2 Peter in Canonical Perspective

I’ve noticed that when I post on Paul there are usually lots of comments. There are usually a few comments when I post on something to do with Gospels. But posts on the Catholic letters seem to generate very few comments.

Any way, on the plane ride home I read David Trobisch’s The First Editionof the New Testament, and I came across this quote about the canonical function of 2 Peter.

When 2 Peter is read as an integrated part of the Canonical Edition of the Christian Bible, the apparent cross-references to the collection [of] units are quite astonishing. The Old Testament is quoted abundantly. Biblical prophecy is explicitly addressed, its relevance for the present time of readers id demonstrated, and it is related to a theology of divine inspiration formulated in a manner applied to other New Testament writers as well. The letter clearly refers to the canonical Gospel collection by pointing to John (Jn 21), Mark, and the synoptic account of the Transfiguration. The references to 1 Peter and Jude serve as links to the Praxapostolos. It presupposes that the readers have access to a comprehensive collection of Paul’s letters. In addition to these literary links, the treatment of Peter and Paul as equals is another trait 2 Peter shares with the editorial interest of the Canonical Edition. (David Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament, 95).

I doubt Trobisch’s main contention that there was a single archtype “edition” of the NT that became exemplary for later compilations of the NT writings. Most of the inner-canonical unities that he finds look like incidental post-compilation observations, rather than deliberate editorial creations by the formulators of the first New Testament collection.  That said, I think that Trobisch does show how 2 Peter gives us a virtual precis of the NT itself with interwoven OT themes, references to synoptic material, veneration of Paul’s letter collection, and incorporation of Jude. Interesting stuff.

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  • Now I feel obligated to comment!

    When I see all these connections to other pieces of NT literature it seems to me that it becomes much harder to affirm Petrine authorship (e.g. if Peter died in the 60’s, how would he have known Jn 21?!), which raises the question of the value of a pseudepigraphical work. Personally, I find canonized literature to be authoritative (in gist) for the church whether or not there is error (like the authorship), but some think that if Peter didn’t write it then it doesn’t have much use for us today.

    What are your thoughts? If this book is not from the Apostle Peter, but it has this important function in the formation of the canon, can we still use it in good conscience?

    • Anonymous

      I am suspect of arguments that make the dating of the NT documents a centerpiece. We simply don’t know when these documents were written. It is more than possible that John was written early. Dating assumptions are simply no basis for an argument in my view. If Peter didn’t write 2 Peter, that conclusion cannot be based on the dating of the NT documents.

  • DavidMatcham

    It would be interesting to know on what grounds 2 Peter was originally admitted as canonical. Brian is right to ask the troubling question that if it turns out to not have been written (as it explicitly claims) by the apostle Peter, then what authority does it or should it have. If Peter didn’t write it, then the letter unfortunately falls into the same category the author described as being ‘wells without water, clouds that are carried by a tempest…etc’

  • S Wu

    Please do post on the Gospels and other non-Pauline books, Mike.

  • CF

    2 Peter (along with Hebrews, of course) is the most troubling books as far as authorship for me. What do you make of it?

    While we’re on it, what do you make of his follow-on thesis that it was Polycarp who assembled the NT (cf. http://www.trobisch.com/david/CV/Publications/20071226%20FreeInquiry%20Who%20Published%20Christian%20Bible%20BW.pdf and his thesis in his other book on the canon that Paul himself assembled and edited a collection of his letters in opposition to the more Jewish Jerusalem faction? It seems like moderates/conservatives could find some good material here even if they differ on some of Trobisch’s conclusions.