Why We Hold So Tightly To These Disputed Epistles

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Two of the most disputed books in the New Testament are 2 Peter and 2 Timothy. In fact, the majority of New Testament scholars doubt that either of those letters were actually written by Paul or Peter at all, holding instead that some other writers who may have been disciples of these Apostles – or disciples of their disciples – took it upon themselves to add these epistles at a much later date.

This sort of thing was not uncommon in the ancient world, by the way. A disciple of Plato, for example, would not consider it deceptive to write something and attribute it to his master after his passing. It would have been seen as a continuation of the philosopher’s teaching and widely accepted in the culture as a valid extension of the teacher’s thoughts. The anonymity of the writer would have been regarded as more of an honor to Plato – almost as an act of humility to remove oneself from the conversation so that the wisdom of the master could take center stage – rather than as an act of deception intended to lead people astray.

To those contemporary with the work produced, there would be no issues with evaluating the writings based on these conditions. It would have been common knowledge to everyone that the works were not written by the mentor but were additional thoughts shared by one of his students.

Of course, over the centuries such details as to authorship could be lost to the fog of time and eventually, those writings could be taken to be original with the master rather than additions by later disciples.

This is the sort of thing that many New Testament scholars believe is happening with 2 Peter and 2 Timothy.

For one thing, 2 Peter is patterned almost entirely from the book of Jude. Scholars have known this for centuries and most conclude that Jude was written first and whoever wrote 2 Peter simply used Jude as a template and added in a few new details to construct 2 Peter.

Another reason to doubt the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter is that early church fathers didn’t consider it scripture. We know this because many did not mention the epistle in their list of accepted scriptures. This could have been because they knew it wasn’t actually written by Peter, or because it had not been written yet – and therefore couldn’t have been written by Peter who was already martyred for his faith.

Other reasons for doubting 2 Peter are strong linguistic differences as compared to 1 Peter (assuming Peter wrote that epistle) and a shifting eschatological view that attempts to explain why the return of Jesus is taking so long, whereas earlier letters seem to argue for an imminent return of Christ. The argument is that if Peter actually wrote 2 Peter, and if he died between AD 65 and 67, there was no reason to explain why Jesus was taking so long to return since he would have only been gone for a few years. However, if the book was written much later then Christians at that time would have been asking questions about the length of time that had passed and need reassurance about that.

Still other reasons for doubting 2 Peter are that the author says things like, “This is the second letter I am writing to you” which seems quite unnecessary to mention, unless it was for the benefit of those who might doubt that it was the second letter, and also that the author mentions that he is writing this letter just before he is about to die, something it’s hard to say that Peter would necessarily have known about in advance.

One of the most compelling reasons that New Testament scholars have for overlooking all of this is that 2 Peter is the only book in the New Testament that refers to the writings of Paul as scripture. In other words, if they were to admit that Peter didn’t write this letter, then they would also have to admit that Peter did not consider Paul’s letters to be scripture.

But what about 2 Timothy? This epistle, along with the other so-called “Pastoral Epistles” (1 Timothy and Titus) are largely considered to be written by someone other than Paul by about 80% of New Testament scholars.

Similar to 2 Peter, the reasons for concluding that someone else wrote those three epistles are linked to linguistic evidence (words used that were unique and not found in other Pauline epistles), theological evidence (arguments that appear to address problems that did not arise until long after Paul’s death), and they do not address themes that were common to the unquestioned epistles (namely our unity with Christ). In addition, the 3 “Pastoral Epistles” reference a much more hierarchical form of church leadership than was in place at the time of the Apostles, and it is curious that many portions of 2 Timothy borrow heavily from Philippians which is an accepted Pauline epistle, suggesting that whoever penned the book used elements of Philippians to assist the process.

I believe one of the main reasons for overlooking all of this evidence and accepting Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy is that this is the only book in the New Testament that says “all scripture is God-breathed” and to relinquish Apostolic authority of such a statement is too dangerous for most to accept.

So, in the face of so many good reasons to doubt that Peter wrote 2 Peter, or that Paul wrote 2 Timothy, many Christians today seem to cling even more tightly to them. Perhaps it’s because those two epistles provide their strongest arguments for how scripture itself is defined and defended.

What do you think?

-kg

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Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is also the co-host of “The Heretic Happy Hour” podcast.

 

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