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An Introduction to the New Testament




Occasion. Many ancient thinkers thought of God as by nature far removed from the material world and too pure to have anything directly to do with it. This idea naturally created a chasm between the physical and the spiritual aspects of human experience and led to the dangerous doctrine that the spirit might seek and find fellowship with God while the body followed its own material impulses and passions.

With regard to Jesus, such thinkers separated his human nature from his divine and followed a Docetic type of thought, believing that the divine in him had escaped from him on the cross and only his material body had suffered there. They accordingly saw little spiritual meaning in his death, but they considered themselves so spiritual that they did not need an atonement. Indeed, they felt so secure in their spirituality that they thought it did not much matter what they did physically, and so they permitted themselves all sorts of indulgence without scruple.

Such people could not fail to be a scandal in the churches, and a Christian teacher named Jude burst out against them with a vehement denunciation. It is


no local situation that he addresses; his little tract speaks to Christians everywhere, to all who have been called, who are dear to God the Father, and have been kept through union with Jesus Christ. For the Docetists and their immoral practices are everywhere, honeycombing and corrupting the churches.

Contents. Jude feels compelled to appeal to all Christian people to come to the defense of the faith that has once for all been intrusted to them. The activity and success of the schismatics arc so great that the truth and purity of the Christian religion are in danger. This was the feeling of many Christian leaders in the early and middle years of the second century, when Docetism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism were invading the churches. Into the churches have come godless people who make the mercy of God an excuse for immoral practices and take a view of Jesus which amounts to a denial of him, verses 3, 4.

In language that recalls the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Enoch (chaps. 17-19), Jude points out the fearful consequences of such disbelief and disobedience, verses 5-7. These Docetic dreamers indulge their animal passions regardless of the divine commands, which they explain away. Arrogance, hatred, venality, and insubordination mark them. At Christian suppers they carouse in cliques, regardless of others. They are rainless clouds, fruitless trees, barren waves, darkened stars, verses 8-13. They are the godless rebels whom Enoch foretold (1:9, etc.), passion—driven, arrogant, mercenary, verses 14-16.

Christian believers must be on their guard against


these unspiritual and animal schismatics. They must build themselves up on the foundation of their most holy faith, pray in the holy Spirit, and keep in the love of God. Some of the schismatics they may still save, but some of them they can only fear and pity, verses 17-23. A stately doxology concludes the tract, verses 24, 25.

Problems. It is clear that Jude is denouncing a schismatic type of high spiritual pretensions but low moral character, which was widespread in his day. The Docetists are first reflected and opposed in the Gospel and Letters of John and the Letters of Ignatius (107-17) and represented by the Gospel of Peter, ca. A.D. 125-50. Some things in Jude have parallels in the Pastorals-God our Savior, verse 25; the idea of faith as something once for all intrusted to God's people, verse 3—but it cannot be said to show dependence upon them. Jude clearly looks back upon the age of the apostles, for they had foretold the conditions he now sees existing, verses 17, 18. He quotes with the greatest confidence passages from the Book of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses (toward A.D. 50)—late Jewish writings which he evidently regards as Scripture, verse 6, 9, 14. On the whole, his letter is best understood as written somewhere about A.D. 125. The mere fact that it is encyclical in form—addressed to all Christians everywhere—suggests that that literary form was already familiar through Ephesians, possibly James, and to some extent I Peter, though this last is addressed only to the Christians of five provinces of Asia Minor.


It is a remarkable fact that this little tract (of two pages in our printing) should have made such an impression in the early church. This is all the more striking when it is observed that it was soon absorbed practically entire in II Peter, of which it forms the bulk of the second chapter. Yet it found its way into two of the three earliest lists of New Testament books—those of Tertullian and the Muratorian writer—outstripping James and 11 Peter and, in the Muratorian List, even I Peter. While its use of apocryphal writings limited its influence (Jerome De viris illustribus 4), it must have met a definite and pressing need of second-century Christianity, which found it indispensable.

Who Jude was we cannot tell. We have seen that he looks back upon the age of the apostles, asking his readers to recollect how they had foretold that, as time draws on toward the end, scoffers will appear, verse 17. The words "the brother of James" were probably added to his name by some later copier of his letter who took the writer to be the Judas or Jude mentioned in Mark 6:3 and Matt. 13:55 as a brother of James and of Jesus. Or they may reflect a misunderstanding of the mention of "Judas [son] of James" among the apostles, in Luke 6:16; cf. John 14:22. Yet it is hard to think the ancients would misunderstand the common Greek idiom which regularly followed a man's name with his father's name in the genitive case—the ordinary way in the papyri. Early English translators, Tyndale and Coverdale, understood this idiom correctly in


Luke, [1] but Beza introduced the mistaken "brother of James," Luke 6:16, which found its way through the Geneva Bible of 1560 ("Iudas Iames brother") into the King James Version of 1611, where it still appears.


Occasion. A generation after Jude's vigorous letter was written, it was taken over almost word for word into what we know as II Peter. By the end of the second century, or soon after, so many books had been written in Christian circles about the apostle Peter, or under his name, that one could have collected a whole New Testament of works bearing his name. There arose a Gospel of Peter, Acts of Peter, The Teaching of Peter, The Preaching of Peter, The Letters of Peter, and The Revelation of Peter. Most of these laid claim to being from the pen of Peter himself.

The one that claims this most insistently is II Peter. It comes from a time when Christians were seriously doubting the Second Coming of Jesus. A hundred years had passed since his ministry and death, and men were saying, "Where is his promised coming? For ever since our forefathers fell asleep, everything has remained as it was from the beginning of creation." Perhaps the Gospel of John had succeeded in replacing the more material expectation with the consciousness of the Spirit's presence and influence. Certainly, the spiritualizing of the Second Coming which that gospel taught did not commend itself to the writer of II Peter, if he perceived it. He prefers to meet the skepticism

[1] Wyclif reads ambiguously "Judas of James."


of his day about the Second Coming with a sturdy insistence upon the old doctrine. In support of it he appeals to the Transfiguration, which he seems to know from the Gospel of Matthew, II Pet. 1:16-18; Matt. 17:5, and to the widespread ancient belief that the universe is to be destroyed by fire, 3:7, 10.

Burning to rebuke in the strongest possible way this spreading doubt about the Second Coming, the writer of II Peter seizes upon Jude's invective against the Gnostic libertines and hurls it with suitable alterations against the deniers of the Second Coming. Jude was thus made to form the basis of the second chapter of II Peter.

Contents. The epistle is an encyclical, addressed to Christians generally. The gifts and promises of God should move us to turn from physical passions and cultivate the divine nature, developing faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, piety, brotherhood, and love, and so making certain of God's call and choice of us, 1:1-11.

The writer identifies himself with Peter and confirms the truth of the gospel story. It fulfilled the message of the prophets, who spoke as they were inspired by God, 1:12-21.

Like the false prophets of old, heretical teachers will invade the church, introducing immoral ways of life and false views. God will deal with them as he dealt with the fallen angels and the wicked world before the Flood, 2:1-10. They are impudent, vicious, self-seeking, futile deceivers, 2:10b-19. Their followers might better have remained heathen, 2:20-22.


The false teaching is defined as the denial of the Second Coming. But they must remember that, as the world was once destroyed by water, it will finally be destroyed by fire, 3:1-7. The apparent delay in the coming of the Day of the Lord is because God in his . patience is giving men time to repent, but it will surely come and destroy heaven and earth, making way for new heavens and the new earth, where uprightness is to prevail, 3:8-13. Christians are to recognize God's patience in this delay as Paul taught and to hold fast to the truth, 3:14-18.

Problems. One of the most interesting and significant things about II Peter is the wide acquaintance of its author with Christian literature. In 1:17 he quotes the Transfiguration oracle in the form given it by Matthew (17:5) who seems to have conflated the Baptism and Transfiguration oracles and used the result in both places.[1] In 1:15 II Peter reflects knowledge of the tradition that Peter was the voucher back of the Gospel of Mark, hinted at in I Pet. 5:13 and preserved in Papias. [2] In 1:17 the writer alludes to the prophecy of Peter's martyrdom given in the Epilogue to John, 21:18. But as this was written to be added to the gospel when it was made a part of the Fourfold Gospel corpus, knowledge of it means knowledge of that corpus, so that the writer of II Peter knew the Fourfold Gospel.

It is also clear that he knew the Pauline corpus of

[1] Cf. II Pet. 2:20 with Matt. 12:45.

[2] Eusebius Church History iii. 39. 15.


ten letters at any rate, 3:15, 16. We need not suppose that he knew it in its extended form of thirteen letters. He also knew Jude (cf. II Peter, chap. 2) and I Peter (cf. 3:1). His reference to a new heaven and a new earth may be an allusion to Rev. 21:1 or to Isa. 65:17; 66:22, from which the Revelation doubtless derived it. The stern reference to backsliders and apostates, 2:20, 21, greatly resembles the statements of Hebrews on the same point and was probably influenced by Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31, etc.

The use of the Epistle of Barnabas in II Peter is less certain. That "with the Lord .... a thousand years are like one day," 3:8, recalls the words of Ps. 90:4: "A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past." The accompanying saying in II Peter, "that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years," greatly resembles Bar. 15:4, except that Barnabas himself seems to be quoting it: "For he himself bears me witness saying, 'Behold, with the Lord a day is like a thousand years.'" Mathematically speaking, one of these sayings might suggest the other, but rhetorically one is the opposite of the other. It is possible that II Peter drew upon Barnabas and the Ninetieth Psalm; or that both Barnabas and II Peter are drawing upon some other source no longer extant.

In any case the writer of II Peter possessed a considerable Christian library—the Four Gospels, Paul's letters, Hebrews, Jude, I Peter, and perhaps Barnabas—and wrote at a time when Paul's letters and the gospels were already being regarded as Scripture. It was


the Scilitan martyrs [1] who first, so far as we know, included Paul's letters, apparently along with the gospels, among the books in their church chest, and that was about A.D. 180. Justin Martyr, on the other hand, does not include them among the books read in church, Apology lxvii. 3. In its attitude toward Christian scripture, therefore, II Peter falls between these two dates but perhaps nearer to Justin than to the Scilitan martyrs, for it so vividly reflects the Marcionite misuse of Paul, 3:16.

The explicit use of Peter's name and the way in which the epistle links itself with I Pet. 3:1 rather point to Rome as the place of its origin. I Peter was a work of Roman origin and used the Book of Enoch; it should be understood as mentioning Enoch in 3:19 where the allusion to the Book of Enoch, chapters 10,12, is in any case unmistakable. II Peter, too, must have been written in a circle where such books as Enoch were held in high regard. But while Jude appears in almost our earliest reflections of the New Testament—Tertullian, the Muratorian List (though not in Irenaeus) —II Peter, like James, is nowhere recognized as Scripture before the time of Origen, A.D. 185-254. [2] Jude is therefore first recognized as Scripture in Rome and Carthage.

Four considerations thus favor Rome as the place where II Peter was composed—its use of Jude, of

[1] See E. J. Goodspeed, The Formation of the New Testament (Chicago, 1926), pp. 62-64.

[2] Ibid., chaps, viii-x.


I Peter, and of Enoch, and its appropriation of the name of Peter. No one of these alone would weigh very greatly, but together they establish a probability in favor of Rome. Its wide acquaintance with Christian writings—gospels, Pauline and catholic letters—would fit well with such a place of origin, for it was the Roman church that within twenty years organized the first New Testament. The reflections of Hebrews in II Peter would not weigh against this: the West knew Hebrews well enough, from I Clement on—Tertullian even mentions it by name—but western Christianity did not, until two centuries after it was written, recognize it as Scripture. Jude, on the other hand, found a place in the Roman New Testament from the first.

While Jude and II Peter are vague in their picture of the particular heresies they attack, they seem to reflect the Marcosians, the followers of Marcus of Asia, whose movement is described in Irenaeus Refutation i. 13-17 and in Hippolytus Refutation vi. 34-50. Their picture of the immorality, greed, speculations, allegories, and magical practices of the Marcosians makes it probable that that was the sect immediately before the minds of Jude and the writer of II Peter. [1] Strong reaction against schismatic movements found early expression in the West; Justin wrote a Syntagma against heresies, now lost, and Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus wrote in the West—at Lyons, Carthage, and Rome. These facts fit very well with the suggestion that these antiheretical epistles were of Roman origin.

[1] R. B. Swensen, "The Rise of the Sects as an Aspect of Religious Experience" (unpublished dissertation; Chicago, 1934).



Mayor, J. B. The Epistle of St. Jude and the Second Epistle of St. Peter (London, 1907).

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