Dunn on the Authorship of 1 Peter

James D. G. Dunn seems to contradict himself on 1147 of Beginning from Jerusalem. Dunn points out that the material in 1 Peter is hard to evaluate because there is little to compare it to except the speeches in Acts. Then Dunn reminds us that the speeches in Acts are not so excellent a source as one would think on first glance because Luke was probably using primitive material when he compiled these sermons.

While this may be true, it does not follow that the more certain we are of the lack of authenticity for the Acts speeches means the less sure we are of the authenticity of 1 Peter. Could it be that Peter’s teaching in 1 Peter reflects mature theology learned in the crucible of ministry?

If the Acts speeches represent the earliest proclamation of the Christian movement, then one would expect there to be differences between Acts and 1 Peter. Also, the teaching in 1 Peter seems directed more toward those who have already professed faith in Christ while the Acts sermons are directed primarily toward those who have yet to embrace Christ.

Dunn goes on to rightly address the criticisms but some of the criticisms he handles seem less important than the time he gives to them. The first, that the Greek is too good for a Galilean fisherman is an argument that is used in other contexts, as well. The easiest answer is that the author dictated and a scribe wrote. Since this was not uncommon in the ancient world (and Peter, given his stature in the church, he would certainly have had access to a scribe) the objection seems rather elementary, certainly not worthy of a scholar of Achtemeier’s stature. Dunn does not address the idea that Peter may have written in Aramaic and someone else translated it into Greek.

The objection that the letter does not mention reminisces of Jesus is not only consistent with other NT letters (Dunn points this out), but if the Gospels were in circulation there would have been no need. If one accepts Papias’ statement regarding Petrine influence for Mark’s gospel, Peter would have said what he needed to say about that there. Dunn will later point out the influence of the Jesus tradition upon 1 Peter (1154) and if the Gospels (or some Gospel or other) was in circulation, then one would expect Peter to build on that tradition rather than simply rehash the stories.

The last objection, that the letter does not reflect the state of Palestine during that era, begs the question. The objections that Achtemeir and others raise are themselves the result of conjecture and so more is assumed than can be proven.

The “Pauline flavor” of the letter may be explained simply through a unity of teaching that had arisen in the decades following the events of Acts 1-2. This leads to circular reasoning: doctrinal development took centuries so this epistle cannot be authentically Petrine because it shows too much doctrinal unity with Paul. How do we know that doctrinal development took centuries, because no authentic documents exist since 1 Peter et al, are inauthentic.

Also, as Dunn points out later (1153), there is a strong Jewish influence (in thought and in Scriptural allusion) in 1 Peter that supports Petrine authorship. One would expect this from a letter authored by 1 Peter and here one has it.

I understand that Dunn must answer these objections and he is writing primarily for the academy so that he has no choice but to answer them, but it seems that many of the objections the scholars make are of the sort that fail to “see the forest for the trees.” Dunn must answer them, I as a pastor must interact with them and be able to answer them, but I think many of these scholars fail to realize that thinking Christians are answering their objections using simple logic and common sense. Such Christians are also losing respect for the academy (in some circles they already have) because such intelligent and educated intellectuals make too much out of such flimsy evidence.


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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