1, 2 Peter, Jude

  • Thomas R. Schreiner
  • Jan 1, 2004
  • Series: Volume 7 - 2004

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. New American Commentary, vol. 37. Nashville: Broadman and Holman. 2003 512 pp. $29.99. ISBN 0-054-0137-7.

In recent years, the New American Commentary series has produced a plethora of volumes on Old Testament books, almost catching up with the percentage of the New Testament documents covered. Indeed, only a handful of volumes in either testament remain to be treated. Here, the series gains one more excellent commentary, indeed one of the best in this series so far on any portion of the New Testament. Tom Schreiner, who previously taught at Azusa Pacific and Bethel, has come into his own as a mature, wide-ranging scholar and writer in his recent years at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.

The introductions to each letter well defends traditional, conservative perspectives. All three epistles are written by the men to whom they are attributed, all probably in the 60s. Jude is a little earlier than 2 Peter and forms one of the sources for that later letter. First Peter reflects a setting of sporadic, local hostility against Christians around the empire, not any systematic Roman persecution. 2 Peter warns against false teachers whose views all stem from their denial of the Parousia. Less is known about the opponents against whom Jude warns, save that they are libertines, perhaps defending their views by appealing to alleged revelations in dream form (v. 8). Schreiner includes a good discussion of the state of the art of the debate over pseudonymity. One theory sees it as deliberate forgery with intent to deceive, in which case it is hard to believe any Christian author would adopt this as consistent with his ethic. On the other hand, the "transparent fiction" approach of Bauckham (and others) cannot be ruled out a priori as inconsistent with Christian values--everyone would have understood it as an acceptable literary device of someone writing in the name of a revered master to communicate his message for a later generation. It's just that there isn't any hard evidence that any early Christian ever did or accepted precisely this.

Schreiner is also firmly convinced by Randy Richards' recent study that dia Silouanou ("by Silas") in 1 Peter 5:12 cannot mean "with the help of," as in the NIV, as if Peter were calling Silas his amanuensis, but identifies him instead as the letter's carrier. On the other hand, it may still be the case that Peter used an amanuensis for his first letter, accounting for the substantially better Greek found in it than in 2 Peter. Schreiner also completely rejects John Elliott's persistent thesis that the sojourners and aliens addressed in 1 Peter are literal refugees, seeing only a spiritual meaning behind these terms. He is also quite skeptical of the usefulness of Greco-Roman rhetorical outlines for New Testament epistles, but he is taken with an extended chiastic structure for Jude.

Theologically, one of the recurring strengths of this volume is Schreiner's careful balancing of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, of the absolute need for both God's grace and human perseverance, each time texts appear that impinge on this issue. Here he draws heavily on his previous book-length treatment of the topic, written with A. B. Caneday (The Race Set Before Us [IVP, 2001]).

A sample of exegetical highlights could include the following. The NIV ("time and circumstances") is better than the NRSV ("person and time") in translating 1 Peter 1:11. Logikos in 2:2 is better rendered "reasonable" than "spiritual" and the milk so described refers to the word of God. The priesthood of believers in 2:5 is primarily corporate in conception but individual applications are not precluded. Unbelievers responding to Christian behavior by glorifying God in 2:12 are truly converting, whereas their being shamed in a similar context in 3:16 may only refer to the result of judgment.

In the household code, Schreiner helpfully distinguishes between the commands to slaves and masters and to wives and husbands, showing that the abolition of slavery doesn't necessarily imply an egalitarian approach to marriage. The imitation of Christ in the context of suffering shows that the latter "is not a detour by which believers receive the inheritance to which they were called. It is God's appointed means for receiving the inheritance" (p. 141). The admonition for husbands to honor wives (3:7) is unique in Greco-Roman literature.

Schreiner navigates us flawlessly through the intricate problems of 1 Peter 3:18-22. With Dalton and most modern commentators, and against the eighth-century addition to the Apostles' Creed, this is not a descent into hell nor an offer of salvation to anyone but Christ's proclamation of victory over the demonic realm as part of his ascension to heaven. The NIV has also got it right in 4:6 by inserting "now" to clarify that the preaching to the dead took place during their lifetimes, even though they are now dead. The final section of the body of the letter--instructions to elders--probably comes after Paul's summary on suffering (4:19) because they will likely suffer first.

In 2 Peter, 1:1 probably refers to Jesus as God as well as Savior. 1:4 deals merely with growth in moral conformity to Christ, as the subsequent verses demonstrate, not to any kind of deification of believers. Against the NIV, 1:20 does not affirm that "no prophecy came about by the prophet's own interpretation," but with the ESV does mean that "no prophecy comes from someone's own interpretation" (pp. 322, 323). Like Jude 6, 2 Peter 2:4 draws on the Jewish tradition that the demons had sexual relations with human women, producing the wicked race that was destroyed in the flood (but this can't happen today in New Testament times). Peter's reference back to the distortion of Paul's writings (3:15-16) cannot be identified with any specific historical development, nor does it require any fixed body of canonized works inconsistent with an early date for 2 Peter.

Schreiner likewise offers a carefully nuanced treatment of Jude's use of the pseudepigrapha--1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses. Neither reference implies Jude thought these works inspired, merely that he found accurate theology in the single verse he quotes from the former and a helpful analogy in the latter. Compare Paul's use of Greek poets in his Mars Hill speech and in Titus. The word translated "blemishes" by the NIV in Jude 12 is probably better rendered "hidden reefs"--that would shipwreck the Christian love feasts.

Inevitably, a reviewer will dissent with some positions. It is hard to see 1 Peter 2:8 as predestining both disobedience and stumbling rather than just the latter. Contra Schreiner, it is not "prosaic and obvious" (p. 112) to say that those who freely disobey can then count on the foreordained consequence of stumbling, since presumably the false teachers would have flatly denied that corollary. Neither is it obvious that submission always entails obedience (except when God's word is being contravened), and Schreiner's own rewording of wives' obedience as the responsibility "to follow their husbands' leadership" (p. 156) itself suggests to me a slightly broader sense of co-operation and deference than simple subservience. And is physical weakness really what Peter has in mind in calling wives "weaker vessels" in 3:7, or might the voluntarily adopted position of greater vulnerability better fit the immediate context?

Two omissions also cause a little surprise. Despite his frequent use of Daryl Charles' excellent study of 2 Peter, he never presents or interacts with Charles' proposal that the false teachers might have been Stoics. And in wrestling with how a New Testament author could appropriate the Jewish traditions about the fallen angels in Genesis 6:1ff., he never considers the option of Meredith Kline, Walt Kaiser, and others, that the "sons of God" are wicked, human aristocrats and powerful chieftains. This would still allow us to say that the demons were behind their marriages with the "daughters of men," without us requiring to believe that at any point in history fallen angels could literally copulate with human women. Notwithstanding these lacunae, the volume overall distinguishes itself by being very abreast of and referencing the vast majority of the most recent, relevant scholarship in several languages.

Some of the NAC volumes have been marred by far more typographical errors than one expects from a major twenty-first century publishing house. Schreiner's is not one of these volumes. Still, I noticed the editor's name was missing in n. 72, p. 135; epirripson had one too many "r's" on p. 241; Paul appeared where Peter's name should have on p. 310; a book title half in English and half in French was found in n. 27, p. 336 (and there were errors of letter spacing in the French portion); there seems to be nearly verbatim repetition of several lines of text on p. 382; "posteriority" is needed rather than "priority" on p. 418; and the German word "oder" was printed in a Greek font on p. 496. And I admit to skim reading occasionally (though only occasionally!), so this may not be a comprehensive list.

These minor criticisms notwithstanding, Schreiner's volume jumps very close to the top of my list of commentaries I would recommend on these three letters. It is now probably the best mid-range commentary available on 2 Peter and Jude (i.e., a detailed commentary on the English rather than the Greek text but fully conversant with the Greek). I might still prefer Peter Davids' NICNT volume by a whisker on 1 Peter, but Schreiner comes in a close second in my mind and is obviously more up-to-date. If someone could afford only one commentary on these three letters together, then this is the obvious one to choose, with no close rivals. May God bless Tom with many years of health to continue contributing such scholarship, and kudos to Broadman & Holman for enlisting him in this project!

Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary