November 18, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Letters of Peter and Jude

John F. FinkThe Second Letter of St. Peter is read in the Office of Readings from Monday through Friday next week, the 34th and last week of Ordinary Time. The Letter of St. Jude is read on Saturday.

Did Peter, our first pope, really write this letter? That question has been debated ever since it first appeared, and the letter met with resistance when the New Testament canon was formed. Most modern scholars agree that, despite the fact that the opening verse attributes it to “Symeon Peter, a slave and Apostle of Jesus Christ,” it was actually written well after Peter’s death. It might be the latest work in the Bible.

The author certainly wanted people to believe he was Peter. Besides that opening verse, he also claims to have been an eyewitness to Jesus’ transfiguration. Alluding to God’s voice from heaven, he says, “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Pt 1:18).

Why doubt that Peter wrote it? It refers to the Apostles as “our ancestors” (2 Pt 3:2-4) and to a collection of St. Paul’s letters that appears to be well known, and that wasn’t true during Peter’s lifetime. There’s also a passage about false teachers (2 Pt 2:1-18) that’s very similar to the Letter of St. Jude (Jude 4-16), and biblical experts believe that Jude wrote it first.

Whether or not Peter wrote it, the letter, which is only three short chapters in length, contains good advice as well as earnest warnings. The Church eventually included it in the canon.

It begins with an exhortation for his readers to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love” (2 Pt 1:5-7).

Chapter 2 is a condemnation of those false teachers who try to lead people astray. The letter warns his readers that God will punish those who follow them, just as he punished the fallen angels, the sinners of Noah’s day, and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. He will, however, rescue the devout just as he did Noah and Lot.

Chapter 3 deals with the parousia, the promised second coming of Christ and the last judgment. The false teachers also denied the parousia to justify their licentiousness. The early Christians expected it to take place in their lifetimes, but, the letter says, they are all dead and it didn’t happen.

However, the letter says, it will happen eventually, but “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pt 3:8). Therefore, readers must be prepared at all times.

The Letter of Jude is a short 25 verses. In the first verse, the author identifies himself as “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1). James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and both of them were relatives of Jesus (see Mt 13:55 and Mk 6:3).

Jude felt himself forced by dangers from false teachers to write this warning against them. He concludes with a beautiful doxology. †

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