Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forged: Thou Art Peter?

“[T]wo books bear Peter’s name [in the New Testament], the letters of 1 Peter and 2 Peter.  Both claim to be written by Peter, but there are solid reasons for thinking that Peter did not write either one … There is less debate among scholars of the New Testament about the authorship of 2 Peter than for any of the other books [in the New Testament] sometimes considered forgeries.  Whoever wrote 2 Peter, it was not Simon Peter.”

~ Bart Ehrman, Forged

“The Prophet Joseph Smith said that ‘Peter penned the most sublime language of any of the apostles.’”

~ LDS Bible Dictionary, “Peter, Epistles of”

Today’s Invictus Pilgrim Book Club post continues a discussion of Professor Bart Ehrman’s book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, moving on to Chapter 2, which addresses writings that are attributed to the Apostle Peter.

As should be obvious from the lead quote, Professor Ehrman and other scholars believe that 1 Peter is likely a forgery.  But, as Ehrman points out, scholarly opinion about 2 Peter’s authorship is overwhelmingly on the side of it being a forgery.  I’m not going to go into all the details of his arguments here; I invite readers to read Ehrman’s book and come to their own conclusions.  In the case of 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.”

Apart from the theological anachronisms in Peter’s epistles, Ehrman argues that the chief apostle was almost certainly illiterate.  He came from a backwater area, Capernaum in Galilee, “ … a backwoods Jewish village made up of hand-to-mouth laborers who did not have an education.  Everyone spoke Aramaic.  Nothing suggests than anyone could speak Greek … 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.’”

“[T]he book of 1 Peter,” writes Ehrman, “is written by a highly literate, highly educated, Greek-speaking Christian who is intimately familiar with the Jewish Scriptures in their Greek translation, the Septuagint.  This is not Peter.”

It is interesting to note that Joseph Smith believed that the Epistles attributed to Peter were in fact written by him.  In point of fact, so far as I am aware, Joseph accepted all the books of the New Testament on their face value, making only translation “fixes” in places, but never rejecting any of the books as forgeries – which is still the position of the LDS Church (as per the Bible Dictionary).

So, I thought it would be interesting to look at 1 and 2 Peter to see what verses from these books loom large in LDS usage and doctrine.  I welcome discussion.

A Royal Priesthood

1 Peter 2:9:  “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Wives in Subjection

1 Peter 3:1:  “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands …”

Salvation for the Dead

1 Peter 3:18-20:  “For Christ, also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; [Some of whom] were disobedient [in the days of Noah, while] the long-suffering of God waited, while the ark was preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.” (Bracketed words being corrections made by Joseph Smith)

1 Peter 4:6:  “[Because of this,] is the gospel preached to them [who] are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live [in the spirit] according [to the will of God.]

[Note that this, if I am not mistaken, is the only place in the Bible that discusses salvation for the dead, except for Paul’s reference to those whom are baptized for the dead.]

The Great Apostacy; Second Coming

2 Peter 2:1-2:  “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.  And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of …”

2 Peter 3:3-4: [Joseph Smith translation bracketed:] “Knowing this first, that [in the last days] there shall come scoffers, walking after their own lusts. [Denying the Lord Jesus Christ,] and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things [must] continue as they [are, and have continued as they are] from the beginning of the creation.” 

I highly recommend reading Professor Ehrman’s book to get the full flavor and nuances of his arguments.  They are, needless to say, very thought-provoking for all Christians, but in a special way for Latter-day Saints – on which subject I will defer elaboration until a future post.

In the next post on this book, we will take up a discussion of the books in the New Testament which are attributed to Paul but which are thought to be forgeries.

To join the Invictus Pilgrim Book Club Facebook group, go here.


  1. I thoroughly enjoy Prof. Ehrman's books and have read several.

    I appreciate you pointing out this passages that are so familiar to Mormons; they raise some interesting questions.

    During my own study of Forged, I realized that the Book of James is included in the list of forgeries and find it rather amusing that the book containing the passage,that inspired Joseph Smith to go to a grove of trees to pray was written by a forger like himself.

  2. Not to mention that:

    -- 2 Peter 1:5-7 is where D&C 4:6 comes from
    -- the Far West / Nauvoo period concept of calling and election comes (partially) from 2 Peter 1:10
    -- 3 Nephi 7:8 quotes 2 Peter 2:22 rather than Proverbs 26:11 (odd to be mentioning pigs if you are Jewish)
    -- the ideas about a 6000-year earth history, dispensations, and the millennium are strongly informed by 2 Peter 3:8
    -- 3 Nephi 26:3 is informed by 2 Peter 3:10

    It should be noted that Polycarp's letter to the Philippians (ca. 110 AD) quotes Paul as scripture, which I believe is the earliest reference to Paul's writings as authoritative scripture. But Peter apparently died around 64 AD, so it's at least a generation or two off.

  3. Jean - Thanks for pointing that out. Supreme irony, is it not?

    Thaumkid - Thanks to you, too, for pointing these things out. Really appreciate it. Interesting ... Interesting ...