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Book Review: The Letter of Jude and the Second Letter of Peter: A Theological Commentary

Leon O'Flynn —


The German edition of this commentary was published in 2015 as part of the Theological Hand Commentary of the New Testament series (ThHK/THKNT). The series began in Leipzig in 1928 with regularly updated volumes. While the series has twenty-one volumes, only Reinhard Feldmeier’s commentary on 1 Peter has been translated at this point. The previous volume of Jude/2 Peter was published in 1974, authored by the infamous Walter Grundmann.[1] Professor Frey is currently the chair of New Testament Science, focusing on Ancient Judaism and Hermeneutics at the University of Zurich. He has been a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria since 2003. While extensively involved in numerous projects and publications, his name might be most familiar with those who have engaged with the Scientific Studies on the New Testament series, abbreviated from the German as WUNT (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament), where he has been editor since 2010.

The above paragraph might suggest this commentary is only for those engaged with higher-level biblical/theological study, with no practical or ministry value. However, the website of the series states that the goal of “This series of commentaries works out the textual message and context and thus forms the basis for an exegetical-theologically responsible sermon and preaching.” This series goal conforms to the stated purpose of Frey’s commentary; “The present commentary aims at a more precise historical and theological understanding of these two ‘minor’ Catholic Epistles” (xiii).

The commentary opens with a small section of general questions and critical positions for both New Testament letters, including the following statement about methodology: “The present commentary, therefore, focuses on the ‘classical’ methods that have proved themselves in the reading of ancient texts, including biblical writings, in order to get a clearer view of their historical meaning, with summaries of their ‘theology’ (xxxv)”. The methodical framework ensures that attention is given to the theological implications of any analysis. The commentary proper begins with Jude and then 2 Peter and concludes with an extensive bibliography and an excellent series of indexes. Each letter is divided into two sections. The first part discusses introductory matters (56 and 85 pages for Jude and 2 Peter, respectively). The second section is the textual commentary (103 and 185 pages). The summary of the main theological themes of each letter is helpful. Within the textual commentary section of each letter, several excursuses appear. These are questions that require focused attention but could distract from the flow of the argument featured, such as the textual variant issues of Jude 5. Critical scholarship is engaged with approximately two thousand footnotes.

Reading the commentary, one has the feel of entering an unexplored land. Frey heavily engages with German scholarship, much of it unfamiliar to the English reader. Frey employs a phrase that best explains his approach to Jude, placing the text ‘between Enoch and Paul’ (xxxix). As an example of this, he examines the text in the light of themes from Enoch (with 1 Enoch 1.9 being quoted in v. 14), Jewish apocalypticism, and the opponents representing some form of Pauline thought (33-44). The writing of Jude is placed around 100-120 CE (32) whereas 2 Peter is placed around 140-160 CE (221). 2 Peter is seen as dependent on Jude, and the exact dependencies are provided in two clear tables (182-183), the situation and opponents are different. While 2 Peter has a literary dependency on Jude, the author of the 2 Peter edits Jude’s argument to meet his needs–for example, leaving out the 1 Enoch quote while using the same material. Frey supports a dependency relationship of 2 Peter on the Apocalypse of Peter and 1 Peter. The late dating of these two items might push some readers into new directions, but the author builds a compelling case.

Frey supports the idea that these two letters are pseudonymous; however, he attempts to remove the negative connotations that this term has held, commenting “they can be studied as interesting glimpses into the debates of the late first or, rather, early or middle second century” (xxxvii). An example of developments from this period can be seen in the comments surrounding implications of 2 Peter 3:15, where Frey suggests that the reference to Paul’s writings might point to the development of a two-part canon at this stage of textual development (429).

While the commentary engages with critical issues, primary texts, and secondary texts at times, it can be unclear what the position of the commentary is on a particular point. In places, a few more summary type paragraphs would make the section easier to understand. For example, the ending of the commentary section just stops at Jude 25 and 2 Peter 3:18; there is no concluding paragraph on the textual commentary. However, this is a minor issue. The commentary employs Greek words, phrases, and a few complete sentences and assumes that the reader has a basic understanding of Koine Greek. While someone with no understanding of Greek will still have access to the commentary, it might be prudent to have a dictionary at hand.

The value of the commentary is that the arguments/themes developed by the author in the introductory matters are then built and expanded upon within the exegetical sections. The scholar engaged with serious exegetical and theological work will find this commentary a welcomed addition to the library (note that Bauckham’s work is nearly forty years old). The pastor will also find this a helpful commentary when attempting to preach or engage the texts of Jude/2 Peter beyond the superficial level or the simple recitation of the Jude doxology (vv. 24-25).

Leon O’Flynn has a background in pastoral care, military chaplaincy, academic development, and also wears a couple of other hats.

[1] Infamous because of his support of the Nazi regime (Book Review Editor).