1 Peter: Authorship

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ….

1 Peter 1:1a

Up until recently, it was generally accepted that Peter wrote 1 Peter.  However, contemporary scholarship has called into question Peter’s authorship of both of the New Testament books bearing his name.  For example, Canadian biblical scholar Francis Wright Beare, in his 1947 commentary on 1 Peter, said, “There can be no possible doubt that ‘Peter’ is a pseudonym.”

The main argument against Petrine authorship revolves around the Greek grammar used to pen the letter.  Concerning the way 1 Peter was written, Beare observed, “The epistle is quite obviously the work of a man of letters, skilled in all the devices of rhetoric, and able to draw on an extensive, and even learned, vocabulary.  He is a stylist of no ordinary capacity, and he writes some of the best Greek in the whole New Testament, far smoother and more literary than that of the highly-trained Paul.”  The ability to write this superb Greek, Beare opines, is a “feat plainly far beyond the powers of the Galilean fisherman, who at the time of the crucifixion could neither read nor write even his own native tongue (Aramaic).”  The proof Beare gives to Peter’s alleged illiteracy is the observation of the Jewish rulers that Peter and John were “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13, KJV).  According to Beare, the Greek word Luke used in this verse (ajgravmmato) means that Peter was illiterate.

However, a more in-depth word study of ajgravmmato shows that the word could also mean “uneducated,” which is how the NKJV, NASB, and ESV render the term in Acts 4:13.  Furthermore, the “rulers and elders and scribes” along with “the high priest” and “all who were of the high-priestly family” (Acts 4:5-6) were the ones making this observation, men all of whom had received formal training.  Peter, a Galilean fisherman, likely would not have received their level of formal education, but that does not prove that he received no education at all and thus could not have written 1 Peter because of his supposed illiteracy.  First century Jewish historian Josephus and philosopher Philo both testify to the literacy and healthy knowledge of Mosaic law commonly held by the Jews during that period.  Therefore, Peter might not have sat at the feet of famed Jewish teacher Gamaliel like Paul had, but it is probable that he had received a basic education of “readin’, writin’, and ’rithmetic” with the Torah as his “textbook.”

Furthermore, 1 Peter clearly indicates that it was written by dictation, thus rendering moot the argument that Peter could not have written it due to alleged illiteracy.  Towards the end of the epistle, the author says, “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you…” (1 Pet. 5:12a).  The Greek for “By Silvanus” (dia Silouanou) means that Silvanus was Peter’s instrument in the writing of this epistle, indicating that Peter had dictated the letter to him.  Luke mentions Silvanus as Paul’s traveling companion who spent a night with him in a Philippian jail (Silas is a shortened and more familiar form of Silvanus).  He was repeatedly mentioned in Paul’s writings (cf. 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).  A Roman citizen (Acts 16:37), Silvanus was called a prophet and a “leading man” of the Jerusalem church who played a crucial role in the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15:22-27, 32), making him a companion of Peter and thus a likely candidate to be the apostle’s scribe.

Additionally, the letter’s mention of elders (5:1ff) – rather than addressing a single bishop overseeing several churches (an apostate practice that came after the time of the apostles) – points to an early date for 1 Peter, as does the fact that second century “church fathers” such as Iraneus and Polycarp quote from 1 Peter in their writings.  Since it takes considerable time for a book to acquire the familiarity and authority needed to be quoted by second-generation church leaders, we can confidently date 1 Peter within the first century (likely in the early to mid 60’s AD).

Therefore, we can confidently say that 1 Peter was authored by Peter.  I look forward to studying this book with you in future articles.

— Jon

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