The reconstruction of the chronological framework may be begun where that for Paul left off, with the point at which Acts ends. But mention of Acts merely underlines our previous reliance on it. When it stops, we find ourselves almost wholly lost. Whatever framework is reconstructed, it must be said at once that it is bound to be extremely hypothetical and sketchy, for the evidence is simply insufficient. What we miss in particular are the intervals, which it is Luke's particular contribution to supply. In fact the situation is now reversed. Whereas before we were strong on relative dates but very weak on absolute dates (the pro-consulship of Gallic being about the only really secure one, and that by a fortuitous discovery), we now are strong on absolute dates, but extremely weak on relative ones. Thus we have quite precise datings for two cardinal events, the fire of Rome, which broke out on 19 July 64, and the suicide of Nero, which occurred on 9 June 68. But how, within or around that period, happenings or writings of relevance to the Christian church are to be placed in relation either to each other or to these fixed points is highly problematic.
Let us begin by trying to round off the
life of Paul.
On the basis of the aorist ἐνέμεινεν rather than the imperfect in Acts 28.30 it will be recalled that Harnack argued
that at the end of two years Paul's situation changed: it was not simply that
the narrative ceased, for whatever reason.
The fragment of the Muratorian Canon (coming from Rome at the end of the second century?) simply says that 'from the city he proceeded to Spain',
but this could merely be part of the presumption we observed before that (despite the evidence of II Corinthians!) Paul's plans were always fulfilled. Much the most important piece of evidence is that of I Clem. 5.6f., which asserts that, after he had preached both in the east and the west, he reached the 'extreme west' (τὸ τέρμα τῆς δύσεως). I would agree with Lightfoot and Zahn that to interpret this in a writer living in Rome to mean Rome itself is incredible. We must assume it means Spain, and depending on the date and weight we attach to the evidence of I Clement,
it speaks in favour of a release from Rome and further travel (though only to the west).
Beyond that we are in the dark.
Clement clearly refers to
Paul having perished in the same persecution as Peter and a 'great multitude of
which cannot be other than that under Nero. [So Tertullian, Scorp. 15.] But Paul appears to have stood alone as he 'gave witness before rulers', and the subsequent tradition, that, whereas Peter was crucified, Paul (as a Roman citizen) was executed, strongly suggests that this was as a result of a separate judicial action, not of mass violence such as Tacitus describes. Again, in the first-century Ascension of Isaiah 4.2f. it is only 'one of the Twelve' who 'will be delivered into his [viz. Nero's] hands': there is no mention of Paul. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, says in c. 170 that Peter and Paul 'having taught together in Italy, suffered martyrdom at (or about) the same time' (κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν καιρόν). This comes to be interpreted, first in the Liberian Catalogue of 354, to mean 'on the same day', namely, 29 June. But this day is almost certainly the one which in the year 258 saw some veneration of their joint memories, possibly the translation of their relics from the Vatican and the Ostian Way to a catacomb on the Appian Way for safety during the Valerian persecution. Indeed, despite the great influence of Jerome (c. 342-420), who said that they suffered in the same year, the tradition still survived in Prudentius (348-c. 410) Περιστεφάνων, hymn 12, quoted by Edmundson, op. cit., 150.]
and Augustine (354-430) that Paul died exactly a year after Peter - evidence which is worthless as a positive indicator but useful as a corrective.
When we come to the question of the date, or dates, of their
deaths, we are equally in the dark.
There are two separate issues:
(a) Did the Neronian persecution follow immediately upon the fire of Rome?;
and (b) Did
Peter and/or Paul perish in that first assault?
If we could answer 'Yes' to
both these questions, our chronological problems would be over and everything
could be dated in 64.
Unfortunately, however, it is not so simple.
it had been as simple as the textbooks tend to make it, it is difficult to
explain how the divergences could have arisen.
The presumption must be that
there was a tendency to conflate not only the day but the year, and that, other
things being equal, preference should be given to the less tidy solution.
let us first look at what evidence there is for answering the two questions.
(a) So indelibly etched upon the common memory is the association between the fire of Rome and the persecution of Christians that it comes as a surprise to realize that the entire connection rests upon one unsupported piece of evidence - a single chapter in Tacitus' Annals (15.44). To this important, and excellent, source we must return in detail. But first it is worth stressing the point that it stands alone not only in classical but in Christian literature - until it itself is quoted. In classical literature the only other reference to the persecution of Christians is in Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, which because it rests so obviously on independent tradition is important corroborative testimony. But the persecution is brought into no connection with the fire (which by itself, of course, is often mentioned subsequently). The fire is described in Nero 38, but the persecution of Christians is alluded to briefly in Nero 16 among a variety of public acts, chiefly legislative. As Hort dryly observed, 'It comes between regulations about what might be sold in the cooks' shops and others about restraining the license of charioteers and the factions of clowns.' More remarkably there is no memory of its association with the fire preserved in any early Christian writer. None of the early references to the Neronian persecution, in Clement of Rome , Melito of Sardis , Tertullian , Lactantius , Eusebius or Jerome , makes any mention of the fire. The first link is in Sulpicius Severus, whose Chronicle was completed c. 403 and which quotes Tacitus. In Eusebius' Chronicle the two events are separated by four years.
But we must return to the evidence of Tacitus, which is important enough to be set out in full. After giving a graphic and detailed description of the ravages of the fire and the immediate relief operations for the temporary re-housing of some hundreds of thousands of homeless (Ann. 15.38-41), he proceeds (15.421.) to describe the rebuilding of the capital to a carefully thought-out plan with built-in fire precautions for the future, together with the construction by Nero of a palace for himself of unrivalled magnificence, the celebrated Domus Aurea. Then, in 15.44, he goes on:
So far, the precautions taken were suggested by human prudence: now means were sought for appeasing deity, and application was made to the Sibylline books; at the injunction of which public prayers were offered to Vulcan, Ceres, and Proserpine, while Juno was propitiated by the matrons, first in the Capitol, then at the nearest point of the sea-shore, where water was drawn for sprinkling the temple and image of the goddess. Ritual banquets and all-night vigils were celebrated by women in the married state. But neither human help, nor imperial munificence, nor all the modes of placating Heaven, could stifle scandal or dispel the belief that the fire had taken place by order. Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race. And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed, were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man.
It is quite clear from this account
that a considerable interval of time
must have elapsed before in desperation Nero rounded on the Christians.
is no need to assume that the building works were
by then completed:
indeed none was finished before Nero's death,
and the Domus Aurea was
demolished, uncompleted, by Vespasian.
Yet in so far as we have any evidence
for a connection between the fire and the persecution -
and there is no good
reason to question it -
it is for a delayed reaction.
At the very least, an
interval of many months must be allowed for the various stages described by Tacitus, which from the time the fire finally died down at the end of July 64
brings us into 65 at the earliest.
Yet almost universally,
not only in the textbooks,
but by giants like Lightfoot and Harnack and Zahn,
the Neronian persecution is
dated in 64.
I myself became convinced that this could not be right, but it is
one of the many merits of Edmundson's Church
in Rome in the First Century that he exposes in careful argument what he
calls this 'fundamental error on the part of almost every writer upon the
It is characteristic of the neglect of his book that what he says should also have been ignored ever since.
He demonstrates that it is no objection
that Tacitus' treatment of the events of the year 65 appears to begin only at
ch. 48, since it is this historian's practice, like that of others, 'to group
together so as to form a single and complete episode in his narrative a series
of events having close connection with one another but really spread over a
considerable space of time'.
He shows how this applies to his compression of the Pisonian conspiracy into the events of 65; it is described as 'no sooner hatched than full-grown',
though it actually began in 63 and might well have led to the death of Nero during the fire of 64. Certainly the ambitious programme for the rebuilding of Rome described under the events of 64 could scarcely have got off the drawing-boards ofSeverus and Celer by the end of that year.
Among the points Edmundson makes are three which, he argues, help to date the spectacle in Nero's gardens as not earlier than the spring of 65. The first is the weather.
One thing ... may be regarded as certain: that such a nocturnal spectacle would not have been planned so long as the night air was chilly, nor would Nero with his scrupulous care for the preservation of his divine voice
have appeared at night in the open on a car in the garb of a charioteer in cold weather.
The second is an argument, which he admits is speculative, that the account in Ann. 15.58 of 'continuous columns of manacled men dragged and deposited at the garden doors', which greatly exaggerates the actual numbers involved in the trial of the Pisonian conspirators in April 65, may have been confused by merger with the round-up of Christians at the same time. Thirdly, he draws attention to the fact that the Christian historian Orosius,a younger contemporary of Sulpicius Severus, who had access to Suetonius, Tacitus and Josephus, follows his account of the fire and persecution with the words:
Soon calamities in heaps began on every side to oppress the wretched state, for in the following autumn so great a pestilence fell upon the city that according to the registers [in the temple] of Libitina there were thirty thousand funerals.
These last words are a direct quotation from Suetonius, who however as usual gives no date to the pestilence. This is however given by Tacitus, who thus concludes his narrative of the events of 65 AD: 'The Gods also marked by storms and diseases a year made shameful by so many crimes. Campania was devastated by a hurricane ... the fury of which extended to the vicinity of the City, in which a violent pestilence was carrying away every class of human beings. ... Houses were filled with dead bodies, the streets with funerals.'
None of this adds up to a demonstration that the persecution of Christians was in 65. It could have been later, though the plausibility of linking it with the crime of arson would steadily have diminished as the interval grew. But it may help to reinforce the strong inherent probability that it could hardly have been earlier. Tentatively then we may answer our first question by dating this initial assault upon the church in the spring of 65. top
(b) Did Peter and/or Paul perish in this first attack? One could get the impression from I Clem. 5f. that Peter and Paul were actually in the van of the martyrs, but it is doubtful whether anything more than eminence causes their names to be put first. The other sources, when they mention names at all, do not discriminate, with the exception of Sulpicius Severus, who says:
Thus a beginning was made of violent persecution of Christians. Afterwards also laws were enacted and the religion was forbidden. Edicts were publicly published: 'No one must profess Christianity.' Then Paul and Peter were condemned to death. The former was beheaded, Peter was crucified.
We shall have to come back to the legal
enactments in another context.
In his History he mentions no dates, despite dating other events in the chapters that precede and follow. In the Chronicle we have varying evidence in the two versions. The Armenian puts the fire of Rome (or rather 'many fires in Rome') in 63 and Nero's 'beginning of the persecution of Christians in which Peter and Paul suffer martyrdom at Rome' in 67. This however is rendered doubtful by a previous entry for 66, when Linus is recorded as succeeding Peter as Bishop of Rome. In Jerome's Latin version 'Nero sets fire to most of Rome' in 64, and the 'first persecution of Christians by Nero in which Peter and Paul perished gloriously in Rome' is in 68, and in the same year 'Linus becomes Bishop of Rome after Peter'. The Latin version is recognized to be generally the more reliable, and in the reign of Nero it usually shows greater approximation to the dates supplied by Tacitus or Josephus. Indeed for two only, the earthquake at Laodicea and the murder of Octavia, where it is four and five years out respectively, is there a discrepancy of more than a year or two.
The one thing that emerges clearly is
that Eusebius does not associate the persecution with the fire
(in both versions
they are four years apart),
but does associate the deaths of Peter and Paul
with the general persecution.
There is nothing in Tacitus actually to
rule out a four-year interval between
the fire and the persecution,
though such a gap would have made any connection
with the charge of arson incredible.
The circumstantial, and much older,
evidence of Tacitus must be preferred at this point,
with the general
persecution beginning, in all probability, in 65.
But what of the later date
for the apostles' death?
There is absolutely no way of being certain,
Lightfoot, despite an exhaustive discussion of the early Roman episcopal
succession, [af 1.1.]
Wisdom perhaps should dictate leaving it there, and there is certainly no place for Harnack's dogmatic assertion that the martyrdom of Paul in July 64 is 'an assured fact'. But there are certain observations of greater or lesser probability that can be made.
1. It is questionable whether Eusebius had any basis for his dating except guesswork, and on the date of the general Neronian persecution he was almost certainly wrong by some three years. The limitation of a chronicle is that it allows no room for genuine uncertainty. In a history one can slur over one's ignorance; in an annual record one is forced to place things in one year or another. As we have seen, in his History Eusebius offers no date for the persecution, which may suggest that he did not have one. There are two reasons why in his Chronicle he could have decided to put it at the end of Nero's reign. In the Armenian version (and the Latin is similar) his entry for the persecution reads: 'On top of his other crimes Nero was the first to provoke persecutions of Christians; under him the apostles Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome.' Zahn comments:
Eusebius himself knows no more than what he says, namely, that Peter and Paul died under Nero, and does not intend that 67 shall be regarded as the year in which both apostles died, as is proved also by his remark at the year preceding (66) that Linus succeeded Peter as bishop of Rome. It was only his way of looking at the history, according to which the slaying of the Christians was the climax of Nero's crimes (HE 2.25. 2-5), that caused him in his Chronicum to place the persecution of the Christians at the end of that emperor's reign.
The other reason, on which Harnack fastened,is that the year 67 looks suspiciously as if it may be influenced by combining the traditions of a twelve-year stay of the apostles in Jerusalem and a twenty-five year 'episcopate' of Peter over Rome (30 + 12 == 42 + 25 = 67). Unlike the date 42, it is supported by no other evidence than that of Eusebius himself, and is therefore unreliable.
2. The evidence of Sulpicius Severus, though late, could be based on better sources. His reference to decrees is, as we shall see, borne out by Tertullian. Unlike Eusebius, he certainly had access to Tacitus, whose account he clearly echoes. But Tacitus had nothing about the death of Peter and Paul, and this may be the reason for Sulpicius' adding the notice of it apparently as a separate item at the end, following the decrees. In any case, if he intended an interval after the initial onslaught, there is absolutely no indication of its duration. It could have been but a few weeks.
3. As far as the death of Peter is concerned, the evidence
points to its being associated with the mass violence of 65.
Death by being
'fastened to crosses' is among the horrors listed by Tacitus,
and the 'Quo Vadis?' legend,
and to which, Edmundson argues, considerable credibility attaches, speaks of Peter seeking to save his life by leaving the city, only to be turned back by the vision of Christ to face crucifixion. This suggests that though he escaped the initial round-up mentioned by Tacitus he met his death before the end of the purge. There is no suggestion in any tradition that this was prolonged beyond the year (indeed in 66 Nero went to Greece and did not return till 68). So tentatively we may agree with Edmundson that the death of Peter took place 'some time during the summer of 65'.
4. By contrast there is nothing specifically to connect the
death of Paul with the Neronian pogrom.
It was apparently a judicial execution following a trial and could have
occurred at any time before, during, or after it.
For what little it is worth,
the evidence is in favour of Paul's death being somewhat later than that of
have been affected by the desire to leave time for further journeys east so as to satisfy the supposed requirements of the Pastoral Epistles. There is really no way of telling. All we can say is that it was near enough to the death of Peter to be regarded by Clement as part of the same attack and later by Dionysius to have occurred 'about the same time'. Probably we shall not be far out in settling for some time in 66, or 67 at the latest.
It must be stressed again that all this
is no more than a very tentative reconstruction in the absence of any firm
It can but provide a provisional framework,
which may have to be
modified by the evidence from the Petrine epistles,
to which we must turn.
There is no question at any rate that
the epistle claims to be by the apostle Peter (1.1)
and purports therefore to
be written during his lifetime.
It is addressed to 'those of God's scattered
people who lodge for a while in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and
and, in contrast with the epistle of James,
the Christian diaspora evidently now includes a
majority (probably) who were once Gentiles (1.14, 18; 2.9f.; 3.51.; 4.3).
other thing that is reasonably certain is that it was written, or purports to
have been written, from Rome.
The 'greetings from her who dwells in Babylon,
chosen by God like you' (5.13) is almost universally
agreed to be a disguise for the church in Rome.
The pseudonym is indisputable
in the book of Revelation (14.8; 16.19; 17.5; 18.2, 10, 21) as it is in other
late-Jewish and Christian writings (II Bar.10.1f; 11.1; 67.7; II Esd.3.1f., 28,
31; Orac. Sib.5. 143, 159f.), and it was so
understood here as early as Papias.
There is no need to spend time discussing alternative locations in Mesopotamia or Egypt. The only question is why the disguise was felt to be necessary - as it never is, for instance, in the writings of Paul. The obvious answer is that it was resorted to for the same reason as in the Apocalypse, namely, that of security (however thin the veil). But this at once leads into a discussion of the main, and indeed the only, circumstantial evidence in the epistle which is relevant to its dating, the menace of persecution that everywhere pervades it.
Let it be said at once that this evidence proves nothing by way of dating. The references are such as could be explained by the kind of harassment at the hands of Jews and local magistrates that meets us constantly in Acts and Paul, and which might have occurred at any time or place. This has been emphasized by a number of recent writers,for instance Selwyn, Moule, Kelly, Best, and van Unnik. The last concludes:
Once we rule out the possibility of identifying these sufferings with some particular persecution, we are left with no direct indication as to the date. The situation reflected in the letter could have happened at any time in the first or second century wherever a Christian group was found.
Indeed F. L. Cross goes so far as to say that 'the supposed references to persecution are false trails',since he argues that the theme of suffering is supplied by the church's liturgical season rather than by external events.
But, even granting that there is a liturgical setting, this is surely to present a false either/or. Moreover, though these are salutary warnings against identifying the references with any datable official persecution – and still more against the dogmatism of precluding a date because there is no record of a persecution in that particular area – it does seem that there is perhaps more to be said. For the preoccupation with suffering, and with Christian behaviour under it, is unique to I Peter. There is nothing quite like it in the Pauline epistles, or in any others, with the exception perhaps of Hebrews. But in Hebrews the persecution lies, partly at least, in the past, and the concern is for the danger of relapse it has brought in its train. Here it is potential, imminent or incipient (1.6; 2.12, 19f.; 3.13-17; 4.12-19; 5.8-10). What situation is reflected in Hebrews we must go on to discuss in the next chapter, but that it reflects a particular situation can hardly be doubted. So in I Peter, at least in 4.12, 'Do not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is upon you' (or is happening to you, ὐμῖν γινομένη), it seems evident that something specific is in mind. And while it is not limited to the recipients of the letter (5.9), it is nevertheless a new situation (4.17) for which they are not prepared (4.12). It may not be an official persecution, but it is clear that things are building up to a climax, indeed, in the author's view, to the final climax (4.7). Perhaps the nearest historical parallel to the kind of social and religious harassment that I Peter seems to presuppose is the phenomenon of anti-semitism; and this characteristically manifests itself in waves, erupting from time to time in sharp pogroms (whether or not officially 'inspired'). It is clear too that this persecution of Christians is not the sort that Paul mentions in I Thess.2.14-16, and which Acts chronicles so frequently, as instigated specifically by Jews. Jews may have been involved, but there is nothing to say so. It is pagans who malign them as wrongdoers (2.12) and vilify them as spoil-sports (4.3f.); it is the criminal code and the standards of good citizenship which they must be careful not to offend (2.12, 151.; 3.16f.; 4.14f.), not the Mosaic law or Jewish susceptibilities.
Above all there is a wariness with regard to the state authorities (2.131.) that suggests that Christians must be particularly careful to afford them no handle. If they have to suffer, they must be sure not to put themselves the wrong side of the law (4.141.) and so give excuse to the adversary who is 'looking for someone to devour' (5.8). The parallel today might be a warning to Christians in South Africa to make certain that, if they are going to oppose apartheid (as of course they must), they do not allow themselves to be convicted for doing wrong rather than for doing good. And this approach, of being, in Jesus' words, as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, is entirely compatible with advocating and encouraging all proper respect for the state and its powers (2.13-17; cf. 3.15). The situation here is not that reflected in the book of Revelation, where the time is past when Christians can expect that such respect will bring them justice. Moreover, in contrast again with the Apocalypse, there is as yet no evidence of martyrdom or banishment, or indeed of any physical violence. Though hostility would obviously not be limited to insulting words (cf. 2.20, of the beating of slaves), the attack upon them 'as Christians' seems to have consisted primarily of slander and calumny. As Zahn pointed out :
Whenever a specific injury is mentioned which they suffered at the hands of the heathen, it is always of this character:- καταλαλεῖν, (2.12; 3.16), λοιδορεῖν (3.9), and ἐπηρεάζειν τὴν ἀγαθ΄θν ἐν ἀναστροφήν (3.16); βλασφημεῖν (4.4) and ὀνειδίζειν (4.14). They are to silence their slanderers by good conduct (2.15); they are to put them to shame (3.16); above all, they are not to answer reviling with reviling, but with blessing (3.9). The very first condition of a comfortable life is to refrain from evil and deceitful words (3.10). Even in the passage where the suffering of Christ is held up as an example especially to slaves, it is not said that he refused to use his power to defend himself against violence (Matt. 26.51-5; 27.40-4; John 18.36; Heb. 12.2f.); but that when he was reviled he reviled not again, and did not give vent to threatening words when he was compelled to suffer (2.23).
To sum up, there is no evidence of open state persecution. Yet there is a sense of tension with regard to the civic authorities which is missing from even the latest epistles of Paul and the end of Acts. I believe therefore that those are right who look for some climacteric to which a date may be put. Can we be more specific? Three main possibilities have been suggested, the situations under Trajan, Domitian and Nero.
i. We may begin with that under Trajan because we have a parallel which looks almost too good to be true. In his oft-quoted letter to the EmperorPliny the younger, who was governor of Bithynia-Pontus, a province specifically mentioned in the address of I Peter, asks whether, in dealing with those brought before him 'as Christians', 'punishment attaches to the mere name apart from secret crimes, or to the secret crimes connected with the name'; and he cites the oath by which Christians bound themselves, 'not for any crime, but not to commit theft or robbery or adultery'. This seems to parallel closely the situation described in 4.14-16:
If Christ's name is flung in your teeth as an insult, count yourselves happy. ... If you suffer, it must not be for murder, theft, or sorcery, nor for infringing the rights of others. But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should feel it no disgrace, but confess that name to the honour of God.
Many have concluded with F. W. Beare
'it would therefore seem unnecessary to look further for the persecution
which called forth our letter',
it is illegitimate to draw the inference from 4.15 that being a Christian is itself a capital offence comparable with murder. To take care that you suffer unambiguously as a Christian no more implies this than it does in the parallel we suggested from South Africa today. Suffering for 'the name' is of course already to be found in Acts 5.41; 9.14; and Mark 13.13; and the wording of Matt. 5.11, 'How blest are you, when you suffer insults and persecution and every calumny for my sake', is particularly close to the situation in I Peter. The term 'Christian' too had become established well before this date (Acts 11.28; 26.28). These parallels are the more significant if, as we have argued, Acts and the synoptic gospels are all to be dated before the mid-60s. The Trajanic setting would be compelling if there were any other reason to suggest a second-century date or if no other Sitz im Leben looked possible. Otherwise it cannot be said to be necessary, or indeed probable. (It is notable that the most thorough English commentary on the epistle in recent years, that of Selwyn, does not even mention it - Trajan comes into the index only in a quotation from Dante!) It will be proper therefore to suspend judgment until we have examined the evidence for the other alternatives.
2. The placing of I Peter under Domitian is really a compromise for those who can put it at neither of the other dates. Thus Kummel, who has already ruled out apostolic authorship, writes:
The reign of Domitian should probably be taken as the time of writing, since the mention of the persecution 'as Christians' (4.16) is not sufficient ground for going down as late as the beginning of the second century, or even to the time of the persecution under Trajan. 90-5 is, therefore, the most probable time of composition.
The reason, of course, for selecting the last years of Domitian's reign is that this is the only other period apart from the latter 60s associated in the tradition with the persecution of the church. What in fact this persecution amounted to we must examine more closely when we come to the book of Revelation,which is usually connected with it. But there is no evidence that it affected Asia Minor - and in this it is in exactly the same position as the Neronian persecution - except for the evidence of the Apocalypse. But equally, if the Apocalypse comes from the times of Nero, then its evidence, including the use of the pseudonym 'Babylon', would support a similar date for I Peter. For the moment therefore we must leave this evidence on one side. In any case, as we have seen, the state of affairs in I Peter is clearly not yet that of the Apocalypse. Reicke makes the point that
sacrifices to the emperor are not mentioned in First Peter as a problem confronting the Christians. If the epistle had been written during Domitian's persecution that well-known, grave issue could not have been passed over.
This is, of course, an equally valid objection to the Trajanic date, since Pliny specifically mentions 'supplication with incense and wine' to the statue of the emperor as an alternative to execution; and of this there is no hint in I Peter. Indeed it is scarcely credible that under either Trajan or Domitian the writer could have linked 'reverence to God' and 'honour to the emperor' in the positive and unqualified manner of 2.17.
There is in fact really nothing to be said for a date in Domitian's reign except as a last resort. I cannot resist quoting Wand's comment in this connection,since it bears out what I have come to feel at many points in the course of this investigation:
Is there not some danger of Domitian's reign becoming rather overloaded with otherwise undated bits of Christian literature? The Apocalypse, Hebrews and I Clement, to say nothing of Barnabas and the Didache, have all been ascribed to this period. It has in fact become the favourite dumping-ground for doubtful writings with a hint of persecution about them.
But he is too modest in his list. The reign has also been pressed into service to accommodate Ephesians, Luke, Acts, Matthew, John and the Johannine epistles, and by many too James, Jude and the Pastoral Epistles! This is not because all these writings have common factors (not even persecution): they are widely different. Nor is it because we have such detailed information of the circumstances of the reign that we can see how and why they fit in. Indeed, from a Christian point of view, it is one about which we know remarkably little. Hence its attractiveness as a depository: it can accommodate almost anything. So let us pass on, to see whether we are really forced by lack of alternative to bring it into use for I Peter.
3. With a date under Nero the issue of authorship becomes a decisive factor - though in fact it is equally tied to the other two hypotheses, which are viable only on the assumption of pseudonymity or original anonymity (the name of Peter being subsequently attached). Inevitably, however, the arguments that it cannot be by the apostle tend to be held (or are capable of being stated) more decisively, not to say dogmatically, than the arguments that it must be by the apostle. For it is easier to preclude authorship than to prove it. Arguments against apostolicity are therefore often used (e.g. by Kummel) to rule out a Neronian dating without further discussion. Beare, who commits himself to the statement that 'there can be no possible doubt that "Peter" is a pseudonym',effectively dismisses this date on the sole ground that there is no evidence that this persecution extended to the provinces. There is, to be sure, no evidence that the persecution of Nero had repercussions in Asia Minor (unless of course the Apocalypse does come - somewhat later -from this period). But the happy accident that so remote a province as Bithynia-Pontus had an exceptionally literary governor in the second decade of the second century whose correspondence has survived and touches at one point on the treatment of Christians can scarcely be used as an argument that silence elsewhere implies that there was nothing of the sort going on. In any case, the kind of suppressed tension which I Peter reflects, in contrast with open state persecution, is hardly likely to have featured prominently in the history books. The issue is whether the terror that erupted under Nero is the sort of which this situation could be the build-up, whether or not it also broke out openly in Asia Minor. And here Tacitus' words in Ann. 15.44 already quoted deserve closer scrutiny.
Apart from the obviously trumped-up
charge of arson, there are two counts mentioned.
One is 'hatred of the human
race' (odium humani generis; cf. Tacitus' comment on the Jews in
Hist.5.5, 'adversos omnes alios
This is clearly a catch-all indictment (and the word
'convicti' seems to imply that it was framed as a legal charge) such as can
succeed only if it can feed on, and foment, latent popular resentment and
hostility (as with Hitler's incrimination of the Jews after the Reichstag
And this is precisely the kind of lurking, or rather prowling (5.8),
hostility that I Peter reflects.
Secondly, says Tacitus,
'first those were
arrested who confessed'
(primum correpti qui fatebantur).
The context shows that this cannot mean confessed to arson, of which it is made clear they were innocent, but to their faith. The situation was the same as with Pliny: 'I asked them whether they were Christians, and if they confessed, I asked them a second and third time with threats of punishment' - though Nero's procedures were certainly not designed to give them an incentive to recant, but rather to inform on their co-religionists. Admission to being a Christian was all that was needed. And, says the author of I Peter,
let commission of this
crime be all that they can find against you: 'If anyone suffers as a Christian, he should feel no disgrace, but confess that name to the honour of God (4.16).
The parallel with the time of Nero is as close as with that of Trajan, and, assuming that open persecution has not yet broken out, the attitude of wary respect and duly discriminating honour for the authorities, 'whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to the governor as his deputy' (2.14-17), is at this stage entirely explicable. But such language, and even more that of 3.13, 'Who is going to wrong you if you are devoted to what is good?', would be incredible if the Neronian terror had already struck - or even if Paul had by then been executed.And this is perhaps a further indication that the martyrdom of Paul did not precede the persecution.
All that is lacking (unless the
Apocalypse supplies it) is specific evidence from Asia Minor.
But is the clue
to the writer's language to be sought in the epistle's destination - or in its
There is no suggestion that he speaks from personal
acquaintance with his readers.
We cannot tell whether he has ever paid them a
visit, and he holds out no prospect of one.
Absence of any textual evidence for this (in contrast to the very varied position of the doxology at the end of Romans) must weigh against any theory of literary division; but that the material represents addresses given on different occasions or to different groups is entirely plausible. Yet here the implications of the place of delivery are more relevant. For if it is material prepared in the first instance for speaking (however much it was adapted subsequently), then the situation it reflects will primarily be that of Rome rather than the obscurer parts of Asia Minor.
There have indeed been attempts to pin
the occasion down still more specifically, notably by Cross,
though I am inclined to think at some points he could have stated his case more cogently and in a form less open to objection. λογικόν), and in 2.5 the structure of the church and the θυσίαι (oblations?) as πνευματικαί. Finally in 3.21 baptism is seen not as a mere washing away of the bodily pollution but (if this is the right translation) a pledge to God proceeding from a good conscience. But, though the different moments of the rite provide the occasion for the teaching, there is no need (with Cross) to assume that the sermon was tied synchronistically to them.] But whether this theory (or any modification of it) is necessary as an explanation of the epistle (and clearly it is not), it is at least worth considering the implications of some of the phraseology on the assumption that what shaped it was the experience of the writer's own pastoral situation in Rome rather than that of his distant, and highly diverse, readers. I believe there may be several hints of this, especially in the closing section of the epistle, which may have been addressed more specifically to the immediate needs of the local congregation as a whole.
The most striking phrase is that in 4.12 about 'the fiery ordeal that is Upon you' (τῆ ἐν ὑμῖν τυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν ὑμῖν γινομένη). It is indeed difficult to apply this to a general situation in every part of Asia Minor north and west of the Taurus mountains. Hence the theories that it may have been added for a particular province or church, though there is nothing else to suggest or confirm this. We must be wary of taking the metaphor too literally, since the πύρωσις takes up the metaphor of the assayer's fire in 1.7 (though why it was chosen there is still relevant). The use of the symbolism of 'the fire of testing' (τὴν πύρωσιν τῦς δοκιμασίας) for the eschatological ordeal occurs also in Did. 16.5, as, of course, in Paul (I Cor. 3.15) and elsewhere. Nevertheless 'the fiery trial' would be a grimly appropriate image for the Neronian terror, sparked off as it was by the fire of Rome and culminating in 'Christians fastened on crosses, and ... burned to serve as lamps by night'.
If this part of the epistle does reflect a more circumstantial account of what had already begun in Rome (though not yet in Asia Minor), there could also be an echo of it in 5.8. There in a vivid metaphor (cf. I Cor.i5.32; II Tim. 4.17) the Christians' ἀντίδικος, or adversary in court, is viewed as the devil (incarnate in the imperial power?) who, 'like a roaring lion prowls around looking for someone to devour'. Tacitus does not indeed specify the lions of the amphitheatre, but he does say that the Christians were 'covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs'.
Finally, with great hesitation, I offer a suggestion on which nothing turns and which indeed I throw out mainly for a classicist with more knowledge than myself to refute or confirm. The phrase in the following verse, 5.9, translated in the neb, 'remember that your brother Christians are going through the same kinds of suffering while they are in the world', or, in the rsv, 'throughout the world', has long struck me as odd. From opposite extremes of the critical spectrum Bigg and Beare agree that 'this clause is full of difficulties; almost every word offers a problem'. [I Peter, ad loc.] Yet neither of them, nor as far as I have discovered anyone else, observe the oddness in the phrase ἐν κόσμω. It has to be paraphrased to mean either 'while still in the world' or 'in the rest of the world' or 'in the whole world'. Yet when Paul wants to say this to Rome, he says it quite clearly: ἒν ὃλω τῶ κόσμω. (Rom. 1.8). Could it possibly be a stock phrase (without the article) to mean the opposite of 'in town'? And if so is it a Latinism reflecting the usage of the place where Peter's successor still makes his allocution 'urbi et orbi'? Was there anywhere else except 'the City where one could speak of the provinces as 'the world' without qualification? rn Greek for εἰς τὴν πόλιν.] If so, it would be a further subtle pointer to the original context of the phraseology being supplied not by Asia Minor but by Rome.
The objection to this whole thesis is that it is inconceivable how, in Moule's words,
a liturgy-homily, shorn of its rubrics ... but with its changing tenses and broken sequences all retained, could have been hastily dressed up as a letter and sent off (without a word of explanation) to Christians who had not witnessed its original setting.
But this objection loses much of its
force on two conditions.
The first is that one does not press the points
in the argument that make it into a liturgy proper
but treats it more, with Reicke, as 'a confirmation sermon' comparable, he suggests, with Ephesians (another Asian encyclical). Secondly, one must bear in mind that, as I read them, the circumstances are far from normal. The homily turned into a circular letter is dispatched, via Silvanus, 'our trusty brother, as I hold him', with the message 'I am saying very little in writing' (5.12), because, like Tychicus in Eph.6.21, he will 'tell all' (πάντα γνωρίσει).
The situation is one of great urgency and danger, in a city that must already be disguised as 'Babylon', as the Neronian terror breaks. When would this be? We shall not be far wrong, I think, if we guess the spring of 65. Indeed if the paschal associations of I Peter, as of I Corinthians (cf. I Cor.5.7f.; 16.8), are granted, whatever its literary form, we may be more specific still. Passover that year was late, falling on April 12. If Edmundson is right, who argues for this same dating of I Peter, the rounding up of Christians after the first 'confessions' became mixed up with the retribution vented on the Pisonian conspirators. This also came to a head, according to Tacitus, in April 65. We may then envisage Silvanus leaving hastily for Pontus on his round of the Asian churches perhaps towards the end of that month.
But at this point we must reckon with factors which have seemed to many to make such a dating impossible. They focus mainly on the issue of authorship, but, first, what of any other indications in the epistle, or out of it, which might suggest a later date?
As regards external attestation, there is nothing to suggest that it was not known as early as almost any New Testament book. It is quoted several times (though not by name) in the epistle of Polycarp from the first part of the second century. Possible connections with Ephesians, Hebrews, James and I Clement are (it is now widely agreed) too sketchy or too general for asserting literary dependence either way. In any case the arguments are circular, depending on judgements made of the dates of these other documents.
With regard to the internal evidence, it is remarkable how little even those like Beare who regard an early date as impossible can point to traits of doctrine or organization to support them. In fact, apart from asserting that the epistle's teaching on baptismal regeneration is (at some unspecified date) 'borrowed from the contemporary Hellenistic modes of thought,'he fastens on the fact that the Spirit of God is mentioned only four times, which he interprets to mean that
a writing in which the sense of the active presence of the Spirit has fallen into eclipse as it has in First Peter betrays by that indication alone that it is the product of a later generation. It is utterly inconceivable that to Peter, or to Silvanus for that matter, the doctrine of the indwelling Spirit was wholly unknown, or was not of the first importance for the moral life of the Christian.
Seldom can the argument from silence have been made to cover so much. One might as well argue the same for Colossians, which does not refer to the Holy Spirit once.
Cross, on the contrary, as a scholar at home both in the biblical and the patristic periods, has no doubt as to the world to which I Peter belongs. I quote the summary that concludes his study:
First, the theology of I Peter betrays many signs of great antiquity. There is a marked absence of later theologoumena, e.g. in the undeveloped doctrine of the Trinity in 1.2; while there are indications that the ordering of the Christian ministry is that of a very early date. Secondly, the eschatological structure of the thought, with its close inter-penetration of future hope and present realization, suggests the same conclusions. The ethics is still in the atmosphere of the last things, and we find that remarkable co-presence of the End as future and yet as already here, with no suggestion of the clear distinction between the Prote and the Deutera Parousia of Christ as we find it from Justin onwards, which is a mark of very early times. And thirdly, the whole tone of the work. If we ask:
'Does it breathe the spirit of the other Biblical writings which we use day by day in our Christian worship, or is it that of later days whose ethos, however sublime, is not that of the New Testament?' I think that most will have a ready answer; and it is this that matters most. Whether it is the work of Peter or of Silvanus or of someone else I will not here try to say.
In the same way, Moffatt, who argues for a late first - or early second-century date for Ephesians, the Pastorals, Hebrews and James, is equally clear that this period does not fit I Peter:
An early date is favoured by the absence of any heretical tendencies among the readers, the naive outlook on the imminent end (4.17f.), and the exercise of charismatic gifts (4.10); ... and by common consent it has the stamp of primitive Christianity more than any other, not only of the writings in the Petrine New Testament (Gospel, Acts, Epp., Apoc.), but of the post-Pauline writings.
First, it is worth noting that while some, as we have seen, speak as though apostolic authorship (whether direct or through an amanuen-sis) were out of the question, there are other scholars supporting it here who deny it in other comparable cases. Indeed, if we leave out such questioned but nevertheless widely accepted letters as Colossians and II Thessalonians, this, with the possible exception of James, is the least likely New Testament epistle to be pseudonymous. Even Harnack,who decided against apostolicity, nevertheless found the case of pseudonymity 'weighed down' by such insuperable difficulties that, if his own theory were unacceptable, he said that he would opt for Petrine authorship. This theory was of an originally anonymous writing (from between 82 and 93 - though conceivably some twenty years earlier) which was later (c. 150-175) attributed to Peter by the addition of 1.1f. and 5.12-14. These verses are certainly detachable and may well be what originally turned a liturgical sermon into a letter. But there is absolutely no textual or external evidence for the theory, and it leaves most of the problems where they are. It has won little support, and, as Chase comments in his perceptive summary and critique of it, it is another sign (noticed by Mayor of Harnack's treatment of James) of the remnants of the Tubingen presuppositions from which Harnack at the time had not shaken himself free:
It essentially belongs to a period of transition. It is the product, on the one hand, of the lingering influence of an older criticism, too thoroughly bent upon negative results to retain much delicacy of perception; and, on the other hand, of a keen literary and spiritual sense of the significance of a writer's matter and manner.
The objections to pseudonymity felt by Harnack are nowhere better stated than by Chase himself:
A close study of the document itself reveals no motive, theological, controversial, or historical, which explains it as a forgery. It denounces no heresy. It supports no special system of doctrine. It contains no rules as to Church life or organization. Its references to the words and the life of Christ are unobtrusive. It presents no picture of any scene in St Peter's earlier life, and does not connect itself with any of the stories current in the early Church about his later years. Why, moreover, should a forger ... represent Silvanus as the amanuensis or the bearer of St Peter's letter, though in the Acts he nowhere appears as in any way connected with that apostle, but both in the Acts and in three Epistles (I and II Thess., II Cor.) as the companion of St Paul? Why, above all, should a forger give to Pauline thoughts and to Pauline language a prominent place in an Epistle bearing the name of St Peter?
Attempts have legitimately been made to defuse the
suggestions of 'forger' (e.g. by Beare
which in fact (unlike II Peter) deceived everyone until the nineteenth century.
But what are the improbabilities (Harnack) or impossibilities (Beare and Kummel) in the way of apostolic authorship? Apart from the circumstances of persecution already considered, they may be summarized briefly under three heads.
1. If the epistle were by an intimate associate of Jesus we should expect more direct references to his life and words. This is a very subjective expectation, and ironically it is precisely because II Peter does contain such explicit reference that it is discredited. Certainly the fact that any claims or allusions are so indirect argues more strongly against pseudonymity than authenticity. In any case to say that it is inconceivable that Peter should not 'have referred to the example of Jesus in some way is not merely subjective but wrong.The reference in 2.23 to the example of Jesus under trial is a clear allusion to the passion story. Indeed it is one of a number of passages which Selwyn cites as evidence of 'apostolic testimony'. None of these, he admits, is unambiguous, and they will strike different people with different force. But two others, I think, are worth repeating. They are 1.8:
You have not seen him, yet you love him; and trusting in him now without having seen him, you are transported with a joy too great for words.
It has been well remarked that Paul never writes, nor could ever have written, such words, with their implied contrast in status between writer and readers. Selwyn cites Hoskyns and Davey's commenton the similar word of Jesus to the twelve in John 20.29:
Those who have not seen and yet have believed are what they are because there once were men who believed because they did actually see.
The other passage is the highly ambiguous one of 5.1:
I appeal ... as ... a witness of Christ's sufferings, and also a partaker in the splendour that is to be revealed.
It is difficult to
believe that this refers merely to the common experience of all Christians
described in 4.13
('It gives you a share in Christ's sufferings ... and when
his glory is revealed your joy will be triumphant').
A 'witness' would
naturally imply more, as in Peter's words in Acts 1.22 and 2.32.
And this is
fortified by Selwyn's interpretation
as an anticipated vision of the parousia. If so, the veiled allusion, in contrast with the unmistakable reference in II Peter 1.16-18, fits with the modesty of the author's whole approach in 5.1 ('I appeal to you as a fellow-elder'), though scarcely with the pretensions of one falsely claiming to be an apostle.
2. It is said that the Paulinism of the doctrine is incompatible with the known
position of Peter.
This 'Paulinism' has in any case been much exaggerated, when,
as Selwyn says, 'we reflect that the Epistle is without allusion to what are
commonly regarded as the characteristic ideas of St Paul' - and he lists
justification; the contrast between faith and works, gospel and law; the
distinctive Pauline connotations of grace and sin, the atonement and the body
of Christ; and much in the ethical field.
For the rest he has persuasively demonstrated that the similarities reflect the common stock of early Christian teaching and catechetical patterns. In any case, apart from one regrettable but temporary lapse (Gal.2.11-14), neither in the Pauline epistles (cf. especially Gal.2.6-10; I Cor.1.121.; 15.3-11) nor in Acts (cf. especially 15.6-11, where Peter puts the Pauline case) is the Petrine position regarded as fundamentally different from Paul's. If Peter had read Romans (which if it was sent to Rome some eight years before is more than likely) and indeed other Pauline epistles (as II Peter 3.15 at any rate says that he had), there is no reason why he should not reflect the thinking of one who was on all the evidence the more creative theologian. But this is not to deny that he also had a theological position, particularly in regard to the sufferings and death of Christ, distinctively his own - whether or not we allow any weight to the significant connections between I Peter and the Petrine speeches in Acts.
(3) Finally, there is the vital question again of language. One objection over which time need not be spent is the fact that the Old Testament quotations follow the LXX rather than the Hebrew text. For, naturally, if a man is writing to Greek-speaking readers he follows 'their' Bible. 'Besides', as van Unnik observes from experience, ἀγράμματοι, though whether this means 'illiterate' or more likely, as in the neb, 'untrained' (in the Law) cannot finally be determined. In any case, what struck the authorities was what they were capable of despite this. The second is that according to Papias Peter had Mark as his 'interpreter' (ἑρμηνευτής), though again whether this means 'translator' is uncertain. In any case, the purpose of the quotation is to stress Mark's closeness to Peter, not to provide information about Peter's linguistic abilities. It is noticeable that in none of Clement of Alexandria's references to this tradition is this aspect mentioned: Peter preaches 'publicly' in Rome (with no mention of an interpreter) and Mark his follower 'remembers' and subsequently writes down what he said. But even if at one stage Peter used a translator, this incident may come from an earlier period. As we have seen, the only person to date it, Eusebius, places it back in the reign of Claudius, and in his Chronicle as early as 42. Whatever Peter's educational limitations immediately after Pentecost, it is inconceivable that he can have exercised any kind of leading ministry in Antioch or even Jerusalem, let alone in Rome, without the use of Greek. Whether this means that he could or did write the good Greek of I Peter is, naturally, another matter. Suspension of judgment appears to be the only prudent course, and the fact that eminent authorities can be found on both sides of the argument suggests humility rather than dogmatism.'a foreigner writing in another language will usually stick to the standard translation for literal quotations and not dare to change it to suit his own text.' Beare's assumption that there would be no occasion for Peter to have used the Greek scriptures except in addressing Gentiles (and that late in life) is astonishing. But, quotations apart, could Peter have written the Greek of I Peter? Again there is no way of saying dogmatically. Many of the issues are the same as those already discussed in relation to James, though the Greek of I Peter has perhaps a somewhat more 'classical' touch. But against the possibility or at least the probability of this there are two further arguments. The first is that, according to Acts 4.13, Peter and John were described by the high priests as
But, in contrast with the epistle of James, there is the ready way out (on which many have seized) of an amanuensis or ghost-writer in the person of Silvanus (5.13) - not, be it noted, Mark, who is mentioned in the next verse and whom on the basis of Papias' tradition one would have expected a pseudepigrapher to select. διὰ Σιλουανοῦ ... ἒγραψα? Is Silvanus the carrier or the scribe (and therefore by extension the writer) of the letter? It would be safe to say that he is in any case envisaged as delivering the letter and is commended to the churches for this purpose. But did he also write it at Peter's dictation or behest? On the analogy of the opening verses of I and II Thessalonians, one might expect Silvanus to have shared in the address if he was part-author, or to have added his own greeting, like Tertius in Rom. 16.22, if he was the amanuensis, though obviously these parallels cannot be pressed. The bearer of Romans is evidently Phoebe, who is similarly commended to the congregation (16.1f.), and it is significant that the subscription added to later manuscripts describes the epistle as ἐγράφη ἀπὸ Κορίνθου διὰ Φοίβης. It was her activity, not that of Tertius, that the scribes thought was properly described by the preposition διά. This is one of a number of parallels given by Chase in a careful note on the subject which seems to have been conspicuously ignored (or misinterpreted) by those who have not agreed with its conclusion. The only other example in the New Testament (also as it happens associated with Silvanus) is in Acts 15.23 where γράφαντες διὰ χειρὸς αὐτῶν must in the context (cf.15.22, 27) refer to the sending of the apostolic letter, via Judas Barsabbas and Silas, and mean, as the neb rightly renders it, 'gave them the letter to deliver'. The same applies to the Epistle of Polycarp 14, 'I write these things to you by (per) Grescens, whom I commended to you recently and now commend to you', and to the only unambiguous instance in the letters of lgnatius: 'I write these things to you from Smyrna by the hand of (διά) the Ephesians who are worthy of all felicitation' (Rom. 10.1). On the other side only two parallels, as far as I know, have been cited. One is the letter from Dionysius of Corinth to the Romans, where he describes I Clement as having been written from the Roman church διὰ Κλέμεντος. But this means not that Clement was the amanuensis of some other author, but the representative of his church. Similarly in the Martyrdom of Polycarp 20 the church in Smyrna writes to the church in Philomelium and elsewhere 'through our brother Marcianus', and he is distinguished from Euarestus who 'wrote the letter' and, like Tertius in this capacity, sends his own greeting. Marcianus again is evidently the spokesman of the church and thus corresponds to Peter rather than Silvanus: he is no one's secretary. So Kummel seems to be right in saying that 'no one has yet proved that γράφω διά τινος can mean to authorize someone else to compose a piece of writing',But the question is, What is the meaning of
Until this can be shown, then to rely upon Silvanus as the
real composer of the Greek is extremely hazardous. 1ff. would suggest)
must really be prepared to stand on his own feet.
The doubts and difficulties
will remain, and it seems impossible that they could ever be finally resolved
In the last resort I can only say that I find nothing decisive to
outweigh the many other considerations to suggest that, whoever actually penned
it, the epistle comes from Peter's lifetime and that he is in the fullest sense
I see therefore no reason from the evidence of the authorship to
go back on the previous assessment of a date for the dispatch of the letter
somewhere around the end of April 65.
Turning to II Peter, we move into a much more complex set of problems and an area of the New Testament that from every point of view, including that of chronology, is a good deal murkier. We cannot expect it to shed much light on anything else; it is a question of what light other things can shed on it. II Peter cannot be considered except in conjunction with the epistle of Jude, with which, all would agree, it has a literary connection of some kind. What that is, and what is the relationship between them and I Peter, and whether either Jude or II Peter can sustain the claim to be written by the persons in whose name they stand, raise acutely debated issues which may not be burked. But with dating as our primary concern it may be helpful to to come at the matter from a different angle from that which has led to the concentration of the debate on the issue of pseudepigraphy.
Let us begin by leaving on one side for the time being the questions of authorship and literary dependence and look at the documents for the clues they afford which are relevant to placing them in 'period'. I deliberately put it that way, because neither II Peter nor Jude contains any positive indication of absolute dating. It is a question of where they belong in relation to other comparable literature, and more than usually therefore the arguments are in danger of being circular. If this other literature itself is dated late, then these epistles will follow; if early, then the same will be true. Yet II Peter has continued to remain an exception to almost every chronological scheme; and exceptions have value in proving a rule. If it is an exception, to what is it an exception, and why?
In asking what these two documents may have to tell us about dating, without prejudice to their interrelationship, we must begin with one or the other. Since the majority of scholars give priority to Jude over II Peter, let us start with the epistle of Jude, though keeping an open mind on the question.
Jude follows James, whose brother he claims to be (and there is general agreement that it is of this James that the claim is made), in calling himself simply a 'servant of Jesus Christ' (1.1; cf. James 1.1, 'servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ') and in giving no other details either about himself or of those with him, or of the place of origin or destination of the letter. In fact it is even less informative. While there are clues in James that point, as we saw, to a Palestinian milieu, there is nothing in Jude that affords any hint of where the author is living. And while James at least indicates that the destination of his epistle is not a single locality, Jude appears to be addressing a particular group of Christians but gives absolutely no indication of where they might be.
The one thing that is clear is the occasion of the epistle, which was of sufficient urgency to make him turn aside from other more leisurely literary activity:
My friends, I was fully engaged in writing to you about our salvation - which is yours no less than ours - when it became urgently necessary to write at once and appeal to you to join the struggle in defence of the faith, the faith which God entrusted to his people once and for all. It is in danger from certain persons who have wormed their way in (3f.).
The whole of the rest of the epistle, up to the notable doxology in 24f., is given over to an attack on these anonymous persons, referred to constantly as 'these men'. Almost all that can be said about them is summarized in the opening description:
They are the enemies of religion (ἀσεβεῖς); they pervert the free favour of our God into licentiousness (ἀσέλγειαν), disowning (ἀρνούμενοι) Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord (4).
Their menace, in other words, is religious, moral and doctrinal. It is also clear from the terms in which they are condemned and the warnings given from the past, that both they and the writer and presumably those to whom he is writing belong to a dominantly, if not exclusively, Jewish-Christian milieu within the Hellenistic world. Yet we are a long way from the 'primitive' atmosphere of the epistle of James, where no problems of heresy or schism have seriously arisen. Here we are in a silver-age situation, where reversion and perversion are the dangers and where purity of doctrine and discipline are imperilled. It is evident too that the menace arises from a sort of gnosticizing Judaism. Like those in Corinth with whom Paul had to deal, these men 'draw a line between spiritual and unspiritual persons', despising others as ψυχικοί (19; cf. I Cor.2.6-3.4; 8.1-3). Like them too, they take liberty for licence (4; cf. I Cor.6.12; 10.23) and end up slaves of sensuality (8, 10, 16, 23; cf. I Cor.6.9-20; II Cor.12.21). Like them, they 'eat and drink without reverence' at the Christian love-feast (12; cf. I Cor.11.17-43). Like them again, they flout the authority of those set over them in the Lord (8, 12; cf. I Cor.4.8-13; 9.1-12) and themselves claim leadership (cf. II Cor.ii.i3; 12.11). As 'shepherds who take care only of themselves' (12) they earn the condemnation of Israel's self-styled leaders (cf. Ezek.34.8).
Yet though there are these reflections of the situation in Corinth in the mid-50s, things are evidently far further gone. In Pauline terms, the parallels are more with the Pastoral Epistles, where we have the same falling back upon the authorized deposit of 'the faith' (3, 20; cf. I Tim.1.3; 4.6; II Tim.1.13f.; 2.2; Titus 1.9) - though even this was for Paul by no means a wholly new emphasis (cf. Rom. 6.17; 10.8; 16.17; I Cor.11.2; Gal.1.23; 6.10; Eph.4.5; Phil.1.27; I Thess.2.13; II Thess.2.15; 3.6). The danger from false brethren who insinuate themselves (3), though again not new (cf. Gal.2.4), is especially characteristic of the later apostolic age (Acts 20.30; Phil.3.2; II Tim.3.6; I John 2.18f.; 4.1; II John 7f.; Rev.2.20f.; cf. Ignatius, Eph.7.1; 9.1); and they have to be dealt with both firmly and with discrimination (22f.; cf. I Cor.5; II Thess.3.141.; I John 4.1-6; II John 7-11; and Did. 2.7; Ignatius, Smyrn .4.1).
Yet if we ask what precisely these
heretics taught it is impossible to form any clear impression.
We read that
they 'deny Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord' (4).
But whether this was by
faithlessness, like those referred to in Heb.6.6 and 10.29 or II Tim. 2.12f.
(cf. Titus 1.16; Rev.2.13),
or by doctrinal error, like
those attacked in Col.2.8 and I John 2.22f. and 5.6-12,
or by dishonouring
it is impossible to tell.
But there is no reference to theoretical
speculation and nothing to suggest any of the gnostic systems of the second
[for the differences here, cf. already Zahn, INT II, 292f.] but with those gnosticizing libertines attacked in the letters to the seven churches of the Apocalypse who 'hold to the teaching of Balaam' (Rev.2.14; cf.Jude 11) and 'pollute their clothing' with immorality (Rev.3.4; cf.Jude 23).
There are no other distinctive characteristics of second-century Christianity. There is no stress on the authority of the organized ministry, or even reference to it (in marked contrast at this point with the Pastoral Epistles), and the agape or love-feast still appears to be one with the eucharistic assembly. There are those who have found in Jude 5 a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem: 'Let me remind you how the Lord, having once delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt, next time destroyed those who were guilty of unbelief.' But the natural interpretation in the context is to refer this to the destruction of faithless Israel in the wilderness, as in the closely parallel warning of I Cor.10.5-10. Again, to interpret πάλαι προγεγραμμένοι in Jude 4 of long past Christian writings is wholly arbitrary : it evidently refers to the warnings that follow from 'scripture' (as the neb rightly translates). The references in v. 9, apparently, to the Assumption of Moses and in v. 14, certainly, to I Enoch carry in themselves no implication for a late date, since both these documents were in existence well before the middle of the first century - though the free use made of them indicates that they had not come under the later suspicion of apocrypha felt by the church.
The only passage which suggests a post-apostolic situation is that in 17f.:
But you, my friends, should remember the predictions made by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the warning they gave you: 'In the final age there will be men who pour scorn on religion, and follow their own godless lusts.'
This could indeed imply that the apostolic age was now closed, but it cannot be said that it necessarily does so. From one who makes no claim to be an apostle (or indeed to kinship with Jesus, which later interest in the person of Jude would surely have exploited), ἒλεγον ὑμῖν would most naturally refer to oral teaching, as in the parallel warning of Phil. 3.18f.:it could refer to the sort of warnings of which the later apostolic age is full (Acts 20.29f; I Tim.4.1; II Tim. 3.1-5; 4.3; I John 2.18f. - leaving out of account for the moment II Peter 2.1-3; 3.3). The
As I have often told you (ἒλεγον ὑμῖν), and now tell you with tears in my eyes, there are many whose way of life makes them enemies of the cross of Christ. They are heading for destruction, appetite is their god, and they glory in their shame (cf.Rom.16.18).
But even if reference were to written warnings, none of these other documents (leaving aside the Johannine epistles whose date we have yet to consider), excludes a dating in the 60s. Indeed as a provisional conclusion, on the scanty evidence of the epistle itself, I would concur with the estimate of Chase:
The general tone of the Epistle harmonizes best with a date somewhat late in the apostolic age. We shall not be far wrong if we suppose that it was written within a year or two of the Pastoral Epistles (assuming their genuineness), the Apocalypse (assuming the earlier date),viii below.] the First Epistle of St Peter, and the Epistle to the Hebrews.
II Peter affords as little direct information about its origin and destination as Jude, and its occasion is less specific. It purports to be
From Simeon Peter, servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the justice of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ share our faith and enjoy equal privilege with ourselves (1.1).
To the significance of 'Simeon Peter', in contrast with 'Peter' in I Peter 1.1, we must return. But on the face of it the form looks, or is intended to look, both Jewish and primitive. 'Servant and apostle' brings together the 'servant' of James 1.1 and Jude 1 and the 'apostle' of I Peter 1.1, but in itself is a typical apostolic greeting (Rom. 1.1; Titus 1.1) without significance for dating. There are no indications, in contrast with I Peter, of where the epistle was written to or from. The distinction implied in 'those who ... enjoy equal privilege with ourselves' appears to be between readers and apostle, as in I John 1.3 ('so that you and we together may share in a common life'), rather than between Jews and Gentiles, as in Acts 11.17; Col. 1.25-9; Eph.2.11-3.6. Indeed it is impossible to be certain whether the recipients are Jewish or Gentile Christians, though (in contrast again with I Peter) the dominant atmosphere (as in Jude) appears to be Jewish-Christian. In 2.20 the words, 'They had once escaped the world's defilements through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ', have been taken to mean that the converts (or is it the heretics?) have come from what the neb paraphrases in 2.18 as a 'heathen environ-ment'. But the language no more necessarily implies a Gentile origin than when Paul says of his fellow-Jews in Eph.2.3, 'We too were of their number: we all lived our lives in sensuality, and obeyed the promptings of our own instincts and notions', or when the writer of I John speaks to his predominantly Jewish-Christian readers of the evil world and its blandishments from which they have passed.
The prevailing atmosphere, as in Jude,
is still that of the Pastoral Epistles,
reflecting the same usage of πίστις and σωτήρ and εὐσέβια,
stress on true insight and knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις and γνῶσις) (1.2f, 5f., 8; 2.20; 3.18),
which characterizes not
only the Pastorals (I Tim.2.4; 6.20; II Tim.2.25; 3.7; Titus 1.1)
Colossians(1.9f; 2.2f.; 3.10) and Ephesians(1.17; 3.19; 4.13)
and, in verbs
rather than nouns, the Johannine epistles
but especially I John 2.2of.).
The epistle's most distinctive phrase in this
regard is 'partakers of the divine nature' (θείας
κοινωνοὶ φύσεως) in 1.4,
but it has been shown that this,
the whole so-called 'Asian' style in which II Peter is written,
in no way lies outside
the range of first-century Hellenistic Judaism.
Indeed, like the
language of τὸ πλήρωμα in Col. 1.19 and 2.19 or σπέρμα θεοῦ in I John 3.9,
well be being taken over and given Christian meaning.
it is not essentially different from the Christian's κοινωνία with the Father and the Son and his transformation into
the divine likeness claimed by I John (1.3; 3.2).
And this goal is achieved
not, as in Platonism and later gnosticism, by escaping from matter as evil, but
by moral union, having escaped (ἀποφυγόντες) from 'the
corruption with which lust has infected the world'.
The dualism, as in the Johannine writings, is not material and metaphysical but moral and
The use of 'the world' is the same as that in
John (e.g. I John 2.15-17) and does not imply any depreciation of the flesh
In fact neither in Jude nor
in II Peter is there any sign of the ascetical denial of the flesh as evil (in
contrast to its indulgence as indifferent) such as we find in Col.2.18f. and I
[How near the two apparently opposite
extremes are is illustrated by the story Eusebius, HE 3.29, quotes from Clement of Alexandria about the founder of
the Nicolaitans, who offered his young and lovely wife to others 'to renounce
his passion': 'It was self-control ... that taught him to say "abuse the
or of the docetic denial of matter as unreal of the Johannine epistles (I John 4.2; II John 7). In this again the persons attacked in II Peter as inJude stand nearer to the libertines of Corinth: they promise freedom but the result is sensual slavery (2.19f.). In fact apart from their questioning of the parousia (3.4; cf.1.16), there is nothing that suggests that the heretics in II Peter were any different from those in Jude or more 'advanced' in their teaching. The 'artfully spun tales' (μήθοι) abjured in 1.16 recall the 'myths' attacked in I Tim.1.4; 4.7; II Tim.4.4; and Titus 1.14, which are linked with an interest in genealogies and angelology, and in the last passage specifically called 'Jewish'. As in Jude, we are in the sphere of a gnosticizing Judaism, countered by warning examples from Israel's history (2.1-16). We are not dealing with the developed systems of second-century Christian heresies. Summing up the teaching common to both epistles, Zahn concluded:
While there were numerous parties and sects representing libertinistic theories and practices in the second and third centuries, there is none that so closely resembles the seducers described in II Peter and Jude as the libertinistic movement with which we become acquainted in I Corinthians, and as the Nicolaitans of whom we learn hints in Revelation.
So far then there would be nothing to cause us to date II Peter any later than Jude. It is, however, in the distinctive material of the epistle, particularly in three passages, 1.12-18; 3.1-4; and 3.15f., that the doubts arise.
1. Taken at its face value, the first passage actually contains nothing that would in itself require us to put the writing after the death of Peter. Yet it is the passage which has given greatest ground for suspicion that a forger is at work, inserting biographical detail for the sake of specious verisimilitude. Whether or not he is doing so cannot be decided except in relation to the whole question of authorship and pseudepigraphy from which at the moment we are prescinding. But let us examine the details without prejudgment.
I will not hesitate to remind you of this again and again, although you know it and are well grounded in the truth that has already reached you. Yet I think it right to keep refreshing your memory so long as I still lodge in this body. I know that very soon I must leave it; indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has told me so. But I will see to it that after I am gone you will have means of remembering these things at all times.
It was not on tales artfully spun that we relied when we told you of the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming; we saw him with our own eyes in majesty, when at the hands of God the Father he was invested with honour and glory, and there came to him from the sublime Presence a voice which said:
'This is my Son, my Beloved, on whom my favour rests'. This voice from heaven we ourselves heard; when it came, we were with him on the sacred mountain (1.12-18).
(it would be otiose to keep putting the name in
inverted commas - any more than Jude or John)
here uses the metaphor of the body
as a tent
(already found in Wisd.9.15 and Philo, and of course widely in pagan
which Paul uses in II Cor.5.1-4,
and, like Paul, he combines it with
that of taking off clothes.
In his case, he knows, this putting off is to be ταχινή (swift),
which could be
interpreted to mean either 'soon' or 'sudden'.
a reference to St Mark's gospel (and the origin of the Papias legend). But the gospel of Mark can hardly be described as a reminder of 'these things', that is, the teaching of the present epistle (cf. 1.12). It would appear too to demand a writing by Peter (as the later pseudepigrapha like the Preaching of Peter and the Gospel of Peter supplied). Kelly thinks that 'almost certainly the reference is to the epistle itself, though he admits that the future, σπουδάσω (according to the most probable reading), is difficult. It would naturally suggest a further document. For our purposes we may be content to suspend judgment, noting only that if a forger is at work he has laid some very elusive clues.
In the descriptive passage that follows, the transfiguration is regarded as an anticipation and pledge of the parousia, in the way that we argued it was, far less explicitly, in I Peter 5.1. It has also been said that the word ἐπόπται, eyewitnesses, echoes the ἐποπταύοντες of I Peter 2.12 and 3.2; but this is very doubtful, since there it simply refers to pagans 'observing' the conduct of Christians. If the word has any overtones, it is more likely to take up the language of the mysteries and the claims of the heretics that in their visions (cf. the dreams or trances of Jude 8) they had direct experience of the deep things of God (cf. Rev. 2.24). But its immediate reference is to apostolic eye-witness, to which I John 1.1-3 also appeals in similar circumstances. It is generally accepted that the wording of the account of the transfiguration is independent of any of our gospel texts. The omission of the injunction 'hear him', common to them all, and of any reference to Moses and Elijah or to the three tents (σκηναί), which one would have thought irresistible after the σκηνώματος of 1.14, tells heavily against the use of the synoptists by a later hand. The only other touch, 'the holy mountain', which is said to betray veneration of the sacred site (for which there is in fact no evidence till much later), is hardly decisive for dating. As regularly with Zion or Sinai in the Old Testament, any mountain with which theophany is associated is for the Jew 'holy'.
The really significant parallel for daring purposes is that
with the Apocalypse of Peter. implored him severally and besought
saying unto him,
"Make known unto us what are the signs of thy Parousia and of the end of the world." '
The contrast with II Peter is at
true too of its section on
the transfiguration (15-17),
which includes a highly elaborated account of the
vision of the appearances of Moses and Elijah
and quotes Peter's comment verbatim from the version in Matt.17.4:
'My Lord, wilt thou that I make here three tabernacles,
one for thee, one
for Moses and one for Elias?'.
By contrast its only verbal contact with the
account in II Peter is the reference (and that in the Ethiopic version only) to
'the holy mountain'.
If there is dependence either way,
it seems quite clear
that the Apocalypse is the later document.
How Harnack can have thought
must be counted as one of those aberrations of
scholarship which fresh discoveries induce,
and it has long since been abandoned even by those who view II Peter as a second-century document. That even conservative scholars like W. Sanday can have thought that the two came from the same pen, or like Chase from the same school at approximately the same date, is incredible. Indeed if this is the sort of thing that was being produced in the first half of the second century it is the strongest possible argument for not placing II Peter there. As the writer of the article on the Apocalypse of Peter in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible says,] 'one short sample will indicate the nature of the whole', and he quotes:
And some there were there hanging by their tongues: and these were they that blasphemed the way of righteousness, and under them was laid fire flaming and tormenting them. And there was a great lake full of flaming mire, wherein were certain men that turned away from righteousness; and angels, tormentors, were set over them. And there were also others, women, hanged by their hair above that mire which boiled up; and these were they which adorned themselves for adultery.
That this writing, in all likelihood in no small part suggested by the canonical Revelation, and the product of perfervid imagination, aided by Orphic and Pythagorean accounts of the future, is not later than the middle of the second century is universally admitted.
He agrees in fact that it is probably earlier than the Gospel of Peter - but interestingly never even mentions II Peter. Yet the same Dictionary's article on II Peter continues to date this epistle c. 150 ad.! On the basis of this passage of II Peter alone some rethinking of critical presuppositions appears to be called for.
2. The second passage, II Peter 3.1-4, raises more difficulties. The writer starts with a reference, apparently, to I Peter:
This is now my second letter to you, my friends. In both of them I have been recalling to you what you already know, to rouse you to honest thought. Remember the predictions made by God's own prophets, a
nd the commands given by the Lord and Saviour through your apostles (3.1f.).
The relation to I Peter must engage us later. At this stage one need only say that if the writer is a Christian from a subsequent age then the reference must be to I Peter, since this is the only other Petrine letter of which there is any record in the tradition. Yet it is very far from obvious that the content of the two epistles is the same, and, if the allusion here is to I Peter 1.10-12 (the only likely passage), then the content of the prophecies there is the sufferings of Christ, not, as in the verses that follow in II Peter, the state of affairs at the end of the world. Again the pseudepigrapher does not lay his trail at all obviously.
The phrase in v.2, 'your apostles', certainly reads oddly (quite apart from the tortuous grammar of the Greek) from one claiming himself to be an apostle, and it has seemed to most commentators to reflect the post-apostolic age. Yet we may say this with certainty only if it is agreed that Eph.2.20 and 3.5 (where the apostles are also described as 'holy') could not have come from Paul, writing as an 'apostle of Christ Jesus' (Eph. 1.1). But, as we have seen, it is impossible to be so dogmatic. Moreover 'your apostles' need not, though it probably does, mean more than 'your missionaries' (cf. I Peter 1.12), and Paul (Rom.16.7; II Cor.8.23; Phil.2.25), like Acts(14.14) and the Didache (11.3), continues to use the word in a wider sense. But assuming that it means those of the apostles particularly associated with you, this need not imply the end of the apostolic age, any more than when Paul says to the Corinthians, 'If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you' (I Cor.9.2). In I Clem. 44.1 we have a similar usage of 'our apostles' (i.e., in Rome, Peter and Paul; cf.5.3). All one can say is that the phrase itself is compatible with an apostolic or with a post-apostolic date. What is significant is that the apostles are not contrasted in any way with a subsequent ordering of Christian ministry, as in I Clem. 44 (which speaks of their successors) or in the epistles of lgnatius (especially Rom.4.3:
'I do not enjoin you as Peter and Paul did. They were apostles').
There is no more concern than in Jude with ministerial authority or its perpetuation.
But more serious as an objection to apostolic dating is the state of affairs reflected in the words of the scoffers that follow:
In the last day there will come men who scoff at religion and live self-indulgent lives, and they will say: 'Where is now the promise of his coming? Our fathers (οἱ παρέρες) have been laid to their rest, but still everything continues exactly as it always has been since the world began.'
I cannot believe that it will do to say with Bigghad elapsed. Naturally the difficulty did not then disappear. But this is when the question must have been at its most acute, and there is no neces-sary reason to look to a later age. The theme of the master's delay, reflected in the church's adaptation of the parables, is already to be found in the 'Q,' material of Matt.24.28 = Luke 12.45, and also in Matt.25.5, whose final editing we have seen no reason to place much after 60.and Green that 'the fathers' here means the ancestors of Israel. The context demands the sense that ever since the first generation of Christians died things have continued as they always have been, whereas the specific promise had been given: 'This generation shall not pass away until all these things happen' (Mark 13.30 and pars.). It is true that elsewhere in the New Testament 'the fathers' refers to the Israelites. But in I John 2.131. we have the usage of 'fathers' in contrast with the second and third generation of Christians, which stresses their special relationship as the founder-generation to the ἀρχή, in the way that in Acts 21.16 Mnason as one of the 'originals' is called an ἂρχαιος μαθητής. The death of Christians had always been a problem, as we know from Thessalonians and Corinthians, but the real crisis for the church must have come as that first promised generation was dying out and still nothing had happened. By the 60s a whole generation
The details that follow in 3.5-13 of
the parousia teaching do not in
themselves require a late date.
The notion of the destruction of the world by fire, going back a long way in pagan literature, is now paralleled
graphically in the Qumran Psalms (1QH 3.29-35).
Moreover Green is justified in pointing out that the reference to Ps.90.4 is not given a chiliast interpretation (that the world would last for as many thousand years as there were days in creation) such as it regularly receives in later literature (e.g. Ep. Barn.15.4, Justin, Dial.81.3f., and Irenaeus, Adv.haer.5.23.2; 28.3). As he says:
If this Epistle had been written in the second century, when this doctrine was so widespread that it almost became a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy, is it likely that the author could have refrained from making any allusion to it whatever when quoting the very verse which gave it birth?
With the rest of II Peter's eschatology, including the coming of the day of the Lord as a thief (3.10; cf. Rev.3.3; 16.15), the laying bare of the earth and all that is in it (3.10; cf. Rev.6.12-17; 16.20; etc.), and the creation of new heavens and a new earth (3.13; cf. Rev.21.1-4), this theme finds its nearest parallel in the book of Revelation (20.1-6), rather than in the extravagances of subsequent apocalypses, whether Jewish or Christian (including the Apocalypse of Peter).
3. It is the third passage (3.15f.), however, that presents the greatest difficulties of all:
Bear in mind that our Lord's patience with us is our salvation, as Paul, our friend and brother, said when he wrote to you with his inspired wisdom. And so he does in all his other letters, wherever he speaks of this subject, though they contain some obscure passages, which the ignorant and unstable misinterpret to their own ruin, as they do the other scriptures.
We need not spend time at this hour refuting the Tubingen thesis that the genuine Peter could never have spoken of Paul in terms other than of hostility.It is however relevant to ask whether a second-century writer would not have adopted an attitude either of attack or adulation (rather than bewildered affection). Typical of later descriptions are 'the blessed Paul' (I Clem. 47.1; Ep. Polyc.n.3) or 'the blessed and glorious Paul' (Ep.Polyc.3.2). 'Dear brother' and similar expressions are confined elsewhere in the New Testament to living fellow-workers (e.g. Eph.6.21; Col. 4.7, 9; Philem.16) and Paul himself is so addressed by James in Acts 21.20. The expression therefore sounds as if it comes from a contemporary, whether it does or not. Indeed Mayor, who himself argues for pseudepigraphy, says:
There are many difficulties in the way of accepting the genuineness of this epistle; but the manner in which St Paul is spoken of seems to me just what we should have expected from his brother Apostle.
Again, the reference to the wisdom
given to him implies not more than what Paul claimed for himself
Cor.2.6f.; 3.10; Gal.2.9; Eph. 3.1-10).
The contrast is striking
with the self-depreciatory tone of the second century:
'Neither am I, nor is
any other like unto me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious
Paul' (Ep. Polyc.3.2).
Moreover, whereas there can be no doubt that when Polycarp refers in the same passage to 'the letter he wrote to you' he means
the epistle to the Philippians, the expression in II Peter 3.15 has baffled all
There is no obvious identification, unless indeed the
reference to the Lord's patience with us being our salvation is meant to recall
Rom.2.4: 'Or do you think lightly of his wealth of kindness, of tolerance, and
of patience, without recognizing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to a
change of heart?'
In fact on this narrow basis alone Mayor argues for a Roman destination. Yet there is no other hint that the epistle was written to Rome or from it. Either a genuine letter of Paul's has been lost or the imitator again is laying baffling or careless clues.
But the real problems start with the
following phrase, ὡς καὶ ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς.
It is legitimate, with Zahn,
This would imply 'in every letter he wrote', whereas without the article the phrase could mean little more than et passim - though how much reliance should be placed on the presence or absence of the article in this writer is very doubtful. It is not in any case implied that the readers knew all Paul's epistles, nor that these already formed a collection, let alone a canon. Talk here of 'the Pauline corpus' is premature. The present tense, 'whenever he speaks', is not of itself decisive, since Ignatius uses closely parallel language in Eph. 12.2, 'who in every letter makes mention of you in Christ Jesus', though Ignatius combines this with phrases that make it clear that Paul is long since dead: 'who was sanctified, who obtained a good report, who is worthy of all felicitation'. II Peter, in contrast, whether genuinely or fictionally, clearly implies that Paul is still alive. The misinterpretation of Paul's position, of which he speaks, in a gnosticizing, antinomian direction is of course plentifully attested in his lifetime (I Cor.10.23; Rom.3.8; 6.1; etc.), and, despite Paul's disclaimer, we may surmise between the lines of II Cor.1.13f. that his readers did find parts of his epistles hard to understand. So far therefore there is nothing that demands a later date.
The crucial difficulty is the interpretation of the following phrase, καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφάς, which certainly suggests that the Pauline epistles were already being viewed as 'scripture'. In view of the parallels for γραφή and γραφαί in the New Testament,it is impossible, I believe, to argue that the books of the Old Testament are not here being bracketed with the letters of Paul. The sole issue is whether the words imply that 'the writings' in question are seen as part of a canon, whether Jewish or Christian. This appears to be much more doubtful, and I would concur with the judgment of Mayor (who nevertheless thinks II Peter very late) when he says:
I incline to think that γραφαί is here used to denote any book read in the synagogue or congregation, including the letters of the Apostles (Col.4.16; I Thess. 5.27) as well as the lessons from the Old Testament.
Certainly this would include the kind of apocryphal writings alluded to by Jude, one of which is described as a work of 'prophecy' (14). The work already referred to which is cited in I Clem.23.3 ('these things did we hear in the days of our fathers also ... and none of these things have befallen us') and which Lightfoot tentatively identified with Eldad and Modad,is introduced with the words ἡ γραφὴ λέγει, and the same passage is designated in II Clem.11.2 ὁ προφητικὸς λόγος. Certainly too if the quotations in James 4.5 ('the spirit which God implanted in man turns towards envious desires') and John 7.38 ('streams of living water shall flow out from within him'), each described as ἡ γραφή, are literal quotations, they do not come from the canonical Old Testament. Moreover texts from what appear to be the Old and New Testaments are already combined as citations of 'scripture' in I Tim.5.18; Ep.Barn.13.7; I Clem.36; Ep.Polyc.12.1; etc. This does not by any means dispose of the difficulty. Yet Green at least puts up a good case when he argues:
For the writer of II Peter, the term ἡ γραφή denotes writings of men in touch with God, ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι (1.21). He constantly correlates apostles and prophets - both are led by the Holy Spirit. In chapter I the apostolic testimony to the divine voice, and the divine voice through the Old Testament scriptures, are regarded in the same light. In chapter 2.1ff. the false teachers are accused of wresting the Old Testament; in chapter 3 of wresting Paul.
Most will probably not feel that this is a complete answer. But I am not at this stage attempting to come to a decision one way or the other. Having, however, started with the conviction that the so-called anachronisms in the epistle were almost certainly insuperable, I have been impressed, working through them, how open the verdict has constantly to remain. These passages certainly do not prove a first-century date: but they do not prove a second-century date either. Moreover they leave unresolved the question of authorship - for the absence of demonstrable anachronisms could merely indicate the skill of the imitator. Nor of themselves do they determine the epistle's relationship to I Peter or to Jude. To these wider issues we must now turn. For only then shall we be in a position to resolve more closely the question of dating.
The one thing on which virtually everyone is agreed is that I and II Peter cannot be written by the same hand. Even those who accept the apostolic authorship of both concede, with Jerome, that the difference of style demands an amanuensis with great liberty of expression for the composition of one if not of each - though a difficulty of this theory is that the greatest evidence for Petrine colouring in theology and expression comes in the epistle that might refer to an amanuensis (Silvanus), whereas the other mentions none.
Attempts have been made to minimize the differences between
Thus Greenvia Mayor, B. Weiss' judgment that
'the Second Epistle of Peter is allied to no New Testament writing more closely
than to his first
(he presumably did not count Jude!).
Yet this is also true of the book of
Revelation and the gospel of John,
but the differences of style and cast of
mind have convinced most critics that they cannot be by the same man.
Apparently impressive comparisons of word-counts have a habit of breaking down
and tend simply to prove how variously statistics can be presented.
One is inclined to apply Kelly's comment on A. Q,. Morton's disclosure,
also seized on by Green, that the computer reveals the two epistles to be linguistically indistinguishable: 'Most readers of Greek would agree that this conclusion illustrates the limitations of the method.'
Of course there are similarities of diction- it would be astonishing if there were not - but, with the exception of the opening salutation 'grace and truth be multiplied to you' (I Peter 1.2; II Peter 1.2), most of them are fairly inexact or of the kind that might be found almost anywhere in the New Testament. in I Peter 1.19 and ἂσπιλοι καὶ ἀμώμητοι in II Peter 3.14. But, apart from the fact that one refers to Christ and the other to Christians, the words (in reverse order) are not even the same. ἀ,ώμητος is a hapax legomenon in the New Testament and suggests a different hand. The nearest true parallels for II Peter 3.14 are Col. i.22; Eph. 1.4; I Tim. 6.14.] They certainly do not add up to what Green calls 'the extreme similarity in turn of phrase and allusion'. Zahn, surveying the same evidence, concludes that 'the agreements in thought and language' are 'very few'. Since Green cites Mayor's comment that in grammar and style 'there is not that chasm between them which some would try to make out', it is only fair to give the full conclusion of his exhaustive examination:
On the whole I should say that the difference of style is less marked than the difference in vocabulary, and that again less marked than the difference in matter, while above all stands the great difference in thought, feeling, and character, in one word of personality.
I have laboured this because I wish to go on to support Green in his critique of pseudonymity. But that the two epistles can in any immediate sense be the product of the same mind, let alone of the same pen, seems to me highly improbable. Chase, to whom MayorDictionary of the Bible by far the best introduction known to me', assessed the matter thus:paid the deserved tribute of saying, 'I have found ... his articles on Peter and Jude in Hastings'
The difference between the two Epistles [viz., I and II Peter] in literary style and tone and teaching are, as it appears to the present writer, so numerous and so fundamental that no difference of amanuenses or 'interpreters' can account for them unless we are prepared to admit that, in the case of either one or both of these letters, the substance and the language alike were left absolutely in the hands of the apostle's companion.
So what is the alternative? There would appear only to be one. 'Scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that II Peter is pseudonymous', says Kelly;'though it must be admitted', he goes on, 'of the few who do that they defend their case with an impressive combination of learning and ingenuity.' Now if 'their case' is confined to doubting pseudonymity (as opposed to asserting identity of authorship), I believe indeed that there are points to answer which the proponents of pseudonymity pass over too hastily.
There is an appetite for pseudonymity
that grows by what it feeds on.
Thus M. Rist,
says, 'This, alone, [sic] shows the influence of pseudepigraphy in the early church.' If you believe it is everywhere, you cease to have to argue for it anywhere. Perrin writes: 'Pseudonymity is almost a way of life in the world of the New Testament and also in the New Testament itself.' [nti, 119.]
Certainly it is among New Testament scholars! There is also a tendency to lump together very different categories of pseudepigraphy. Thus Jude, for instance, readily accepts, at any rate for the sake of the argument, that what we call I Enoch was written by 'Enoch, the seventh from Adam' (14). The convention of ascribing apocalypses to patriarchs, like psalms to David or wisdom to Solomon or prophecies to Daniel, was of course fully established. Indeed the novelty about the New Testament Apocalypse is that it is neither anonymous nor pseudonymous. Later, too, not only apocalypses but gospels, acts and epistles were freely ascribed to long dead apostles (and to no one more than Peter). But there is no firm evidence for this until the mid-second century. In heretical circles too there were documents claiming to be by apostles (like the gospels of Thomas and Philip), but these were never accepted as such by the church. If we ask what is the evidence for orthodox epistles being composed in the name of apostles within a generation or two of their lifetime, and for this being an acceptable literary convention within the church, the answer is nil -
unless Ephesians, the Pastorals, I and II Peter, Jude, and any other canonical books one cares to add, are their own evidence. In each instance we have examined so far the case cannot be said to have been made. It really is necessary to have at least one hard example established on its own merits before relying on the cumulative argument. II Peter could well be that example and it is certainly the most promising. But, as Green
quite legitimately argue, it would go against the stream of such evidence as we have rather than with it.
There is no doubt of what Paul thought of those who circulated letters claiming to come from him (II Thess. 2.2; 3.17): he knew of no harmless literary convention. Later Green quotes two instances which elucidate the church's attitude at the end of the second century. First, Tertulliantells us that the author of the Acts of Paul and Thecia was deposed from the presbyterate for the sole reason that he had tried to pass this work off under Paul's name.
The author of these Acts, like the author of II Peter, was orthodox; he, like the author of II Peter, made strenuous efforts after verisimilitude. He was, furthermore, inflamed with the noblest pietas, love of Paul, and it was with the best of intentions that he wrote. Yet he was deposed - for forgery.
[II Peter Reconsidered, 34.]
Secondly, Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, wrote a book Concerning the So-called Gospel of Peter, from which Eusebius quotes:
For our part, brethren, we receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ, but the writings which falsely bear their names (ψευδεπίγραφα) we reject, as men of experience (ἒμπειροι), knowing that such were not handed down to us.
Though the motive of his condemnation of it was the docetic heresy that he heard it was spreading, the criterion of his judgment, to which he brought the expertise in these matters that he claimed, was its genuineness as the work of the apostle. And this was the criterion employed a little later by Origen in relation both to II Peter and to II and III John.He is doubtful of their genuineness; but there is no suggestion that if they had been pseudepigraphs, or he had known them to be such, it would have made no difference. Nor does he or any other Christian writer hint that there had earlier been any such convention. The fathers may have been uncritical (though hardly Origen) and been deceived, but there is no evidence that they were willingly deceived. In view of the significance usually attached to the lack of external testimony for individual books of the New Testament, it is surely much more significant that at no point is there the slightest external testimony to the collusion in innocent falsification to which appeal is so constantly made for documents like Ephesians, the Pastorals, James and I Peter. II Peter and Jude may still be the exceptions, but they have to be demonstrated as such.
Moving then from the general presumption to the particular evidence, what is to be said?
The very weakness of the external attestation for II Peter
(albeit far stronger than that for any rejected writing) ).]
suggests that Origen was not unjustified in doubting its genuineness - though these doubts are the most powerful evidence that the issue was not one that was not thought to matter. Certainly the epistle could be an attempt to silence latter-day scoffers and heretics in the name and authority of the chief of the apostles - although why anyone should resort for this purpose to the mantle of Jude is far from clear. But it is fair comment that no other proven pseudepigraphs have this and no other motive. All, including the other pseudo-Petrine literature, had other axes to grind:
They attempted to claim apostolic authority for heretical teaching, or to embody the secret tradition of the apostle concerned, or else to provide a romance, a sort of religious novel, or, perhaps, to answer some of the questions posed by a third generation's insatiable curiosity.
II Peter does none of these things.
Moreover, there are
relevant questions to ask of this particular case.
Why, for instance, does the
author mention Paul in such brotherly terms
and yet appear to be entirely
uninfluenced by his theology -
in marked contrast apparently with the author of
One would have expected him (like Ignatius and Polycarp) to quote or
echo something from all those letters of his he claimed to know.
As we have
seen, he does not even identify the letter to the church to which he is writing
in contrast again to Clement, who when writing to Corinth reminds his readers
of I Corinthians (I Clem.47.1-4)
and echoes its teaching (49.5).
epistle genuine, 3.15 could indeed allude to a lost letter, as might the
reference in 3.1 to his previous epistle
(on the analogy of I Cor.5.9).
neither of these options is open to a pseudepigrapher, if he wishes to carry
He must in the latter case have been referring to I Peter.
did he make so little use of it?
The argument that the personal references in II Peter are too blatant to be credible (or, conversely, that in I Peter they are too obscure) is inevitably subjective. Moreover, one would expect clues to be laid both of place and personalia which would help to add verisimilitude (like the many such details in the Pastorals or the reference to Tychicus in Eph.6.2if.). But there is nothing - except the curious form of the name 'Simeon Peter' in 1.1, which corresponds neither to the address of I Peter, the natural model for a copyist (as in the salutation of 1.2), nor to that of any later Petrine pseudepigraph. In particular, the absence of any reference to Rome, the obvious place of origin to claim on both historical and ecclesiastical grounds, is puzzling.
It is relevant too to ask about the circumstances in which such a pseudepigraph might be composed. We have already noted a number of points which make a second-century date look unlikely (the contrast with the Apocalypse of Peter and later gnostic systems, the lack of reference to chiliasm, and the absence of any concern for organiza-tion and the ministry). It is noticeable in fact that in recent commentaries the date is steadily dropping. Kellyopts for 100-110, Reicke for c. 90. The latter's choice of the reign of Domitian is this time neither because of references to persecution (of which there are none), nor because of the break between the church and the synagogue (of which again there is no sign - or, for that matter, of any post-70 situation), but ironically because in his reign prior to 95 the church had peace! II Peter and Jude, he thinks, are concerned to preserve a positive attitude to the state against those who would foment rebellion.
Obviously their authors wish to oppose certain propaganda for political freedom, propaganda which they regard as hostile to the social order, and to which the Christians have been exposed by the magnates and their parties. This fits especially well into the latter half of Domitian's reign, during which the aristocrats and the senators of the empire fought with desperation against Domitian's tyranny (Suetonius, Vit. Dom. 10).Ibid., 145. He adds that the epistle of James 'seems to reflect the same political situation'. Yet it would scarcely be possible to find two documents which on the face of it are much more dissimilar in the conditions they presuppose. However Reicke now tells me that he would like to reconsider all these datings.]
Yet it is not at all 'obvious' that the persons under attack in these epistles were concerned for political freedom. The only evidence is that they 'flout authority' (κυριότητα) and 'insult celestial beings (δόξας)' (Jude 8; II Peter 2.10). Political disaffection could no doubt be so described on the spiritual level, but there is no suggestion that this in fact is what is in mind. On the contrary, it is the spiritual authority of the church they are challenging. They have 'rebelled like Korah' (Jude 11), that is, against the ordinances of God and the leaders of his people (Num.16). s' (γογγυσταί) of Jude 16 with Num.16.11 (and I Cor.10.10).] This is what κυριόστης means in Did.4.1, and the rejection of it there is linked with schism (4.3) - as in the split created by the insubordination of Diotrephes in III John 9f. who 'does not accept our authority'. Neither II Peter nor III John is to be dated by reference to the political scene.
Yet the further back II Peter is pushed into the first century (where all the parallels suggest it belongs), the harder it is, as with the Pastorals, to satisfy the basic condition of pseudepigraphy, namely, that the readers should, willingly or unwillingly, accept the deception. Indeed a comparison with the problem of the Pastorals is instructive. There we argued for the important difference between pseudepigraphy proper and the view that the letters or charges were composed for Paul in his name and with his authority. Under the former hypothesis the persons of Timothy and Titus and all the details of news and travel plans are part of the fiction (or genuine fragments incorporated to enhance the fiction). Under the latter hypothesis the persons and situations are entirely genuine but, for whatever reason, Paul may have got someone else to write the letters on his behalf, though probably dictating the personal messages. It has been suggested - I believe improbably - that this agent might be Luke. But it is the relationship that matters, and this relationship is not that of pseudepigraphy, nor is it the role of an amanuensis played by Tertius in Romans (16.22). Transferring the analogy from the Pastorals to II Peter, the distinction is not so clear, because there are no details by which to assess the genuineness of the situation, as distinct from the identity of the writer. But it is an analogy that I believe it is profitable to pursue. For it seems to have been assumed without question that there is no third term between Petrine authorship (whether through an amanuensis or not) and pseudepigraphy. And both of these alternatives, I believe, are open to almost equal objection - though if faced with the choice I think I should have, with even such conservative scholars as Chase, Mayor and Hort, to plump for pseudonymity.
But at this point I should like to return to the relationship between II Peter and Jude. That there is some literary connection is indubitable, if only because all the parallels between the two epistles are virtually in the same order, as a glance at any reference Bible will show. Three main explanations have been advanced:
Jude is using II Peter (Spitta,Zahn, Bigg);
II Peter is using Jude (the vast majority of other scholars);
Each is using a common source (E. I. Robson,Reicke, Green ).
The claims for priority can often be argued either way, as in the synoptic gospels (e.g. is smoothness or roughness, expansion or condensation, more likely to be original?). But it would seem that, on the assumption of direct dependence, II Peter is likely to be secondary, if only because it is difficult to see any good reason for writing Jude at all with so little fresh matter to add. The hypothesis of a common source, 'a sermon pattern formulated to resist the seducers of the church',is attractive, but like that of 'Q' it is defensible only if it is necessary. There would appear to be no other evidence for such a document as, it is claimed, there is for catechetical summaries, scriptural testimonia, apocalyptic flysheets, or such a moral tract as seems to underlie the 'two ways' material of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache. Moreover, what again was the point of producing the epistle of Jude if there was so little material in it independent of its source?
It should also be observed that, though the order of the common matter is the same, the degree of verbal correspondence is a good deal smaller than in those sections of Matthew and Luke that demand a literary and not just an oral connection. The relevant passages are conveniently set out in parallel columns in Moffatt's Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament.It will be seen at once that, though the themes and many of the words are the same, there is no direct copying. As Guthrie, who supplies the statistics, says,
If II Peter is the borrower he has changed 70% of Jude's language and added more of his own. Whereas if Jude borrowed from II Peter, the percentage of alteration is slightly higher, combined with a reduction in quantity.
The relationship is much more like that of Ephesians and Colossians. It is the relationship not of a wooden imitator but of a creative re-shaper of the themes - or it represents a single mind writing at much the same time in a somewhat different context. It was the latter alternative that commended itself there, and I am astonished that it has apparently suggested itself to no one here. Let me then propose a hypothesis.
Jude begins by saying that he was fully engaged in writing to his readers about their common salvation when he was forced to break off to send them an urgent appeal to close ranks against the danger of false teachers from within (31.). I suggest that what he was composing, in the name of the apostle, was II Peter. This was to be a general letter and testament, a 'recall to fundamentals' as the neb styles I John. But, corresponding to the briefer II John to a more specific and somewhat less advanced situation, Jude also first wrote off a hurried letter on his own authority to counter the immediate menace of the new heretics. This he then incorporated (for the most part in a single block in ch. 2) in the more studied style of the formal encyclical. This would explain the fact that there is no discernible difference in the situation between the two epistles. Both are written to predominantly Jewish Christians in danger of 'losing their safe foothold' (II Peter 3.17), though not from persecution but from error. This similarity was noted by Mayor:
The moral corruption described in the two epistles is the same even in its minutest points; the cause of the corruption is the same, the misinterpretation and misuse of Paul's doctrine of God's free grace (Jude 4; II Peter 2.19; 3.16; cf. Rom.3.5-8). The agents use the same methods and are described in the same terms.
He proceeds to detail them. Yet it does not appear to him to require explanation how or why the situations are identical at an interval, on his reckoning, of at least fifty years.Moreover, apart from the less spontaneous and more pretentious level of writing in II Peter which often overreaches itself, the vocabulary and style are indistinguishable. Mayor again in an exhaustive study of the 'grammar and style of Jude and II Peter' observes no point at which the usage of the two epistles diverges. This is surely very remarkable, especially when compared with the strained efforts to show the similarities between I and II Peter. The only difference is the format in which the message is couched. When writing in his own name Jude says,
Remember the predictions made by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 17);
when writing with Peter's apostolic authority he says,
Remember the predictions made by God's own prophets' (II Peter 3.2).
Jude is representing Peter rather than impersonating him. But he leaves his own signature. For he calls him what he called him - Simeon. The only other person who is recorded as retaining this Hebraic use is his brother James (Acts 15.14): it was in the family.
In one sense this hypothesis is merely taking further the alternative at which Chase hinted when he said that no difference of amanuensis would be a sufficient explanation unless 'the substance and the language alike were left absolutely in the hands of the apostle's companion' (italics mine). In other words, he would not be an amanuensis but an agent. The relationship perhaps was best described by Origen,who saw this as a possible (though we should think needless) way of holding that the anonymous epistle to the Hebrews could still be Pauline:
I should say that the thoughts are the apostle's, but that the style and composition belong to one who called to mind the apostle's teachings and, as it were, made short notes of what his master said. If any church, therefore, holds this epistle as Paul's, let it be commended for this also. For not without reason have the men of old time handed it down as Paul's. But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.
He then goes on to record suggested guesses of who the agent might be - Clement of Rome and (again!) Luke.
Now if such a solution is possible to the problem of the Pastorals, whether or not it is necessary, it cannot be ruled out for II Peter. And in this case one may produce the identity of the agent with a good deal more plausibility. For with Jude the glove fits precisely - even when he is wearing a different hat. Whether Silvanus also stood in the same relationship to I Peter it is impossible to be sure, for we have nothing which comes solely from his pen by which to test it. But it is improbable. For in I Peter 5.12 the 'I' of the writer is clearly distinguished from that of the amanuensis (if indeed this is what Sia means). The relationship is subtly but fundamentally different. As we have seen, the amanuensis can insert his own greeting (Rom. 16.22; Mart. Polyc. 20.2). But, like the political speech-writer or composer of an episcopal charge, the apostolic delegate must submerge his identity.
The hypothesis would also help to explain the doubts and hesitations over II Peter in the church - in striking contrast with the remarkably good attestation of the minor and apparently less authoritative epistle of Jude.For the latter authenticated itself - and there really is no case here for pseudonymity, unless again the Greek is, arbitrarily, deemed to be beyond a brother of the Lord. But II Peter is very puzzling. Try to fit it into the style or the situation of I Peter and it is bound to appear doubtful. Indeed, unless it is written by an agent, it must be written by a pretender - and for that, as we have seen, there is precious little motivation or plausible setting.
What then may we say is the setting of II Peter? I believe that Zahn was correct in refusing to see in 3.1 a reference to I Peter (though I think he was incorrect in dating Jude so much later). For the contents of I and II Peter are patently different, whereas the situation presupposed by Jude and II Peter is the same. The latter epistles are addressed to predominantly Jewish Christians in acute danger not from persecution but heresy; whereas I Peter is addressed to predominantly Gentile Christians in acute danger from persecution but with no mention of heresy nor whiff of a gnosticizing menace. To what then is the allusion in II Peter 3.1, where the epistle is described as being the 'second letter' to the same persons on the same subject? I believe two explanations are possible. Either it will refer to a lost letter, for which indeed there is sufficient precedent in Paul's extended correspondence with the church at Corinth. Or - and this is a solution I commend for serious consideration - it refers to the epistle of Jude, which would certainly qualify as far as description of contents is concerned.If then it is asked how the earlier letter could be described as one which the same 'I' sent to the same readers, we should remember that in Jude 3 the author said 'I was fully engaged in writing to you ' what on this hypothesis is II Peter. The references are merely reversed. The principal and his agent are as one man. This may seem strange to us - though is it really so unusual in literary or official circles today? But it was established Jewish doctrine that, as the Mishnah puts it, 'a man's agent is as himself'.
Whichever alternative is adopted, the necessity is removed, as Zahn saw, for having to find a setting for II Peter after I Peter. The most notable difference between Jude and II Peter on the one hand and the book of Revelation on the other is that, while they all speak of a similar danger from gnosticizing Judaism, the former two breathe no air of persecution. In this they stand much nearer to the attitude to the civic authorities in the Pastorals (cf. I Tim.2.1f.) and the closing chapters of Acts. Indeed the atmosphere of II Peter, with the apostle's warning of danger from error and perversion 'after my departure', is closer than anything else to Paul's speech in Acts 20.29f. and to II Tim.4.6-8. Though in their contexts both μετὰ τήν ἐμὴν ἒξοδον in II Peter 1.15 and μετὰ τὴν ἀφιξίν μου in Acts 20.29 must carry allusion to the apostles' deaths, there is no reason why they should not also mean at the literal level 'after I have left you'. The same applies to 'the time of my departure' (ὁ καιρὸς τῆς ἀναλύσεως μου) II Tim.4.6. II Peter 1.14 has been taken to imply that Peter is writing (or is purporting to write) on the point of death, though, as we have seen, this is by no means necessarily the implication of ταχινή. In any case, we have argued that the similar language of II Tim.4.6-8 (reflected also in Acts 20.24f.) came from 58 - a number of years before Paul's death. May it not be that II Peter also represents that apostle's parting testimony to the Christians of Asia before he leaves for Rome? For there is absolutely no suggestion that II Peter comes from Rome, unlike I Peter. Where he was at the time of its writing or why he had an occasion to use an agent (unless he was on a missionary tour, whereas later he was settled in the capital) it is useless to speculate. Unfortunately, unlike Paul, he had no Boswell in Luke. Yet it seems highly improbable that neither Acts nor Paul's Caesarean correspondence would have mentioned his presence in Jerusalem in 57-9 had he been there. Nor could he credibly have been in Rome in 57 without the exhaustive greetings of Rom. 16 including him. Moreover Acts 28.15-31 could scarcely have been written as it is, especially when the Jews say in 21f, 'We have had no communication from Judaea, nor has any countryman of ours arrived with any report or gossip to your discredit', if Peter was there preaching to 'the circumcision' (cf. Gal. 2.9) either on Paul's arrival in 60, or, in all probability, during the two years following.
If we ask to what area the internal evidence points for the epistle's destination, the only parallels we have for the kind of gnosticizing tendencies found in II Peter and Jude are either in Corinth (I and II Corinthians) or Asia Minor (Acts 20, Colossians, I and II Timothy, I and II John, Revelation 1-3). We may be fairly sure that Peter had been in Corinth in the early 50s (I Cor.1.12; 3.22), and the reference in I Cor.9.5 to him and the Lord's brothers, as examples familiar to the Corinthians of missionaries who had brought their wives, could suggest that even then he had had with him Jude, the only one of the brothers whom we know to have been married.For all along Peter seems to have been particularly closely associated with the Lord's brothers (Acts 1.13f.; 12.17; 15; Gal.1.18f.; 2.9, 11f.; and cf. Mark 16.7 with Matt.28.10; John 20.17). Corinth therefore is a perfectly possible destination for II Peter and Jude - in which case 'your apostles' will be Paul and Silvanus and Timothy (II Cor.1.19), and Peter's disavowal of 'artfully spun tales' in his preaching to them will parallel Paul's disclaimer of 'the language of worldly wisdom' in I Cor. 1.17; 2.1. Nevertheless it seems improbable that Peter would have addressed so distinctive (and divided) a church as Corinth without any hint or mention of it (contrast again I Clement). For II Peter and Jude share the same anonymity of audience as the Johannine epistles and appear to reflect more scattered communities. In date too the emergence, as far as our evidence goes, of such gnosticizing tendencies in Asia Minor in the latter 50s and early 60s better fits the period we are looking for, and the 'Asian' style which II Peter in particular affects points in the same direction.
Let us then surmise that Peter and Jude, wherever they may
be (together or apart), are addressing a final word of apostolic testament to
Jewish Christians in Asia Minor prior to Peter's departure for Rome for the
Can we put any date to this?
We have already seen reason to think
that he cannot have gone to Rome before 60 (and probably 62).
There is ground
too for believing that Jude is unlikely to be writing after 62.
introduces himself simply as 'brother of James'.
This in itself give no
indication of whether James is alive or dead.
But if he had already suffered
martyrdom at the hands of the Sanhedrin,
an event to whose impact on the Jews
even Josephus testifies,
it would seem incredible that no hint of the tensions it created or of any posthumous epithet, such as μακάριος (as in I Clem. 47.1) or ἀγαθός (as in I Clem. 5.3) or, particularly in his case, δίκαιος,
should have crept into a letter written to Jewish Christians by his own brother. Indeed, as I have said, the most notable absence from these epistles is any reference to persecution, or for that matter any echo of the Jewish war, let alone the fall of Jerusalem. If these facts are taken into account, then 62 becomes a terminus ad quem, and we may date Jude and II Peter in fairly close succession (as Jude 3 indicates) between 60 and 62. Since Peter is about to leave, we may put them nearer to the end of that period than the beginning, let us say in 61-2.
Now this is precisely the period to which II Peter was assigned by independent reasoning by Zahn.I confess that when I first read him I was incredulous. I expected when I began this chapter that II Peter would either remain a pseudonymous exception (and have to be slotted somewhere into the late first century) or would belong to the gap (if any) between I Peter and the apostle's death. So early a dating will still probably seem incredible to many. Indeed, if the Pastoral Epistles are placed, as Zahn placed them, in the mid-60s (let alone much later), it is implausible. But if, as we have argued, these come from 56 – 8, then there is nothing improbable about putting II Peter some five years later. Yet all this is likely to carry conviction only if, as we have also argued, the gospels and Acts too come from before this date, and if the other comparable documents to which we have been referring, the Johannine epistles and Revelation, are not much later. The dating of Peter and Jude is, as I warned at the beginning, bound, on any chronology, to reflect that of other documents. Yet I believe they have more light of their own to shed than their unpromising matter might at first suggest.
To sum up, then, we may say that Jude and II Peter were written, in that order, to predominantly Jewish-Christian congregations in Asia Minor c. 61-2. Whether Peter then set out for Rome as he hoped or was delayed in Jerusalem to assist, as Eusebius suggests,'with all the surviving apostles and disciples of the Lord' in finding a successor to James, we cannot say. But there is nothing improbable about that. By 64-5 at any rate he was evidently in the capital, from where, we have argued, he adapted preaching material, prepared for the church in Rome under the urgent shadow of the Neronian persecution in the spring of 65, for dispatch as an encyclical to different and more mixed congregations in northern Asia Minor, which there is no firm evidence to suggest that he had ever visited. The Petrine epistles therefore throw no further light on the closing months or years of Peter's life and do nothing to modify the provisional conclusions which previously we reached. But whether he or Paul, who appears unlikely to have been martyred by the time of I Peter (cf. 3.13) and may well have been out of Rome at the time (possibly in Spain), perished soon afterwards will have some bearing on the dating of the remaining books of the New Testament yet to be considered.