A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Eric Michalls
2 Peter and Jude are perhaps two of the most neglected books in the New Testament. Being located near the end of the New Testament, some may casually skip over these two letters to get to Revelation. Matthew Harmon puts it best when he says, “Many Bible readers conclude that 2 Peter and Jude are best treated like a distant relative that one sees occasionally but never goes out of the way to spend any significant time getting to know.”
Matthew Harmon contributes to the new Crossway series in New Testament Theology with his book The God Who Judges and Saves: A Theology of 2 Peter and Jude. Although short in length, Harmon provides an in-depth look at the major theological themes that tie these two letters together. In the introduction, Harmon contends that “the church today has much to learn from 2 Peter and Jude about how to live faithfully as followers of Jesus.” Since 2 Peter and Jude have extensive overlap in their material, Harmon thinks it best to discuss them together. However, he warns that “we must be careful this shared material not distract us from the different emphases in each letter.” I think this is a wise method for discussing these letters by noting the commonalities between the two letters while also noting how each author has different emphases.
Harmon structures his book around five key themes found in 2 Peter and Jude. Harmon attempts to show how each theme is developed within 2 Peter and Jude, while also trying to set that theme within the scope of the rest of Scripture. His desire is to demonstrate how both Peter and Jude were shaped by the rest of Scripture. Harmon admits that his book has a similar approach as James Hamilton’s book What is Biblical Theology? who defines biblical theology as “the interpretative perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.” Harmon borrows Hamilton’s goal for the biblical author “to catch a glimpse of the world as they saw it is to see the real world.”
In Chapter 1, Harmon traces the theme of “the Word of God” through 2 Peter and Jude. God gave his people a book and this book is God’s revelation to his people. Throughout the Scriptures, the theme of God speaking to his people is prevalent. From the Garden to the Consummation, God has spoken to his people. At the same time, God’s enemies seek to undermine or dismiss his Word. The serpent deceives Eve by undermining what God has said in the beginning to Satan’s destruction in Revelation. Harmon comments, “In the entire period between Eden and the new Eden God’s enemies actively seek to discredit or dismiss the word of God.” Even in 2 Peter and Jude, their opponents in some way try to undermine or dismiss the word of God, yet Peter and Jude voraciously defend the sufficient Word of God to their people. Harmon provides three characteristics of Scripture that tie these two letters together: (1) Scripture as Sufficient for Life and Godliness, (2) Scripture as a Powerful Human and Divine Word, and (3) Scripture as the Predictions of the Holy Prophets and the Commandment of the Lord Jesus. While space does not permit me to look at each section in depth, I will make a brief comment about each of these sections. Jude and Peter use Scripture in such a way which demonstrates how Scripture is sufficient for godliness. While their opponents teach the opposite, Peter and Jude’s use of the Scriptures shows its sufficiency for their people. In the second section, Harmon examines how Peter and Jude affirm that the Scriptures are a human and divine product. Jude and Peter use the Scriptures throughout their letter and each author affirms that God is the source of the Scripture, while man is its conduit. The last section examines how Peter “understood God’s word as having a twofold structure that anticipates what today we refer to as the Old and New Testament.” Harmon notes how in 2 Peter 3:2, Peter mentions the “predictions of the holy prophets,” which should be understood as a reference to the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The next reference is 2 Peter 3:16 where Peter acknowledges Paul’s letters as Scripture of equal authority with the Old Testament.
Harmon provides an excursus entitled “What Books Counted as Scripture?” near the end of the chapter. This excursus deals with the thorny issue of Jude’s citation of 1 Enoch. Having worked in this area for my dissertation, I really appreciated that Harmon included this section in this first chapter. An intelligent reader of Scripture will note that Jude cites directly from 1 Enoch. Some will ponder why Jude cites an extrabiblical source in his letter and might conclude that Jude sees 1 Enoch as authoritative. Yet Harmon does great work in thoroughly yet succinctly working through this issue.
Next, Harmon addresses the theme of “The God who Judges and Saves.” Harmon begins by noting the pervasive influence of moralistic therapeutic deism in today’s culture. He briefly summarizes the tenets of such belief and highlights that one of the greatest sins one can commit in this ideology is judging one another. Yet, and somewhat paradoxically, Harmon notes how when one is wronged, there is an inner desire for that wrong to be righted. He asserts, “Our God-given sense of need for justice remains in every single individual, no matter how aggressive the attempt to suppress it.” Harmon first examines the triune nature of God in 2 Peter and Jude, before examining the theme of “the God who Judges and Saves.” Harmon begins with each person of the Trinity and how each author expresses their role in their letter. While all three persons of the Trinity are briefly mentioned or inferred in these letters, it is God the Son that takes the primary focus for Peter and Jude. In Peter and Jude, they refer to the Son as kyrios or “Lord.” This prominent title is used throughout the LXX to translate God’s covenant name yhwh. After noting how each author references the three persons of the Trinity, he then discusses how the Triune God is in action. This section is helpful because it ties together how the three persons work together and how Jude and Peter point to this work.
Harmon devotes the rest of the chapter to tracing the theme of God who Judges and Saves throughout Peter and Jude. He does so by looking at each letter individually before providing a synthesis near the of the chapter. I really felt that this chapter is the heart of both Jude and 2 Peter. While they do discuss false teachers, the way in which Jude and Peter use OT figures along with noncanonical text to assert that God will indeed judge his enemies and save his people cannot be missed or understated. Harmon says it best that “God has a proven track record of judging his enemies and saving his people.”
Harmon turns his attention in chapter 3 to another major emphasis: false teaching. It will not take the casual reader long to see that Peter and Jude deal with false teaching. There have been numerous commentators discussing the nature and the identity of these false teachers and Harmon leaves those discussions for the commentators. Harmon summarizes what 2 Peter and Jude say about false teaching into five sections: the content, the core, the case studies, the cure, and compassion for those affected by false teaching. With each section, Harmon examines each letter individually and how Jude or Peter talk about false teaching. While space does not permit me to go through each section thoroughly, I do want to focus on the last section that Harmon discusses, namely, compassion for those affected by false teaching. It is easy to get lost in how Jude and Peter address the false teachers/teaching in their letters, especially in terms of how God will judge those false teachers at the coming of the Lord and be left pondering if there is any hope for those who have followed false teaching. Harmon does a good and necessary work in demonstrating how Jude and to an extent Peter provide a pastoral answer to those who have been led astray by false teachers/teaching. For example, Jude exhorts his audience to “have mercy on those who doubt,” “save others by snatching them out of the fire,” and “show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Harmon comments “Pursuing such a difficult course of action is possible only because God himself shows his people mercy while at the same time remaining perfectly pure and holy.” It is through the true gospel that believers can expose the false teaching and immoral lives of their opponents, while also being sufficient for life and godliness as we eagerly await the return of the Lord.
God’s Preservation of His Persevering People is the focus of chapter 4. The theme of God preserving his people is seen throughout the Old Testament. The Lord consistently promises that a remnant will be preserved even through his judgment. While Harmon provides several avenues in how God preserves his people, it is God’s preservation of his people in the face of false teaching and false worship that applies to Jude and 2 Peter. Harmon provides several Old Testament examples where God preserved a remnant of his people in the midst of false worship, such as the golden calf, or Balaam’s curses turned into blessings. This preservation by God is central in Jude when he writes they are “kept by Jesus Christ.” In addition to God preserving his people, God’s people will persevere until the end.
Harmon dedicates the last chapter to the theme of “the new heavens and the new earth.” Jude and Peter use language that points to the coming day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is a common theme found rooted in the Old Testament and gives insight into some of the language in 2 Peter and Jude. On the day of the Lord, Harmon writes, “the day of the Lord [is] when God brings judgment on Jerusalem is a shadow of the great and final day of the Lord when he will do so on all creation.” The most relevant passage in 2 Peter is 2 Peter 3, where Peter addresses the false teacher’s teaching on the day of the Lord. Jude refers to the day of the Lord once in Jude 6. However, Harmon notes that Jude possibly references the day of the Lord in his benediction. Perhaps the best section of the chapter is subtitled, “Living in Light of the Day.” Harmon writes, “Eschatology leads to ethics.” A proper understanding of the glorious return of Christ should always lead to faithful living during the last days. And 2 Peter and Jude encourage their audience to live in light of the second coming of Christ, yet also warns false teachers of their impending judgment.
While there is not much I find disagreeable in Harmon’s book, some might find that he often uses the same passage(s) to support one or more themes. I do not think that this repetition is necessarily a hindrance to the overall’s book message. In fact, it brings greater understanding of how these themes are woven together in each book.
In the end, Matthew Harmon accomplishes what he intended to do in the introduction. That is to show how “the church today has much to learn from 2 Peter and Jude about how to live faithfully as followers of Jesus.” He does so by examining the text of each letter, and how they called believers to be aware of false teachers, avoid their teachers, and trust in Christ alone for their hope and salvation. This book is a great addition to studies dedicated to 2 Peter and Jude.
Buy the books
THE GOD WHO JUDGES AND SAVES: A THEOLOGY OF 2 PETER AND JUDE, by Matthew S. Harmon