Book Review – Revised Expositor’s Commentary on 1 & 2 Peter & Jude (J Darryl Charles)

I’ve already reviewed a number of commentaries in this volume of the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary (see Hebrews, Revelation, John’s Letters). The same complements on the nice layout apply here.

J Darryl Charles has provided the commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude. The big danger with this commentary series is that it can fall through the gaps between an expositional and an academic commentary. It is aimed at “expositors”, but does not always provide enough space to really engage with the exegetical and theological issues that can be raised. Its strength therefore is in helping the reader to appreciate the meaning and flow of the argument, and briefly filling in background historical details or scriptural cross-references that will elucidate the text. There are brief pointers for application, but this series is not an exposition in the style of the Bible Speaks Today series. For those preparing a sermon or essay on the passage being commented on, I expect they would actually want to consult more detailed commentaries, but this commentary will still have value as a reference book for those wanting to quickly get an overview of a section of these epistles.

In the introduction to the 1 Peter commentary, Charles argues that it is reasonable to believe Peter authored this epistle. He acknowledges some differences in style to 2 Peter, but he gives a list of 41 similarities between the two epistles, which weaken the case for separate authors. In the commentary on 1 Peter, he highlights Peter’s concern for ethical living, which is rooted in eschatology. He notes that the epistle is filled with imperatives, and though it has suffering as a theme, its goal is not to provide a “theology of suffering” but rather to present a Christian ethic which responds to suffering by following the example of Christ.

The commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude have a fairly lengthy introduction which argues for Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, and lists the parallels with Jude. Despite the similarities, the purposes are different: Peter is more concerned with ethics than combating heresy. If Peter is combating anything, it is more likely sexual libertarianism than gnosticism. He presents the Lord’s coming as a day of moral reckoning and calls us to live virtuously. Charles believes that Peter even warns against the possibility of “loss of call” for the Christian. In the introduction to Jude, Charles considers the arguments against an early dating to be merely speculative. Jude uses examples of those who were privileged but who became dispossessed as warnings against apostasy.

For those who cannot afford to buy individual commentaries on each book of the New Testament, the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary represents a good compromise – offering essentially six commentaries for the price of one. While none of the individual commentaries would be described as “must haves”, they will prove useful to those who do not have the time or money available to consult the larger commentaries.

Book Review – The Message of 2 Peter and Jude (Dick Lucas & Christopher Green)

Although this book covers only four short New Testament chapters, it is larger than many of the others in the Bible Speaks Today series. This is surprising as the BST series does not contain academic or detailed exegetical material, but rather focuses on practical application. 250 pages means that whole chapters can be devoted to just one or two verses. While this makes for a very thorough exposition of these books, I wonder whether it is a bit long for the BST target audience.

Lucas has written the introductions, while Green wrote the commentary and appendix on authorship, but their styles are similar and there is no sense of discontinuity. Lucas’ introduction to 2 Peter is itself a mini-commentaries on the book, tracing through its main messages and themes, and barely touching on authorship and dating. Those who have read Lucas’ BST volume on Colossians will immediately notice similarities, for both books are understood to be attacks on false teaching, by those claiming to have “knowledge”.

False teaching in the church is something that Lucas and Green clearly feel passionately about, and they don’t just have their sights set on liberal or cult doctrines. They believe that muddled and even dangerous teaching abounds from those who claim to be evangelical. It is difficult to disagree with this assessment, but it is also difficult as a charismatic not to see oneself portrayed as the villain. Strong hints at cessationism, criticism of modern “apostolic” ministries, and warnings against seeking “experience” are all tell-tale signs of an antipathy towards charismatic doctrine.

Green, like Lucas, clearly believes in line by line expository preaching, and this is how the book is structured. Each chapter is like a mini-sermon on the few verses in question, starting with some brief introductory comments, followed by the NIV text, and then dealing with the message of those verses under clearly defined headings.

2 Peter is described as a homily on Christian growth, but with the focus very much being on the maturity needed to combat the false teaching. As with Colossians, the essence of the heresy is seen to be “Christ plus” – requiring people to move beyond Christ to something better (again some thinly veiled polemic against the Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit may be detected). The false teacher’s denial of the second coming is seen as their excuse for relaxing moral standards, and it is here that some contemporary liberal trends within evangelicalism come under fire.

When a passage has many possible interpretations, the options are listed and normally general lesson drawn that does not rely too heavily on one interpretation. Although the style of commentary is expository, it does not often delve into matters of Greek vocabulary and syntax. The main modern commentary that is interacted with is Bauckham’s (and sometimes Michael Green’s) and older commentators such as the Puritans are occasionally quoted.

The introduction to Jude lists similar themes between the books. Jude is said to emphasise the “closed” nature of the faith – it is not evolving even at this early stage. The authors are concerned to properly clarify his use of extrabiblical books, that he did not see them as on a par with Scripture.

An appendix deals in more depth with the issues that the introductions to the books would normally be expected to consider. It defends Peter as author of 2 Peter against both claims of pseudonymous authorship, and “testament” authorship (Bauckham), and deals with differences in Greek writing style between 1 and 2 Peter. Similarly Jude the half-brother of Jesus is seen as the author of the book that bears his name. There is also a study guide as with all BST New Testament volumes, although it is difficult to imagine many small groups wanting to spend 24 sessions working through these two short books.

I have criticised this book for perhaps being too long, and hostile towards charismatics, but it I still found it very helpful and thorough. The writing style is easy to follow, and the warnings against false teaching creeping in are worth seriously contemplating. It serves as a forceful reminder that error can creep in even in supposedly “pure” churches that have separated from more traditional and doctrinally compromised church groupings. And individually, we must not be too proud to think we can “wobble” doctrinally, so we must heed the message to continually grow in the faith.