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 James, 1-2 Peter, and Jude

James is again one of those books that I preached through twice early in my pastoral ministry but have not spent time studying in recent years.

The commentaries that helped me most my first time through were James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1976, 227), Sophie Laws, A Commentary on the Epistle of James in Harper's New Testament Commentaries (Harper & Row, 1980, 273 pp.), D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith (Moody Press, 1979, 354 pp.), and Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James NIGTC (Eerdmans, 1982, 226 pp.). One other very helpful treatment, now out of print, was the slender volume by Leslie Mitton. If you can find it used, get it.

Two more recent commentaries are probably the first you should purchase. Ralph P. Martin has written for the Word Biblical Commentary series (Word Books, 1988, 240 pp.), and Douglas J. Moo for the Pillar series (Eerdmans, 2000, 271 pp.). Moo, as always, is the best, but unfortunately only 204 pages of the 271 total are devoted to commentary.

If I were to preach through James again today I'd start with Moo, Martin, and Davids, and devote time also to reading through Mitton.

I'm happy to say that there is certainly no shortage of excellent works on 1 Peter. My joy is due to the fact that beginning January 4, 2009, I will be preaching through 1 Peter at Bridgeway Church here in Oklahoma City (all sermons, by the way, will be available via Podcast on our church website,

Thus far I can say with some measure of confidence that the best evangelical treatment of 1 Peter is Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude in The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman, 2003, 512 pp.). My only regret is that of the 512 pages only 203 are devoted to actual commentary on 1 Peter. But Tom is so good that even when he speaks briefly he speaks with profound insight.

Close behind Schreiner is J. Ramsey Michaels in the Word Biblical Commentary series (Word Books, 1988, 337 pp.), although he is inclined to date the epistle toward the close of the first century. I had very high hopes for Karen H. Jobes in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2005, 364 pp.) when it was first released. But when I discovered that she devoted less than a page of study to 1 Peter 1:8 (one of the most profoundly influential texts in my life), my anticipation turned to disappointment. I hope my feelings about her contribution will change in the weeks and months ahead.

Another very helpful, moderately technical, treatment is Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter NICNT (Eerdmans, 1990, 266 pp.). I have to point out, yet again, that only 161 pages are devoted to actual commentary (in case you hadn't noticed the trend, often times scholars spend more space on introductory matters, seemingly endless bibliographies, together with lengthy appendices of all sorts than they do interacting with the text itself).

Scot McKnight has written an excellent treatment of 1 Peter in the NIV Application series (Zondervan, 1996, 295 pp.). However, he largely embraces John Elliott's thesis that "aliens and strangers" or "sojourners and exiles" is not so much a metaphorical reference to the audience's earthly existence as they await the true home of heaven as it is a literal description of their social status as marginalized, disenfranchised workers who lived without rights in a land where they lacked the benefits of citizenship. This thesis is developed at considerable length in the massive work by Elliott in the Anchor Bible series (Doubleday, 2000, 956 pp.). Nearly 275 pages of Elliott's volume are something other than commentary, but that still leaves him with over 675 pages of insightful treatment of the text.

The most recent work on Peter is Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter (IVP, 2007, 432 pp.). I've only read the Introduction in which Witherington breaks rank from modern scholarly consensus and argues at length for the Jewish identity of Peter's audience. Most believe Peter was writing to converted Gentiles.

The best mid-level commentary is Wayne A. Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter: Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (IVP, 1988, 239 pp.). This series is short by design, so that aside from the 36 page appendix on Christ's proclamation to the "spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:18-22) there are only 155 of commentary. Still, Grudem is extremely helpful in terms of theological synthesis. I don't own it, but I've read good things about I. Howard Marshall's short commentary in the IVP New Testament Commentary series (IVP, 1990). Carson describes it as "superb".

It ought to be fairly clear where I think most pastors should begin. If you have Schreiner, Michaels, Davids, McKnight, and Grudem, you are well on your way to gaining a good grasp of this important NT epistle.

As for 2 Peter and Jude, Schreiner is the place to start, although it's hard to put him above Richard Bauckham who wrote for the Word Biblical Commentary series (Word Books, 1983, 357 pp.). You should be forewarned that Bauckham denies that Peter wrote the second epistle that bears his name. His commentary on Jude in this volume is the best! Doug Moo in the NIV Application commentary series (Zondervan, 1996, 316 pp.) will be the work of choice for those who struggle with Greek.

Subsequent to the release of Carson's commentary survey, two technical and very good commentaries on 2 Peter - Jude have become available, both of which incline toward affirming Petrine authorship of the epistle. Peter H. Davids has written for the Pillar series (Eerdmans, 2006, 348 pp.) and Gene Green, of Wheaton College, has written for the Baker Exegetical series (Baker, 2008, 420 pp.). And if you are preaching through Jude, don't forget to get hold of Thomas Manton, in any one of several reprinted editions.