Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The authorship of Peter’s epistles

The epistle we call 1 Peter is written in some of the best Greek in the New Testament. The subsequent epistle, which we now call 2 Peter, is written in doggerel Greek. Luther famously described its quality as ‘execrable.’ But they are reputed to have come from the pen of the same man!
      The simplest explanation is that Peter’s grasp of Greek improved between writing 2 Peter and then 1 Peter i.e. they are usually printed in the wrong chronological order. In a similar vein, my prose is better now that, say, five years ago. But it is not at all clear whether 1 Peter or 2 Peter relates to events we can date, so this theory cannot be tested. It is nevertheless unlikely that an old man such as Peter would learn to improve his Greek to such an extent.
      Again, at the end of 1 Peter is often taken to mean that a certain Sylvanus was Peter’s aman­uensis (see 1 Pet 5:12). Nowhere in 2 Peter do we find such an ascription. This dis­crepancy led Jerome to suggest that Peter employed a different amanuensis for the two letters; we might add that perhaps only one letter was written by an amanuensis, with Peter himself writing the second epistle.
      And, thirdly, we might again conjecture that the first letter received subsequent polish­ing, perhaps after a significant length of time? We shall probably never know.
      But a recent commentary stated dogmatically that 2 Peter ‘could not’ have come from the real Peter as a consequence of differences between the two epistles’ prose, but went on to say it was 2 Peter which was ‘fake’ because of the language. Surely a semi-literate fisherman would produce poor prose; on a literary front, surely 1 Peter is more likely to be the imposter? After all, we would expect poor quality Greek from a Judean fisherman!
      We walk on thin ice when we suggest that prose alone is a realistic arbiter of genuine­ness, whatever it means.

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