Canonization of Scripture and 2 Peter 3:15-16

college papers

It is generally the case that many critical issues arise from the study of the canonical letter 2 Peter. Objectively, this may be said for any canonical New Testament work. Since, however, the majority of modern scholarship basically denies Petrine authorship (relegating it as a second-century composition by some unknown author), any discussion which is principally based upon 2 Peter requires interaction with this critical problem. Failure to consider this vital element of Petrine studies in the discussion of any textual topic seems to stop short of objectivity. The need to grapple with this issue is readably seen in a consideration of the canonization of Scripture as studied in light of the statement penned in 2 Pet 3:15-16.

The view taken regarding the authorship of 2 Peter plays a major role not only in the evaluation of any passage but also the implications derived from it. As in the case of 2 Peter 3:15-16, divergent views regarding the canonization process, nature of Scripture, Pauline literature, and ethics of deception arise due to one’s position of authorship. For example, the statements from 3:15-16 may argue either that the apostle Peter believes that Pauline letters are “Scripture” and should always be regarded as such;[1] in contradistinction, the passage may be employed as evidence to demonstrate that some second century disciple, writing under Peter’s name and authority attempted to contribute to the normative use of the Pauline corpus as Scripture.[2]

The divergence here centers upon which argumentation for authorship is accepted by the student. Again, if 2 Peter is penned by some fictitious “Simeon Peter” (2 Pet 1:1), purporting to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, what ethical impact does this have upon the normative prohibitives of bearing false witness (Exod 20:16)? This poses an ethical dilemma, especially when the author warns against “false prophets” who employ “false words” (2:1-3).

The canonization of Scripture and 2 Peter 3:15-16 will be evaluated in 3 steps. First, the argument of 2 Peter 3:15-16 will be evaluated at face value in light of the rest of document. Second, the concept of canon and a sketch of the New Testament canon will be outlined as it relates to 2 Peter. Finally, we will consider evidence for the first-century use of 2 Peter and its implications for an early collection of Paul’s letters (i.e. a Pauline corpus).

The Argument of 2 Peter 3:15-16 in Context

To gain as near as possible to a proper understanding of 2 Peter 3:15-16 and its place in the process of the canonization of Scripture, attention must be given to the argument of the passage.

Jerome H. Neyrey depends upon a rhetorical model in order to outline and understand the flow of argument of 2 Peter,[3] suggesting that the letter is best divided into three rhetorical phases: (1) the exodium (1:3-15), (2) the probatio (1:16-3:13), and (3) the peroratio (3:14-18).[4] The exordium “announces the hortatory intention of the speaker/writer, suggests the topics to be developed in the remainder of the writing, and requests a serious hearing” (1:3-15).[5] The probatio is basically the “proof” of the author’s case which is to persuade the intended audience by refuting the opposition’s claims, thus demonstrating the validity of Peter’s claims (1:16-3:13).[6] Finally, the peroratio which consists of two integral parts: the recapitulation (repetitio) of central ideas of the document (i.e. a summation), and an emotional appeal (adfectus) to the audience based upon the validity of the arguments found within the body of the letter (3:14-18).[7]

In this light, 2 Peter 3:14-18 should then be viewed in balance to the “themes and issues raised” from the beginning of the letter (1:16-3:13); namely, eschatological godliness through knowledge, and this knowledge mediated through genuine and normative teaching (the prophetic scritpures).[8] Fittingly, this section begins with the use of the inferential conjunction dió (“therefore”) in 3:14 which serves to show these verses are logically connected either as a deduction, conclusion or even as a summary. It brings into clear view that the logical connection is “self evident” (2 Pet 1:10, 12).[9] Without laboring this point much more, dió transitions to Peter’s insistence “that the link between faith and conduct must be maintained.”[10]

The arguments raised against the heresy –a religio-philosophical school of thought– addressed in 2 Peter 2 concludes with an exhortation to live right (2 Pet 3:1-13). Thomas R. Schreiner notes that here “many themes from its [2 Peter’s] beginning reappears” and astutely observes:

Peter’s argument is not pragmatic […] he did not invent the idea of a future judgment to foster ethical living now. On the contrary, the day of the Lord, consisting of both judgment and salvation, was bedrock reality for him. On the basis of this reality, believers are exhorted to godliness.[11]

Bauckham likewise shows how this moral argument is given weight and authority throughout 3:14-18 in three ways:[12] (1) “eschatology supplies a motive for ethical conduct” (3:14-15a), (2) accurately exegeted Pauline literature supports this rationale (3:15b-16), and (3) by way of a reminder of 2 Peter’s polemic against these false teachers (3:17).

2 Peter 3:14-17 is consequently the capstone of a moral argument set forth throughout the letter, rising from both apostolic theology and eschatology. The text may be translated as follows:

[14] Therefore, loved ones, since you wait for these things be eager to be found by him as spotless ones and blameless ones in peace; [15] and consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our beloved brother Paul (according to the wisdom entrusted to him) wrote to you, [16] as also by all [his] letters addressing these things in them, in which it is hard to understand some things, which those who are ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction as also the remaining Scriptures. [17] You therefore, loved ones, knowing in advance, be on your guard, in order that you may not be carried away from [your] firm footing by the error of lawless people. (Author’s Translation)

Of particular interest here is the vocabulary employed in versus 15-16. 2 Peter employs the authoritative weight of the Apostle Paul and a collection of his letters (pásais taís epistolaìs, “all [his] letters”) to support his argument. The false teachers, moreover, are characterized as “ignorant” (‡amatheìs) and “unstable” (‡astēriktoi), are twisting (streblōsousin) Paul’s words and the “remaining Scriptures” (tàs loipàs graphàs) to their “destruction” (apōleian).

The language itself embraces canonical language; in other words, the sort of language which recognizes normative revelation.[13] The recipients of 2 Peter were expected to obey these words. Conceptionally, then, the author of 2 Peter is appealing to an inspired holy prophet (i.e., Paul 3:15; cf. 1:20-21; 3:2), the normative Scriptures of the Hebrews (3:5-6), and himself implicitly as one who can identify the “prophetic word” (1:19). This simple observation must not be overlooked. Neyrey, who questions the validity of the argument here, recognizes that this may be a claim of “legitimacy” since there “is only one tradition of teaching of God’s judgment and Jesus’ parousia.”[14] This has the double effect of authenticating 2 Peter’s argument, while “automatically discrediting” the false teachers.[15] Richard Bauckham likewise agrees that the author, whoever he is, “wishes to point out that his own teaching (specifically in 3:14-15a) is in harmony with Paul’s because Paul was an important authority for his readers.”[16] The appeal to a normative standard is definitely a necessity in order to demonstrate the validity of the argument. Is that not a canonical concept?

If the author of 2 Peter is employing normative, or standard, theological argumentation based upon authoritative figures (i.e. Paul and the Old Testament) the implication is that the false teachers are not. Yet, the text show that the false teachers are so misconstruing Paul and the Old Testament’s affirmations that they are “torturing” them, to the point of making them appear as if they teach something that they do not (streblōsousin);[17] thus, the audience is to understand that there is a normative standard which is being replaced by a foreign “interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20-21). The language of the passage is again revealing. Paul is regarded as one who was endowed with wisdom (dotheisan autō sophían), which is a natural allusion to his direct reception of revelation elsewhere synonymously described (1 Cor 2:11-13; Gal 1:12-17).[18] Paul’s letters are saturated with wisdom, but his words are subject to specious interpretive methods which disjoint their intent and meaing, and lead to a behavior that leads to a self-imposed destruction.

It seems, then, that this destruction stems from the fact that Paul’s letters and “the remaining Scriptures” (tàs loipàs graphàs) in some way share the same character.[19] 2 Peter 3:16 connects this torture of tàs loipàs graphàs to their destruction as well, meaning that the same kind of punishment awaiting those who distort the meaning of Paul’s letters is awaiting those who twist the “rest of the Scriptures.”[20] Contextually, this phrase refers to the Old Testament Scriptures since the New Testament had not been collected and collated as modern Christians experience.[21] Even Bauckham, who is opposed to Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, acknowledges that “it would make no sense to take graphàs in the nontechnical sense of ‘writings’; the definite article requires us to give it its technical sense” though he conceives of other books in the author’s purview.[22] Likewise, Earl J. Richard simply observes, “that the author means to include in this category the OT Scriptures is obvious, but beyond that it is unclear what Christian works would have been thus labeled.”[23] 

From these observations, the proposition is advanced here that the author of 2 Peter grounds his argumentation in a reference to accepted authority (tradition, or standard). This authority is threefold: (1) his prophetic office as an apostle, (2) the Apostle Paul’s letters, and (3) the rest of the writings (i.e., Old Testament). This internal textual argumentation is generally accepted despite some questions regarding 2 Peter 3:15-16 and its admission of the “hard sayings” in Paul’s treatment of some matters.[24]

2 Peter and the New Testament Canon

In order to properly evaluate the relationship between 2 Peter, the Pauline corpus, and the balance of the New Testament documents, let us consider a working sketch of the development of the New Testament canon.

The Term. Harry Gamble makes the observation that if examined “within the full context of early Christian literature, the documents which came to constitute the NT canon are not, as a group, recognizably unique.”[25] It still remains, according to King McCarver, that “the formation of the canon cannot be understood apart from divine authority.”[26] McCarver argues that the initial recipients of the New Testament books could identify these works, and because of the ability to distinguish (with varying degrees) those documents from other early Christian literature. Gamble must be taken in balance with this observation.

The term canon (kanōn) is a semitic loanword which for our purpose has three basic meanings which play, as Gamble observes, some role in the conception of the canonization of Scripture.[27] First, deriving from the literal origin of being a reed of bulrush or papyrus, kanōn came to denote for the craftsman a “measuring rod,” a “rule,” or simply put “a tool for measurement or alignment” hence a “straight rod.”[28] Second, the literal meaning gave way to metaphorical usage in keeping with the concept of standardization; thus, canon became also synonymous with “an ideal standard, a firm criterion against which something could be evaluated and judged.” Third, kanōn also came to mean “a list” or “a catalogue” which seems to have been based upon the calibration marks on the reed stick.[29] All these uses of kanōn have also found their way into the broader limits of the liberal arts for identifying unparalleled standards, but when it applies to sacred literature “canon denotes a list or collection of authoritative books.”[30] Canon, when addressing Christian literature regarded as Scripture, means that these works are “the rule of faith” (regula fidei) and “the rule of truth” (regula veritatis); consequently, they are governing normative standards of apostolic faith.[31]

A brief note on the use of kanōn in the New Testament is relevant here. Its use in the New Testament is minimal, a total of four times. Of these four uses only Galatians 6:16 carries this sense of a standard rule, “And as for all who walk by this rule [tō kanóni], peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” The other three uses are found in the same context of 2 Corinthians 10 in the sense of a measured area of ministerial labor and growth outlined by God (10:13, 15-16). This shows the spectrum of the use and meaning of kanōn in the New Testament and how the term canon came to be used to describe the authoritative writings of God’s people.

A Historical Sketch. A sketch of the development of the New Testament canon will assist to properly evaluate the relationship between 2 Peter and the letters of Paul.

For purpose of this study attention is given (1) to some factors which impeded the canonization process,[32] (2) to some of the debates among the extant Apostolic Fathers.[33]

First, factors which impeded the canonization process. Dowell Flatt in his lecture, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?,” notes that there are at least seven important factors which impeded the canonization process of the New Testament documents.[34] In summary form, these are:

(1) The early church accepted the Hebrew Bible as an authoritative body of divine literature and interpreted it christologically; consequently, “it did not immediately appear that another set of books would be needed.” 

(2) The early church was still under the shadow of the Lord’s presence and life, and many of them would feel “no need for a written account of his life.”

(3) Eyewitness testimony (i.e. apostles and close disciples) to the Lord’s life and work was still abundant and alive (1 Cor 15:6); consequently, so long as living witnesses were available there was a low need for a written account (#2).

(4) Oral tradition was a vital element in the early Jewish culture and the make-up of the early church, and “as strange as it might sound to modern ears, many Jewish teachers did not commit their teachings to writing.” Oral tradition was important even around 130 A.D., for Papias felt that “the word of a living, surviving voice” was more important than “information from books.”[35] Other factors placing an importance upon oral tradition are the expense of books, the spectrum of literacy and illiteracy among the classes,[36] and that there is no record of Jesus specifically writting nor commanding a written record be composed.[37] 

(5) The nature of many apostolic writings was letters, not literary works, so is it understandable that “such writings” as the letters “were slow to be fully recognized as Scripture.” 

(6) The early church manifested in a belief of a first-century return of Jesus to consume the age (eschatology) had “some influence” to hinder the canonization process.

(7) The divinely inspired would speak a prophetic word, and while this was available the church was in no need of a written record per se. Kurt Aland observes the second-century church, living beyond this blessing, “began to carefully distinguish between the apostolic past and the present.”[38]

McCarver adds to this list one more factor which slowed the canonization process:

(8) There was no “ecclesiastical organization” which “composed or established the canon,” but instead the slow reception of these works at various intervals, across a large geographical region, of the early church was the context of the early sifting process before the councils.[39]

No doubt other factors were in play but these allow us to appreciate the forces at work in the early church during this process.

Second, some of the debates among the extant Apostolic Fathers centered on early Christian literature and their authority. Gamble presents the various discussions and canonical debates in two significant time periods:[40] (1) the second century and (2) the third and fourth centuries. Gamble’s survey demonstrates that it was not an easy time for the early church. There were many signs of the church in transition. In particular, it manifiested in a responsibility that had never been the universal church’s responsibility, namely, the collecting and sorting out the authoritative documents of the new covenant. These were extraordinary times indeed.

The extant records of the Apostolic Fathers demonstrate that not all churches had the same documents. Furthermore, some viewed certain works inspired while others did not, meanwhile, some would use certain documents later found to be spurious and reject them.[41] One of the largest subjects to discussed was the authenticity of the Gospel narratives and that of the letters of the Apostle Paul; especially, their place when compared to other similar gospel accounts and letters. Some employed Gospel narratives which are not in our present canonical and others rejected the use of some of Paul’s letters.[42] Kurt Aland observes that “contemporary with the abating of the prophetic impulse there developed the awareness of history.”[43] In other words, the church was truly without the aid of the apostles and prophets, and its future would be now in the hands of the documents they left behind (John 16:13).

Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., gives a detailed analysis of another major problem of the second century, and well into the third century, namely that the early church had to begin sifting through Christian literature which claimed prophetic inspiration.[44] The early church was consequently embroiled in a matrix of canonical upheaval, but building upon the growing recognized canon and “the rule of faith,” it wrestled back and forth accepting what they thought was prophetic and rejecting documents having no validity and those which were inconsistent with apostolic tradition.[45] Gamble observes the travels of Origen, who was considerably informed of what documents the church had in its possession, and summarizes the items which lacked in the both the eastern and western church.[46]

The fourth century provides the work of Eusebius who was one the most informed leaders of his time. In his Church History, Eusebius informs his readers as follows regarding the state of “canonical affairs”:

At this point is may be appropriate to list the New Testament writings already referred to. The holy quartet of the Gospels are first, followed by the Acts of the Apostles. Next are Paul’s epistles, 1 John, and 1 Peter. The Revelation of John may be added […] These are the recognized books. Those that are disputed yet known to most are the epistles called James, Jude, 2 Peter, and the so-named 2 and 3 John, the work of the Evangelist or of someone else with the same name. (Maier)[47]

Eusebius continues this discussion with another brief list, of spurious and heretical works under which the book of Revelation (some viewed it spurious) was still not fully recognized. These disputed volumes were often styled the antilegomena; meaning, they were not heretical, they was simply a continued debate over their authority. Still, Gamble concludes from Eusebius, “It seems that little development had taken place during the third century” for those works where were acknowledged are “precisely” those acknowledged at the end of the second century.[48] The fourth century would see a significant change in this accepted list.

Various lists are extant from the fourth century, besides that offered by Eusebius. The Cheltenham canon (A.D. 360) recognized our entire canon except Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John.[49] The Festal Letter of Athanasius (A.D. 367) set forth for the first time a list named “as exclusively authoritative exactly the twenty-seven books which make up our NT.”[50] This did not sway the eastern church for a number of reasons. The most basic was that the Syrian church was going through its own sifting system and was recognizing books in its own time; consequently, “into the early fifth century, the Syrian church typically admitted only twenty-two books.”[51] For example, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, and Revelation did not appear in the early original Peshitta collections of the New Testament until 508 AD in the Philoxenian revision of the whole Syrian Bible.[52]

The early church was indeed grappling with the issue of canon for at least 350 years, traditionally somewhere in the mid-second century and encroaching into the fifth century A.D. During this time the Apostolic Fathers, as a body of strong church leadership evaluated what the communities of believers had received as Scripture. It is important to focus again to an important point, that there were factors which encouraged a slow process of canonization as mentioned above, and that early on there was no ecclesiastical government to encourage the universal collection, the collation, and the transmission of apostolic documents. Furthermore, it has been advanced above that the first recipients of the documents would have recognized the apostolic authority behind them and would have made a distinction between them and those which were regarded traditional but not authoritative.

In light of these points, Simon J. Kistemaker argues that the documents themselves were intrinsically authoritative, but it took time for the church universal to sift through this tremendous body of literature and come to an agreement. In other words, the early church was working to make a distinction between the words of the Spirit versus the words of Christian teachers. Kistemaker argues that the church was accepting a qualitative canon until it accepted a quantitative canon:

The books themselves, of course, have always been uniquely authoritative from the time of their composition. Therefore, we speak of a qualitative canon in early stages that led to a quantitative canon centuries later. The incipient canon began to exist near the end of the first century. The completed canon was recognized by the Church near the end of the fourth century.[53]

Consequently, as has often been maintained, “the church did not create the canon,”[54] but instead, developing from the early post-apostolic church structure to the top in the various councils to give focused attention to the authenticity of these works.[55] We may argue then that while the canon did not come into existence in a simple moment, and that the canon did increase as each document was published by a New Testament apostle and prophet (qualitative canon), but that it took a historical process to separate these individual volumes from similar Christian documents which the early church had incorporated into its lifeblood (quantitative canon). 

First-Century Evidence for 2 Peter and a Pauline Corpus?

Finally, there is the first-century evidence for 2 Peter and collection processes of the letters of Paul. Robert E. Picirilli has shown that 2 Peter cannot be quickly dismissed as a second-century document, and finds evidence 2 Peter through allusions by late first-century and early second-century Apostolic Fathers.[56] Also, E. Randolph Richards likewise provides some context for evaluating the some of the natural movements for the collection of an early Pauline corpus.[57]

A brief history of the developing canon of the New Testament shows that 2 Peter and the letters of Paul had different historical “experiences” in their reception by the church universal. 2 Peter was often grouped with others volumes that were debated as to their authority, whereas Paul’s letters were often grouped together in different collections subject to criticisms due to their content by the likes of the gnostic heretic Marcion who reduced Paul’s letters to ten. In Marcion’s case, he may have done more to force the church to evaluate and determine what are the canonical New Testament documents.

It is sometimes argued that 2 Peter has no external attestation until late second century AD, but Picirilli’s work argues to the contrary. 2 Peter has early attestation through allusions by the late first-century and early second-century Apostolic Fathers.[58] Allusions are different from quotations, of course, as quotations are much stronger evidence than allussions since the quotation is a direct appeal to the source text; however, if the allusion has significant verbal similarity (correspondence) to a source, then its passing reference should not be, nor cannot be, ignored as a witness to its text source.

Among the earliest sources with allusions to 2 Peter are 1 Clement (95-95)[59] and 2 Clement (98-100?).[60] Picirilli claims that there are “three distinctive phrases that are common to Clement and 2 Peter”:[61] (1) a periphrasis (an indirect way) for the name of God (1 Clem 9:2), (2) the description of the Christian life (1 Clem 35:5), and (3) the description of the Scriptures (2 Clem 11:2). Picirilli pays careful attention to this verbal similarity, and argues for the priority of 2 Peter to demonstrate the dependence of 1 and 2 Clement.

First, Clement writes “Let us fix our eyes on those who perfectly served his magnificent glory” (1 Clem 9:2).[62] This indirect reference to God as “his magnificent glory” (tē megaloprepei dóxe autou) has strong verbal agreement to 2 Peter 1:17.[63] Here it is says, “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory [tēs megaloprepous doxēs], ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (ESV).

Second, 1 Clement 35:5 calls the Christian life, “the way of truth” (tē hodō tēs alētheías), which resembles 2 Peter 2:2, calling attention to some who are blaspheming the Christian lifestyle – “the way of truth” (hē hodòs tēs alētheías).[64]

Third, 2 Clement 11:2 refers to the Scriptures as “the prophetic Word” (ho prophētikos lógos); and in like manner 2 Peter 1:19 “the prophetic word” (ton prophētikon lógon). This latter example seems impressive since the argument in 2 Clement is to support eschatology in exactly the same polemic context as 2 Peter, against false teachers (2 Clem 10:1-11.7; 2 Pet 1:16-3:13).[65]

In observing this verbal agreement between 2 Peter and 1 and 2 Clement, Picirilli affirms, “it is interesting that three of 2 Peter’s distinctive phrases, unique in the Bible, are used in ‘Clement’, and in exactly the same way.”[66] Picirilli recognizes that several objections can be made against his researched conclusion, but despite all these objections the Apostolic Fathers demonstrate to be a strong verbal source for other allusions to 2 Peter within the first century.[67]

In addition, Guthrie argues that the greater amount of early external attestation one gets, then the greater support for the traditional date of 2 Peter.[68] Both Picirilli and Guthrie have been criticized by Michael J. Gilmour.[69] Gilmour argues that Picirilli’s observations are not helpful in arguing for an early origin of 2 Peter despite the possible allusions from the late first-century AD, because scholars who believe it was penned prior to the second century still hold that it is pseudonymous. Further, Guthrie’s point is weakened for Paul still had to warn against contemporary pseudonymous writers (2 Thess 2:1-2).[70] In other words, possible allusions do not prove authoriship since even the first-century saw the problem of assuming Paul’s name in order to distribute their views.

However, Picirilli’s work is a response to the constant argument that 2 Peter is not known in the first century, nor quoted until late into the second. After demonstrating that significant verbal allusions to 2 Peter exist within the first-century, he argues that those who still wish to oppose the traditional view of 2 Peter must prove that “their convictions of 2 Peter’s lateness is based on some grounds other than lack of possible allusions.”[71] Gilmour may be right that allusions do not prove authorship, but he does not discredit Picirlli’s demonstration of first-century verbal allusions.

Plainly stated, 2 Peter is a first-century document strikingly alluded to by Christian leaders in the late first-century. For the purpose of this study, the present point is sufficient, though we maintain the strength of Peter’s authorship of 2 Peter. So this makes its reference to a body of Paul’s letters all the more important. It is a major feature of its final conclusion which pleads his recipients to adhere to authoritative (orthodox) writings for the shaping of their faithful lives, and apparently, Paul’s letters were meaningful in this process.

2 Peter 3:15-16, then, reflects the existence of a Pauline corpus of indefinite size (en pásais taís epistolaìs) that both the author and his audience were (presumably) aware of. Therefore, some consideration of an early Pauline corpus must be given. Some concept of how Paul’s letters were collected and then circulated must be considered. It is argued here that the process was both gradual in scope but immediate to Paul.

The basis for this belief is grounded in slow circulation among the churches,[72] the typical secretarial duty to make copies, and the arrival and usage of the codex.[73] McCarver observes that the occasional nature of the epistles highlights the point that there was some specificity to a given locale, and consequently as other churches desired copies the “exchange and copying” was gradual.[74] Randolph Richards argues that the collection was unintentional, but provides evidence that on the analogy of ancient letter writers Paul would have had a copy of any letter in which he employed a secretary, or letter-writer (an amanuensis).[75] Likewise, consistent with this analogy, the secretary would have a copy of the letters for records.[76] Consequently, a collection of Paul’s was inevitable due to custom.

2 Timothy 4:11-13 also contributes to this discussion. Despite the fact that 1-2 Timothy and Titus are often considered pseudonymous by many scholars, a strong case can be made in favor of Pauline authorship. Still, the text reads:

[11] Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. [12] Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. [13] When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (ESV)

The term “the parchments” (tàs membránas) is rather interesting since Paul, according to Richards, “is the only Greek writer of the first century to refer to membra€nai, a Roman invention.”[77] Parchments codices were used to retain copies of letters for future use to prepare rough drafts of other letters later written for delivery.[78] Richards does engage how this passage is affected if the 2 Timothy is non-Pauline. In agreement, we argue that it only affects the explicit claim by Paul, but one can still “contend for Paul’s retaining his copies in a codex notebook solely because of customary practice.”[79] 

Thus, 2 Peter’s reference to a body of Pauline writings is consistent with available evidence of cannonical history, the use of 2 Peter, and the practice of collecting letters among ancient letter writers.

Concluding Thoughts

Attention now turns to drawing some conclusions. The traditional view towards 2 Peter would argue that 2 Peter 3:15-16 is the earliest apostolic witness to a corpus of Pauline letters which a community of Christians also knew about. The implicit awareness that the community of 2 Peter possibly owned a copy of a corpus, of indefinite proportion, is a tremendous support for the fact that the letters were authoritative not only for the original recipient, but this authority extends any community of believers dealing with the same issues. Consequently, despite these letters being directed for an alternative audience, its contents are “the rule of faith” (regula fidei) and “the rule of truth” (regula veritatis) for Peter’s recipients. In other words, they are: normative, an authoritative standard, canonical. Moreover, despite the limited acknowledgement of 2 Peter throughout the canonical history, and some of the problematic issues with the reception of the Pauline corpus, these letters are (with the above presupposition) authoritative.

If 2 Peter is the product of a pseudonymous author, despite its ethical problems, 2 Peter is still a product of the last half of the first-century AD, and at the very least the author was aware of a Pauline corpus. Moreover, if as Bauckham observes, 2 Peter is a testamentary letter where the audience understood that the letter is a fictitious document the audience then, it seems, would be also aware of a Pauline corpus of indefinite size. It therefore must be one of the earliest, if not the first, in the list of post-apostolic literature that appeals to a set standard to theology and ethics based upon an authoritative set of works (or canon), the prophetic office, the Old Testament, and Pauline literature. Even then, when viewed as a late first-century AD document, canonicity is a major and early grounding point in the minds of some in the early church, who were living in the shadows of the apostolic authority. This observation also implies that grounding teaching upon an authoritative group of documents is not strange but expected.

In summary, the meaning of 2 Peter 3:15-16 demonstrates a strong appeal to an authoritative body of literature based on the prophetic-apostolic office, the Old Testament, and Pauline literature. The concept of canon and a sketch of the history of the New Testament canon highlighted the complex matrix the Apostolic Fathers found themselves in. In this setting, the process was slow and developed differently in the east and the west. The unique vocabulary of 2 Peter is arguably found in the first century A.D., and despite some criticism concerning the implications which stem from this fact, a first century placement is a strong viable case. The Pauline corpus grew very naturally as both a quick and gradual process, by means of slow copying and exchange of the churches, the work of a secretary who would make multiple copies for the author and amanuensis, and the usage of a codex (membránas) made it available for a collection to exist and grew as Paul produced more letters. All these factors are particularly important when evaluating 2 Peter 3:15-16 and the process of canonization.


  1. Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Peter and Jude (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1987), 109-16; Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990), 812.
  2. Fred B. Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude (Louisville, KY: WJK, 1993), 122; Archibald M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament, 3rd edition (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster, 1972), 186.
  3. Despite scholars showing variation in the structural outline of 2 Peter, on the main there is agreement on in the thought outline of the document. Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 2003), 282; Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1983), 135; Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 65-66; Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 232-33.
  4. Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1993), 113-18.
  5. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 113.
  6. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 116.
  7. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 117-18.
  8. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude247.
  9. L&N 89.47.
  10. D. Edmond Hiebert, “Selected Studies from 2 Peter Part 4: Directives for Living in Dangerous Days: An Exposition of 2 Peter 3:14-18a,” BSac 141 (1984): 331.
  11. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 393; cf. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 334; Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1986), 449.
  12. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 334-37.
  13. Hiebert, “2 Peter 3:14-18a,” 336.
  14. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 250.
  15. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 250.
  16. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 328.
  17. BDAG 948.
  18. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 329.
  19. Hiebert, “2 Peter 3:14-18a,” 336; Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 397-98; L&N 1:61.
  20. BDAG 602; W. Günther H. Krienke, “Remnant, Leave,” NIDNTT, 3:252.
  21. Kelcy, Letters of Peter and Jude, 162; Tord Fornberg, An Early Church in a Pluralistic Society: A Study of 2 Peter, trans. Jean Gray (Sweden: Boktryckeri, 1977), 22; Krienke, “Remnant, Leave,” 252.
  22. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 333.
  23. Earl J. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth, 2000), 390.
  24. Johnson, Writings of the New Testament, 443-44; Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter, 388; Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 250.
  25. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 13.
  26. King McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible? – New Testament” in God’s Word for Today’s World: The Biblical Doctrine of Scripture, Don Jackson, et al. (Kosciusko, MS: Magnolia Bible College, 1986), 89.
  27. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 15-18; Hermann W. Beyer, “kanōn,” TDNT 3:596-602; BDAG 507-08; L&N 33.335, 80.2; H. G. Liddell, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Logos electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 399.
  28. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 15; M-M 320.
  29. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 15.
  30. Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2001), 29.
  31. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation in the Early Church” in Church, Word, and Spirit:  Historical and Theological Essays in Honor of Geoffrey W. Bromiley, eds. James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 70; Gamble, New Testament Canon, 16-17; Linda L. Belleville, “Canon of the New Testament” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, eds. David S. Dockery, et al. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994), 375; Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2d ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 2003), 70-71.
  32. Dowell Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” in Settled in Heaven:  Applying the Bible to Life, ed. David Lipe (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University Press, 1996), 138-40.
  33. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 23-56.
  34. Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” 139; James A. Brooks, Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1969), 8:18-21.
  35. Paul L. Maier, trans. Eusebius: The Church History – A New Translation with Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 127.
  36. Alan Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (Sheffield, England: Sheffield, 2001), 154-84.
  37. Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” 139; D. I. Lanslots, The Primitive Church: The Church in the Days of the Apostles (1926; repr., Rockford, IL: Tan, 1980), 102-09.
  38. Kurt Aland, “The Problem of Anonymity and Pseudonymity in Christian Literature of the First Two Centuries,” JTS 12 (1961): 47.
  39. McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88; Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” JETS 20 (1977): 13.
  40. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 24-56.
  41. Montague Rhodes James, trans., The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), xii-xxii.
  42. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 28-34, 44-46.
  43. Aland, “The Problem of Anonymity,” 47.
  44. Robeck, “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation,” 72-74.
  45. Robeck, “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation,” 75-86.
  46. Robeck, “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation,” 50-53.
  47. Maier, Eusebius, 115.
  48. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 53.
  49. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 54.
  50. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 54.
  51. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 55.
  52. Frederick F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible, 3rd ed. (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1963), 200.
  53. Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” 13.
  54. Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” 13; McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88-90; Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” 140-42.
  55. Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” 13.
  56. Robert E. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers,” JSNT 33 (1988): 58-74.
  57. E. Randolph Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters,” BBR 8 (1998): 155-62.
  58. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 57-83.
  59. J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, trans., The Apostolic Fathers, 2d edition, ed. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 25.
  60. Lightfoot and Harmer, Apostolic Fathers, 65-67.
  61. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 60-61.
  62. Lightfoot and Harmer, Apostolic Fathers33.
  63. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 218.
  64. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 242.
  65. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 60-61.
  66. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 60.
  67. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 74-77.
  68. Guthrie, Introduction, 810-11.
  69. Michael J. Gilmour, “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter,” EvQ 73 (2001): 298-99.
  70. Gilmour, “Authorship of 2 Peter,” 299.
  71. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 75.
  72. McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88.
  73. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 155-66.
  74. McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88.
  75. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 158-59.
  76. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 156.
  77. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 161.
  78. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 161.
  79. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 159-62.


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Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 50. Gen. eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Waco, TX: Word, 1983.

(BDAG) Bauer, Walter, F.W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Belleville, Linda L. “Canon of the New Testament.” Foundations for Biblical Interpretation:  A Complete Library of Tools and Resources. Eds. David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Matthews, and Robert B. Sloan. Nashville: Broadman, 1994.

Brooks, James A. Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Edited by Clifton J. Allen. Nashville: Broadman, 1969.

Bruce, Frederick F. The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible. 3rd ed. Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1963.

Craddock, Fred B. First and Second Peter and Jude. Westminster Bible Companion. Eds. Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett. Louisville, KY:  WJK, 1993.

Flatt, Dowell. “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” Settled in Heaven:  Applying the Bible to Life. Ed. David Lipe. Annual Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman UP, 1996. 138-45.

Fornberg, Tord. An Early Church in a Pluralistic Society: A Study of 2 Peter. Trans. Jean Gray. Sweden: Boktryckeri, 1977.

Gamble, Harry Y. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985.

Gilmour, Michael J. “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter.” Evangelical Quarterly 73 (2001): 291-309.

Green, Michael. 2 Peter and Jude. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 18. Edited by Leon Morris. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. 4th edition. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1990.

Hiebert, D. Edmond. “Selected Studies from 2 Peter Part 4:  Directives for Living in Dangerous Days:  An Exposition of 2 Peter 3:14-18a.” Bibliotheca Sacra 141 (1984): 330-40.

Holy Bible. English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001.

Hunter, Archibald M. Introducing the New Testament. 3rd edition. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1972.

James, Montague Rhodes. Trans. The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

Johnson, Luke T. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress, 1986.

Kelcy, Raymond C. The Letters of Peter and Jude. The Living Word Commentary:  New Testament. Vol. 17. Ed. Everett Ferguson. Abilene, TX:  Abilene Christian UP, 1987.

Kistemaker, Simon J. “The Canon of the New Testament.” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 20 (1977):  3-14.

–. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude. New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987.

Krienke, W. Günther H. “Remnant, Leave.” New International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology. Vol. 3. Ed. Colin Brown. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978. 247-54.

Lanslots, D. I. The Primitive Church: The Church in the Days of the Apostles. 1926. Repr. Rockford, IL: Tan, 1980.

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Lightfoot, J.B., and J.R. Harmer. Trans. The Apostolic Fathers. 2d edition. Ed. and rev. Michael W. Holmes. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

(L&N) Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene A. Nida. Eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. 2d ed. New York: United Bible Society, 1989. 2 vols.

Maier, Paul L. Trans. Eusebius: The Church History – A New Translation with Commentary. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999.

Millard, Alan. Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus. Sheffield, England: Sheffield, 2001.

McCarver, King. “Why are These Books in the Bible? – New Testament.” God’s Word for Today’s World:  The Biblical Doctrine of Scripture. Don Jackson, et al. Kosciusko, MS: Magnolia Bible College, 1986.

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Neyrey, Jerome H. 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible. Vol. 37 C. Gen. Edited by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Picirilli, Robert E. “Allusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33 (1988):  57-83.

Richard, Earl J. Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Reading the New Testament Series. Macon, GA:  Smyth, 2000.

Richards, E. Randolph. “The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters.” Bulletin for Bulletin Research 8 (1998): 151-66.

Robeck, Jr., Cecil M. “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation in the Early Church.” Church, Word, and Spirit:  Historical and Theological Essays in Honor of Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Edited by James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

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