1 Peter

In the case of the New Testament book of 1 Peter, the author is clearly declared to be “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1 NIV).” Yet some dispute this proposition.

It is a common sense position, adopted across the field of Ancient History, to begin the examination of the authorship question with the implicit assumption that the reputed author of a given work was the actual author. It is then up to those who examine the question to develop and consider the opposing arguments.

The primary arguments put forward against Peter’s authorship of this work are fourfold:

  1. Peter could not have written the Greek that is found in this work. It is more elegant Greek than is found in the Gospel of Mark, and Mark is known to have been Peter’s “interpreter.” As a Galilean fisherman, it is quite improbable that Peter could have written this letter.
  2. The scripture quotations in the letter are from the Septuagint, whereas Peter could have been expected to have drawn his quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures, or Aramaic extracts.
  3. The letter shows strong similarities to Ephesians. Since this can be demonstrated, and given the assumption that 1 Peter shows borrowing from Ephesians, it is quite improbable that the Apostle Peter, the leading disciple of Jesus, would have been led to borrow from Paul’s letter (with the case being even stronger if Ephesians was not actually written by Paul).
  4. Since 1 Peter refers to persecution, and there is no record of widespread persecution of Christians until the time of Domitian (or more accurately, until Trajan), this letter could not have been written by Peter, since he was not alive at that time.

Yet, none of these arguments is compelling.

Firstly, Peter could have dictated a work in Aramaic, his first language. Since it is obvious that it was intended that Greek speakers would read his work, it would have been logical for Peter to instruct the scribe writing down his text to translate this work into elegant Greek. This argument is not a “counsel of despair,” as some might consider it to be: instead, it is quite reasonable in the circumstances and would not have been a difficult task.

Secondly, we do not know the basis of Peter’s extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. It is clear that the Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament that is reflected in the Septuagint was an important part of early Christian thinking. Who can say that Peter was not trained in his knowledge of the Old Testament by a teacher who was immersed in the Septuagint? It is likely that Greek was more widely known in Galilee than Hebrew, which was an archaic language at that time. In any event, a translation using the Septuagint would have been the most accessible form of the Old Testament text available to Peter’s readers.

Thirdly, in regard to the similarities between 1 Peter and Ephesians, it is very hard to make the case that the direction of borrowing was from Ephesians to 1 Peter: such an assumption has led scholars to argue that Paul did not write Ephesians since that work uses vocabulary that is not particularly “Pauline.” Indeed, the very proposition defies logic. If Peter wrote 1 Peter, as I argue, it is quite improbable that the Apostle Peter, the leading disciple of Jesus would have borrowed so extensively from Paul. On the other hand, it is quite probable that Paul would have been quite willing, and even keen, to have drawn insights from Peter, since the latter had spent so much time with Jesus. In fact, the argument that Paul borrowed from 1 Peter, reformulating its teachings in his own words, actually strengthens the case that Paul wrote Ephesians. Indeed, it is naive for scholars to argue a one-sided case for borrowing in relation to 1 Peter and Ephesians.

The fourth argument, in relation to persecution, hardly needs to be answered, since it is an argument from silence, and is based on observations given in regard to a period about which we know too little; surely it is not firmly founded on a proper assessment of the limitations of what we know about these times. In fact we do know some things about these times that most scholars have not taken into account. They could have observed that the Christians in the client kingdom of Pontus are the first-named recipients of the letter; therefore, it is entirely plausible that the references to persecution were actually mainly written for them. In Pontus there was a local ruler (as was the case when Paul was persecuted in Damascus) who had a free hand to support the local cults. He or she was not subject to the constraints that applied to Roman rulers in places like Ephesus. That the recipients of 1 Peter, particularly those in Pontus, were subjected to persecution is not unlikely, rather it is entirely likely.

Turning from negating these negative arguments of Peter’s authorship of this letter, there are positive arguments that one can make supporting his authorship. For example, the argument can easily be made that this letter reflects Peter’s teaching, as revealed on the Day on Pentecost. The letter can be considered to reflect and extend Peter’s message that salvation of mankind follows on from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3-5; Acts 2:29-41). The major new element in 1 Peter is the reference to the trials that his readers were currently undergoing. In this letter, Peter draws attention to Christ’s suffering, and encourages his readers to be willing to suffer for doing good (as Christ had done).

Just as those who accepted Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost were purified through their obedience to his message, which required action, namely, repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus, so also Peter commended his readers for the fact that they had purified themselves “by obeying the truth” (1 Peter 1:22). Similarly, just as Peter had sprinkled his short message delivered on the Day of Pentecost with three citations from the Old Testament, so also 1 Peter is liberally sprinkled with citations from the Old Testament. These were not introduced randomly, but rather they pointed to the glorification of Jesus Christ, as had his message on the Day of Pentecost.