A Book Review from Books at a Glance
by Thomas Haviland-Pabst
Jörg Frey is an eminent German New Testament scholar who serves as Professor of New Testament at the University of Zurich. He is most known for his focus on the Johannine writings with The Glory of the Crucified One: Christology and Theology in the Gospel of John, Studies in Early Christianity (Baylor-Mohr Siebeck, 2018) as representative of his efforts. Thus, as he notes, this commentary on the oft-neglected letters of Jude and 2 Peter is something a detour from his usual scholarly interests. With this volume, we have the first English translation of his 2015 contributions to the German series Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament (THKNT).
The subtitle’s suggestion that this is a theological commentary is somewhat misleading as it is in the main a regular commentary, with the expected introductions, verse-by-verse commentary and the occasional excursus. Frey makes the case that theological discussion of the letters provides something that is lacking in other commentaries hence the subtitle.
Placing Jude in the genre of a letter, he divides it into three main sections: (I) Epistolary Prescript (vv. 1-2); (II) Letter Body (vv. 3-23); and (III) Closing Doxology In Place of Letter Closing (vv. 24-25).
He argues against Bauckham (1983; 1990) that the identification of Jude with the actual brother of James, the brother of Jesus, is “extremely improbable” (29). Rather, Frey argues that the letter of Jude is a case of pseudepigrapha. He further argues both against a pre-70 AD date for and authentic authorship of the letter by marshaling as evidence against them the statement of v. 17 (“the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ”) and v. 3b (“the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”) as pointing to an era after the apostles.
He notes that adherents to authorial authenticity date the letter between 55-65 AD and even as late as 80 AD. In contrast, he argues that given its unspecified authorship, the reference to James (Jude 1) and the fact that it clearly precedes 2 Pet (which, according to Frey, uses Jude as a source) suggests a date of 100-120 AD. It is my opinion that the statements of vv. 3b and 17 suggest a later date (i.e., 80 AD) while still in the era of the apostles (esp. John) and that Frey’s arguments against authentic authorship are overstated at best. Moreover, Jude’s emphases fit the concerns one finds in such later (post-70 AD) NT writings as 1 John.
Intriguingly, Frey, despite his hesitancy to categorize the opponents as depicted in Jude’s letter as early Gnostics or Jewish Christians, argues that they are “people whose transgression of boundaries with respect to the recognition of the powers in the cosmic order not only signifies their arrogance, indeed, their denial of Christ and God, but must also bring with it a moral collapse” (42).
Seeing the primary genre of 2 Peter as a letter, he divides it into three parts: (I) Letter Opening (1:1-11); (II) Letter Body (1:12-3:13); and (III) Letter Closing (3:14-3:18). Frey argues for the dependence of 2 Pet on Jude as well as the Apocalypse of Peter (ca. 132-135 AD) and states that 1 Peter cannot share the same authorship as 2 Pet given differences of language and style. By postulating these sources for 2 Peter, highlighting its difference with 1 Pet, and noting the phrases “your apostles” (2 Pet 3:2) and “the fathers” (3:4), Frey predictably states that 2 Pet “is a pseudonymous text” (217). Moreover, due to these considerations and the lack of attestation “among the authors of the late second century” (221), he dates 2 Pet between 140-160 AD. Regarding the situation of the letter, he makes the case that the opponents of 2 Pet denied the Parousia and the day of judgment and therefore embraced immorality. Unlike Jude, in which the opponents came from outside, “they appear to be,” Frey writes, “anchored in the communities” (232).
There are several positive aspects to Frey’s commentary on these letters. First, he provides a careful, thorough reading of the texts in conversation with current scholarship. Even if one disagrees with him on many points, one will always find food for thought and an erudite exposition of these letters from what is obviously a critical perspective. As such, this will likely become a standard commentary from a critical perspective for years to come, especially given the fact that he at various points challenges the widely acclaimed work of Richard Bauckham in these letters.
Second, he is not afraid to challenge the textual-critical decisions of the newest critical Greek text of the New Testament: the NA28. Most notably, he persuasively argues against the decision of NA28 to depart from NA27 by including οὐχ before εὑρεθήσεται in 2 Pet 3:10d resulting in the rendering “will not be exposed” (cf. “will be exposed” ESV). Third, he makes a cogent case for the positions of the opponents of Jude and 2 Peter, respectively.
Fourth, Frey’s close reading of Jude’s use of 1 Enoch and other noncanonical writings contributes to scholarship by connecting them with other Jewish writings. For example, he argues that “they walked in the way of Cain” in v. 11 reflects “the postbiblical tradition of Judaism” which regards Cain as “the prototypical sinner and temper into sin [e.g., Wis 10:3]” (105). Frey’s work here substantiates the view that Jude’s purpose in citing these various texts and alluding to haggadic interpretations of OT texts is not because he saw them as divinely inspired or quasi-canonical but rather to support his overall argument.
Fifth, Frey’s comparison of Jude with 2 Pet as well as his exegesis of them both demonstrates that, while there is a clear connection between these two texts, they also make distinct contributions to the broader teaching of the NT. Sixth, Frey compellingly argues that Jude and 2 Peter assume a high Christology.
The greatest weakness of this large commentary is its critical stance. Consistently, he rejects the conversative exegesis of such scholars as Richard Bauckham and Thomas Schreiner. Therefore, this ought not be the first commentary for a busy pastor or interested layman to consult. Even thought at times Frey offers insight into the text, this work will be most useful for scholars, though the thoughtful and discerning lay reader will find it helpful at points. In sum, for the scholar of the NT, Jude and/or 2 Peter, this will likely become essential reading given its depth of discussion and breadth of engagement with scholarship. For the layman or pastor, it would be best to consult the commentaries by Bauckham, Davids, Schreiner or Green unless one is desiring to work through an advanced critical commentary on Jude and 2 Peter.
Buy the books
THE LETTER OF JUDE AND THE SECOND LETTER OF PETER: A THEOLOGICAL COMMENTARY, by Jörg Frey