1 Peter Authorship Debate
From the time of Irenaeus until modern times, Christians have regarded 1 Peter as an authentic epistle from the apostle. External and internal evidence support this view.
A number of arguments have been made against this belief. These include the assumption that there was a great deal of hostility between Paul and Peter, and the claim that the epistle deals with persecution that is too sophisticated for a Galilean fisherman.
Many scholars have argued that 1 Peter was written by someone other than the apostle Peter. This debate has often focused on linguistic, historical, and theological points of contention.
The linguistic point of dispute involves the use of sophisticated Greek vocabulary and rhetoric. It is claimed that first-century Galilean fishermen like Peter would not have been familiar with this level of Greek, which was influenced by the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Moreover, it is also alleged that the letter contains incongruities with Paul’s theology and a lack of references to Jesus’ teachings and ministry. Some scholars have argued that this evidence supports the view that the epistle is pseudonymous and was written later than AD 65.
However, scholars such as Achtemeier and Best argue that the evidence does not support this conclusion. In particular, the use of the Greek word for “thee” in 1 Peter 1:1 is very similar to the tense used in the Gospel of John and elsewhere in the New Testament.
Some scholars have argued that 1 Peter cannot be authentic because it contains no explicit references to Paul. They argue that it must be pseudonymous. However, such arguments are flawed. They rely on the assumption that only someone who knows Paul would have such references, and they fail to consider that a letter’s author could not have been expected to know everything that had happened in the church during his lifetime.
Other scholars have argued that the letter is authentic because it claims to be from Peter and addresses Jews in Rome suffering persecution. They note that this persecution is similar to the ostracism Christians faced in pagan society and is not state sponsored.
Finally, some scholars have argued that the language of the letter is too sophisticated to be from an uneducated Galilean fisherman. They point to the use of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the lack of semiticisms. They believe that the author of the letter could have been a well educated Greek, or that he had a scribe.
One major argument against Petrine authorship is that Peter used a scribe when writing his letter. Peter himself identifies the scribe as Silvanus when he states that the letter was delivered to them “by” Silvanus (5:12). Moreover, the author uses a fluent Greek style and various historical references that are not typical of a Galilean fisherman.
A further problem is that the letter contains many quotes and allusions to the Old Testament. These are usually based on the Greek Septuagint, rather than the Hebrew or Aramaic Targums that Peter would have been familiar with. This makes it difficult to reconcile with a Galilean fisherman who only knew Aramaic.
Nevertheless, the early church regarded 1 Peter as a genuine epistle of the apostle. In addition to Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria attributed it to Peter (Against Heresies 4.4.9), while Origen explicitly affirmed its apostolic authority (Ecclesiastical History 3.1.3). This external attestation is strong evidence that the book is authentic.
A number of arguments have been made against Peter’s authorship of 1 Peter. Some of these have to do with the writing style and vocabulary. The epistle uses sophisticated Greek that is beyond the ability of a Galilean fisherman. It also makes use of the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Another argument has to do with the lack of references to Jesus’ teachings and ministry. This is highly subjective and requires the interpretation of various passages.
Other criticisms have to do with the alleged hostility between Paul and Peter or the literary dependence of 1 Peter on the Pauline epistles. Both of these are largely unfounded. It is unlikely that there would have been any hostility between the apostles or that they would have been influenced by each other’s writings. Likewise, it is highly unlikely that the writer of 1 Peter was dependent on any other works. He may have been familiar with the Old Testament prophecies, but that is not the same as being dependent on them.