The opening verse of 2 Peter states that the book was written by “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ" (ESV). By this we understand the claim to be Simon Bar-Jonah (Matt 16:17), a fisherman from Galilee. Although many arguments have been made against this claim1 I am here focused on a particular issue — the peculiar vocabulary of the letter.

There are 686 hapax legomena in the NT; 54 are found in 2 Peter.2 Considering the brevity of the letter, this is markedly disproportionate. It seems odd that a Galilean fisherman would employ a vocabulary so different from his fellow apostles. Most explanations I have found defending apostolic authorship have surmised that the vocabulary is due to the use of an amanuensis.3,4 My confusion is about exactly what the job of such a person was. My impression had been that this is basically a scribe. I don’t picture a scribe introducing such a large volume of new words, but I may be misunderstanding the role.

  • Based on historical knowledge of such arrangements, does this hypothetical scenario reflect a typical degree of linguistic freedom in an author-amanuesis relationship?

  • Do these observations about the vocabulary have any bearing on the question of authorship of 2 Peter?


  1. Wikipedia: "The vast majority of modern scholars regard [2 Peter] as pseudepigraphical."

  2. From A critical and exegetical commentary on the epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude. by Charles Bigg, which also includes the complete list of unique words.

  3. That is approximately the conclusion of the commentary above, although he switches to the word “draughtsman” which may carry a somewhat different connotation?

  4. From what I can tell, for those who hold to apostolic authorship, 1 Peter is almost unanimously thought to have been written through the hand of an amanuensis. There the trouble is not so much the vocabulary as the style, which (is very unlike 2 Peter and) seems to indicate a highly educated author. The same basic question applies there.

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    "Considering the brevity of the letter, this is markedly disproportionate" - I think we need to consider not only the number of unique words by length of text, but also by author - ie if Paul wrote twice as much you wouldn't expect the number of unique words to double but perhaps even to go down as he's basically going to be using his normal vocabulary again. – Jack Douglas Nov 19 '14 at 10:14
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    See paragraph following the heading: "a. Some characteristics". Related, on Pastorals and Paul. It would be good to get some "density" and distribution stats, but no time to chase up just now. Some intrepid answerer will no doubt oblige! ;) – Dɑvïd Nov 19 '14 at 10:28
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    Both your title question and final subsidiary questions are impossible to answer objectively (without presuppositional influence). I put no weight in vocab of text for authorship of Scripture because (1) people have a wide range of vocab; (2) vary vocab by topic; (3) [most important to me] the words are as much chosen by God in the inspiration process as they are a part of that person's vocab, so the dual authorship means they are not merely writing as themselves; (4) because of (3), there is no change from author to any amanuensis. Views on 3 & 4 greatly influence value of vocab analysis. – ScottS Nov 19 '14 at 15:04
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    @ScottS Point taken on all fronts. But I think most (all?) questions are impossible to answer without presuppositional influence. Perhaps this one more so than most. – Susan Nov 19 '14 at 15:13
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    FWIW, my £0.02: the question is fine. It operates within normal bounds of evidence and argument. Scott (if you're reading!): look at the number of times you've said "in my view" in the preceding comments. Just so. Most forms of orthodox Christianity do not include a dictation view of inspiration, and you're very close to this (in your first "enumerated" comment). I'm beginning to wonder, given your commitments, why you're more active on BH.SE than Xnty.SE! You know that not everyone on BH.SE aligns with the totality of your views. So perhaps no need to police questions here? – Dɑvïd Nov 19 '14 at 16:36

If the author is not the apostle Peter, we can never establish from the text who the real author was. However, the text can help establish whether Peter or another author wrote this epistle, and if another author then perhaps in what timeframe it was written. I think Susan has dealt with the issue of vocabulary very well, and I would endorse this, noting that some new words crept into the Christian lexicon in the second century, when I will show that 2 Peter was written.

In 2 Peter 1:1, the author refers to himself as Simeon Peter, using the Hebrew, whereas Peter's first language was Aramaic, and his given name was Aramaic: Simon. A Judean would be unlikely to make this mistake, and a Galilean never would. So this was a clumsy attempt by the author to place himself in Palestine. Verse 3:2: refers to "your apostles" as if he is not one of them. [Note: the KJV corrects the first to "Simon" and the second to "us the apostles," but we need to go back to the earlier texts.]

2 Peter is well known for copying material and ideas out of the Epistle of Jude, which self-identifies as being written long after the apostolic era, and probably in the second century. The prince of apostles would scarcely have needed to rely on Jude even if that epistle was genuine, but here we also have evidence that 2 Peter was written in the second century. I am not sure of whether *2 Peter * includes words rarely used in the first half of the first century, but becoming increasingly common in the second, but that would be a useful avenue for investigation.

Many words commonly used in 1 Peter do not appear in 2 Peter. If 1 Peter is genuine, we would expect Peter to continue to use the same words in his second epistle. If 1 Peter is not genuine, then 2 Peter is unlikely to be genuine, especially as it refers back to Peter's earlier letter.

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  • Re your last paragraph, that certainly makes sense if it is backup up with evidence from works by known authors. Do you know of any studies that do similar comparison between the early and late works of someone (eg C S Lewis)? – Jack Douglas Nov 19 '14 at 22:20
  • @Jack Douglas - that is an interesting line of thought, but in an area I have not studied. It is normal for people to add to their vocabulary as they gain experience and knowledge; it is also possible for someone to lose some less commonly used words, especially in old age. Here we would be talking about Peter (if genuine) both losing a large number of words that he had commonly used, while gaining many new words in his vocab, at the same time as changing his style. – Dick Harfield Nov 20 '14 at 4:54
  • @Jack Douglas As I have not studied what you have proposed, I did a web search and found an article on Agatha Christie, comparing her early and late novels. Her vocab seems to have remained fairly consistent throughout most of her career, but diminished towards the end. This was apparently a case of losing words from her vocab, rather than replacing them with new words, and was accompanied by the later plots not as tight, the mystery not as carefully conceived. This is not the case with 1 Peter and 2 Peter, where there is no suggestion of dementia on the part of Peter. – Dick Harfield Nov 20 '14 at 5:03
  • Verse 3:2: refers to "your apostles" as if he is not one of them. - Probably because he wasn't. The letter seems addressed to churches which Peter didn't personally establish. – Lucian Sep 18 '17 at 20:00

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