Sunday, April 24, 2011

1& 2 Peter: Forgeries according to B. Ehrman

Assertions often out-run the evidence. In the case of Bart Ehrman, the assertions are on an Olympic fast-track! For example, he claims that the subject matter of 1 Peter pertains to a post-70 AD – post-destruction of the Jerusalem Temple – which is after Peter’s death, precluding the possibility that Peter might have authored this letter:

* But tradition also indicates that Peter was martyred in Rome under Nero in 64 C.E. Would it make sense that he was calling Rome “Babylon” [1 Peter 5:13] before the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70? By the time that the catastrophe hit, Peter was long dead. (Forgery, 68).

Ehrman’s case is built on three shaky assumptions:

1. “Babylon” refers to Rome, instead of Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt, as others have suggested.
2. Rome could only have been referred to as “Babylon” after Rome had destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.
3. The content of 1 Peter could only refer to a Rome after it had destroyed Jerusalem, long after Peter’s death. Therefore Peter couldn’t have been the author.

There is absolutely no evidence for any of these assumptions. In response to Ehrman, we find that the early church had early on received 1 Peter as Scripture without any opposition:

• 1 Clement (95 AD) seems to indicate acquaintance with 1 Peter. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, makes use of 1 Peter in his letter to the Philippians. The author of the Gospel of Truth (140-150) was acquainted with 1 Peter. [Bishop] Eusebius (fourth century) indicated that it was universally received. The letter was explicitly ascribed to Peter by that group of church fathers whose testimonies appear in attestation of so many genuine NT writings, namely, Irenaeus (A.D. 140-203), Tertullian (150-222), Clement of Alexandria (155-215), and Origen (185-253). (NIV Study Bible, p.1886)

We are left to wonder why Ehrman promotes such baseless allegations of forgery! However, his case is stronger in regards to 2 Peter:

• One of the reasons virtually all scholars agree that Peter did not actually write this letter is that the situation being presupposed appears to be of much later times. When Peter himself died—say the year 64 under Nero—there was still eager expectation that Jesus would return soon; not even a full generation had passed since the crucifixion. It was only with the passing of time that the Christian claim that all would take place “within this generation” (Mark 13:30) and before the disciples had “tasted death” (9:1) started to ring hollow. (Forged, 70)

There are several problems with Ehrman's claims:

1. Ehrman claims that 2 Peter doesn’t show an “eager expectation that Jesus would return soon,” as it should had it been written in the lifetime of Peter. However, it is clear that 2 Peter does give evidence that the church was erroneously anticipating an early return:

• First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation"…But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9)

Evidently, the church was still anticipating an early return. Therefore, 2 Peter – 34 years after to Crucifixion – had to encourage them in their discouragement. There is nothing here inconsistent with Petrine authorship.

2. Mark 9:1, as well as the parallel passages found in Matthew 16: 28 and Luke 9:27, all refer to the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration and not to Jesus’ return within their lifetime. It is hardly likely that they could have so misunderstood this.

3. It is almost as unlikely that they would have misunderstood (for long) Jesus’ statement that he would return “within this generation” (Mark 13:30). Jesus had prefaced this statement by claiming that,

• Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. (Mark 13:6-8)

They would also be hated by all and put to death. None of this suggests that Jesus had taught His speedy return or that the disciples would have misunderstood Him in this way! Instead, Jesus had directed them to go into all the world with His Gospel (Mat. 28:19) – hardly an afternoon’s undertaking! It’s therefore perfectly consistent with Jesus’ teachings that Christians would become impatient for His return and that Peter would try to explain why it’s requiring many years. Consequently, there is nothing that suggests a post-Peter’s-death date for 2 Peter.

Ehrman also argues that if 2 Peter had been written as early as 64 AD, the author couldn’t possibly have been familiar with Paul’s letters, as he claimed to have been (2 Peter 3:15-16):

• Moreover, the author of 2 Peter is writing at a time when there was already a collection of Paul’s letters in circulation, and these letters were being considered on a par with the Old Testament…This could not have been during Paul’s lifetime.” (70)

Why not? For one thing, there is nothing in 2 Peter that indicates that the author is referring to “a collection of Paul’s letters,” which might have required a later date. Peter might have been merely referring to individual letters. Also, the NT evidence indicates that all of Paul’s letters had been immediately received as Scripture:

• And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thes. 2:13; also see Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 6:3-4)

To cap it off, Ehrman claims that,

• There are excellent grounds for thinking that Peter could not write (70) …The vast majority of Jews spoke Aramaic and had no facility in Greek (74) …Peter was an illiterate peasant…according to Acts 4:13, both Peter and his companion John, also a fisherman, were “agrammatoi,” a Greek word that literally means “unlettered,” that is “illiterate.” (75)

Here, Ehrman supplies us with the only direct “evidence” for Peter’s alleged illiteracy. However, he is jumping to a conclusion that is made by no other translation of Scripture, at least among which I am aware:

• When they [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and REALIZED that they were UNSCHOOLED [“agrammatoi”], ORDINARY men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

In order to make his point, Ehrman has to reject the context. By observation, the Sanhedrin couldn’t have “realized” that they were “illiterate,” unless of course, they administered an exam, which they didn’t. However, it was very apparent that they weren’t refined. Not only does this “evidence” fail to provide support for Ehrman’s contention, it is also contradicted by every translation.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that “No other book in the New Testament poses as many problems of authenticity as does Second Peter.” Wilkerson and Boa give some reasons for this:

• (1) Slow circulation kept it from being widely know, (2) It’s brevity and contents greatly limited the number of quotations from it in the writings of early church leaders. (3) The delay in recognition meant that Second Peter had to compete with several later works which falsely claimed to be Petrine… (4) Stylistic differences between First and Second Peter also raised doubts (Talk Through the Bible, 477)

Indeed, many have noted that the Greek of 1 Peter differs from that of 2 Peter. However, this can easily be explained by the fact that, “With the help of Silas…I have written” (1 Peter 5:12). Even if Peter had been ignorant of the Greek, he could always have found help in the writing and the translation. It could have been a collaborative effort and yet remain Peter’s. In favor of Peter’s authorship, he claims to have written it and the events to which he refers were events in his life. Besides,

• 1 Clement (95 AD) may allude to it…there are noteworthy similarities in vocabulary and other matters [between 1 & 2 Peter]. In fact, no other known writing is as much like 1 Peter as 2 Peter. (NIV Study Bible, 1897)

The first one to doubt the authenticity of 2 Peter was Origen (185-253), but that was a good 150 years after it had been written. Nevertheless, he still quoted from it. Bishop Eusebius (265-340),

• placed it among the questioned books, although he admits that most accept it as from Peter. After Eusebius’s time, it seems to have been quite generally accepted as canonical. (1897)

What new evidences has Ehrman been privy to since then? Apparently none! Is he in a better position to assess the authenticity of 2 Peter than the early church? If he is, he hasn’t shared that with his readership.

No comments:

Post a Comment