Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter,1-3 John, and Jude as Canon, Darian R. Lockett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: A study of the catholic epistles, arguing that they ought be read together and exploring their shared themes and particular emphases.
The books between Hebrews and Revelation, known as the catholic epistles, often seem to get less attention, except perhaps for James, 1 Peter, and 1 John. There were questions early on about the canonicity of some of the books. In contemporary scholarship, books on the gospels and Pauline subjects seem to be in the preponderance.
Darian R. Lockett contends that not only were these books accepted into the canon as a collection but that they ought be read as a collection that concern common themes of concern to all the churches of the day–hence “catholic.” He gives a brief history of the early church’s discussion about affirming these books as part of the canon and talks about their importance as scripture, as instruction on resisting false teaching inside and outside the church, and for their emphasis on practiced faith.
Although a scholarly work, offering bibliographies for further reading and “going deeper” sidebars, Lockett has designed the book for reading through the catholic epistles in one’s study. A chapter is offered on each of the epistles, except for a combined chapter on 2 and 3 John. Each chapter includes discussion of authorship, audience, setting, and the occasion for the letter, the structure and outline of the letter and then a section by section commentary on the text, with further reading suggestions for each letter at the end of the chapter. While reviewing the alternatives in terms of authorship, Lockett seems to prefer the traditionally attributed authors (including Peter for 2 Peter). He does make an interesting case for 2 Peter as testamentary literature based on 2 Peter 1:12-15, comparing it to parallels. Regarding James, he offers a “going deeper” discussion on justification, comparing James and Paul in terms of their use of “righteousness.” He addresses the shared material in 2 Peter and Jude, believing that 2 Peter draws this from Jude but notes addresses different challenges–false teachers inside the Christian community in 2 Peter as opposed to the intruders from outside in Jude.
The commentary is well-suited for reading along with the text, dealing with key textual issues without becoming technical and tracing significant arguments and themes. Both in discussions of each letter and in a concluding chapter, Lockett traces recurring themes in the catholic epistles, the major of which are:
- Love for one another
- Enduring trial
- Allegiance to God and the world incompatible to each other
- Faith and works
- Guarding against false teaching
I have studied these books individually but had never considered studying them as a canonical unit. Lockett makes a strong case for doing so and provides a great resource for those interested in making such a study. As I read along in the biblical text, his argument rang true–I had never observed the connections apart from the shared content in 2 Peter and Jude. Lockett’s book serves as a great introduction to reading this less familiar part of the New Testament.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.