Peter and the Flood

I recently experienced the irony of having someone quote 2 Peter in an attempt to show that there must have been a literal global flood.

2 Peter is the New Testament work which is the most universally acknowledged to be pseudepigraphal – in other words, an example of someone writing in the name of someone else, pretending to be that person.

Even some relatively conservative scholars acknowledge this fact (although obviously not all – but even they have to admit to the issues that lead most to conclude the work to be inauthentic). The Greek is closer to what we find in the early church fathers than to anything else found in the New Testament (including 1 Peter).

If the first two words, “Simon Peter,” standing where the author’s name ought to be, are not literally true, how can one base an argument for a literal flood on this work?!


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  • Jon Weatherly

    “Most universally”? That expression is very unique.

    • James F. McGrath

      :-) I will now spend more time than I should pondering how I could have phrased it better, to express that, while there is a majority view that certain other NT texts are pseudonymous, this is the one case where there is near unanimity.

      • Jon Weatherly

        That’s the problem with matters that are absolutely relative. I wish you best of luck, which is an expression that makes superlative a relative thing, rather than making relative a superlative thing.

  • Keefa

    @ James F. McGrath…so the style of the Greek language lead scholars to believe it is a pseudonymous letter{ interesting} What are the qualities or conditions of being unlike or dissimilar between the Greek of the N.T and the Greek of the early church Fathers?

    • James F. McGrath

      This is a good place to start reading about this topic:

      Most commentaries on 2 Peter will discuss these issues and many will provide detailed statistics.

      Hope this helps!

  • Matthew Funke

    Not to mention that choosing 2 Peter is kind of odd because of its choice of wording when describing the flood (3:5-6, NASB): “… the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world *at that time* was destroyed…” (emphasis mine).

    Why the qualification? If the Noahic flood was global, why not just say “the world was destroyed”? One plausible conclusion might be that “the world at that time” refers to the entire population at the time, not to the planet as a whole.

  • Just Sayin’

    Even if it’s pseudepigraphal it could still be true in what it asserts otherwise. They’re really separate issues.

    • Raymond

      Sort of. I was going to say basically the same thing, but there are other considerations. Sure, the “if he lies about one thing, how can we trust anything else he says” is a valid-ish argumemt, but it applies more in situations in which the person is trying to raise some sort of defense, as in criminal interrogations or legal testimony. If some second century schmo wants to say he’s Saint Peter, I dont think that by itself would necessarily disqualify anything else he says.
      HOWEVER, the fact that he is centuries beyond any physical evidence or eyewitness testimony for the Flood does sort of make any factual claims highly questionable. Inspiration? A recent news story reported that a woman recently claims that God told her to drive 60 mph through a residential neighborhood. Same thing.

      • James F. McGrath

        I think there are two aspects worth distinguishing. On the one hand, even if Peter the apostle had written the letter, that wouldn’t mean that his views on the flood ought to be accepted by anyone today. On the other hand, the point I was making here was that, if the name of the author is not literally true, then it makes it that much more dubious to simply assume that the author’s statement about a flood ought to be taken as literally true.

        • arcseconds

          The notion you’re casting doubt on is the notion that everything in the Bible is (literally) true.

          To do that, you only need to show that one thing it says is false.

          Whether or not what a particular verse says is true is a different matter, but if we’ve dispensed with the idea that it must be true because the Bible says it, its truth would have to be argued for independently :-)

          • James F. McGrath


          • arcseconds

            I nearly wrote ‘every verse in the Bible is literally true’. But that got me thinking – titles and authors aren’t verses.

            Could someone argue that titles and authors aren’t actually part of the text that’s guaranteed to be infallible? They could be considered metadata rather than data, to use IT terminology…

            (I went and looked and this wouldn’t help in this particular case, as the attribution is given in the first verse…)

        • Just Sayin’

          I guess I’m thinking along the lines: if Einstein had left his manuscript on relativity in a cab and the driver, Joe Bloggs (let’s say), had published it under his own name, it would be as true in its claims as it is today. Accurate ascription of authorship is really a separate issue.

          • Andrew Dowling

            But in this case no-one thinks the author took anything from what Peter actually said or wrote; it’s entirely the creation of the forger. It’s like someone writing in the 1st person of JFK in the 1990s who never knew Kennedy . . it pretty much guarantees it’s all BS.

          • arcseconds

            Well, it does if we expect it to give insight into Kennedy’s life, or if the only reason for taking it seriously is Kennedy’s authority.

            But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t good stuff in other respects. Writing in someone else’s name without their knowledge is beyond the pale in our society (even doing it with their permission is considered a bit sketchy), to such an extent that we’d consider someone who did this to be a scam artist, and therefore untrustworthy. But in other times and places, attributing the work to an older figure of greater stature was much more of just a thing one did. Some people even argue it was kind of a form of humility.

            No-one doubts that Pythagoras’s theorem is true, but many doubt the attribution to Pythagoras — not the best example for several reasons, but does demonstrate the independence of truth from provenance.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Not saying it automatically renders it bad . . I think many of the English white boy stabs at 1930s and 40s blues era in the 1960s were actually superior to the originals (shudder! :) ) but one can’t equate authentic delta blues to the Rolling Stones.

          • arcseconds

            Covers are almost the opposite, though, aren’t they? Genuinely older material with the new kids’ names on it.

            I’ve been getting into the blues a bit in the last few months, and I like cover versions of things. have you got any particular favourites?

          • Beau Quilter

            Bart Ehrman, in “Forged: Writing in the Name of God”, makes a strong argument that forgery (though the word itself wasn’t in use) was viewed in the first century as a lie, a scam, just as it is today.

            Theologians have been in the habit of saying that pseudepigrapha in the 1st century was not viewed as a lie, but there is no evidence from early Christianity to validate this claim. On the contrary, Ehrman shows many examples of known forgers being decried during this period.

          • arcseconds

            That’s interesting, thanks. I had heard of that perspective before, but it sounds like it’s got more backing than I thought.

            I do still wonder though whether it’s still the same sort of thing for them. We’re very concerned with truth, authenticity, and the individual, in ways and to an extent that other cultures simply are not. Writers at this time seem quite happy to introduce miraculous occurrences into biographies, for example, and although it’s a little later, the midrashic literature seems almost intent on scrubbing out the identities of the actual authors, instead attributing things to a small cartel of semi-legendary rabbis.

          • Beau Quilter

            You should read Ehrman. He gives good examples of early Christians and other first century contemporaries taking offense at forgeries and decrying forgers. Here is James’ review of the book:


          • Just Sayin’

            Well, since it’s an anonymous author, we have no idea what he knew of Peter or Peter’s teachings, or of Peter’s community and their records of Peter’s teachings (if any existed), etc., etc., so we have no such guarantee at all that it’s “bullshit”. It may be gospel truth (so to speak) for all we know.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Not exactly. There’s strong evidence the document arose from the predominantly Gentile Church, likely 50-60+ years after Peter’s death. It bears zero marks of knowing anything about the Galilean Judaism Peter would’ve come from. It also was respected so little that it wasn’t mentioned by any of the Fathers until the 3rd century. So yes, we’re can’t be “guaranteed” it’s complete BS in terms of knowing the historical Peter, but if it looks, acts, and quakes like a duck . .

          • Just Sayin’

            Okay, though none of that, even if indisputable (and I’m sure it is disputed, just like all other NT putative datings), bars some sort of “hereditary” Petrine influence. In which case, “BS” classification is a bit premature.

          • arcseconds

            Why would a document which falsely claims it is authored by Simon Peter have any more likelihood of having influence from the real Simon Peter than any other document?

          • Just Sayin’

            My point is that we simply don’t know either way.

          • Beau Quilter

            It wasn’t Einstein’s name that gave him credibility; it was the experimental verification of his theory. Can we verify 2nd Peter with the tools of modern science?