The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude
Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans; Nottingham: Apollos, 2006. $ 34.00. ISBN 978-0-8028-3726-4.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary series is quickly establishing itself as the premier English-language mid-range option for numerous New Testament books--James Edwards on Mark, Don Carson on John, Peter O'Brien on Ephesians, Gene Green on Thessalonians, Doug Moo on James, Colin Kruse on the Letters of John, and now Peter Davids on 2 Peter and Jude, a pair of works noticeably underserved by scholarly literature. Davids, Professor of Biblical Theology in St. Stephen's University, New Brunswick, is already well-known to New Testament students for his excellent works on 1 Peter in the New International Commentary series and on James in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series. Here is a third gem.
In his introductions, Davids proves scrupulously honest about what we can and cannot know. Despite numerous hypotheses concerning date, provenance, addressees, milieu of composition and theology promoted by the false teachers whom both letters denounce, there simply is not enough unambiguous situation-specific, internal or external evidence to make confident conclusions in these areas. Davids does argue for Jude, the half-brother of Jesus (and brother of the author of the epistle of James) as the writer of this one-chapter letter. He assesses all of the arguments against Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, concluding that we simply lack sufficient historical information to make any of them stick. He insists on the noticeable difference in style and contents between 1 and 2 Peter and determines that if we accept Petrine authorship of both letters, we probably have to imagine one or both penned by an amanuensis with some freedom to write things up in his own way.
With the majority of interpreters, Davids finds the parallels between 2 Peter (esp. chap. 2) and Jude sufficient to demonstrate literary dependence and to decide that Jude is prior to 2 Peter. He acknowledges that Bauckham in his excellent Word Biblical Commentary volume on the same two books has demonstrated that 2 Peter took the form of a farewell discourse but he denies that it had to be a testament (by which Bauckham then concludes that the letter is pseudepigraphic). Davids finds Duane Watson's (Greco-Roman) rhetorical outline of 2 Peter reasonably compelling but not his comparable outline for Jude, which is more thoroughly Jewish in nature. For both books we learn far more about their authors' concern for the false teachers' immoral behavior than about the nature of their false teaching. With 2 Peter, we may at least surmise a certain skepticism concerning the return of Christ, or any form of Judgment Day for that matter, explaining their antinomianism. With Jude we have even less than that, but we may summarize the letter's response to its opponents as "a first-century version of 'love the sinner and hate the sin,' in which the focus is on rescue" (p. 32).
We turn to some exegetical highlights. The enigmatic reference in Jude 6 (and in 2 Pet. 2:4) to angels who abandoned their proper dwelling places reflects the Jewish tradition of demons behind the process of "the sons of God marrying the daughters of men" in Genesis 6:1. The sexual immorality and perversion (literally, "going after strange flesh") of Sodom and Gomorrah referred to in Jude 7 does refer to homosexuality, in keeping with uniform Jewish tradition, however unpopular that view may be in many circles today. As for Jude's citing intertestamental literature as prophecy, Davids falls back on the conviction that boundaries of the canon of Hebrew Scripture were still fluid in these days. The "love (feast)" of verse 12 was a reenactment of Jesus' Last Supper, a full meal complete with the Eucharistic elements, which remained the dominant form of this Christian ritual until at least A.D. 250. In addition to their flagrant immorality, particularly in the area of sexual relations, the false teachers were motivated by greed for financial gain, "an affliction that is not uncommon in the church today" (p. 84). The textual variants in verses 22-23 become very complicated to sort out, even if Davids ever so tentatively prefers the options reflected in the NIV's translation. One is struck by the diversity of approaches needed to rescue the wayward; even in the most serious cases of partial disfellowshipping, restoration remains the goal and mercy the key method.
Moving on to 2 Peter, we find a key application of Granville Sharp's rule in 1:1 equating Jesus with God. Chapter 1:3 does not deny the existence of bodies of various kinds of truth outside of Scripture but affirms that we have no excuse for not living a godly life based on the gospel truth we have already learned. Sharing the divine nature in 1:4 does not mean deification but sharing certain characteristics of God, leading directly to the call to grow in virtue in verses 5-11. Peter, however, is contextualizing his message for Hellenistic audiences, using terms they and/or the false teachers would have been employing differently and redefining them in more Jewish (-Christian) fashion. Still, "if 2 Peter were written today, many orthodox believers would certainly reject him as 'new age'. . ." (p. 172), doubtless because many orthodox believers lack an adequate appreciation of the mandate for contextualization! Among the virtues Peter stresses is self-control (1:6). Typical of the brief applicational comments that punctuate Davids' exegesis is his incisive observation here: "Given that this commentary is being written in a culture of growing obesity, in which consumption and self-indulgence are virtually viewed as human rights, we would do well to pay more attention to Peter's emphasis on this virtue" (p. 181).
The letter body begins with 1:16. Peter insists on the historicity of the transfiguration to argue for the reality of the coming Parousia. In this context, the best understanding of 1:19 is that no prophecy (or portion of the Old Testament) came about simply because of a human author's decision to write. As Peter reapplies Jude's language and many of his same analogies for the false teachers his audience faces, he suggests (in ways that Jude doesn't) that it is possible for a true Christian to apostasize and forfeit salvation--see esp. 2:20. Both writers' appeal to Michael's refusal to censure the devil in ways that are reserved for God "should give pause to human beings who accuse and even pronounce judgment on other human beings, an activity that is quite common in the church, even among church leaders" (p. 236).
Chapter 3:1 probably does not refer back to 1 Peter but to an otherwise unknown letter, since 1 and 2 Peter do not link up with each other in any significant conceptual fashion. The seeming delay in Christ's return in fact signals his patience with sinful humanity (3:8-9). Verse 10 does not necessarily refer to the dissolution of the entire universe, since the earth is simply "laid bare" and it is the heavens that disappear and the (demonic?) "elements" that are destroyed. Nevertheless, "given the massive investment of contemporary Christians in the nationalism, materialism, and pleasure orientation of Western culture, this passage should serve as wake-up call. When the Day comes, one's retirement fund will not be important, but rather what one has invested in the kingdom of our sovereign Lord" (p. 289). The letter closing refers back to some unspecified number of Paul's writings as Scripture, but, particularly among the communities to which Paul himself wrote, an appreciation of their divinely inspired quality could have emerged quickly enough that this does not require a late date for 2 Peter.
Davids' commentary is a model of judicious and clear discussion. It majors on providing biblical and extra-biblical backgrounds to texts, often quoting them in full. On key exegetical controversies, it clearly sets forth the various options and carefully weighs the evidence for each. Davids regularly interacts with key modern English- and German-language commentators and a sampling of other secondary literature, although the contributions of a surprising number of significant articles and monographs of comparatively recent vintage appear nowhere.
The occasional conclusion can be challenged. Surely 2 Peter 2:20 better fits the doctrine of the security of the believer, since the imagery of pigs or dogs returning to their mud or vomit suggests the idea of a person who only masqueraded as a believer until his or her true colors were unmasked--they went back to what they really were are along. Nor does any language in Jude or 2 Peter require the notion that their authors believed that the pseudepigraphical works they cited were to be regarded as Scripture, merely that they contained useful analogies and true statements in the places utilized. And in one instance Davids seems to contradict his earlier position: after rejecting the idea that 2 Peter is a testament (p. 148), he appears later to affirm it (p. 191). Notwithstanding these caveats, Davids' volume gets the asterisk as my top pick among detailed but not overly technical commentaries on the English text of these two little epistles.