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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 53, 2005

DONALD P. SENIOR and DANIEL J. HARRINGTON, 1 Peter, Jude and 2 Peter. Sacra Pagina. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003). Pp. xv+315. $US39.95.

In the first half of the commentary, Donald P. Senior treats 1 Peter as a circular letter and a literary unity, as do most recent commentators. Authorship is attributed not to Peter or a “Petrine group” but to an individual anonymous writer in Rome in the last quarter of the first century CE. Many of the addressees were “fairly new converts” (p. 8). The designations “sojourners” or “aliens,” “strangers” and “diaspora” are all used metaphorically, although on a horizontal plane (social relations) not in a vertical dimension (earthly versus heavenly). The geographical terms of 1:1 refer to Roman provinces, even though Bithynia and Pontus had formed a single province since 63 BCE. Senior does not mention that, at the proposed time of composition, Cappadocia and Galatia were also combined (and had been since 72 CE). And he does not comment on textual variants in the list of places. The sequence of place-names reflects a circular route for the bearer of the letter. “Through Silvanus” (5:12) indicates the bearing, not the writing, of the letter, even if the letter is pseudonymous.

Senior’s view of the literary structure of the letter becomes evident not from the outline of paragraphs (p. 11, repeating the table of contents), but from scattered comments in the “Interpretation” sections: address (1:–2), thanksgiving (blessing) (1:–12), exhortation (1:1–2:10; 2:1–4:11, including household codes at 2:1–3:7), conclusion (4:1–5:14, including final greetings at 5:1–14). Correspondences of form, content and theology with Pauline writings are “best explained by contact with more general Christian tradition that itself may have been influenced by Paul’s letters” (pp. 1–13). However, Senior’s own extensive references give the impression that 1 Peter is indeed a deutero-Pauline letter. The commentator tends to gloss over the letter-writer’s attitude to slaves and women by presenting them as “a paradigm for the entire community” (p. 84; cf. 77, 87).

In the second half of the commentary, Daniel J. Harrington (also the Series editor) accepts the usual view that Jude is a major source for 2 Peter. Both writings are pseudepigraphical and come from the late first to early second century CE. They both confront internal issues. Jude, treated first, is a letter with features of a Jewish sermon and of a Greek or Latin speech. After the opening salutation (–2) and statement of purpose (–4), the writer uses examples (–13) and prophecies from Jewish tradition (1–19) to counteract the “intruders.” They seem to be radical Paulinists, who emphasise present salvation, see Christ as the end of the law, and understand themselves as truly spiritual and not subject to judgment. Such intruders probably “flourished in Asia Minor or Syria”; and the writing was composed “perhaps in the Holy Land” (p. 183).

2 Peter is a testament in the form of a letter although, like Jude, it lacks concluding epistolary features. In 2:–18 and 3:–3, material is borrowed from Jude –18. The writer’s main aim is to oppose false teachers, apparently Gentile Christians appealing to other Gentile Christians especially recent converts. Only at 3:4 does it become clear that the opponents “cast doubt upon the parousia of Jesus” (p. 284). The writer had already attacked the false teachers for their destructive heresies, immorality, and financial exploitation (pp. 23–34). Harrington hesitantly accepts the majority view that “1 Peter or something like it” is the first letter implied by 2 Pet 3:1 (p. 284). However, he acknowledges that the style and content of the two letters are “very different” and that “it is hard to find any direct influence” (p. 281). It is “plausible” that 2 Peter derives “from a Petrine ‘circle’ in Rome” (pp. 161, 236).

This is a cautiously moderate commentary treating the biblical texts paragraph by paragraph. It does not vie with the massive recent commentaries of P. J. Achtemeier and J. H. Elliott on 1 Peter (alone). Text-critical comment is kept to a minimum. Misprints occur mainly in transliterated Greek. Some grammatical comments could have been better expressed, especially those concerning imperatival participles. The commentary seems to be aimed more at “clergy, and religious educators” than at “biblical professionals, graduate students, theologians,” and indeed to be “shaped by the context of the Catholic tradition” (p. ix).

Review by
Darryl W. Palmer
The University of Melbourne VIC 3010, Australia