Lecture 15: Jude and 2 Peter
Lecture: Jude and 2 Peter
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The two books of Jude and 2nd Peter have sometimes been called the ‘forgotten books.’ To one degree we might say that about all of the so-called Catholic or general epistles of James, 1st & 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd and 3rd John and Jude. We might say it in particular for the three shortest of the epistles, the little one chapter letters of 2nd and 3rd John and Jude, but because 1st John does garner a fair amount of interest among readers of Scripture and theological students in particular, not least for its very simple Greek for those who are beginning to study that language. 2nd & 3rd John can get grouped together and garner some familiarity. As far as Jude, it is often studied along with 2nd Peter because of the great similarities between its second chapter and the whole of Jude. It provides enough perplexities to novice readers that it too often gets neglected. Hence, if we were to narrow the focus for such as the Forgotten Books at the back of the Bible, perhaps Jude and 2nd Peter qualify as much as any.
II. The General Epistles and Revelation: Christian Communities' Response to Judaism
We have gotten far enough into our survey of non-Pauline Epistles that this may be the best time to reflect on a spectrum or circle on which we can plot the various general epistles and indeed, the Book of Revelation as well, as one moves from a very Jewish form of Christianity to almost an anti-Jewish form or at least a very gentile form of Christianity. In the Book of James, which we suggested was perhaps the earliest of the non-Pauline Epistles and indeed perhaps the earliest of all the New Testament documents; we saw a form of Jewish Christianity that may well have continued to observe some or much of the Jewish law that perhaps identified faith with ritual works but not necessarily with the full sense of moral works, interpreted in light of the Christ event that should flow from saving faith. And hence, if not to the same degree as some scholars claim, nevertheless, at least in part, could be called a form of observant or Torah observant Christianity. In the very least, there was little if anything that could not be contained within Jewish Christianity in that epistle. As we move to the letter to the Hebrews, we saw as many if not even a greater number of references to Jewish Christian practice and quotations and allusions to Old Testament text and rituals and festivals and institutions. But we also saw the strong emphasis that these were fulfilled in Christ. He was the one who offered himself as a sacrifice; he created a place of worship in his own person that no longer required the tabernacle or by extension, even the temple. He provided the Sabbath rest which meant that believers no longer had to literal cease from labor one day in seven. In short, what could be called a form of spiritualized Jewish Christianity or fulfilled Jewish Christianity with respect to the Torah.
In 1st Peter we continue to read language that seems every bit as Jewish, particularly with respect to phrases that in Old Testament times were uniquely reserved for the nation and people of Israel; God’s particular people that is a people of his own possession, an elect and holy nation, living stones, etc. But we saw from a consideration of the full extent of references throughout the epistle to the nature of the audience address that Peter was most likely writing a predominantly gentile Christian audience. So now have, not only a spiritualized fulfillment of Old Testament language but applied not only to Jewish Christians but to gentile Christians as well. Indeed, perhaps, at least in the churches of these five provinces that Peter addresses, predominantly gentile Christians.
As we turn in this lecture to the short little epistles of Jude and 2nd Peter, we’ll see that basically we have gentile Christianity with Judaism and Jewish terminology and categories, not being that significant an issue. It is true that the two letters will adopt a repeating collection of references to Old Testament characters and indeed, at times perhaps pre-supposed Jewish traditions outside of Scripture about those characters. But this is only by way of analogy to characterize the false teachers who are almost certainly gentile and their immorality. So one may imagine the audience, whether Jew or gentile and we simple don’t have enough data to known what makeup they were; having been fairly schooled in Jewish background but that holds true of 1st century Christianity everywhere we find it, regardless of the ethnic makeup of the Christian themselves. But as for any thematic or theological emphasis of these two writers, there appears to be nothing distinctively Jewish and the false teachers opposing to be thoroughly involved in gentile and more specifically Hellenistic Christianity, perhaps reflecting one of the Hellenistic philosophical systems, about which we will say more later.
When we come in our penultimate lecture on the epistles and Revelation to the Epistles of John, we will see that whereas in the Gospel of John, there does seem to be some Jewish persecution of believers in and around Ephesus which John writes with one eye toward that. Now in these somewhat later writings from John, it is a form of the emerging Gnosticism that occupies his attention, almost exclusively with respect to the false teaching that he is to combat and while there are indications from the non-Biblical works of the early centuries of the common era; the era shared by Jews and Christians at the outset of Christian history that suggest small strands of Jewish Gnosticism with the vast majority being Hellenistic or Greco-Roman in origin and it is this front which occupies John’s attention in the letters that now bear his name.
Then, finally, when we come to the Book of Revelation, we see again, primarily Roman persecution, having to occupy John’s attention, not merely false teaching and ideology but the very direct effects that it’s having on the lives of Christians or looking like it may have in the very near future and as we will see in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9, apparently enough opposition and hostility from local synagogues in at least some of the communities in Asia Minor to which the Book of Revelation is addressed. If taken out of context could sound like anti-Semitic language, at the very least reflects a strong counter attack against these particular local synagogues that have been giving the fledgling Christian community such a hard time.
III. Similar Passages in Jude and 2 Peter
Now to Jude and 2nd Peter right in the middle of this pattern of increasing movement away from Jewish origin and into enmeshment more and more with Greco-Roman forms of thought and political opposition. We’ve already eluded to the fact that Jude and 2nd Peter chapter 2 reuses many of the same analogy, some relatively obscure from the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent Jewish interpretative traditions on those Scriptures. When we combine this observation with the facts that the language in the Greek text of these two letters is at time quite similar with enough verbatim parallels that would not likely to have happens coincidentally. A strong case would be made that there is some form of literary parallelism akin to that which scholars regularly discuss with respect to the so called synoptic problem, namely the literary relationship between the three synoptic Gospels: Mathew, Mark and Luke. Even in English translation as the next PowerPoint slides will show, we can see enough of that similar language to understand why most scholars believe that either Jude knew Peter’s second letter or Peter knew Jude’s letter or both relied on some kind of common source unlike with the synoptic Gospels; however, with what would have been in a common source, particularly with what Mathew and Luke shared, not found in Mark, the so-called Q document. There, the result when one looks at that common material is largely a collection of some of the most beloved sayings of Jesus, the very literary genre of a document that we know from other examples existed with great teachers in Jewish, Greek and Roman circles of antiquity. On the other hand, there is nothing analogist to a list of obscure analogies for false teachers from Jewish backgrounds that Jude or Peter could easily thought to access and so the options boil down for almost everyone either to Jude using 2nd Peter chapter 2 or vice versa. The majority as our accompanying textbook points out with Peter having used Jude, not least because he writes the longer letter, having other purposes in chapters 1 and 3, besides berating the false teachers and warning God’s people against them. Whereas it would seem difficult to explain why Jude wrote his letter at all, rather simply obtaining a copy of Peter’s letter and passing it on to his community, since all of his material had already appeared in 2nd Peter.
Combine that with the fact that Richard Bochum and his Magisterial Word Biblical Commentary on Jude and 2nd Peter has demonstrated a very tightly knit form of writing for Jude which appears that Peter has preserved only in part, undoubtedly because he is inserting his own material for a slightly different context; we have further reason for assuming that Peter is later and Jude is earlier. Take a moment simply to scroll through some of these parallels and hopefully you will see at least examples of why the consensus in scholarship is what it is. Jude 4, we read that admission has been secretly gained by ungodly persons who deny our only Master or Lord, Kurios, in 2nd Peter 2:1, false teachers, spoken of here as if it was future tense. We will see when we discuss Peter’s letter that he may have begun this or even conceived of it and then it was completed posthumously and or he may be speaking in the future tense about patterns that he believed he is seeing in the communities he is addressing that have not yet become as full formed as implied in Jude. Yet another reason for taking Peter as being later, but which he fears and or prophesized will take this form and therefore require these sharp admonitions. Thus still in verse 1, he speaks of false teachers who will secretly bring in heresies, even denying the Master, again, the Kurios. Or comparing Jude 6 and 2nd Peter 2:4, a text that we referred to when we tried to make some sense of 1st Peter 3:18-22, preaching to the spirits in prison, the angels that did not keep their own position and then in the nether gloom until judgement. ‘God who did not spare the angels when they sinned but committed them to the pits of nether gloom;’ this is a very odd and rare Greek expression in both the texts, until the judgement. Again, it’s probably referring to those demons responsible for the particularly corrupt race of humanity that God destroyed in the flood in the time of Noah.
As we move to the next PowerPoint slide, just as Sodom and Gomorra acted immorally, serves an example (Jude 7) to those who are ungodly. Here we have a more paradigmatic illustration that was reused a number of times in Jewish literature throughout history. What’s interesting as well, is to notice the parallel sequence of these examples; the more one finds in the same order, not a chronological order nor an order that is required by any schematic of topology of the passage, the more one is likely to conclude that one writer knew the work of the other writer. There are shorter sequences that do remain in chronological order but even then countless examples of wicked people in between that could have been chosen, which means that the particular collection of analogies here was by no means dictated by the Hebrew Scriptures in any way.
We move onto the fourth set of parallels, these men that reject authority and defile the glorious ones, the angels, speaking of the false teachers and then the contrast is made with the Archangel Michel, when he disputed with Satan he did not revile him, he didn’t mock him, he did not directly challenge him but merely said, ‘the Lord rebut you.’ In verses 10 & 11 of 2nd Peter 2 has an illusion to the same intertestamental tradition in similar enough language with key words being identical to suggest some form of literary dependence. Those who indulge in lust of passion will despise authority and are not afraid to revile the glorious ones whereas angels do not.
On the final PowerPoint slide in this Triade of illustrations, each with two texts per screen, we see Jude 10 compared and contrasted with 2nd Peter 2:12. Again, speaking of the false teachers, doing by those things that they know by instinct as irrational animals do, they are destroyed. 2nd Peter 2:12, these like irrational animals, creatures of instinct will be destroyed. And finally the appeal to Balaam’s error in the Book of Numbers in seducing the Israelite women and leading them astray. Blemishes waterless clouds, carried along by winds for whom the nether gloom of darkness have been reserved forever. And 2nd Peter 2 blemishes by the way of Balaam, waterless springs and mist driven by storms for those the nether gloom of darkness have been reserved.
IV. Key Observations for Jude
What makes Jude a valuable book in the Canon? What are some key observations that we should come away with from this short one chapter document? Does it really matter that much if it remains one of the forgotten books in the back of the New Testament? What we conceive from what we have just read, in addition to the literary question that introductory surveys regularly discuss that 2nd Peter probably depends on Jude. We have a tirade of sorts, particularly in these sections where the two letters run so closely parallel, can be identified as both add homonym (Latin – to the person) and as ad hoc which is to say that instead of given us details as to the contents of the false teachings, we can at least in the case of 2nd Peter, make some plausible inferences, Jude becomes very difficult to determine what the theology was that had gone on with these teachers. Instead of learning that kind of information, we have an argument or response directed to the individuals maligning their character, rebutting their behavior, warning about their dire fate to come, which in the ancient world as in the modern world though perhaps even more so in antiquity, could be every bit as effective both in shaming an opponent if one was speaking directly to them or is more likely in the case of these two letters, effectively warning God’s people against the opposition which seems to have begun, in the case of Jude and is imminently going to begin in the case of 2nd Peter to infiltrate their ranks.
What does become clear in both documents is the sexual immorality and other forms of wanton disregard for authority and conventional social and ethical norms such that we may assume that these false teachers are promoting a form of libertine behavior, that is taking liberties and exercising their freedoms supposedly in Christ to not merely no longer be under the Law of Moses, interpreted without respect to its fulfillment in Christ but going far beyond this into not being under any ethical norms except perhaps those that they have chosen to support. The question of the significance of Jude may be nowhere better crystalized than in the expression of the original addition of Don Carson, Dug Mu and Leon Morrison’s Introduction to the New Testament, ‘The Limits of Tolerance.’ In a postmodern age and pluralistic and relativistic culture and cultures in many parts of the world in the 21st century; ironically the only limits of tolerance for many people are they will not tolerate intolerance. They will not tolerate any philosophies or religions or world views that are not relativistic or pluralistic and thus their own supposed world views contradict themselves and collapse in on themselves and create what philosophers call a self-defeating argument.
But God’s people who ought not to be relativistic, who if they understand the Scriptures and follow it as a major authority in their lives while wanting to be as tolerance in the sense of personally kind, tactful, cordial, courteous, abiding by the laws of the land except when they come into direct conflict with God’s laws. Nevertheless, they are not to be tolerant in the sense of claiming that logically, contradictory world views can somehow simultaneously be true; that doctrine or morality that flatly goes against the Christian doctrine of Scripture can be acceptable. We may need to, not least for the sake of providing a witness for the Gospel, tolerate and not try to overthrow or legislate against or refuse an audience in a public area. The view point of other religions, as long as they do not lead to actions which are inherently harmful to other people, but it is naïve at best and dangerous at worse for Christians to tolerate in their own mist in distinctively Christian gatherings, teaching, not learning about other world views but teaching that actually promotes and supports world views that are in conflict with Christian teaching. In that sense, we must create limits to what we tolerate.
A fourth comment, under our heading, Key Observations from Jude, which intrigues almost every reader of this little epistle, involves references to the intertestamental literature; the assumption of Moses, references and brief description in our textbook. In the episode Michal Gently rebutting the devil, verse 9 and then again in verse 14, the more extensive direct quote from 1st Enoch, the seventh from Adam. This does use of two pseudo-ethnographical documents, not apocryphal but pseudo-ethnographical, that is canonized by no one, Jewish, Greek, Roman, Christian, ever in the history of Judaism or Christianity, somehow means that Jude thought that these two documents were in the Jewish or Christian canon or that they should have been in or that they were inspired or inerrant. None of these coronaries often put forward, logically follow any more than it would be true that when Paul in Mars Hill speech in Acts or in his writing to Titus quotes Greek poets and philosophers, believed that their writings were inspired, or inherent or canonical or ought to be treated as such. This was no more than any Christian speaker or preacher of any era quoting approvingly non-canonical texts from other Christian writers or Jewish writers or writers of no religions or other religions; all this is implied in the vast majority of such situations is that a particular excerpt or quotation or concept or piece of historical fiction, an illustration or an analogy makes a theological point in which the speaker or writer agrees and finds it useful for him or herself and being useful for his or her audience also.
What then, about the language in verse 14 of prophesizing? Let’s remember that prophesy ultimately boils to the proclamation of God’s Word. Early Christians believed that many Christians spoke prophesy and occasionally believed that non-Christians unwittingly spoke prophesy such as Caiaphas the high priest when he prophesized that it was better for one man rather than the whole nation to die. So there is no reason to see Jude necessarily implying anything stronger than that here. He presumably does believe that the statement quotes are true; the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of holy ones to judge everyone, particularly the ungodly who have rebelled against him, spoken against him. Zechariah says something very much like this and with a Christian overlay where the Lord as Christ in his second coming is coming with his holy angels, decked out for battle to judge those who are ungodly on the earth. This little excerpt from this intertestamental document is profoundly true. Then finally, that Enoch is called the Seventh from Adam, somehow set him apart from say the reference to Michael back in verse 9 where that may be simply a piece of historical fiction that illustrates an important theological point but once Enoch is called the Seventh from Adam, it means that Jude thinks it was the real historical character, seven generations after Adam who said these things. Perhaps in some other context, such a reference might mean that but in this context, it probably means only that Enoch, the character who in 1st Enoch is described as the Seventh from Adam, is the one who has said this and thus could arguably be a way in which Jude is tipping his reader off to the fact that this is something from the non-canonical Book of 1st Enoch, that he is quoting, one of the most widely known and used pseudo-ethnographical works in even Hellenistic Jewish circles, widely used enough that some knowledge of it even in purely Hellenistic circles is not unlikely by the 1st century and thus Jude entire point is to distinguish his source by this language from the historical Enoch of Antediluvian days prostrated in Genesis. Well, perhaps, one did not think to find that much of merit in Jude; so let us pass on to 2nd Peter.
V. Uniformitarianism vs. 2 Peter
Here, we can make some progress toward postulating that some form of what today would be called a uniformitarian world view, seems to have characterized the false teachers who immortality as we have seen as closely similar to that of those that Jude had to address and indeed they may come from the same movement. Because 2nd Peter 3 climaxes with the references to those who believes that the world simply continues without any supernatural of divine interruption as it always has and that one of the ways that Peter rebuts this claim is to point to the creation of the world and the universal flood as interruptions and exceptions to such otherwise arguably uniformitarianism. It isn’t difficult to see three out growths of this world view which has proliferated in our age under the glaze of atheism or materialism or Darwinism. With chapter 1’s main topic, addressing the claim that there is no such thing as supernatural predictive prophesies and therefore the corollary, no inspiration of Scripture, read particularly 1:16-21. In chapter 2 there will be no supernatural divine judgement interrupting the otherwise endless course of human history and therefore no accountability or reckoning for those who choose to live immorally and thus no need for moral living. And finally there will be no supernatural return of Christ in glory and clouds of heaven to right all the wrongs of this earth and therefore no solution to the problem of evil; note, particularly 3:8-10.
With that theological framework, we may then fill in some of the details of authorship, the fact that this is the one book of Scripture of the New Testament and only book of the New Testament that has an inscription of authorship within the portion of the text that would have formed the original manuscript, which today has a chapter number and verse, which was doubted already in the earliest centuries of Christianity. And therefore, if there is but one book of the New Testament that is truly pseudonymous on historical grounds; the probability rests with 2nd Peter because there is ancient testimony to this affect as well modern testimony. Without reviewing all of the other reasons that led people, both ancient as well as today to draw this conclusion, we may observe that chapter 1:15 contains a text which is also unique among the New Testament writings. Its closest parallel is perhaps found in some of Paul’s statements in 2nd Timothy 4 that suggests he knows that his end, ‘execution’ is soon and is trying to prepare Timothy for that event. Peter in 2:15 seems to go one step further as if to suggest that he knows or finds it highly likely that he may be executed even before this letter is completed. It is thus not only his last testament, literarily speaking but it may need to be posthumously edited.
That’s not the only way to take the text but it is at least one natural way to understand his words, ‘I will make every effort to see that after my departure, a euphemism for his death, you will always be able to remember these things.’ These things is what he’s writing in this letter which the larger paragraph also makes probable, then if he has completed the letter and makes sure it is delivered to the community’s address, Peter himself; then it would be the community’s address in 1st Peter in Asia Minor. Then assuming they don’t reject it and fail to preserve it, he will have seen to it that they would be able to remember these things. Why then the doubt implied by him making every effort as if he realizes it might not happen unless he knows he is dictating to an emanuances or beginning to put pen to papyrus in what could be a lengthy drawn out, prayed over, thought through process of many days or weeks even for a very short letter like this one, with the very real possibility that he will be interrupted by his execution before the project is complete. But he has perhaps already made arrangements with someone to complete the project; knowing his thoughts and desires in which case, the very different style from 1st Peter could be accounted for, i.e. the passage of time and new setting and new context that is seemingly implied by some of the features by 2nd Peter, etc.
Be that as it may, we still do not have to imagine a date any later than the 60’s and during Peter’s life time, if the tradition from the acts of Peter is accurate, that he, like Paul was martyred under the Emperor Nero, prior to the end of Nero’s persecution in 68 AD. We’ve referred to the work of Jerome Narway and Darryl Charles in two significant books on 2nd Peter, the former in commentary form. Those references are in our textbook that shows how plausible cases can be made for the philosophy of the false teachers be either epicureans or stoic, both of whom are still going strong in the 60’s but because of their divergence on several key points, much like the Pharisees and Sadducees in Judaism. We are also reminded just how little we do know or can infer with any confidence, apart from the immoral and wicked nature of these false teachers in 2nd Peter any more than we did in Jude. Nevertheless, there is a kind of uniformitarianism and Epicureanism that saw the gods as so remote that they rarely if ever intervene in lives of human affairs. But we see a kind uniformitarianism as well as stoicism that saw god’s or god as so imminent and border almost on a kind of pantheism which then led to a fatalism that things will just happen as the god who is the world’s soul that feels all or is in all, unfold in a kind of impersonal way.
We have already observed how one chapter per letter can be seen as addressing different aspects of the outgrowth of this uniformitarianism with the unifying gold being to convince Peter’s readers that contra to the false teachers, they should recognize that Christ is coming back, even if more time has elapsed than they might have originally imagined. Even though this is being described as a supernatural event to come; it was prophesied about in inspired Scripture which is credible and believable. It will bring about a perfectly judge judgement by a holy God who will hold everyone accountable for their immoral actions and notwithstanding the fact, it too is a supernatural divine interruption into the course of world affairs. It is no more such an interruption or incredible event as such interruptions that have already punctuated human history in the past.
A subordinate point, but one that often troubles readers or at least fascinates them, comes out of chapter 2:20-22 with respect to that same debate that we discussed in the letter to the Hebrews over eternal security or what is more properly called perseverance of the saints. Chapter 2:20 reads, ‘if they have escaped, that is these false teachers or anyone who follows them, the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and entangled in it and overcome, they are worst off in the end than at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness and to have known it and then to have turned their backs on the scared command that was passed onto them. If we stop with verse 21 that the straight forward most natural reading are that these are people who were truly Christians, utterly renounced it and on their way to hell. And yet it’s fascinating that Peter doesn’t stop there but adds in verse 22 with the climatic verse of this paragraph and entire chapter long section, against the proverbs are true, ‘a dog returns to its vomit’ and a sow that is washed returns to their wadding in mud; aka, there are simply returning to what their real identities have been all along, showing their true colors which were never truly transformed. How then can Peter use the language that he did at the beginning? Well, escaping corruption certainly can mean a change of moral behavior without true faith in Christ and so for that matter can knowledge, both in the ancient world and in the modern translations of the Scripture does not always mean saving knowledge based on genuine trust in Jesus, turning their backs on the scared commands doesn’t mean that they’ve ever truly embraced it, but perhaps they were at least looking at it, acting in ways within the larger community that may have suggested some that they were following it, though they may not have been. So it would appear that the same range of options remains open to people here in 2nd Peter as did when we discussed the issue in Hebrews.
VI. 2 Peter
Finally and undoubtedly and most importantly, the most enduring legacy in 2nd Peter, the most significant reason for keeping it in the Conan, for studying it, preaching it and applying it, even today may be the theodicy, the explanation of the problem of evil. The response to those Christians, whether they were influenced by this uniformitarianism theology or not, were wondered why Christ wasn’t coming back after thirty plus years. After nearly two thousand years the issue has only been greatly exacerbated in our day. And the answer, an answer that intertestamental Jewish sources demonstrate that Jews had already begun to use when it seemed like the day of the Lord predicted from the 8th century prophesy onward was delayed. The answer coming out of Psalm 90 with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow. It’s only the second day, metaphorically speaking since Christ first came. From an infinite eternal perspective, of course divided by infinity is impossible in the first place. So even this is a metaphor, a thousand years is like the smallest imaginable unit of time and then smaller still, but even more important still. Notice how verse 9 concludes, ‘instead, he is being patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.’ The main reason why God delays, righting all the wrongs of the world of all time is because when he does and the only way that he can do it, is to bring in a judgement day and end human history as we now know it and thereby end all further opportunity for anyone to be saved and he is gracious and long suffering and wants to give everyone as long as possible and his people as long as possible to proclaim his message of grace and mercy and forgiveness. Do we need any further detail on how we should live our lives, finding our gifts and niches and unique contributions in God’s great kingdom to further those lofty and wonderful causes?