One of the great blessings in my life is my adult bible class at the Highland Church of Christ. The Sojourners bible class may be one of a kind in the Churches of Christ. If you join Highland and it is known that you struggle with doubt or ask hard questions the recommendation quickly comes, "Try the Sojourners class." No, it's not perfect, and we aren't where I'd like us to be, but a lot of people who can't stomach church can at least tolerate Sojourners.
For example, this last semester we hosted a really wonderful study by Trevor, a colleague at ACU on our bible faculty. The class was about the evidence that 2 Peter is pseudepigraphical. That is, 2 Peter is attributed to Peter but wasn't really written by Peter.
The pseudepigraphical status of 2 Peter has been noted for quite some time, from Origen to John Calvin. But what was most interesting to me about Trevor's class was the "internal evidence" he pointed to within 2 Peter that suggested the letter was pseudepigraphical. This evidence mainly points to a late date of composition, a time after the death of Peter. Trevor pointed us to two locations where 2 Peter expresses some theology that seems to date it from the late first to early second century.
The first bit of pseudepigraphical evidence is the highly developed Christology on display in 2 Peter. For example,
2 Peter 1.1-2The phrase "our God and Savior Jesus Christ" is what jumps out here. The earliest Christians were slow to realize that Jesus was God. Admittedly, that was a hard concept to get through the skulls of Jewish monotheists. So it took some time. We don't see bold statements along these lines in the earliest NT books, but here in 2 Peter we have a big theological splash: "our God and Savior Jesus Christ." Such a bold statement hints at a late date of composition when the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation were beginning to come into clearer focus.
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours...
A second bit of evidence of a late composition date for 2 Peter comes from the end of the letter:
2 Peter 3.14-16Anyone who has ever read Romans 9-11 gets what the author of 2 Peter was talking about. Paul really is hard to understand at times. But that's not the comment that interests us. As Trevor pointed out, the phrase to key on is "His letters...which ignorant and stable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures."
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
A couple of observations. First, it's highly unlikely that the apostles considered their letters to be "Scripture." Yet here in 2 Peter we have a sense that the apostolic writings were beginning to take on this sort of authority. Again, this hints at a late, post-apostolic date of composition, a time when "Scripture" was taking shape in the mind of the church.
But the most damning bit of evidence here is the fact that it is highly unlikely, given their high profile disagreements, that Peter the Apostle would have described Paul's letters as "Scripture." Which suggests that Peter didn't write the letter.
And speaking of Scripture, let me return to the Sojourners bible class.
As you might expect, it's kind of odd to have a bible class about pseudepigrapha. I mean, what do do you say to other members of the church when they ask what you are studying. Do you say, "We're talking about how Peter didn't really write 2 Peter!"
Not that everyone in our class loved the study. Pseudepigrapha raises a lot of hard questions about biblical inspiration. And when you talk about inspiration people get nervous. Further, some wonder if any good can come of such a study. I heard one visitor (a non-Sojourner type) say after one of the classes, "I just want to talk about Jesus." Some people, I guess, just don't want to know about issues like pseudepigrapha. Perhaps because it's too scary to think about. So while I get the whole "I just want to talk about Jesus" line I wonder how often it's used as a defense mechanism, as a means of sticking your head in the sand and hoping the world will go away.
Sensing some of this anxiety I made a comment along these lines on the last day of the study:
"Here's the deal. People like Bart Ehrman are publishing books about this stuff. And while this study might not be everyone's cup of tea, I hope everyone recognizes how important it is for Christians to hear about this stuff and to think it through communally and theologically. People at work, family members, and even our own children, will read books like Ehrman's and ask us questions. And we don't need to appear shocked, unintelligent, defensive or afraid. We need to be able to respond in an informed, non-anxious, and theologically coherent manner. That's why it's good to have classes like this."So thank you Sojourners. And thank you Trevor.