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Who Wrote 1 Peter?

This post is to close out my discussion of 1 Peter, from the New Testament.  Who actually wrote it?  Spoiler alert: we don’t know, but it probably wasn’t Peter.

On several occasions on the blog I’ve talked about the issue, most recently at length in a repost earlier this year: https://ehrmanblog.org/did-peter-use-a-secretary-for-his-writings-a-blast-from-the-past/  That’s where I give the fuller story.  For now I give just the simple side of things, as I lay it out in my undergraduate textbook on the New Testament.

Following this post I will start talking about how and why the books assigned to Peter did or did not make it into the New Testament.  If you recall, the whole reason I got into this thread in the first place (which I foolishly thought would take 2-3 posts) is that I became intrigued by the question of why 2 Peter made it into the New Testament but the Apocalypse of Peter did not.  As I will explain in the next post, I have far fewer questions about 1 Peter (which, like the other two, claims to be written by Peter even though it was written by someone else who simply wanted his readers to think he was Peter).


The Author of 1 Peter

The book claims, of course, to be written by Peter, the disciple of Jesus, and it suggests that he was writing from the capital of the empire. This is intimated at the close of the letter, where …

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Seriously. How Many People in Antiquity Could Write?
The Situation Behind the (“Forged”) Book of 1 Peter



  1. AstaKask  November 26, 2018

    The Swedish Bible translation (Bible 2000) places it in the 60’s, right after Nero’s persecutions, alternatively a few decades later.

  2. Matt2239  November 26, 2018

    Well if you go back to the original greek then you know that Acts 4:13 does not say Peter was illiterate.
    It says he was perceived to be illiterate. The Greek says the priests “comprehended” (katalabomenoi) Peter to be unschooled, and as well as untrained. Of course, that could simply mean Peter didn’t speak or write Hebrew, and that he had no formal training in the specific religious rites of the time and place. As for his occupation as a fisherman, he might have been doing that because his local priests would not teach him to write and speak Hebrew because he already knew Greek, but that does back to that stone that the builders rejected thing.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2018

      Interesting view. Tell me: where does καταλαμβανω ever mean to “think something that isn’t true”? You get the same grammatical construction later in Acts 10:34. Would you say this meaning is applicable there? It doesn’t say, by the way, that he didn’t know Hebrew. It says he didn’t know his letters: the word is “unlettered.” It means he doesn’t know the very basics of reading, the alphabet.

      • JohnKesler  November 27, 2018

        How would the rulers and elders be able to tell from a *speech* that Peter didn’t know the alphabet?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 28, 2018

          Probably in the same way that I can tell from the way someone talks whether they have an education or not. We do it all the time. Sometimes we may be wrong, but a good deal of the time, when we make the judgment, there is no ambiguity about the matter.

          • jhague  November 28, 2018

            I agree that Peter could not read or write but I am not sure if Acts 4:13 is a proof text for this since this event likely did not happen. I assume the author is using the same logic used today regarding Peter…that he was a fisherman from Galilee so he likely could not have been educated, correct?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 30, 2018

            Right — what it shows is that it was common knowledge that Peter was a lower class uneducated peasant (not that the incident itself happened.)

          • JohnKesler  November 28, 2018

            Since “agrammatos” is a hapax legomenon, I was curious if it appears in the LXX; the reference work that I consulted says that it does not. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that agrammatos means “unversed in the learning of the Jewish schools.” 1) Are there Greek works contemporary with the New Testament that use this word? 2) Could the word have meant something other than its literal definition, such as Thayer suggests?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 30, 2018

            No, it’s not in the LXX. Thayer’s definition is not a definition so much as an opinion. It certainly is not what the word literally means — not even close. And it never means that in any other context that I’m familiar with. He’s interpreting the verse, not defining the word.

  3. Bamayorgo  November 26, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Conceding this book was not written by Peter or his secretary, was it dependent/aware of any of the Gospels and the Pauline epistles?
    Or is it impossible to tell?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2018

      It appears to be familiar with Pauline *thought* — about which I’ll say something in later posts — but there’s no evidence the author had read any of the books that we now have (any of the now-known Pauline letters or the Gospels)

      • Bamayorgo  November 27, 2018

        Do you think 2:23, particularly “judges who judge justly”, refer to the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate? Also, the ones who “hurled” insults at him, be the Jews at the “ecce homo” scene? Or is that a stretch?

        • Bamayorgo  November 27, 2018

          Big error on my part- God is obviously the judge who judged justly, I used a strange translation. But my question regarding the “insults being hurled” stands.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 28, 2018

          Yes, he’s referring to traditions of Jesus’ passion — but there’s nothing to indicate that he has read teh Gospels we have today.

  4. JohnKesler  November 26, 2018

    1) From where did this author obtain his view of postmortem evangelism (4:6), if you think that is indeed what that passage teaches? 2) How did an author with this view of the dead (cf. 3:18-20) pass for being Simon Peter or pass the criterion of adhering to orthodoxy?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2018

      1. We don’t know where it came from; the passage is much debated; 2. There’s nothing unorthodox about it — it doesn’t contradict any standard theological teaching of the time.

  5. forthfading  November 26, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Was there any writings attributed to James the Son of Zebedee or to Andrew the Brother of Peter?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2018

      1. No, I don’t think so; 2. There are writings *about* him, but offhand, from the first five centuries at least, I can’t think of writings allegedly *by* him.

  6. brenmcg  November 27, 2018

    *Virtually the only things that we can say for certain about the disciple Peter is that he was a lower-class fisherman from Galilee (Mark 1:16) who was known to have been illiterate (Acts 4:13)*

    I dont think either of these are as historically certain as what we know from Paul – Peter was a pillar of a new religious movement centered in Jerusalem which contained at least some Hellenized Jews. How many of these kinds of historical figures went on to learn Greek?

    And one of those hellenized Jews was Paul himself – (what language did Peter and Paul carry out their conversations in?) and after 20 to 30 years of conversations with people like Paul its easy to see where Peter could have gotten such knowledge of the Septuagint.

    One only needs two things to learn a new language – motivation and exposure. And any 1st C christian missionary in the eastern half of the empire would have had both of these for Koine Greek.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2018

      One needs more than that to learn to be able to write a sophisticated treatise in another language. You need also institutions of learning to acquire the knowledge — something we have in the modern world, but not in the ancient.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 27, 2018

      brenmcg, you bring up an interesting point. I’m going to speculate again and say this much.

      I think Paul not only knew Greek but he knew Aramaic and Hebrew as well. Now, Dr. Ehrman is skeptical of the passages in Acts were Paul is claimed to have spoken Aramaic/Hebrew, but I don’t find them that hard to accept. For one, it is also claimed that Paul had studied under the Pharisees, the famous Rabbi Gamliel, in particular. Even if we have reason to question that Paul studied under Gamliel and the Pharisees, we have to ask ourselves why Paul was so clearly educated in scripture and Pharisaic thought, in general?

      Now, one can create a whole host of convoluted series of events to explain how Paul became so knowledgeable about scripture and Pharisaic thought without actually studying scripture under the Pharisees. Or one could simply use Occam’s Razor and presume that Paul actually studied scripture under the Pharisees! Let’s call that the path of least resistance. (Incidentally, there is a tradition held by some Chasidim that Paul, while studying under Gamliel, composed the prayer called the Neshmat Kol Chai, which is recited every Shabbat just before the shmonah esreh. It’s probably not true, but this shows that even Jews, who hold Paul in utter contempt as a race-traitor, accept the possibility that he studied with the Pharisees.)

      Anyway, I think this also explains how Paul and Peter could communicate. They spoke to each other in Aramaic or Hebrew. (This would also explain how Paul spoke with the “elders” of the church in Jerusalem.) Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the time Peter was taking missionary trips to places like Antioch, that he had picked up at least a workable amount of broken Greek. Not enough Greek to compose a work like 1 Peter, of course, just enough broken Greek to get around in the Greek speaking world.

      Such a level of broken Greek would cause educated men like Paul to describe him as “agrammatoi”.

  7. dschmidt01
    dschmidt01  November 27, 2018

    Hi Dr. Ehrman. today we would call these letters and books fan fiction.

    • mcmemmo  December 3, 2018

      No. Any lover of fan fiction would tell you that they take the concept of “canon” very seriously, and the catholic epistles are part of the New Testament canon. Fan fiction is more like the apocryphal gospels and other popular religious texts from the 2nd century or later that did not make the cut.

  8. Eskil  November 27, 2018

    Paul says in Galatians 2:9 “James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church [of Jerusalem]”. Bible commentary explains this as a metaphor: “The metaphor is a natural one, and is found not unfrequently in classical writers. It was in common use among the Jews as a designation for the great Rabbinical teachers.” Paul’s epistles are original literary sources whereas Gospels are later legendary oral sources. Why do you give preference to the Gospel sources over Paul’s epistles i.e. why do you think Peter was illiterate fisherman rather than a literate rabbi as Paul said?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2018

      Paul never says anything about Peter being either a rabbi or literate. Just because later Jewish sources use the image of “pillar” to refer to their greatest scholars doesn’t mean that in every context that’s what the image refers to. Instead it refers to the people on whom a community is built.

  9. DavidNeale  November 28, 2018

    I’m curious about the development of the hierarchy of clergy in the Church. You’ve pointed out that no such hierarchy is found in Paul’s authentic letters, but that the hierarchy of bishop, priest and deacon does exist in the Pastoral Epistles. So presumably some kind of hierarchy did exist in the churches by the beginning of the second century, at least.

    But how did the understanding of that hierarchy develop over time? In today’s Catholic sacramental theology, as I understand it, the ascending hierarchy of holy orders (deacon, priest, and bishop) involves an ascending hierarchy of *sacramental powers*. A priest has power to consecrate the Eucharist, absolve sins in the confessional, anoint the sick, and so on; a bishop has these powers plus the power to ordain priests. (Protestants of course typically reject this idea of the sacramental priesthood.) But when did that idea – of an ascending hierarchy of ordained clergy with ascending sacramental powers – come about in early Christianity? And what does it owe, if anything, to the structure of the pagan Roman priesthood?

    And how much does this have to do with the difference between the terms ἱερεύς and πρεσβύτερος in the New Testament? As I understand it, ἱερεύς is used for Jewish priests, pagan priests, and the idea of Christ as high priest / priest of Melchizedek, while πρεσβύτερος is used for the priests/elders of Christian churches (please correct me if I’ve misunderstood!)

    Sorry for this very wide-ranging question!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 30, 2018

      Very complicated questions! It would take a long thread. Maybe I’ll get to it at some point. (But yes: early on the leaders did not have sacramental duties in the later sense, but organized the community and taught it)

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