Review of The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude

by Andrew Chester
Book Reviewed
Book Title
The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude
Book Author
Andrew Chester
Book Publisher
Cambridge University Press
Place of Publication
Year
1994
ISBN
Book Review Citation
Review Author
Duane F. Watson
Year
1996
Publication
Journal of Biblical Literature
Volume
115
Issue
1
Pages
161-163
Publisher
Language
English
License
Select License
URL
http://www.loc.gov/catdir/description/cam025/93033910.html,http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/cam024/93033910.html
Updated
September 3rd, 2012
Abstract

Book Reviews 161

tial role of the secretary in the formulation of letters (p. 137). The attempt to understand the effort to guarantee Pauline tradition in the second century by means of comparison of the Pastoral Epistles to such works as the apocryphal letter to the Laodiceans and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs is also suggestive (pp. 129-30, 14042).

As I went through this volume I wished that the possible theology(-ies) of the false teachers and/or troublesome members of the community(-ies) had been given a greater hearing. I would have liked to hear more, for example, about the consequences of the effort to diminish the influence of the ascetic teaching that probably inspired the author of the Pastorals' instruction concerning young widows. In speaking about the influence of the household code tradition that shaped the exhortations in 1Timothy 5 and else- where, Young offers the following comment: "It is all too easy to focus on the 'patriar- chal' ethos of the codes, and miss the essentially religious and spiritual grounding of the practical advice given in order to express Christian values in a particular social context threatened by what was seen to be a dangerous rejection of the world and society as ordered by God (p. 39). But even if one recognizes the practical effort to address radi- calism in the community, is it not possible at the same time to address the loss that occurs when radicahsm is silenced in the categorical manner of the author of the Pas- torals? It would seem to me that the indiscriminate projecting back of later perspectives is not inevitable, and that the effort to maintain the authority of scripture is not neces- sarily undermined, when one illuminates scripture in terms of its ability to reveal alter- native visions of existence.

With that said, however, it must be recognized that Young has many insightful things to say about the difficulties and possibilities of moving from exegesis to appropri- ation of the Pastorals as scripture (pp. 145-61). In speaking about how these works map out important directions for the Christian tradition, Young calls for reading the Pastorals as texts with "Two Natures" (eternal and particular, divine and human) and suggests how they might provide guidance with respect to the "inculturation" of the gospel and the acceptance (though not unqualified) of the goodness of the social order. In addition, she explores how such values as constraint and service may have a role in modem com- munities. It is a clearly written book, informed by current research, and one that may be read profitably by undergraduate and specialist alike.

Margaret Y. MacDonald University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON KIN 6N5 Canada

The Theology of the Letters of Jams, Peter, andJude, by Andrew Chester and Ralph P. Martin. New Testament Theology. New York/Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xii + 189. N.P.

Chester and Martin have written another quality volume in the New Testament Theology Series edited by J. D. G. Dunn for Cambridge University Press. Chester investigates James (chaps. 14),and Martin analyzes Jude (chap. 5), 1Peter (chap. 6), and 2 Peter (chap. 7). Each letter is placed in its historical context, and its main themes are discussed in light of that context.

Chester decides that the author of the letter of James is probably not the brother of Jesus, although it may have an authentic letter by the apostle James at its core. The ietter

Journal of Biblical Literature

is representative of Jewish Christianity and is addressed to other Jewish Christians out- side Palestine, perhaps Syrian Antioch. It creatively uses the Jewish wisdom and early Jesus traditions in its pastoral exhortation, and demonstrates some familiarity with Pauline tradition, especially the doctrine ofjustification by faith.

Chester reminds us that the agenda of modem scholarship on James was set by Martin Luther and Martin Dibelius, both of whom unnecessarily despaired of finding theology in James. Although James has no sustained, overall theology, Chester does an outstanding job of elucidating the main theological emphases and their interconnec- tions, including eschatology; faith and works; ethics (speech; suffering, testing, and per- fection; wealth and poverty; law); wisdom; sin and human nature; ministry, worship, and organization; God; and Christ. He ably discusses the tension between James and Paul on faith and works and the proposed solutions to this tension, bringing the discussion into sharp focus. He concludes that whether James is attacking the Pauline gospel or a per- version of it, he still attacks positions that are Pauline. He finds James's main relevance today to be its urgent demand for true practice of the faith in self-giving love, especially in upholding the poor and oppressed against the rich and powerful. He concludes with a select bibliography.

Martin places the letter of Jude in early Palestinian Christianity, perhaps as the product of Jude, Jesus' brother. The letter is a polemical document meant to counter the doctrine of itinerant prophets. They espouse a realized eschatology that denies judg- ment and fosters immorality, and an individual spiritual authority that attacks divine and apostolic authority. Jude's polemic stresses maintaining the apostolic traditions, the cer- tainty of judgment, and Christian living as a preventive to falling away from the faith. Martin asserts that the itinerant prophets are akin to those of Didache 11-13 and that both documents give us "a window into first-century Jewish Christianity as it moved to a more settled, authoritatively based hierarchy of leaders connected with the Holy Family against the more free-wheeling, charismatically inspired prophetic movement that, from the standpoint of the Didache, is on the way out" (p. 83).

Martin considers 1Peter to be the unified product of a member of the Petrine school written to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor between 75 and 85 CE. As a result of becoming Christian, they were suffering from local persecution, unsure of their social status, and wrestling with theodicy. Martin convincingly asserts that 1Peter is not a bap- tismal address or a midrash on the church as the temple-community, but rather a theo- logical-ecclesiological document which demonstrates that the readers' hope and status are grounded in being part of God's people of both covenant ages who suffered for living out the faith in a hostile world according to the plan of God. The theology is discussed according to the topics of God, Christ, Holy Spirit, and Christian community. The treat- ment of the difficulties of 3:1&22 is particularly helpful (pp. 11G16).

Martin cogently identifies 2 Peter as a pseudonymous work of a Petrine school in the postapostolic era. It is a polemical letter that uses oracles of the Lord, apostolic tra- dition, and instruction linked with Peter to defend the doctrine of the parousia and judg- ment against false teachers. In light of the delay of the parousia, the false teachers espouse a realized eschatology that denied future judgment. Martin rejects the thesis of Kasemann that 2 Peter is "early Catholic," noting how Kasemann ignored the letter's eschatological nature. Theology is discussed in the categories of God as creator and judge, Christ, and authority and Christian living. Martin concludes with an annotated bibliography of key works on Jude and 1and 2 Peter.

Book Reviews 163

Although scant evidence makes any hypothesis about 2 Peter uncertain, I would question the hypothesis that the letter battles a realized eschatology that precludes judg- ment and that bases its moral claims on the premise that, since Christians share the nature of God (1:4), the resurrection is already past (pp. 140-44). There may be examples of eschatological skepticism leading to the denial of the resurrection in litera- ture contemporary with 2 Peter (e.g., Pol. Phil. 7:1), but there is little indication in the letter that the problem of morality is based on such a view. The text explicitly indicates a denial only of the parousia and its judgment, not the resurrection. Also, a realized escha- tology can just as easily foster a high as a low morality, especially if it is emphasized that Christian behavior should reflect the quality of the new life in Christ.

Regarding method, each of these four letters is placed within its historical setting and then its theology is thoroughly discussed according to categories of systematic theol- ogy. Quite rightly the theology is not isolated from the context it was intended to address, as if theology were merely a collection of timeless truths. Also, the current rele- vance of the theology of these letters does not escape notice.

More could have been said about the theology of these letters, however, if the argumentative strategies and the theologizing process that produced them had been taken into account. Among other things, the implicit and explicit premises of arguments, and the use of the OT and other traditional material are indicative of an author's broader theological concerns. In polemical and apologetic letters such as these, this additional approach may have as much to commend it as in the study of the theology of the Pauline epistles.

In any case, this volume is very highly recommended. The discussions are thor- ough, readable, and creative. The volume is a welcome contribution to the often neglected theology of these four letters and to NT theology as a whole.

Duane F. Watson Malone College, Canton, OH 44709

Christianizing Homer: The Odyssey, Plato, and the Acts of Andrew, by Dennis R. MacDonald. New YorkfOxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp. xvi + 352. $42.50.

When they have been read at all, the apocryphal acts of apostles have most often been dismissed as popular romances of little theological or literary significance-"litera- ture of the Great Unwashed," as Dennis MacDonald quips. In his Christianizing Homer, MacDonald sets out to overturn this scholarly consensus, in respect to at least one of the five earliest apocryphal acts. The Acts of Andrew, argues MacDonald, can scarcely be considered a work written by and for bumpkins. A site of elaborate inter- textual play, in which the cultural authority and narrative power of classical Greek mythology and literature are invoked, contested, and finally transformed, the Acts of Andrew is a sophisticated work that undertakes a deliberate "hypertextual transvalua- tion" of Homer's Odyssey. The subtlety of the characterization of the apostle Andrew as a new Odysseus depends on the intertextual web in which the Acts locates itself, estab- lishing a set of complex continuities and contrasts between the Christian protagonist and the precursor hero of the Homeric "hypotext," while at the same time opening up a dia- logue with other "target" texts, most notably the Phaedo of Plato. If, on MacDonald's

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