Early Christian Letters for Everyone:
James, Peter, John and Judah
London: SPCK, 2011.
Available at Amazon.com
The next installment in Tom Wright’s “For Everyone” Series are the Catholic epistles of James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Judah (a.k.a. Jude). They are written in Wright’s normal sermonic prose, easy to read, full of gems of reflection, and not at all dense or technical. Here are some highlights:
On James 2.14-26: “So it becomes clear that what James means by ‘faith’ in this passage is not what Paul and others developed as a full, Jesus-shaped meaning; it is the basic ancient Jewish meaning, the confession of God as ‘one’ … It wasn’t a bare acknowledgement of God, but rather an active friendship (verse 23, referring to passages like Isaiah 41.8). That friendship, embodied in the ‘covenant’ which God established in Genesis 15.7-20 and reaffirmed in 22.15-18, is the basis for what James, like Paul, calls ‘justification’, God’s declaration that a person is a member of the covenant, is’ in the right’, is part of God’s forgiven family.”
On 1 Peter 2.18-25: “This is one of the clearest statements in the whole New Testament of the fact that Jesus, the Messiah, took upon himself the punishment that his people deserved. As Israel’s Messiah, and hence the world’s true Lord, he alone could represent all the others. He alone could, completely appropriately, stand in for them.”
On 1 Peter 4.1-11: “The pagan world can look on when a Christian dies and say, ‘There you are! Now what’s happened to your splendid “hope”?’ It may even look, to the pagan, as though the Christians have lost the struggle. But these Christians, now dead, had already received the powerful word of the gospel which was preached to them during their lifetime (1.23-25). Thus, even though bodily death has come to them as a form of ‘judgment’ (compare Romans 8.10), their believing in the gospel during their lifetime means that now, by God’s spirit, they are alive in God’s presence, awaiting the resurrection which is yet to come.”
On 2 Peter 1.1-11: “Some people doubt that it was written by Peter himself, but several parts of it indicate that it is indeed supposed to come from him in some sense, even if he didn’t physically write it himself.”
On 1 John 2.3-14: “For John, as for Paul, and above all as for Jesus, the commandments are all summed up in one word: Love. The Life of God’s New Age is revealed as the Love of God’s New Age. All other commandments – the detail of what to no and not to do – are the outflowing of this love, the love which has been newly revealed in Jesus, the love which God now intends should be revealed in and through all those who follow Jesus.”
On 1 John 5.13-21: “The true God. The one Jesus. The life of the age to come. Love given, love passed on. This is where we stand. This is the witness of John.”
On Judah 1-4: “I have something of that sense of a loss of innocence when I read this letter. We would prefer, I think, to be able to take the gospel forward, to explain and expound it, to speak of the glorious achievement of God in Jesus the Messiah, to encourage people to a clear and powerful witness and to lives of faith, hope and love. That is the exhilarating task. But Judah represents a moment where we sense a change of mood. Things are going wrong. What seemed easy before now seems dark and difficult.”
I’m curious to see how Wright teases out the authorship issue of 2 Peter and I wonder if calling Jude Judah will catch on!