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In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peters states:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

Nearly every time canonicity is addressed, I hear this passage cited as proof that Paul's letters are included. It is sufficient, it is claimed, that one of the Twelve authenticates the corpus as such, and that (more to the point of this question) Peter does so here by referring to Paul's letters as "Scriptures".

I don't intent to address here whether or not Paul's letters are, or ought to be, canonical. My main concern is whether Peter is doing what is claimed.

  • The term used for "Sciptures" here is γραφὰς. Does γραφὰς or the γραφή word group ever carry the technical sense of "Scripture" as it is used in the church today?
  • If so, does this term always carry this sense?
  • Does this sentence structure either allow or necessitate that Peter is using this term to refer to Paul's work, as opposed to simply using "the other scriptures" as a basis for comparison of Paul's work?
  • Most importantly, does identifying Paul's work as canonical appear to be Peter's point here, or is this rather an auxiliary conclusion once could draw from this passage?
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good question! I fully accept Pauls writings as God's word, but when I have quoted this verse for proof to others I doubt the evincing nature of my own argument Hope someone can bring their linguistic skills to this. –  Mike Jun 13 '12 at 23:56
    
Thanks for the comment and candor. Likewise, I don't doubt the inspiration of these epistles; I just wonder if this verse isn't abused a bit to defend it. –  Ray Jun 14 '12 at 0:55
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3 Answers 3

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After thinking about it some more, there is a medium strength argument to be made that Peter here supports any letter submitted by Paul under his ministry, past or future. It is an argument not directly from the text, but from omission. In other words, Peter says that people twist Paul’s writings, in the same way that they do scripture. He does not logically equate the two. He is not talking about canonicity. He is talking about twisting spiritual truths. Therefore, as each he mentions seems similar to Peter, he would be grossly irresponsible not to add a caution, by saying something like: 'I do not mean to say that Paul's writings are equal with scripture.'

So by using a similar comparison, and not making any effort to protect the canon, the positive argument has weight. The attitude almost seems cavalier, as though it was obvious to the readers that Paul's writings were scriptures. The better argument seems to be that Peter viewed any letter submitted from any Apostle as scripture, without any need to argue the case.

It seems then that to explore canonicity we would have to sort out what it means to be an Apostle. Probably starting with what it meant to be a prophet, and then what it meant that Jesus assigned his select disciples as Apostles. This verse is not directly arguing about canonicity, it’s assuming it through omission only.

Funny, I would have never realized my own opinion If I had not considered your question.

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Very nice! Your argument is very clear and seems to do justice to Peter's point of view. I especially appreciate that this question made you think more deeply about the issue –  Ray Jun 15 '12 at 12:53
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I think the concept of 'canonicity' is something we're reading back into the text. I don't think they thought about which books were 'in' or 'out' as much as later thinkers, as is evidenced by the myriad of deuterocanonical and apocalyptic works they accepted and quoted. –  Daи Mar 14 '13 at 14:39
    
"Scripture" is an English technical term. Peter just says "writings." And since in Greek the definite article can sit in for a possessive, "the writings" may very well mean "his writings." In other words, "They twist Paul's writings in which he speaks of these things just like they twist the rest of his writings." Scripture may not be in view at all in this verse. –  david brainerd Jun 9 at 2:34
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From my understanding of Strong's and Thayer's, γραφὰς always means, "sacred writings." It does not necessarily imply the entire canon as Christ used the word to refer (presumably) to the Tanach. In addition, it does not even imply which canon is to be trusted (as there were several present at that time). All of that being said, I think it is fairly safe to say that the connotation is not the same as the word, "scripture" as it is used today.

I think the difficulty in the argument, "this endorses Paul" is two-fold.

  • First, we don't know which documents he was talking about.
    1. There are a number of writings which are attributed to Paul which may not be by Paul.
    2. There are a number of editions of the Pauline works which may or may not be reliable.
    3. Since it is possible that this document was written while Paul was still alive, it is possible that Paul wrote something after this "canonizing" took place which was not scriptural.
  • Second, if Paul is being cited as scripture there (in the modern sense), then you also have to admit that the Apocalypse of Enoch is referenced in the same letter.

I think that rather we should take his meaning to be "holy writings" (with some ambiguity) as opposed to "sacred canon" (which is what we claim now).

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Thanks for the thoughtful answer, Ignatius. What support is there that γραφὰς must always mean "sacred writings?" Isn't this the normal word for anything written down in Greek, outside of the new testament context? It seems a bit circular to say that each instance is meant in a technical sense because it is always meant in a technical sense in the new testament. –  Ray Jun 14 '12 at 18:24
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I'm partially going by Strong's definition and Thayer's, but mostly that the NT always clearly uses it in that sense (which isn't to say that it is the only way that it could be used). This isn't to preclude "scripture" as a translation, but to merely say that it can always be translated "holy writings" and that there is some ambiguity because of the modern connotation of the word, "scripture." –  Ignatius Theophorus Jun 15 '12 at 12:27
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Strong's doesn't give definitions, only usages. To him γραφὰς means only "sacred writings" because he's only looking at how the word is used in the NT, and he's assuming its always used that way in the NT. Look up the word in a secular lexicon, like Liddel and Scott, and see if he's right or wrong about Greek in general. (He's wrong, of course.) –  david brainerd Jun 9 at 2:37
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Peter almost certainly didn't think of canonicity the way we do today. As Ignatius Theophorus points out, the Greek word (as used by New Testament writers) refers to sacred writings. In its most common use among early Christians, the word γραφὰς referred to those writings that could be read in church; however, Clement, bishop of Rome in the late first century, uses the word only to refer to the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which also included what we now call the Apocrypha.

Paul encouraged churches to share his letters (see Colossians 4:16, and it appears that by the time 2 Peter was written, a collection of Paul's letters were circulating throughout the churches.

The idea of a formal canon did not originate until the mid-2nd century when Marcion, bishop of Sinope, started teaching that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God who was father of Christ. Marcion accepted only the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul's letters as scripture, and forbade churches under his control from reading any other writings. In response, the church catholic began to organize its own list of accepted writings. Even then, it took about 200 more years before the entire church reached full agreement about what should be included.

So it's not likely that Peter was referring explicitly to a scriptural canon in the sense that we use the word today. He did, however, apparently regard Paul's writings as authoritative for Christians.

Peter's main point, though, is to warn his readers about false teachers who twist the meaning of Paul's letters. The authority of Paul's letters is simply taken for granted.


Postscript: Most scholars today (over 90%) hold that 2 Peter was not written by Peter himself, but by one of his disciples after Peter's death. Even so, the latest dates given for this letter still predate Marcion. So even supposing they are correct, it doesn't affect anything I've said above.

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