Sunday, 28 August 2016

Are the Petrine Letters too Pauline?

One of the weaker arguments against Petrine authorship of either 1 or 2 Peter, or both, is that they are "too Pauline." Almost inevitably this charge is left conveniently vague, leaving unaddressed or under-addressed the crucial question "What exactly about it is 'Pauline,' and how do we know that there is too much of that?" And with good reason: when one looks closer the bases for such a judgment is less than solid. In point of fact, the argument rests almost entirely upon Ferdinand Baur's supposition--inferred more from Hegel than from data--that Paul and Peter were at fundamental odds with one another. So, let's imagine this charge of being too Pauline more carefully.

What does it mean for something to be "Pauline"? Presumably, it means that it has material that is distinctive to Paul. How do we define this material? One strategy would be to contrast Pauline writings with non-Pauline writings: those things that are distinct to Pauline writings can be defined as distinctly Pauline, those things that are not cannot be thus defined. By definition then anything held in common by the Pauline and Petrine writings cannot be said to be distinctly Pauline, unless one can show that the Petrine writings knew the Pauline writings and drew that distinctly Pauline material from them. 2 Peter 3:15-16 does in fact open that possibility; but in that case Pauline material stands as evidence that the author knew Pauline writings, not that the author wasn't Peter. Only if one supposes that Peter could not have known or referenced Pauline writings could this stand as an objection to Petrine authorship, but the grounds for such a judgments are virtually non-existent. Peter lived at least fifteen, possibly twenty, years after the earliest extant Pauline text was written (depending upon what one does with Galatians, and precisely where in the mid to late 60s one dates Peter's death), and the other reason that Peter couldn't have referenced those writings seems to be "Well, he just wouldn't." Hardly compelling. That 3:16 also indicates that Paul's words are being twisted hardly indicates a later date, as Paul himself seems to have repeatedly had to deal with what he judged to be misinterpretation of his own words.

In fact, if anything, there is good reason to think that Peter would have had a special interest in at least reading Paul's writings. We see this when we consider another possible strategy for demonstrating that something is "too Pauline." One could also base one's understanding of what it means for something to be distinctly Pauline and distinctly Petrine upon "third-party" sources that describe Paul, Peter, and their thought. While theoretically possible, this does not seem to help the "too Pauline" school of thought. There are three issues here. One, the mere description of Paul or Peter and their thought does not establish that either's thought was distinct to him. Two, our best source on this matter, viz. Acts, in fact spends little time on Paul's or Peter's thought, certainly not enough to establish what is distinctive to either. Three, and most importantly, that same source indicates that Paul and Peter made an active effort to be on the same page (cf. Acts 15; cp. Gal. 1:1-10). A Peter who was actively interested in being on the same page as Paul is likely a Peter who would have been interested in what Paul wrote.

Then there is 1 Peter 5:12-13, in which Peter writes that he is present with Mark and Silas, and in fact indicates that Silas has some role in the composition and transmission of the letter. These are figures otherwise exclusively known to be in association with Paul. Indeed, Silas is cited as coauthor of several of Paul's letters. That they associated with many of the same people is corroborated by Acts and Paul's own writings. If Paul and Peter made an active effort to be on the same page; if thus Peter can reasonably be expected to have had an interest in reading Pauline texts; if they associated with much the same people: then we should not be surprised if there are clear resonances between their writings. Of course, Baur dismissed such material in Acts and the Petrine writings as examples of anachronistic efforts to present Paul and Peter as more in alliance than they were. But that is again simply to beg the question, How do we know that they weren't in such alliance? (Baur's answer, ultimately, would be "Because Hegel"). "We know that Paul and Peter were opposed to each other because Acts, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter indicate that they were allied" hardly strikes one as a strong argument.

As with other posts of this sort, I am not arguing anything about who actually wrote what. I am rather observing that the bases for many judgments that NT scholars hold as givens are not always as strong as we would like to believe. There might well be solid grounds for judging 1 or 2 Peter, or both, to be pseudepigraphy. "The Petrine epistles are too Pauline" would not seem to be among them.

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