Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter

Written by Richard J. Bauckham Reviewed By David Wenham

There is no other major commentary on 2 Peter and Jude to match this one: it is expert, thorough, balanced and lucidly written. Dr Bauckham, who is lecturer in Christian thought at Manchester University, brings to his task a formidable grasp of Jewish apocalyptic and other literature and also of early Christian literature, and he uses this expertise to illuminate these two books of the New Testament that seem mysterious and difficult to many Christian readers. He shows how the books have frequently been misjudged by commentators, who have seen them as excessively polemical and/or as reflecting a degenerate and relatively late form of Christianity (‘early Catholicism’, to use the jargon).

He explains the text of the epistles sympathetically and nearly always persuasively. On 2 Peter 1:20, for example, he argues with typical thoroughness and clarity that the reference is probably to the original inspiration of the Old Testament prophets rather than to present interpretation. Very occasionally I felt uncertain about his argument: for example, on 2 Peter 1:16–18 must the Transfiguration, which Bauckham discusses very helpfully, be seen ‘as an apocalyptic revelation in which God installs Jesus as his eschatological vice-regent’ rather than as a theophany? On 2 Peter 3:8 is Bauckham right to deny any idea of Christian mission here? I wonder if the author has not in mind the saying of Mark 13:10, as he has other possible echoes of Jesus’ eschatological discourse in this passage (e.g. the ‘thief’)?

So far as his critical opinions go, Bauckham maintains that Jude was written by our Lord’s brother between ad 50 and 60. It was written against certain itinerant charismatics who saw the grace of God as an excuse for immorality and who spoke disparagingly of the angels who gave the Old Testament law. The letter is an appeal to Christians to fight for the faith, and consists of a carefully constructed midrash on Old Testament and other Jewish apocalyptic texts, demonstrating the falsehood and danger of the false teaching (vv. 5–19) followed by the appeal (vv. 20–23).

2 Peter is essentially a ‘testament’ written probably between ad 80 and 90 in epistolary form. It was written against false teachers, influenced by Greek pagan thought, who were sceptical about the Second Coming and loose in their morals. Bauckham opts for the view that the close similarities between 2 Peter and Jude are best explained by the hypothesis that the author of 2 Peter used the carefully constructed letter of Jude. He agrees with the majority of critical commentators that 2 Peter is a pseudonymous work, written by a leading Roman Christian after Peter’s death as a defence of apostolic (including Petrine) doctrine. Pseudonymous ‘testaments’ were, we are told, a well-known and respectable literary genre, and there was no intention to deceive; indeed the literary device is particularly transparent in 2 Peter in the way that the author switches from the prophetic future tense—‘Peter’ predicts that false prophets will come—to the present tense—the false prophets arealready come (e.g. cf. 3:1–4 and 3:5–10). Various considerations confirm that the letter was written after Peter’s time, including its very distinctive Hellenistic style, its close affinities with 1 Clement, 2 Clement and Hermas, and the probable interpretation of 2 Peter 3:4.

The cumulative case for the non-Petrine authorship of 2 Peter is persuasively argued by Bauckham, but it will not persuade everyone. It is not, for example, certain that the oscillation between present and future tenses indicates pseudonymity: might not someone such as Peter have been provoked to write an epistle about coming heresy precisely because heresy was already rearing its head? Whether Bauckham’s sincere attempt to portray pseudonymity as a respectable and transparent epistolary genre quite comes off is also disputable: he admits that the Gentile Christian church forgot the nature of the genre before long, and one cannot but be a little uneasy at the apparent suggestion that the readers’ faith in eschatological prophecy should have been confirmed by the fulfilment of the pseudonymous predictions of 2 Peter (p. 295)!

Conservative readers may be put off Bauckham’s commentary because of his conclusions on the authorship issue. But this would be a pity, since it contains so much exegesis that is positively helpful and informative. I would recommend any serious student or expositor of the New Testament to buy and to study this commentary.

David Wenham

Wycliffe Hall