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The Situation Behind the (“Forged”) Book of 1 Peter

I am in the midst of talking about works attributed to Peter, the chief disciple, which have come down to us from the early church.  I should be clear, I think each and every one of these writings was “forged.”   I don’t think Peter himself wrote any of them – 1 Peter, 2 Peter, the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, or any of the other Petrine works that we now have.  Each was written by a different author, but each author claimed to be Peter, Jesus’ right hand man.

The book most widely accepted in the early church as having actually come from Peter is the book we call 1 Peter, from the New Testament.  Yesterday I started talking about what is in it.  Today I follow up on that discussion by explaining its apparent historical context and the approach the pseudonymous author takes in dealing with the problems he (and his ostensible audience) are confronting.

Again, this is taken from my textbook on the NT.

 

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The Context of Persecution

Those recipients who were literally resident aliens would no doubt have been accustomed to feeling ostracized by society at large. These feelings would have been assuaged to some extent once they joined the Christian community. Here they would have found a home for themselves in the “household of God” (4:17). Joining this new family also would have had a downside, however, in the public opposition that the group provoked.

We have seen that the persecution of Christians …

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Who Wrote 1 Peter?
The So-Called First Letter of Peter

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Comments

  1. Matt2239  November 25, 2018

    There are some reasons to reject the idea that Peter was illiterate. Jesus as we know could write and at age 12 was found in the temple where the people there found him exceptionally smart. Why would such a person select a illiterate person to be his right-hand man? Moreover, the conclusion of illiteracy panders to an elitist and pseudo-intellectual bias that considers religion stupid. Something I found interesting in reading Wikipedia about 2 Peter is that it encourages Christians to forget the apocalypse stuff and study the scriptures. And what do we see mainstream Christians doing today? Downplaying the apocalypse and studying their Bibles. Pretty solid rock to build on from 2 Peter.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2018

      Jesus is never recorded as being able to write in the New Testament. And being smart is not the same as being literate, especially in the ancient world, where many many brilliant people couldn’t write (unlike the modern world)

      • brandon284  December 3, 2018

        Hi Dr. Ehrman, not that I think it’s literal history, but doesn’t John talk about Jesus writing on the ground after the Jewish leaders drop their stones in story of the woman caught in adultery?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2018

          I think I better post on that.

          • brandon284  December 4, 2018

            Thanks!

        • twiskus  December 4, 2018

          That story is not original to the John. It was later added by scribes. The story appears in different parts of John depending on the manuscript, and even in Luke in a different manuscript.

    • darren  November 26, 2018

      Not sure why someone who believes the New Testament is literal history has interest in this blog.

  2. brenmcg  November 25, 2018

    In the ending of 1 Peter , “With the help of Silas … ” etc, the author seems to be going to extraordinary lengths to convince his readers the letter is written by Peter.

    This makes sense if you’re trying to trick someone into believing you have ancient document but less sense if you’re just trying to give moral guidance to fellow suffering believers.

    Do you think this means 1 Peter is either genuine or written much later by an uncaring fraudster?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2018

      I don’t think those are teh only two choices. It was indeed, in my view, written by someone who wanted to deceive his readers into thinking he was Peter. But his motives may have been as pure as the driven snow. I discuss all this in my book on Forgery and Counterforgery (the ethics of lying), if you’re interested in pursuing it.

  3. brenmcg  November 25, 2018

    off topic question – but do you think Mark 2:28 “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” is an editing of older material found in Matthew and Luke? “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”?

    Its not just unlikely that both matthew and luke would remove “even (kai)”, but the reason mark adds it is clear.

    Matthew and Luke’s version contains an ambiguity – is the son of man lord of *just* the sabbath and nothing else?
    Mark clears up the ambiguity – the son of man’s lordship extends even (kai) to the sabbath.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2018

      It’s generally assumed — for good reason — that Matthew and Luke were using Mark as a source, not the other way around.

      • brenmcg  November 26, 2018

        But for this particular verse, taken in isolation, do you think it points in the opposite direction, mark using matthew as a source?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 27, 2018

          I think there are other easier explanations; “Robert” replies to your comments with some grammatical observations.

    • Robert
      Robert  November 26, 2018

      brenmcg: “Mark 2:28 “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” … “even (kai)”, … the reason mark adds it is clear. … the son of man’s lordship extends even (kai) to the sabbath.”

      A better translation (cf John P Meier) of και in Mark’s context here is ‘also’. Thus in Mk 2,10 (the beginning of this section of dispute stories) Jesus demonstrated that he, the son of man, has authority to forgive sins and here he proclaims that the son of man is also lord of the sabbath, which he then goes on to demonstrate in the following story, the last of this section of dispute stories.

      No need to propose discarded source-critical ‘solutions’ to a non-problem at the level of Mark’s text.

      • brenmcg  November 27, 2018

        Its not the choice of also/even as the translation of kai that changes the meaning but whether “kai” conjoins “Jesus forgives sins / Lord” or applies to “of the Sabbath”.

        ie is Mark saying Jesus both forgives sins and has lordship of the sabbath or is Mark extending Jesus’s Lordship to include the sabbath – (The son of man is lord also/even of sabbath)

        As talmoore points out below Mark not only differs by the word kai but also has a different word order to Matthew/Luke.
        “tou Sabbatou” is moved to the end of verse in Mark along with “kai” making it clear Mark intends the second reading above.
        (The son of man is lord also/even of the sabbath).

        Mark here extending the lordship to the sabbath and showing a clear edit of the more original form found in Matthew/Luke.

        • Robert
          Robert  November 29, 2018

          Mk 2,10 ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς

          Mk 2,28 ὥστε κύριός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου

          I don’t see much difference between ‘Lord is the Son of Man also of the Sabbath’ vs ‘the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath’ vs ‘the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath’.

          The translation with a καί-intensive (the son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath) would make sense if this is understood to be an intensification, ie, if it were already understood that the son of man was Lord of something lesser but is now being proclaimed to be Lord of something even greater, Lord even of the Sabbath. Is that really the sense you want to read here? Not only does the son of man have a certain modicum of authority, ie, to forgive sins upon the earth, but he is Lord even of the Sabbath? The discussion of plucking grains on the Sabbath is a more important issue? In the first conflict story, Mark’s scribes had already considered Jesus’ proclamation of the forgiveness of the sins of the paralytic to be blasphemy: “It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

          What you have not shown is why Mark’s supposed addition of καί and change in word order makes sense in his text and why it should be seen as a secondary revision to the minor agreements in Matthew and Luke.

          talmoore’s retrotranslation into Hebrew is elegant, and does give the sense of the original Aramaic or Hebrew ‘son of man’ idiom, but it does not support the word order of Matthew and Luke being more original:

          ובן אדם אדון השבת

          Lk 6,5 κύριός ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

          Mt 12,8 κύριος γάρ ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

          For a comprehensive understanding of the import of the ‘minor agreements’ such as these on source-critical theories, I would recommend the work of Frans Neirynck and Tim Friedrichsen, especially the latter’s thesis from 1992, but I don’t think it’s published. Are you up for a trip to Belgium?

          • brenmcg  November 30, 2018

            *ie, if it were already understood that the son of man was Lord of something lesser but is now being proclaimed to be Lord of something even greater, Lord even of the Sabbath. Is that really the sense you want to read here? Not only does the son of man have a certain modicum of authority, ie, to forgive sins upon the earth, but he is Lord even of the Sabbath? *

            Yes this is the sense I want to read.
            Jesus calling himself Lord of the Sabbath is a far greater blasphemy than declaring he has authority to forgive sins.
            Lev 19:30 “Observe my Sabbaths … I am Lord”.

            Matthew and Luke’s sense could be taken to mean Jesus just declaring he has the power to choose whether to obey the Sabbath laws or not.

            Mark’s intensification has Jesus declaring his lordship extends all the way to God’s day of rest. ie Jesus is lord of everything.

        • talmoore
          talmoore  November 30, 2018

          Word order doesn’t matter as much in ancient Greek as it does in English. The difference is, at most, one of emphasis (and possibly rhythm, if meant to be poetic), but the meaning is pretty much the same. That’s why I broke the verse down into components whose positions in the order are interchangeable.

        • Robert
          Robert  December 2, 2018

          brenmcg: “Jesus calling himself Lord of the Sabbath is a far greater blasphemy than declaring he has authority to forgive sins.
          Lev 19:30 “Observe my Sabbaths … I am Lord”. …”

          That may be your reading of Leviticus, but there is no indication that Mark considered Jesus’ or the Son of Man’s authority to forgive sins to be lesser than his interpretation of Sabbath law. Quite the contrary. He present Jesus’ blasphemy’ of forgiving sins to be making himself equal to God. Mark puts this interpretation on the lips if the scribes: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

          • brenmcg  December 4, 2018

            I dont think he necessarily needs to be making the authority to forgive sins lesser than the of the sabbath – he can just be reinforcing what was previously said.

            the point is that the “kai” in mark changes the meaning to whats in matthew/luke.

            if one can come up with a stonger reason for mark adding kai than any reason given for both matthew//luke removing it then I think one has shown that in isolation the verse points towards mark editing matthew/luke

          • Bart
            Bart  December 4, 2018

            May I ask: can you read Greek?

          • brenmcg  December 4, 2018

            Hi – no just going by online translations

          • Bart
            Bart  December 5, 2018

            Understanding the nuances of the Greek is precisely why I wanted to learn the language.

          • brenmcg  December 6, 2018

            Whats your preferred translation of Mark 2:28?

            the son of man is also lord of the sabbath?
            the son of man is lord of the sabbath also?
            the son of man is lord also/even of the sabbath?

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 26, 2018

      These passages are interesting because they support my own conjecture that Matthew and Luke did not use Mark as a source. Instead, I hypothesize that Matthew, Luke and Mark used “Mark” as a source. That is to say, they all used an incipient form of “Mark”. Watch.

      Mark has: Kyrios estin ho Hyios tou anthropou kai tou Sabbatou. –> “Lord is the Son of Man also of the Sabbath.”
      Matthew has: Kyrios gar estin tou Sabbatou ho Hyios tou anthropou. –> “Lord indeed is of the Sabbath the Son of Man.”
      Luke has: Kyrios estin tou Sabbatou ho Hyios tou anthropou. –> “Lord is of the Sabbath the Son of Man.”

      Clearly, these three quotations differ by much more than a simple “kai”. What’s going on here? First let’s break them apart into their distinct components:
      A. Lord is
      B. Son of Man
      C. Of the Sabbath
      D. Also/indeed

      I would first offer the possibility, as scholars often suggest of much of Luke, that Luke’s version is closer to the “original”. And notice that Luke is missing the kai/gar component. It also suggests that the “original” order of the components was A-C-B. But Mark’s order is A-B-C, so how can Luke have used Mark as a source? Well, what if Luke didn’t use Mark, but “Mark” as a source? What would “Mark’s” version have looked like? It might have looked something like this.

      ובן אדם אדון השבת
      wa-ben adam adon ha-shabbat
      literally: and son of Adam lord the sabbath
      In proper English translation: “So man is master of the sabbath.”

      What makes this a possible contender for the original in Hebrew?
      1. It’s chiastic: wa-ben is A and ha-shabbat is A’; adam is B and adon is B’.
      2. Need it be pointed out that “adam” and “adon” sound similar?
      3. wa-ben and ha-shabbat both have the “a-b” sound that connects them.
      4. Each separate phrase is four syllables: wa-ben-a-dam; a-don-shab-bat. That also makes for a nice rhythm.

      I should also point out that the Rabbis also passed down a similar sentiment in their tradition. So if I were a betting man, I would bet that the original expression — “So man is master of the sabbath” — was a common pharisaic aphorism either a) recited by Jesus, b) later attributed to Jesus by his disciples, or c) spoken by some apostles and much later retro-actively attributed to Jesus. Either way, that was the original version found in “Mark”.

      • brenmcg  November 27, 2018

        I think the original version you say is found is “Mark” is also found in Matthew/Luke – possibly with different word ordering.
        I agree its a snappy title which may predate/post date Jesus but this title gets edited in Mark’s gospel. Matthew and Luke have the original and taken in isolation this verse indicates Mark is doing the editing to clear up an ambiguity found in Matthew/Luke.

    • Robert
      Robert  November 29, 2018

      “Matthew and Luke’s version contains an ambiguity – is the son of man lord of *just* the sabbath and nothing else?
      Mark clears up the ambiguity – the son of man’s lordship extends even (kai) to the sabbath.”

      Do you really think Matthew and Luke are ambiguous about this? Are there people who understand Matthew and Luke to be saying that Jesus or the Son of Man or a human being is lord only of the Sabbath and of nothing else?

      • talmoore
        talmoore  November 30, 2018

        The kai in Mark and the gar in Matthew were probably misguided attempts at translating the Hebrew wa-. That’s probably why Luke leaves it out, because in Hebrew the wa- is often a throwaway (try to translate every wa- in the Bible and your head will explode). But, in this case, I think the original wa- in the original Hebrew expression was supposed to mean so (as in “therefore,” “consequently,” etc.): “So man is lord of the sabbath”. The use of kai and gar has only confused the matter, forcing translators to translate it as “also” or “even” or “indeed” etc.

        • Robert
          Robert  December 2, 2018

          talmoore: “The kai in Mark and the gar in Matthew were probably misguided attempts at translating the Hebrew wa-. … The use of kai and gar has only confused the matter, forcing translators to translate it as “also” or “even” or “indeed” etc.”

          There’s no need to propose a hypothetical Hebrew original, or mistranslation of this hypothetical Hebrew text by both Mark and Matthew. Mark’s και and Matthew’s γαρ are not problematic in their own contexts.

      • brenmcg  November 30, 2018

        Matthew and Luke arent intentionally ambiguous but there’s still a question about what sense they mean lord/Lord of the sabbath.
        Mark makes it explicit – Jesus’s Lordship contains even the Sabbath – he is Lord of all.

        • Robert
          Robert  December 2, 2018

          brenmcg: “Matthew and Luke arent intentionally ambiguous but there’s still a question about what sense they mean lord/Lord of the sabbath.
          Mark makes it explicit – Jesus’s Lordship contains even the Sabbath – he is Lord of all.”

          My question had nothing to do with whether or not Matthew or Luke were being intentionally ambiguous, but whether anyone really understands Matthew or Luke to be saying that Jesus (or the Son of Man or a human being) is lord only of the Sabbath and of nothing more?

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  November 30, 2018

        I think Mark may have had a hodgepodge of sources he worked with. Isn’t Mark’s gospel the first of its kind, as in its unique text structure and type of content it included? If so, then maybe Mark organized several sources when creating his narrative with the final product being an original text structure. Matthew and Luke would have used Mark as a template to follow for guidance when creating their gospels.

        • Robert
          Robert  December 4, 2018

          Yes, absolutely. But don’t underestimate Mark’s own creative and compositional abilities as well.

  4. Rita Gomes  November 25, 2018

    Bart, in this text you recall who in 1Pe 2: 4-9 still make sacrifices.
    Some translations say spiritual sacrifices, would they?
    And when the sacrifice, God, was definitively excluded in Christianity.
    Ah! Had the Lord’s Prayer really been said by Jesus?
    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2018

      Yes, the text says “spiritual” sacrifices; it is not referring to the literal slaughter of animals, etc. And yes, Jesus may well have said some version of the Lord’s Prayer.

  5. Bamayorgo  November 25, 2018

    I know this is off topic but Steven Pinker, a Harvard prof., tweeted out a link to a new mythicist book from a R.G. Price (no relation to Bob) called “Deciphering the Gospels proves Jesus never existed”. A Harvard Prof tweeting this out!
    Have you read this new book by chance?

    • nichael  November 26, 2018

      While I haven’t read the book itself, the “Look Inside” option on the book’s Amazon contains a large fraction of the book. I’ll just note a couple items:

      – Mr Price is “a software engineer” with “a Bachelor of Science in Biology”. According to the book’s Introduction it would appear that most of Mr Price’s training in Biblical studies came from his extensive discussions on various internet sites and discussion boards and his knowledge of “Greek and Roman mythology”.

      – The book is published by “Lulu Publishing Services” (i.e. a self-publishing concern).

      – The primary basis of “deciphering the gospels” –as described in the title– involves Mr Price’s going through the “Gospel of Mark” (quote) “line by line” and reportedly identifying the underlying O.T. passage that served as the basis for the corresponding passage in Mark. (Here, the primary source material would appear to be the NRSV, primarily the Harper Collins Study Bible. It’s probably worth noting here that all of the texts listed in the “reference section” are in English.). This, combined with Mr Price’s assertion that the author of Mark knew all the letters of Paul, leads him to conclude that Mark’s description of the life of Jesus was based totally on Paul’s view of Christ.

      I’ll stop here, but I’ll direct anyone interested in following up on this to browse through the “Look Inside” option for the book.

  6. John4
    John4  November 26, 2018

    Typo alert, lol:

    “accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme or of governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish” (3:13–15).

    It’s actually *2*:13-15.

    Thanks, Bart! 🙂

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  November 26, 2018

    I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that Pliny the Younger wrote to Trajan about the Christians in 112, and then the Jews of North Africa rebelled in 115. Maybe 1 Peter was composed within this general milieu? Dr. Ehrman, something tells me that if you took a deep dive into this decade, from 110 to 120, that you might be able to piece together an interesting puzzle.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 27, 2018

      When you look at the details of the two events, they appear unrelated.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  November 27, 2018

        I’m not saying the two events (persecution of Bithynian Christians and the Kitos War) are directly connected. I’m suggesting that they are indirectly related via an overarching milieu at that time. For instance, both Jews and Christians were awaiting the Messiah — the Jews for his initial advent, the Christians for his return. By the year 110, the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed for 40 years, a significant anniversary (The Babylonian Captivity supposedly lasted around 40 years). Rome was at war with the Parthians, which may have seemed somewhat apocalyptic at the time. And on that note, the Parthians may have been fostering insurrections among the Roman Jews (since Jews had connections in both the Roman world and the Parthian world). Within this milieu, something appeared to be brewing, culminating, eventually, in Bar Kokhba’s rebellion in 132, and Christians were feeding off of this apocalyptic milieu.

  8. Robert
    Robert  December 4, 2018

    brebmcg: “I dont think he necessarily needs to be making the authority to forgive sins lesser than the of the sabbath – he can just be reinforcing what was previously said.”

    There’s a word for that: “also”

    brenmcg: “the point is that the “kai” in mark changes the meaning to whats in matthew/luke.

    if one can come up with a stonger reason for mark adding kai than any reason given for both matthew//luke removing it then I think one has shown that in isolation the verse points towards mark editing matthew/luke”

    Mark is simply linking the beginning and ending of his section of controversy stories with the same meaning or theme: Jesus’ authority as Son of Man.

    Since neither Luke nor Matthew is composing Mark’s section of controversy stories, they wouldn’t necessarily feel a need to link this thematic element in the first and last stories of his section of controversy stories. They are composing their own gospels.

    As for the minor agreement of word order, both Matthew and Luke are just making a syntactical improvement of bringing together the genitive construction. A very simple and natural improvement for anyone to make who is not trying to make Mark’s compositional connection between the first and last stories of his controversy section.

    • brenmcg  December 5, 2018

      *Since neither Luke nor Matthew is composing Mark’s section of controversy stories, they wouldn’t necessarily feel a need to link this thematic element in the first and last stories of his section of controversy stories.*
      Firstly, Luke has the same controversy stories in the same order as Mark here – there’s no good reason for Luke to leave out Mark’s link of first to last stories.

      Secondly in 2:26 Mark uses “kai” in two senses.
      First as part of a single phase “he also gave some to his companions”.
      And second to conjoin two phrases “Jesus ate the consecrated bread” and/kai “he also gave some to his companions.”

      In Mark 2:28 the sense of “kai” being used is as part of a single phrase “the son of man is lord even/also of the sabbath.”
      And in the sense of a single phrase it should not be read as a link to the previously mentioned authority to forgive sins but as an extension of lordship to the sabbath. ie where Matthew/Luke merely say jesus is lord of the sabbath, Mark extends the meaning to Jesus is lord of everything up to the sabbath.

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