irrelevant. They may have picked up enough Greek for commerce but scarcely the ability to write literary Greek.
But the Greek of 2 Peter is nowhere near as good as that of Hebrews or Luke, and it looks as if it is the product of someone who learned it from books. That Peter could and probably would learn Greek by the time 2 Peter could at earliest have been composed (60-65) is evident enough: he is one of the main Apostles in Jerusalem, one of "the pillars" (Galatians 2:9), who despite being an Apostle to the Jews (Gal. 2:7), travels frequently to places of predominantly Gentile Greek Christians (Gal. 2:11 - Antioch, 1 Cor. 1:12 - Corinth, and by tradition finally Rome as well [60's, cf. 1 Peter 1:1, 1 Clement 5]). The Jerusalem Church certainly had numerous Greek Christians in its first decade as well. It is therefore probably best to relegate the argument of language to the rear, and only mention it if the rest of the evidence points toward pseudonymity.
But in this case the question is not only of that of the Greek, but numerous Hellenistic phrases, devices, and connections employed by the author:
The conceptual world and rhetorical language of II Peter are too strongly influenced by Hellenism to be attributed to Peter, or to a helper or pupil who wrote the Epistle under his command, even some time after the apostle's death...To this Hellenistic influence we owe concepts like arete of God (1:3); "virtue" in addition to "faith" (1:5); "knowledge" (1:2, 3, 6, 8; 2:20; 3:18); "you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature" (Theias koinonoi phuseos 1:4); the term epoptai from the language of the mysteries (1:16); the juxtaposition of a quotation from the canonical book of Proverbs (26:11) and a familiar quotation from Hellenistic tradition (2:22), etc.
We can start first by pointing out that 2:22 is not from a Hellenistic tradition. Although the comparison of the dog and swine as lowly animals representing sub-human behavior was common to the Greeks, such as Horace, who says that, if Ulysses had drank from Circe's cup he would have become "a dirty dog or a pig that loves the mud." But clearly Greeks were not the only ones who shared that conception, seeing that 2 Peter quotes Proverbs and Ahikar, not anything exclusively Hellenistic. That dogs eat their vomit from time to time is well known, and wouldn't have been any mystery. Plus, the parallel in Ahikar makes much more sense than anything that can be seen in Horace, because the context in Ahikar says that the sow was washed and it saw the mud and went straight back to it, the exact situation 2 Peter wants to describe.
"Virtue" (arete) is found in Paul (Phil. 4:8), and its context is the same as "virtue in addition to faith" there. Knowledge is found countless times in Paul, and 1:4 is nothing foreign to Jewish thought, except for the expression "partakers of the divine nature". If we are pressed to see the influence of Hellenism in that expression, as well as the use of "epoptai" for eyewitnesses in 1:16, is it really impossible to attribute this to Peter who used these expressions for his own concepts that he couldn't term? In any case, the usage of the semitic Ahikar, as well as the fact that aside from the address (1:1-2) it is not a letter at all, but exhortations, the author is Semitic as opposed to Hellenistic.
Aside from these, Perrin sees other signs of Greek influence:
The list of virtues in verses 5 and 6 [1:5-6] is a Christianization of the kind of lists of virtues popular in the Hellenistic world. Verse 11 represents a Hellenizing of much earlier Christian language about "entering the Kingdom of God."
But unless Perrin sees goodness, knowledge (in the sense of being wise and not comitting sins), perseverence, self-control and godliness as exclusively Hellenistic there is nothing odd about 2 Peter 1:5-6. The rhetorical device used there is already found in Paul (Galatians 5:19-21,22-23). There is nothing too Hellenistic about 2 Peter 1:11 that could not have been written by Peter.
To sum it up, Robinson writes:
The prevailing atmosphere, as in Jude, is still that of the Pastoral Epistles, reflecting the same usage of pistis [faith] and soter [Savior] and eusebia [orthodoxy], with particular stress on true insight and knowledge (epignosis and gnosis) (1.2f., 5f., 8; 2.20; 3.18), which characterizes not only the Pastorals (I Tim. 2.4; 6.20; II Tim. 2.25; 3.7; Titus 1.1) but Colossians (1.9 f.; 2.2f.; 3.10) and Ephesians (1.17; 3.19; 4.13)...The epistle's most distinctive phrase in this regard is 'partakers of the divine nature' (Theia koinonoi phuseos) in 1.4, but it has been shown that this, like the whole so-called 'Asian' style in which II Peter is written, in no way lies outside the range of first-century Hellenistic Judaism.
And Robinson goes on to cite some examples such as Philo, Josephus, and the Decree of Stratonicea in Caria to the honor of Zeus and Hecate, which he notes as dated to A.D. 22. Of course one could always say that these authors formally learned literary Greek as opposed to a Galilean fisherman, but that is exactly the point: just like Josephus who was Hellenized in his writing due to his stay in Rome, in the same way Peter learned Greek and used some of the terms to express himself, and there are very few such Hellenistic terms and expressions.
If one wants to see early catholicism in the stress of "pistis", "soter" etc., similarly to the Pastorals, these are shifts of emphases that are found in Paul, and there is no reason why such usage could not have been made by Peter.
The heretics seem to be deniers of the Second Coming, who, just like the 2nd century Gnostics, gave it their own meaning, as well as libertinism. But these are not exclusively 2nd century characteristics. It's true that the Gnostics had elaborate stories, but to accuse 2 Peter of combatting such due to the statement in 1:16 is completely faulty. In 1:16 the author simply means that the faith in Christ is based on a true event, which was not invented by anyone (cf. Tacitus who in 115 called it a superstition), but was witnessed by people, and the author himself. This is exactly what we see in Paul's apologetic in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
The deniers of the parousia are also not exclusive to the 2nd century. The problem of denying the parousia in 1 Clement 23 is already older than the author's writing (95 AD), and in any case 1 Clement refers to the prophecy as if it has been written, whereas 2 Peter and Jude only refer to the living tradition of Christian prophecy, a sign of an earlier time of writing. The libertinism would have arisen as soon as anyone decided to misinterpret Paul's letters. This likely would not have happened on a major scale before 60, seeing how Paul writing to the Romans in 57 only loosely guards against such a misinterpretation ("doers of the law, not hearers" 2:13, but not much else; in fact the argument spirals toward a justification that the law is/was not unnecessary/bad), but is certainly not impossible to have happened by the mid 60's, the presumed time Peter is in from the internal evidence of 2 Peter (regardless of whether one ascribes it as a forgery or not). Abuse of angelic/spiritual powers was not exactly a sign of 2nd century Gnostics, who had angels. It simply may refer to the opponents' lack of respect to such a degree that they do things that they don't understand, this being one example. In any case, it's only a supporting example, just like in Jude, since no one can really build a central thesis around it, and just shows that the author does not have a lot of dirt on the opponents; certainly not a sign of the 2nd century.
On the other hand, the opponents' heretical beliefs are not enumerated (cf. 1 John 4:2-3, if one believes that 1:16 refers to such, but would the author of 2 Peter really only enumerate that 2nd century Gnostic belief?), which means that their only faults were that of sinful behavior, and the doctrinal error of denying the parousia, certainly nothing impossible for Peter's time, as seen from above. The fact that the author uncomfortably refers to these as former Christians (2 Peter 2) also speaks against 2nd century Gnosticism (cf. 1 John 2:19). The "proto-Gnosticism" seen in Colossians, and the "wisdom" in 1 Corinthians can of course imply that something of the sort of opponents found in 2 Peter could have existed in the apostle's lifetime (and as we've shown above, the situation is not really developed at all). To summarize, we can quote Robinson:
In this again the persons attacked in II Peter as in Jude stand nearer to the libertines of Corinth: they promise freedom but the result is sensual slavery (2.19f.)...The 'artfully spun tales' (mythoi) abjured in 1.16 recall the 'myths' attacked in I Tim. 1.4; 4.7; II Tim. 4.4; and Titus 1.14, which are linked with an interest in genealogies and angelology, and in the last passage specifically called 'Jewish'. As in Jude, we are in the sphere of a gnosticizing Judaism, countered by warning examples from Israel's history (2.1-16). We are not dealing with the developed systems of second-century Christian heresies. Summing up the teaching common to both epistles, Zahn concluded:
Furthermore, if 2 Peter is combatting Gnostics of the second century, it is unexplainable that in 2 Peter 1:4 we see terminology that the Gnostic opponents would have been extremely fond of. As Perrin says,
While there were numerous parties and sects representing libertinistic theories and practices in the second and third centuries, there is none that so closely resembles the seducers described in II Peter and Jude as the libertinistic movement with which we become acquainted in I Corinthians, and as the Nicolaitans of whom we learn hints in Revelation.
It is only a short step from this to the Gnosticism of the false teachers
Overall, the thesis cannot be accepted.
The "collection" of Pauline letters in 2 Peter 3:16
The reference to Pauline letters in 2 Peter 3:16, which places them alongside Scripture, has been consistently pointed to as an indicator that the epistle was not only not written by Peter, but clearly decades after his death when such a Pauline collection was made and became widespread. But already 1 Clement 34.8 cites 1 Corinthians 2:9 as Scripture, and 1 Clement clearly utilizes "letters of Paul" (Colossians, 1 Corinthians, Romans among others). 2 Thessalonians clearly refers to misinterpretations of 1 Thessalonians, and it is certainly not impossible that the libertinism that these false teachers advocate was either in-part originally due to a misunderstanding of Paul, or is helped spread through such amongst the church. The practice of reading Paul's letters throughout the churches was clearly there by the 70's (Col. 4:16), and probably earlier (since Colossians, not written later than 75, clearly expects this as normal), and so this is hardly any argument for a late date.
Peter as author
Pseudonymity in II Peter (similarly as in the Pastorals) is consistently carried out by means of strong emphasis upon Petrine composition (see above, p. 302). The author, however, derives his authority not only from the fiction of a "testament of Peter," but also from the reference to I Peter in 3;1 f., whereby II Peter wants to "remind" (1:12, 15; 3:1 f.) its reader only of that which has been said in I Peter which corresponds to the interpretation which the author of II Peter gives to I Peter. This appeal to the apostolic authority of Peter and his Epistle is, however, clearly occasioned by the sharpening of the Gnostic heresy opposed in Jude through consistent denial of the parousia by the false teachers. Hence the apostle becomes "the guarantor of the tradition" (1:12 f.), and the parousia, in connection with abandonment of the imminent expectation (3:8), is stripped of its Christological character and aligned with an anthropologically oriented doctrine of rewards (Käsemann). The consistent character of this pseudonymity betrays the late origin of II Peter.
But what consistent character? 2 Peter constantly refers to his audience as brothers and friends, which is odd if a forgerer was stressing Petrine authority, which is not stressed at all. The reasons given by Kümmel on p.302, are that of: 1. The address, which is completely understandable of Peter is actually the author, 2. The "testament of Peter" which is the eyewitness account of the transfiguration (1:16-18), 3. reference to "1 Peter" in 2 Peter 3:1, and 4. placement of the author on equal authority with Paul in 3:15-16. But in 3:15-16 the author is merely correcting an error that has spread from misreading/misuse of Paul's letters. If 2 Peter 3:1 referred to 1 Peter, one has a very hard time understanding why it has nothing to do with its themes, especially if as Kümmel maintains, 2 Peter wants to remind its reader of 1 Peter, 'which corresponds to the interpretation which the author of II Peter gives to I Peter'. There is no discernible sharpening from Jude to 2 Peter as one would expect from 100 to the heated controversies of 125-150, the supposed date of composition of 2 Peter. The parousia in 2 Peter has not lost any Christological value having replaced it with anything else any more than 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 or 1 Corinthians 15:51 has; it's simply an explanation the author gives. As far as the account of the transfiguration is concerned, it's clearly not dependent upon the Gospels, since for one, it attributes a saying found in at the baptism of Jesus to the Transfiguration, certainly a sign of a date closer to the fluid narratives and free sayings as found in Paul (1 Cor. 10-11) and 1 Clement, i.e. 50-100.
Lack of attestation
The first clear mention doesn't come until Origen in the early 3rd century, but he considers it disputed. Even Eusebius had doubts about it. However, just like in the case of Jude, for whatever reason this epistle was clearly not accepted, and thus not quoted by the early Church authors (e.g. Polycarp, etc). If it was not very widespread and accepted, it would be understandable why its warnings against the heretics did not make it popular. We can only cite the example of 3 John's external attestation:
We first find an acquaintance with II III John in Clement of Alexandria, who, according to Eus., EH VI, 14, 1, commented upon all the Catholic epistles. But Irenaeus quoted only II John, and the Muratorian canon speaks only of two Johannine epistles which were accepted in the Catholic Church. Since, according to the proof by T. W. Manson (JThSt 48, 1947, 32 f.), III John was independently translated into Latin, III John obviously came into the canon in the West later than II John.
Not to mention that the several Gnostic-like terms and ideas could easily have combined with the lack of initial attestation (that is, the epistle being relatively unknown until c.100 or so, for example; maybe 150?) to alienate the document. In any case, the warnings do not go against any advanced Gnostic systems, but merely libertinism and denying the parousia. It would therefore not make it impossible for it to have been written by Peter in the early 60's.
Other arguments against authenticity
1. Kümmel sees an odd catholicizing device in 2 Peter:
In view of this difficulty in understanding the "scriptures" and of the ambiguity of the "scriptures," II Peter advocates the thesis that "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation," because men moved by the Holy Spirit have spoken (1:20 f.). Since not every Christian has the Spirit, exposition of the Scriptures is reserved to the ecclesiastical teaching office (Käsemann, 152 f.; Marxsen, 16 f.; Schelkle, ad loc.). With this attitude we find ourselves doubtless far beyond the time of Peter and in "primitive catholicism" ["Frühkatholizismus"].
But 2 Peter 1:20-21 has nothing of this sort. 2 Peter 3:15-16 merely talks about those who have misinterpreted Paul's doctrine of salvation by faith alone, clearly indicating that members of the church were reading and understanding the letters by themselves, as he would have certainly cited their disobedience to their presbyters. In 1:20-21 the author talks about prophecies and promises being made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and not having been imagined by men's minds, but the Word of God. There is no principle such as Kümmel imagines at work.
2. The second century had a popular belief that the Second Coming would occur when the Earth became 6000 years old as per the 6 days of Creation (Justin Martyr) and interpreting Psalm 90:4 to support that one day was a thousand years, until the Day of Judgment. 2 Peter 3:8 refers to a thousand years being like a day. But 2 Peter 3:8 refers to Psalm 90:4, and seeing how some important Christian themes and problems such as this remained in the same form one way or another for a century or so, this isn't really much of an argument against authenticity. For example, 1 Clement 23:3-4 quotes a statement by skeptics of the Second Coming (hence another problem in connection with the parousia), and this same argument is encountered in 2 Clement, who has the same quote as 1 Clement. The two letters were written more than 50-60 years apart (1 Clem. - 95, 2 Clem. - 150-160). Certainly then, the justification for a delayed parousia would seem to attractively be solved by such a justification for many years, especially when it can be referenced to Scripture (Psalm 90:4).
3. The lack of an address seems to make this a forgery. But if just like in 1 Peter it was a general epistle for a large area that had been infected with the problems, this is not really a problem; the person sent would have been instructed or would have known where to send the letter to.
4. The epistle has Peter expecting his death soon. But this doesn't reflect a knowledge of John 21, since if anything the two would have the tradition of Peter's martyrdom, which was very widespread in common, not to mention there's nothing to connect it to John 21 aside from the fact that Peter is to be martyred in both. It's speculation that the author has Peter referring to Jesus having narrated Peter's death during the 40 days of appearances as described in John 21, as opposed to a vision or prophecy he received through revelation.
5. The references to "your apostles" in 3:2 seems to betray an author looking back to the apostles. But here, as in Jude, the question is not that of the Twelve, but the apostles of the Christian Church, in the sense that they are the apostles of the church to which Peter is writing. Indeed the difficulty is not removed if we suppose a forgerer wrote it, who wanted to stress Petrine authority, and especially seeing the authoritative tone of 3:1-2.
I don't think Robinson's solution that the designation of "your apostles" means the missionaries who founded the church just like when Paul tells the Corinthians that he is their apostle (1 Cor. 9:2) or the reference to Peter and Paul as the apostles of the Roman church (1 Clement 44:1) because the citation of the prophecy is general and applies for all Christendom, and so was spoken by "the apostles" in general in all likelihood ("the apostles" yet still Peter puts himself in their shoes to speak of "your apostles").
Other arguments for authenticity
1. No one has probably left unnoticed the extremely authentic address the epistle has (1:1). "Simeon Peter" is the Semitic form that forgerers would have never used (cf. Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, etc.). It was how Bar Cochbah signed his letters, and it is how Peter is referred to by James (Acts 15:14).
2. Already it has been noticed that the epistle oddly speaks as if Paul is still alive and an equal of the author (3:16, "our beloved brother Paul", yet compare the argument against Ephesians 3:5 based on refering to "our holy apostles"). The letter even addresses its audience as brothers (1:10) and friends (3:1,8,14,17), yet at the same time commands their attention and obedience (1:15), and still in other places it seems a blend of the two that would be not only fairly unimaginable to the author, but also somewhat impossible to imitate ("...To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours" - 1:1), which is extremely odd for an imitator in the 2nd century.
3. The Ethiopian Apocalypse of Peter is clearly dependent upon 2 Peter, since it refers to "the mountain of the Transfiguration" as "the holy mountain", whereas the Greek Apocalypse does not, but it's not certain when the Ethiopian was written. But most of all, the saying in 2 Pet. 1:18, found at Jesus' baptism in the Gospels (Mark 1:11, Matthew 3:17, Luke 3:22). If we accept that Matthew and Luke used Mark, this would point to a date before 75/80 when the Gospel of Mark would have been fairly widespread.
4. Exactly why 2 Peter in no way refers to the problems of 1 Peter, if 2 Peter 3:1-2 refers to that letter has to be one of the biggest mysteries of successful forgery if 2 Peter does not come from Peter. It's made even more incredible by the fact that 1 Peter was regarded as authentic since Papias (120 AD), and the author of 2 Peter would have certainly wanted a connection to be made, but instead he went and overtook Jude! This is of course entirely understandable if Peter was genuinely writing to a different congregation that had entirely different problems than 1 Peter.
5. The reference to "our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him" echoes a time closer to 1 Corinthians 7:10,25 (55 AD) than 1 Clement 34:8 which calls 1 Corinthians 2:9 Scripture (written c.96).
- I can't accept J.A.T. Robinson's argument that the citation of Psalm 90:4 in 2 Peter 3:8 argues for an early date, just because it doesn't give the popular mid-2nd century belief that the Second Coming would appear when the Earth reached 6000 years, for the 6 days of Creation (as in Justin Martyr), since it could have been omitted easily. At the most it would imply a date before c.120.
In conclusion, the evidence seems to point toward Peter as the author. Seeing how the problem of misinterpreting Paul's doctrine of salvation by faith and not works is only a possibility in James, which was written no earlier than 57 (but no later than 62 if we accept the author as James), the date of composition of 2 Peter, if authentic, would be around 60-65, with the later years as more probable when a large spreading of libertinism had occured.
- Brown, Raymond, An Introduction to the New Testament, p.718, n.2
- Kümmel, W.G. Introduction to the New Testament, pp.303-304
- Epp. i. 2. 26
- Corpus Inscriptionum Graecorum II, 2715
- Robinson, J.A.T., Redating the New Testament, p.175
- Zahn, Theodor, Introduction to the New Testament II, p.283
- Perrin, Norman, New Testament Introduction, p.263
- Kümmel, Op.cit., p.304
- Kümmel, ibid., p.316
- Robinson, Op.cit.