Pseudonymity and Inerrancy

In her commentary on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes addresses the issue of 1 Peter’s supposed pseudonymity. Several critics argue that, even though 1 Peter claims to be written by the apostle Peter, it nonetheless was written by someone else. This raises a host of issues not the least of which is the inerrancy of the epistle. Jobes writes:

The insistence that the letter’s claim to be from the apostle Peter be given its due weight is not an appeal to inspiration and inerrancy. For those doctrines cannot rule out psudonymous authorship a priori, since any legitimate literary form of the time must be allowed a biblical author when so moved by the Holy Spirit to adopt it. Therefore, the question of pseudonymity becomes a quesiton of genre. What genre is 1 Peter, and was pseudonymity a legitimate characteristic of that genre? Specifically, was epistolary pseudonymity a recognized and accepted literary form at the time the NT was written? (Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter BECNT, p. 14, 15)

The compatibility of pseudonymity with inspiration and inerrancy is then linked to the legitimacy of the genre. But here, legitimacy itself seems linked to cultural and, more importantly, ecclesial acceptability. Jobes does question whether epistolary pseudonymity was acceptable, but the presupposed link is our concern at this point. Jobes continues her analysis:

Pseudonymity appears to have been an acceptable literary device when the alleged author had been dead for centuries, as in the case of Enoch and Solomon. However, when generated relatively soon after the alleged author’s death (or during his lifetime as in the case of Galen!), it appears to have been viewed as a forgery and rejected when its true origin was discovered. It is therefore difficult to see how the pseudonymity of the NT epistles could have been so clearly understood and widely accepted as a literary device in the first century. Moreover, the wide range of words in Greek vocabulary used to condemn forgery and plagiarism, and the practices used to detect them, show that they were moral offenses even in antiquity (Metzger 1972: 12–13). […] The assumption that pseudonymous personal correspondence, such as 1 Peter, was a completely legitimate practice that carried no moral implications must be critically examined. (Ibid., p. 16)

In other words, scholars should question whether pseudonymous NT epistles would have been accepted, not because they were pseudonymous per se, but because they were pseudonymously written too close to the claimed author’s death. This argument still turns on the presupposition that cultural legitimacy of a genre qualifies for biblical legitimacy. Our doctrine of Scripture should go deeper than that. What is “compatible” with God’s character is not determined by what the culture or even the church determines is acceptable. Regardless of whether the culture accepts pseudonymous literature, we should question whether or not that is a practice that would be superintended and inspired by the God who cannot lie (Heb 6:18; cf. 2 Peter 1:19–21).

Many scholars have taken up this complex issue, but not all begin their study from a proper foundation. Our starting point in our doctrine of Scripture must be God’s Word itself. And hence, our study of whether pseudonymity is a legitimate Scriptural practice must begin there as well. Beginning with the self-attesting Word of God, we should then study the viability of pseudonymity in Scripture. But if we do not begin in the proper place, our analysis inevitably will be skewed.


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