After much toing and froing (do I really need another introduction to the New Testament in my library?) I decided to purchase N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird’s “The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians”. At nearly a thousand pages and 4.41 pounds it could easily serve as a brick in the construction of a house.
There are many reviews of this new book available online. I would like to focus on an obscure (but important!) issue with implications for the historical trustworthiness of the New Testament.
The issue concerns the claimed authorship of the ‘Second Letter of St Peter’. The letter claims to be by a disciple who was actually present with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration:
However, the consensus view of historians is summarised by the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: “it is virtually impossible to believe that the apostle Peter was the author of 2 Peter” (see full article here).
What does the world’s most famous conservative evangelical scholar Tom Wright have to say about the authorship of 2 Peter in the newly published The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians?
Remember that 2 Peter explicitly claims to be authored by the apostle Peter himself. That is why it is so important to Christian faith. If it is not by Peter then many people will doubt the trustworthiness of the New Testament to speak the truth about itself. Here is the section which discusses the problem:
Wright and Bird conclude:
“Postulating the apostle Peter as the author of this letter feels to us like pushing a big rock up a steep hill; the indications of post-Petrine authorship appear overwhelming.”
To put the matter more polemically: for the reasons itemised by Wright and Bird it is overwhelmingly likely that Peter is not the author of 2 Peter, even though the letter claims to be authored by an eyewitness to events in the life of Jesus, by a disciple who was actually present with Christ.
Does this matter?
Evangelical New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham calls the letter a “fiction”. If so then it is a letter designed to deceive its readership into thinking it is by Peter when it is not. And it has been remarkably successful. Virtually all Christians throughout history have heard this letter as first person testimony from the Chief of the Apostles himself. This puts a huge question mark against the trustworthiness of the New Testament:
Of what value for faith is invented testimony to the life of Jesus?
And it is not the only case of its kind in the Bible!