Chapter 14: The Non-Pauline Epistles
Every classification demands a decision on the part of the classifier, for classifications do not ‘just happen’. They are, or should be, intentional; they must result from various kinds of decisions made by the student in relation to his materials. Thus we have already made one kind of decision when we classified Ephesians, in spite of important difficulties, with the Pauline epistles. We are making another kind of decision when we classify the Pastoral Epistles (to Timothy and to Titus) along with Hebrews as non-Pauline. (1) We are not altogether justified in treating the Pastorals and Hebrews together, for the objections to the Pastorals have arisen chiefly in modern times; ancient Christians, who in general knew Greek better than we do, had no difficulty in regarding the Pastorals as authentically Pauline, while they regarded Hebrews as written by someone else. (2) We are not altogether justified in treating any of them as non-Pauline, for the Pastorals explicitly represent themselves as by Paul while Hebrews does so by implication.
In spite of these difficulties, the weight of which we recognize, we are still going to view the Pastorals as probably written by someone other than Paul and Hebrews as certainly written by someone else. This is not to say that the doctrines set forth in these letters are totally non-Pauline, or that the documents must somehow be regarded as inferior to the Pauline epistles. It is simply to say that as far as we can tell they reflect conceptions of Christianity which are not completely identical with Paul’s. The situation might be different if with Marcion we held that the only authentic version of Christianity was Paul’s; but in our view a doctrine does not have to be Pauline to be either true or Christian.
The Pastoral Epistles
In the seventeenth century the title ‘pastoral’ was given to the letters addressed to Timothy and Titus because one of their chief concerns is the duty of pastors in the Church. In this respect they are unlike the other Pauline epistles, which — with the exception of Philemon — are addressed to entire communities (though it should be noted that Philippians is written to the saints ‘with the bishops and deacons’).
The Pastorals have certainly been regarded as Paul’s since the latter half of the second century, for they were so used by Theophilus of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons and are to be found in the Muratorian list. Before that time they were open to criticism. From Tertullian we hear that the Gnostics Basilides (c. 130) and Marcion (c. 140) rejected them, though his statement may mean no more than that both did not know them. According to Jerome, Tatian (c. 170) accepted only the letter to Titus. Furthermore, though close parallels to them are to be found in the letter of Polycarp (early second century), he does not ascribe such passages to Paul, and it has been suggested (by von Campenhausen) that Polycarp himself wrote the Pastorals. In any event, the parallels do not fully prove that he knew these letters — though we must remember that Christian writers generally are fond of making allusions to New Testament writings instead of quoting them explicitly. The text of the Pastorals has been transmitted along with that of the other Pauline letters except in one instance.
The possible place of the Pastoral Epistles in the third-century Beatty codex of the Pauline letters raises some fascinating problems about ancient books. The codex was made by creating a pile of papyrus leaves and folding it in the middle to create a book. The outside leaves are lost, but since the pages were numbered by the scribe we know how many there were. Papyrus pages were made by gluing together two papyrus leaves; on the front the grain went across; on the back it went vertically. In this codex the front pages (also called the ‘recto’) are given even numbers, the back pages (‘verso’), odd. Therefore the first page was not numbered but either was blank or bore a title. Since seven leaves (fourteen pages) are missing at the beginning, an equal number must be missing at the end.
So much for the missing pages. What does the book contain? It contains Romans, Hebrews, I-II Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and I Thessalonians (a most unusual sequence). Unfortunately part of the title of the last letter is lost, and we cannot tell whether it read ‘To the Thessalonians’ or ‘To the Thessalonians, I’. What we have of the codex ends with the last verse of I Thessalonians, eight lines down from the top of the page. Since at this point the scribe was writing about thirty-two lines to a page, there was room for a title and about twenty more lines of some letter.
Therefore there was room in the rest of the codex for either 143/4 more pages of Pauline epistles or — if the scribe left the last page blank, like the first — for 133/4 pages. The length of other Pauline epistles in his writing has been calculated, and the following possibilities are available:
II Thessalonians 43/4
I Timothy . . . 81/4
II Timothy . .. 6
Titus . . . 31/2
Philemon . . . 11/2
But since, as far as we know, no question was ever raised about II Thessalonians in the ancient church, it must be included. The possibilities are then as follows:
II Thessalonians + I Timothy 13
II Thessalonians + II Timothy + Titus 141/4
II Thessalonians + II Timothy + Philemon 131/4
We may be tempted to leave out Philemon because it is so badly attested in the second century and because debates later arose about its inspiration; but we must finally — after all these calculations — remember that if the scribe wrongly calculated the number of pages for his book he could glue on others at the end. Moreover, it looks as if he did miscalculate; his writing gets smaller as he nears the end, and this process suggests that he was aware that he did not have enough room.
The upshot of this analysis is that while we definitely know that the Pauline epistles were arranged peculiarly in the Beatty codex, we do not know that they did not include the Pastorals.
The style of the letters is exhortatory and rather monotonous. As compared with the other Pauline epistles, the Pastorals contain more abstract formulations and fewer images and metaphors; conjunctions occur less frequently. The thought is not sustained beyond the limit of the individual paragraph. The letters to Timothy begin with the unusual formula of salutation ‘grace, mercy, peace’, and only II Timothy contains the prayer of thanksgiving with which all the Pauline letters (except Galatians) begin.
As for the vocabulary of the letters, it is ‘absolutely homogeneous’ (Morgenthaler). The three letters contain 3,482 words and employ a vocabulary of 901 words. This vocabulary includes 306 words not found in the other Pauline epistles (thirty-three per cent, considerably higher than any other letter) and 335 words not found elsewhere in the New Testament, again a high proportion. The ‘new’ words generally reflect a level of literary culture higher than that found either in the other Pauline epistles or in the rest of the New Testament. In the Pastorals we find a quotation from Epimenides (Tit. 1:12) and possible allusions to Euripides, Pindar, and Menander. (Furthermore, in I Timothy 5:18, Luke 10.7 seems to be regarded as scripture [cf. I Cor. 9:14, however, for an allusion to the same oral tradition]; Luke used Mark, and Mark was written after the death of Paul but the quotation may not be from Luke.)
The historical situation implied by the letters cannot be reconciled with anything in the other Pauline epistles or in Acts, though there are some parallels. (1) From II Timothy it would appear that Paul is a prisoner in Rome (1:17), where he has already made his ‘first defence’ (4.16) and now expects to be ‘sacrificed’ (4:6). He has recently visited Troas (4:13; cf. Acts 20:5) and Miletus (4:20; cf. Acts 20:16-17). Luke is with him; Demas has deserted him; and he asks Timothy to bring Mark (4:10-11; cf. Col. 4:10-14; Acts 15:37-9). He has sent Tychicus to Ephesus (4:12; cf. Eph. 6:21-2; Col. 4:7). Obviously the situation and the parallels can be explained in either of two ways. (a) After his ‘first defence’ at Rome, Paul was released and revisited Asia Minor; the situation resembles that depicted in Colossians and Ephesians because the two situations actually were similar. (b) A forger made use of Colossians and Ephesians in order to create an impression of verisimilitude.
(2) I Timothy depicts Paul as having left Timothy at Ephesus when he himself went to Macedonia (1:3); this situation vaguely resembles what we find in Acts 20: 1-6, but is not very close to it. He hopes to visit Ephesus soon (3:14, 4:13).
(3) According to Titus 1:5, Paul has left Titus in Crete (cf. Acts 27:8-11) and now plans to spend the winter at Nicopolis, on the Adriatic coast of Greece; this notice may possibly be related to the mention of Illyricum in Romans 15:19.
It should also be noted that in II Timothy 3:11 Paul reminds Timothy of what befell him at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra. This statement clearly recalls Acts 13-14 and 16:1-2. But if the account in Acts is historically reliable, we should expect such resemblances to exist.
The basic historical difficulty presented by the Pastorals arises in relation to what Paul did after the two years at Rome during which he preached and taught ‘openly and unhindered’ (Acts 28:30-1). He intended to go on from Rome to Spain (Rom. 12:23-9); according to the probable meaning of I Clement 5.7 he actually did so. Then did he also return to the East? (1) According to Romans 15:23 he no longer had any room for work in that region; did he change his mind? (2) According to Acts 20:25 the elders of Ephesus would see his face no more; apparently he did not expect to return to Asia Minor. Here again we must allow for the possibility that this ‘farewell address’ was actually followed either by a return or by the expectation of a return. It has often been observed that human events are not absolutely predictable. We should conclude that while the historical situation implied by the Pastorals presents some difficulties, they are not insurmountable.
The Pastorals also reflect a situation in the life of the church which seems to be later than what is found in the major Pauline epistles — though we should beware of assuming that all churches ‘developed’ in the same way or at the same time. (1) There are semi-Gnostics at Ephesus and in Crete (cf. I Tim. 6:20), chiefly Jewish in outlook (Tit. 1:10); they devote themselves to Jewish myths (Tit. 1:14) to ‘myths and endless genealogies’ (I Tim. 1:4, cf. 4:7; Tit. 3:9); they desire to be teachers of the Law (I Tim. 4:7). They proclaim a kind of ‘realized eschatology’, saying that the resurrection has already taken place (II Tim. 2:18), and they advocate abstinence from marriage and from meats (I Tim. 4:4). This picture resembles what we find in the letters of Ignatius. On the other hand, it also resembles certain features of the thought of the opponents of Paul at Corinth and at Colossae, and since we do not know precisely where or when this kind of ‘incipient Gnosticism’ originated we cannot be certain that Paul did not encounter it. (2) The organization of the churches is somewhat different from that reflected in the major Pauline epistles, where the word ‘presbyter’ never occurs and ‘bishops and deacons’ are mentioned only in Philippians 1:1. In the Pastorals there is one bishop in each community (I Tim. 3:1-4; Tit. 1:7) and several deacons (I Tim. 3:8-13). There are also presbyters, in Crete appointed by Titus (1:5); some of them ‘preside well’ (I Tim. 5:17). They are agents of ordination; Timothy was to govern the Ephesian community because prophecy pointed towards him (I Tim. 5:18), but the gift of ordination was given him ‘with the imposition of the hands of the presbytery’ (4:14). He himself was to ‘lay hands quickly’ on no one (5:22); thus he, like the (other?) presbyters, could ordain. The situation seems to be one in which all bishops are presbyters but not all presbyters are bishops. It is thus almost exactly analogous to what we find in Acts 20:17 and 28 and in I Clement. The question, then, is whether or not this situation existed in Paul’s lifetime. To answer this question the only evidence we possess lies in the Pastorals themselves.
Our basic difficulty lies in the fact that the word ‘bishop’, used of a church officer, occurs only four times in the New Testament (Acts 20.28, Phil. 1:1, I Tim. 3:2, Tit. 1:7); the word ‘presbyter (elder) is used of Christian ministers in Acts ten times and in the Pastorals three times (elsewhere in the New Testament, six times); and the word ‘deacon’ (servant) is not found in Acts but is used in the major Pauline epistles seven times of Paul, five times of other individuals, twice of Christ, once of Jewish-Christian leaders, and once of local officers as a group (with bishops). It occurs four times in the Pastorals. This evidence may not be adequate for bearing the burden of a picture of the early ministry in which clear-cut distinctions were always either maintained or ignored. We have Paul’s testimony; we have the testimony of the Apostolic Fathers. It may not be possible for us to work from either end in such a way as to reject the evidence given by the Pastorals, or to date it late.
As for the religious outlook of the author of the Pastorals, it is somewhat different from that of Paul as expressed in the other letters. Sound doctrine is important, and it is expressed in the rather stereotyped ‘trustworthy sayings’ (I Tim. 1:15, 3:1, 4:9; II Tim. 2:11; Tit. 3:8). In other letters Paul certainly employs watchwords, but they are not used so formally. In the Pastorals there is an emphasis on ‘godliness’ or ‘religion’ (‘eusebeia’, ten times; not elsewhere in Paul; in other New Testament writings, only Acts once and II Peter, four times). At the same time, other differences are often exaggerated because some aspects of Paul’s thought are neglected. Could he have said, ‘The law is good if one uses it lawfully’ (I Tim. 1:8)? In Romans 7:12 he wrote that ‘the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good’ (cf. 8:4, ‘the just requirement of the law’). Could he have urged anyone to ‘aim at righteousness, faith, love and peace’ (II Tim. 2:22) — since these are gifts of God or fruits of the Spirit? But, though God effects the will and the work, Paul instructs Christians to work out their own salvation in Philippians 2:12-13.
Given the existence of slightly changed circumstances, he could have recommended adherence to an orderly way of life, required not only of church officers but also of Christian women (e.g., I Tim. 2:9-15), especially of widows, enrolled on the church’s list (I Tim. 5-9) of slaves (6:1-2), and of the rich (6:17-19). Indeed, ‘sound doctrine’ means especially the observance of mutual responsibilities (Tit. 2:1-10).
To be sure, in his major epistles he did not speak of ‘the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (II Tim. 3:15), nor did he suggest that perseverance was essential for salvation (I Tim. 4:16), nor did he speak of baptism as ‘the washing of regeneration’ (Tit. 3:5). In the Pastorals the Spirit is hardly ever mentioned, and where it is it is primarily related to sound doctrine.
It cannot be denied that the tone of the Pastorals is different from that of the earlier letters. And yet the tone of the earlier letters is not uniform. The phrase ‘dikaiosyne theou’ (‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ of God) appears eight times in Romans and only once in the other epistles. The verb ‘dikaioo’ occurs fifteen times in Romans, eight times in Galatians, twice in I Corinthians, and thereafter, or earlier, only twice — in the Pastoral epistles. Similarly the word ‘nomos’ (‘law’) appears seventy-two times in Romans, thirty-two times in Galatians, nine times in I Corinthians, three times in Colossians, once in Ephesians, but nowhere else in the Pauline epistles — except for two instances in I Timothy. We cite these statistics not as an index of authenticity but simply to recall that Paul’s concerns varied and that Romans and Galatians are not the only letters he wrote.
Those who do not believe that Paul can have written the Pastoral Epistles must remember (1) the difficulty of proving non-authenticity by statistics, (2) the genuine gaps in the knowledge we possess about early Christianity in the first century, and (3) the warning possibly provided by a parallel case in classical philology:
About a hundred years ago the German scholar Otto Ribbeck conjectured that half a dozen of the later satires were not by Juvenal at all but by a forger who copied something of his manner without equaling his spirit. He was right, but the copyist was Juvenal himself, imitating his earlier work after the passion that inspired it had died away.’(Gilbert Highet, Juvenal the Satirist [Oxford, 1954], 4-5.)
In reassessing the ‘assured results’ of older New Testament scholarship, what seemed almost self-evident to it is often to be viewed with some caution.
On the other hand, those who accept these letters as Pauline must consider the real difficulties provided by (1) their style and vocabulary, (2) their historical situation, and (3) their theological outlook. If they were written by Paul, they were almost certainly written by a Paul who was somehow different from (older than?) the author of the major epistles. And if this is so, the theological problem posed by a changing or developing apostle must be faced. The major emphases of the Pastoral Epistles are by no means the same as those expressed in any one of the earlier letters, or in the earlier letters as a group.
In Hebrews there are 4,942 words, with a rich vocabulary of 1,038 words.’ The author’s favourite words — in Greek alphabetical order — are ‘blood’, ‘high priest’, ‘covenants’ or ‘testament’ (‘diatheke’), ‘promise’, ‘sacrifice’ (noun), ‘priest’, ‘better’ (‘kreisson’), ‘offer’ (of a sacrifice), and ‘tent’ or ‘tabernacle’. The special subject matter of Hebrews explains its inclusion of ‘high priest’, ‘priest’, ‘offer’, and ‘tabernacle’, all absent from the Pauline epistles.
The style of Hebrews is literary, almost classical, and is completely different from that of Paul. Greek rhetoricians employed the expressions used in Hebrews to indicate transitions, for example ‘about this we have much to say . .’ (5:11), ‘flow the point in what we are saying is this’ (8:1), and ‘what more shall I say? Time would fail me’ (11:32). There are long periods of a kind lacking in Paul (1:1- 4; 6:16 -20; 7:1-3; 10:19-25), as well as an interesting tendency, noted by Cadbury, to conclude a clause with the name of Jesus (seven instances). The author seems to pay attention to assonance, rhyming endings, and even to rhythm. Anacoluthon, fairly common in Paul, is absent here, and the formulas for introducing Old Testament citations are quite different from his.
The document can be outlined in various ways, but the best arrangement is that provided by paying attention to the author’s own indications, especially his use of rhetorical periods at the beginning or the end of various sections and his employment of connectives. The result is as follows:
I. Revelation through the Son of God (Jesus, not mentioned until 2:9) is superior to revelation through the prophets, as the Son is superior to the angels (1-2, beginning with a period, 1:1-4).
II. Jesus as Son is superior to Moses and Joshua (3:1-4:13, beginning with ‘wherefore’, 3:1).
III. Jesus is actually the great High Priest who has passed through the heavens (4:14 – 5:10, beginning with ‘having then’).
IV. (exhortation to consider this point, beginning with ‘concerning whom’, 5:11, and ending with a period, 6:16- 20).
V. Jesus is not a Levitical/Aaronic priest but one from the tribe of Judah; he is a priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (7:1-28, with a period at the beginning, 7:1-3).
VI. Jesus offered his own blood in the true Holy of Holies (8:1-10:18, beginning with ‘the chief point’, 8:1).
VII. Christians therefore have boldness to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus (10:19-39, beginning with ‘having, then’ and a period, 10:19-25).
VIII. The power of faith (11:1-40, beginning with a definition of faith, 11:1, after its mention in 10:39).
IX. Ethical/eschatological implications (12:1-29, beginning with ‘consequently’, 12:1).
X. Various injunctions (13:1-17, with an abrupt beginning).
XI. Personal remarks, benediction, conclusion (13:18-25).
In form the main part of the document is evidently an address, as some of the transitional expressions clearly show; but in its present state it is a letter or, more properly, a literary epistle: ‘I exhort you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation; for I have written to you in few words’ (13:22). As a letter, it concludes with personal notes:
. . . that I may be restored to you the sooner (13:19)
Our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon (13:23)
Those from Italy send you greetings (13:24)
Such notes provide a reason for the ascription of Hebrews to Paul in the early Church, but the reason is not altogether convincing. Presumably the author is in prison and is a ‘brother’ of Timothy, but there is nothing which requires us to identify him with Paul. Early use of the document, at Rome in I Clement and at Alexandria later on, suggests that it was sent to Rome from elsewhere (where there were ‘those from Italy’) and that the sender was at Alexandria. The close affinities of the author’s thought to that of Philo point in the same direction. We should go beyond the evidence were we to ascribe the book precisely to Apollos, ‘an Alexandrian by race’ who was ‘eloquent’ and ‘mighty in the scriptures’ (Acts 18:24); but such an identification remains possible.
As for the date of the document, its references to the temple cult as continuing to exist (9:6-10, 25; 10:1, etc.) and its failure to mention the destruction of the temple — a point which would surely be relevant to its argument — indicate that it was not written after AD. 70. On the other hand, the statement that salvation was ‘declared at first by the Lord and was attested to us by those who heard him’ (2:3) points to the sub-apostolic age, presumably not much before the year 60, though possibly earlier.
It is hard to tell whether or not the address ‘to Hebrews’ is original. If it were original, one might expect to find Hebrews mentioned in the book itself; but such is not the case. On the other hand, the symbolical meaning which E. Käsemann finds in the word is certainly appropriate to the author’s message. In the Septuagint version of Genesis 14:13 and I Samuel 13:7 ‘Hebrews’ is rendered as ‘wanderers’; Philo gives the same explanation of the word. The document is addressed to ‘the wandering people of God’, those with whom the author includes himself as having here no lasting city but seeking one which is to come (13:14). This point remains valid whether the author provided the title or some acute early reader added it.
The doctrine set forth in the epistle is not elementary, as the author points out (6:1-2); indeed, it is ‘hard to understand’ (5:11), for in it various kinds of motifs are combined. Jesus’ superiority to the angels is proved by reference to, and reinterpretation of, various Old Testament passages. Moses did not bring the people of Israel into God’s ‘rest’; even Joshua did not bring them into it, for David, writing at a later time, warns them against hardening their hearts ‘today’. Only Jesus can provide the true ‘rest’, and he did so through his own obedience to God; because of this obedience he was ‘named by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek’ (Ps. 110:4). Melchizedek was a priest who had no genealogy (Gen. 14:18) and therefore was an appropriate prototype of the eternal high priest, Jesus, who ‘sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens’ (Ps. 110:4), and is the mediator of a new covenant. The old covenant required annual sacrifices in the Holy of Holies offered by the high priest alone; the new covenant is mediated by the heavenly high priest who offered himself once for all and entered into heaven. He is the author and perfecter of the faith of Christians, the faith which they share with the heroes of the Old Testament, for ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’.
This argument can be put even more briefly: the new people of God is on pilgrimage towards a new promised land, but their goal is not an earthly one; they are not moving towards an earthly city with an earthly temple and its sacrifices, but towards a heavenly abode into which Jesus, after offering himself once for all, has entered already.
For what audience is such a document especially appropriate? Surely the first readers of Hebrews must have been deeply concerned with cultic matters and with the relation of Jesus to them. Certainly the author was so concerned, and like Stephen (Acts 7) and the Johannine writings (John 2:19-21; 4:21; Rev. 21:22) he rejected the permanent importance of the temple and its rites. We may be tempted to suppose that the author and his readers may have been related to the priests who, according to Acts 6:7, became converts to Christianity. But the kind of ‘spiritualization’ of the Old Testament found in Hebrews is closer to Philo than to Jerusalem or to Qumran, and the document can probably best be explained in relation to Alexandrian Jewish Christians who took a great interest in the cosmic meaning of the temple cultus and found this meaning finally expressed in Jesus. They regarded basic Christian doctrines as elementary (among them, teaching about repentance and faith, baptisms and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement, 6:1-2) as compared with the priesthood of Jesus.
The Epistle of James
This little homily or collection of homilies, in the form of a letter, is addressed by ‘James, slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ to ‘the twelve tribes which are in the Dispersion’. It thus reflects the Jewish Christianity, centred in Jerusalem, which from later writings we know was deeply concerned with the memory of James. According to Paul (Gal. 1:19) he was ‘the Lord’s brother’ and was one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church (cf. 2:9, 12); the same impression is given by the book of Acts (15:13-21; 21:18, etc.). According to Jerome, the Gospel according to the Hebrews explained his apostolate by reporting a resurrection-appearance to him (cf. I Cor. 15:6). He is mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 12) as the one who will rule the disciples after Jesus goes away; for his sake heaven and earth were created.
In view of the prominence of James it is rather surprising that the epistle is used by no Christian writer before Origen, writing at Alexandria early in the third century. No Western writer mentioned it until the fourth century, and at that time it was still rejected by some Syrian churchmen. Both Erasmus and Luther, for different reasons, doubted its apostolic authorship. Today such doubts persist. How could James, the Lord’s brother, write such good, rather literary Greek? How could he write without mentioning the name of Jesus more than once in his preface and once (2:1) in the course of his book? The only way to answer such questions is by analysing the treatise itself.
The form of address clearly suggests that we are confronted with a kind of Jewish Christianity, but with one which speaks not only to itself but to its members scattered abroad (cf. I Peter 1:1, ‘to the elect who sojourn in the Dispersion’). The notion of twelve tribes is not surprising in view of Jewish Christian ideas expressed in the description of twelve tribes in Revelation 7:4-8 and the mention of them in Matt. 19:28 (Luke 22:30). But the tribes have no relation to the contents of various parts of the letter.
The style of James is marked by a correct, rather simple Greek in which there are practically no Hebraisms. The author employs the Greek Old Testament. He is so much at home in Greek that he can provide plays on Greek words (‘apeirastos’ — ’peirazei’, 1:13; ‘aneleos’ — ’eleos’, 2:13) and can indulge in alliteration (‘peirasmois peripesete poikilois’, 1:3) and in rhyme (1:6, 14; 4:8). These features do not suggest that he was a master of style; they do show that he probably knew Greek well. His vocabulary is close to that employed by Philo and Josephus and in the Greek version of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. It consists of 560 words, out of a total of 1,740.
Structurally, most of the letter does not hold together. The longest sections which possess any continuity are discourses in Hellenistic diatribe-form. These are on ‘respect of persons’ (2:1-13), on the necessity of works with faith (2:14-26), on the necessity for teachers and others to bridle their tongues (3:1-18; 4:11-12), and on strife as originating from within (4:1-10). In addition, there are prophetic denunciations of merchants (4:13-17) and of the rich (5:1-6). The beginning (1:2-27) and the ending (5:7-20) of the letter contain rather miscellaneous moral counsels, partly (1:2-8) arranged by verbal association. It should not be supposed, however, that differences in form correspond to differences in thought. Much of what ‘James’ has to say resembles the teaching of Jesus, especially as compiled in the Sermon on the Mount, and this kind of material is to be found throughout.
James 1:5 Matt. 7:7 (Luke 11:9)
2:5 Luke 6:20 (Matt. 5:3)
3:18 Matt. 5:9
4:4 Matt. 12:39, 16:4
5:1-6 Luke 6:24
5:12 Matt. 5:34-7
The atmosphere of James is close to that of the Old Testament wisdom-literature, and the Hellenistic aspects of the letter are essentially due to the effort to express this atmosphere in good rhetorical language; they are not necessarily based on ‘popular philosophy’.
Now if the author was acquainted with rhetoric, as his examples suggest (e.g., in 3:3-6), we must assume that he was capable of providing his work with an arrangement better than the one it possesses. Therefore we probably do not possess it in the form in which he intended it to be. The ‘letter’ may well consist of a collection of materials which go back to the early days of the Jerusalem church.
The purpose of these materials was severely practical. The author was not interested in speculation or even in such a theological effort as Paul’s (as his insistence upon works in 2:14-26 shows — as well as his ‘definition’ of piety in 1:27). One must not ‘judge’ the law (4:11); one must do what it says. Yet, for all his Jewish piety, the author is obviously a Christian. There is a ‘royal law’: love of neighbour (2:8) — just as Paul insisted (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10). And this law is not simply law in the old Jewish sense; it is also the ‘law of liberty’(1:25; 2:12).
What we find in James is a representation of primitive Palestinian Christianity (set forth, to be sure, in Greek dress) — a kind of piety which has its roots in the early church of Jerusalem and continued to exist even after the fall of Jerusalem. Not all Jewish Christians became, or came to be regarded as, Ebionites; and there is nothing specifically Ebionite about James. It is true that this letter shows no awareness of the fall of the temple or, for that matter, of such theological developments as those we encounter in John. These omissions do not show whether the letter is early or late.
The fact that it was almost certainly written in Greek proves nothing about its date. Apparently there were Greek-speaking Christians in the Jerusalem church at an early date. Greek literature was studied by Jews in Jerusalem during the first century, even though we cannot be certain that the Hellenists of Acts 6:1 were Greek-speaking Jews. At least by the year 47 James himself was concerned with problems arising out of gentile Christianity. Perhaps he did not possess the rhetorical training implied in parts of this letter; but rulers of churches have been known to use the services of secretaries, or even of ghost writers. The form may come from assistants; there is nothing in the basic attitude which could not come from James.
We conclude, therefore, that the letter is not a letter but a collection of fragments which accurately reflect the Jewish Christian tradition of Jerusalem in the days before the destruction of the temple, and after it as well. It was ascribed to James because he was the ruler of the Jerusalem church and, perhaps, because some of the materials in it were actually derived from him. According to Josephus (Ant. 20, 197-203) he was put to death in the year 62. From Paul’s letters we know that the expression of the mission to the gentiles was gradually developed; cannot a similar development have taken place at Jerusalem?
What, then, do we learn of the early church in Jerusalem from this little book? We learn that its members lived in expectation of the coming of the Lord, which was close at hand (5:7, 8); the Lord’s coming would presumably inaugurate the kingdom of God, promised to those who, though poor in the world, were rich in faith and loved God (2:5). Indeed, the Christian is already regenerate: ‘of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures’ (1:18). As in most early Christian writings, the ‘indicative’ is accompanied by the ‘imperative’. James contains a great many moral maxims, though it must be remembered that he has a doctrine of grace as well: God ‘yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us’ (4:5) from some apocryphal tradition). The meeting place of Christians is called a ‘synagogue’ (2:2), but the community, governed by presbyters, is a ‘church’ (5:14). The only rite which James mentions is that of praying over the sick and anointing them with oil; presumably it is also in services of worship that Christians confess their sins to one another and pray for one another (5:14-16).
The community is one which has heard of Paul’s preaching of faith as contrasted with works, and doubtless it has learned that Paul appealed to Genesis 15:6, the example of Abraham (2:23; cf. Gal. 3:6; Rom. 4:3). Without rejecting the idea that Abraham was ‘our father’, James does denounce the implications which, as we learn from Paul’s letters themselves, were sometimes drawn from the example. ‘Faith apart from works is dead’ (2:26). Paul would have expressed this point differently, but he would not have disagreed.
The Epistles of Peter and Jude
One of the most difficult problems in the Catholic Epistles is presented by the interrelations of the letters ascribed to Peter and Jude. The letter which we call I Peter is addressed by the apostle Peter to ‘the elect sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia’ (1:1). Peter writes ‘through Silvanus the faithful brother’ and sends greetings from ‘the elect community in Babylon and Mark my son’ (5:12-13). In its present form, then, the letter is an encyclical sent from the Roman church — for ‘Babylon’ is a common Jewish-Christian designation for Rome — to a group of churches in northern Asia Minor. II Peter definitely styles itself the second letter of Peter (3:1), but apart from this designation it has practically nothing in common with I Peter and has no particular recipients in view. In this respect it resembles the little letter sent by ‘Jude, slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James’ to a general Christian audience. And the second chapter of II Peter consists of almost nothing but a slightly revised version of Jude. The author of II Peter thus is aware of the existence of I Peter but is not dependent upon it; he does not mention Jude but uses his work.
Before attempting to discover the situation in which II Peter was written we must consider the nature of the two earlier letters which he knew.
1. I Peter
The early existence of I Peter is attested not only by II Peter but also by Papias (according to Eusebius) and by clear allusions in the letters of Polycarp. Towards the end of the second century the letter was used by Theophilus, and it was definitely ascribed to Peter by Irenaeus. While it is not mentioned in the Muratorian list, the omission may be due to textual corruption, since there is no evidence which suggests that the letter’s authenticity was questioned except in fourth-century Syria.
There is nothing especially remarkable about either the vocabulary or the style of I Peter. The proportion of vocabulary to words employed (545 to 1,670) is identical with that found in James (560 to 1,740, thirty-two per cent). The author is relatively fond of antithesis (2:14,23; 3:18; 4: 6; 5:2-3), but by no means as fond of it as Paul is. There is no stylistic reason to suppose that the document is composite.
The letter consists of three main divisions. (1) After an epistolary greeting, the author speaks of the new Exodus promised by the prophets (1:3-12) and of the need to progress in the fear of God and in the remembrance of redemption by the blood of Christ (1:13-21). This section has often been regarded as an exhortation to those who are about to be baptized, and it has been suggested that the act of baptism took place at the end of it.
(2) There follows a welcome into the redeemed community, with a mention of rebirth (1:22-5); then we hear of baptism, eucharist, sanctification, and priesthood. The initiates are now living stones of a spiritual house; they are a royal priesthood and a holy nation (2:1-10). They are then reminded of the duties of Christian discipleship (2:11-4:11). They learn of life in the various vocations to which they have been called (2:11-3:12), and they learn that in all of them they are to suffer in Christ and after his example (3:13- 4:6; note the reference to baptism in 3:21). This section ends with a reminder that the last day is at hand; because of this the community must practise mutual love. A doxology follows (4:7-11). (3) The final section consists of various exhortations perhaps expressed in the community’s service of worship. Christians are to rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings (4:12-19); elders-shepherds are to govern the community well, and younger men are to obey them (5:1- 5); all are to be humble and sober and watchful, resisting the devil (5:6-10). A doxology follows (5:11), and the treatise ends with an epistolary conclusion (5:12-14); the kiss of love is mentioned here).
Obviously in its present form this is a letter. What kind of materials were used in creating it? The exhortatory sections can evidently be classified as catechetical in nature, and the situation envisaged in the work as a whole seems to be related to baptism, whether or not we accept the hypothesis that baptism takes place between 1:21 and 1:22. Some scholars have gone on to argue that because of the Exodus motifs and because of the emphasis on Christ’s sufferings the letter contains a ‘paschal liturgy’. In order to prove this point they claim that the fanciful etymology later used for the word ‘Pascha’ (‘Passover’), which related it to suffering (po~ckein) was already employed by Christians at this time. Certainly Paul refers to Christ as ‘our Pascha’ (I Cor. 5:7), but it is difficult to prove that I Peter knows an etymological theory which we otherwise find only at the end of the second century.
I Peter, then, consists primarily of a homily used in the Roman church in the first century. There are some affinities with Paul’s letter to the Romans, but they consist of materials which can be regarded as based on common catechetical ideas. In any event, Romans was known at Rome in Peter’s lifetime. There are also affinities with the sermons which in Acts are ascribed to Peter, and as a whole I Peter does not share doctrines which can be regarded as specifically Pauline.
Several objections have been raised to the notion that Peter himself wrote this letter. (1) The Greek style, superior to that of much of the New Testament, suggests that it was not written by Peter, as does the fact that the Old Testament quotations are derived from the Septuagint. On the other hand, the letter presents itself as written through a scribe who had already participated in the writing of I and II Thessalonians. (2) The letter may be composite: (a) in the third chapter sufferings are regarded as future (or contingent), while in 5:8 they are present; (b) in 2:14 only evildoers are punished, while in 4:14-15 Christians as such are punished. But the possibility that the letter is composite proves nothing about authorship. (3) According to 4:15 it appears that Christians can be punished by the state simply for the ‘name’. But from the letter of Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia and Pontus (both mentioned in I Peter 1:1), to the emperor Trajan in the year i 12 we learn that Pliny was in doubt as to whether punishment should be simply for the name or not. Therefore punishment for the name was first imposed in Asia Minor in the year 112, and I Peter was not written before this date. This objection neglects the extent of (a) our ignorance about Roman procedure in the period before 112, and (b) Pliny’s ignorance about earlier precedents. He writes the emperor because he has not attended earlier investigations of Christians, not because no investigations had taken place. We conclude that, while it is possible that I Peter 4:12-5:14 may have been added at a later date, it is equally possible that it comes from a time of persecution which could well be around the year 64. We do not know that the Neronian persecution extended beyond Rome itself. The Roman Church, or the apostle Peter, may well have supposed that it would do so.
The existence of the little letter of Jude is attested by its use in II Peter, but while it may have been known to Polycarp early in the second century the first mention of it occurs in the Muratorian fragment. Clement of Alexandria certainly regarded it as scripture and wrote exegetical notes on it; Origen too viewed it as scripture, though he once expressed doubt about its universal acceptance. Tertullian claimed that the book of Enoch was inspired because of Jude’s testimony to it. As late as the fourth century, however, Eusebius placed Jude among the ‘antilegomena’.
It is to be found among the Bodmer papyri, but in a strange anthology (early third century) which consisted of the apocryphal correspondence of Paul with the Corinthians, the (11th) Ode of Solomon, Jude itself, and the two epistles ascribed to Peter. Perhaps the anthologist did not regard it as fully canonical — or else his canon was unusually large.
Jude contains 456 words and employs a vocabulary of 227 words, fifteen unique in the New Testament (three more are shared only with II Peter). Most of these ‘unique’ words occur in Hellenistic literature but not in the Septuagint; this fact suggests that the writer was fairly well at home in the Greek language of his time, though his style is certainly not literary. His familiarity with apocalyptic literature (reference to the Assumption of Moses in verse 9, to I Enoch in verses 14-15) explains his repeated use of the expression ‘these’ (8, 10, 12, 16, 19). He is fond of groups of threes, beginning with ‘mercy, peace, and love’ in verse 2 and continuing throughout the letter. He also likes dramatic effects and seems to strive for them (6, 12-13), once in such a way as to produce obscurity (23).
It is a brief treatise of exhortation, contending for ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’ against those who ‘defile the flesh, reject the Lordship [of Christ], and blaspheme the Majesty [of God]’. These persons ‘transpose the grace of our God into immorality’; apparently they lay claim to some special kind of knowledge (10), and they may claim to be ‘spirituals’ (19). They participate in Christian love-feasts but defile them (12). Jude compares them with the great sinners of the Old Testament and recalls that though ‘God Christ’ (the reading of the Bodmer papyrus) saved the people from Egypt — thus he treats the Exodus as a prefiguration of Christian salvation — he destroyed those who did not believe (5; cf. I Cor. 10:1-11)
The apostles already predicted that such persons would arise in the last times (17-18). Therefore Christians must build themselves up in their ‘most holy faith’; as for the others, Christians are to condemn some, save some by snatching them out of fire, and hate their garment stained by the flesh (20-3). Jude thus contends for orthodoxy in opposition to some kind of proto-Gnosticism not unlike that of the later Cainites, described by Irenaeus. As he opposes them he apparently uses some of their terminology: he speaks of them as ‘psychics, not possessing [the] Spirit’ (19), and the ‘garment stained by the flesh’ is apparently the spiritual garment they claimed to wear.
In the course of his letter he explicitly refers to I Enoch as prophecy (14) and also makes use of the apocryphal Assumption of Moses (9). This usage may suggest that the book is Palestinian in origin, but we know that these books were used by Jewish Christians elsewhere, for example in Egypt. It may also indicate an early date when apocryphal books were freely employed, but again we know that writers in the second and third centuries were often not averse to using them.
The author does not claim to be an apostle but identifies himself as Jude, the brother of James. He is not likely to have been an apostle, since he refers to early prophecies by the apostles as now having been fulfilled (17-19). It is also unlikely, in spite of the assertions of Tertullian and Origen, that he is to be identified with the ‘Judas of James’ listed as an apostle in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13, since ‘of James’ probably means ‘son of James’. In John 14:22 we hear of a ‘Judas, not Iscariot’, but the only clearly identifiable Judas who is brother of James is the Lord’s brother mentioned in Mark 6:3 (Matt. 13:55). Since James became a convert after the resurrection, it is not impossible that Jude was also converted (cf. I Cor. 9:5), though no reliable evidence relates him to the church of Jerusalem.
Because of the lack of early attestation and the post-apostolic situation, we should be inclined to view this letter as written towards the end of the first century or even later. Perhaps it was intended to accompany the letter of James and to warn Greek-speaking Jewish Christians against novel heresies.
3. II Peter
The second epistle of Peter is very poorly attested by early Christian writers. No one earlier than Origen seems to have made use of it, and he expressed doubts about its acceptability. (Eusebius placed it among the ‘antilegomena’ and said that according to tradition — that of the Church in the East — it was not canonical.) Didymus of Alexandria (d. 399) wrote that it was a forgery (PG 39, 1774A).
On the other hand, it is to be found among the Bodmer papyri in a little book of the early third century which originally contained both I and II Peter, and in later times it was accepted by all who accepted the Catholic Epistles as a group.(for Eusebius of Emesa [d. 360] see E.M. Buytaert, L’héritage littéraire d’Eusèbe d’Èmèse [Louvain, 1949], 138.)
II Peter contains a total of 1,100 words and uses a vocabulary of 400 words, fifty-six of which are unique as far as the New Testament is concerned, while several are very rarely employed by Hellenistic or Graeco-Roman writers. A certain relation between I Peter and II Peter is suggested by the following combinations of words which occur in both: ‘grace and peace be multiplied to you’ (1, 1:2; 2, 1:2), ‘licentiousness, passions’ (1,4.3; cf. ‘licentious passions’, 2, 2:18), ‘without blemish or spot’ (1, 1:19, reversed in 2, 3:14), and ‘ceased from sin’ (1, 4:1; contrast 2, 2:14, ‘insatiable for sin’ — similar Greek words). But the two epistles cannot come from the same writer. Of the 545 different words in I Peter, 369 do not occur in II Peter, and of the 400 different words in II Peter, 230 are not found in I Peter.
The style of II Peter represents a striving for effect more pronounced than that of I Peter. The author tries to write the periodic sentences characteristic of good Greek, but the result is a combination of obscurity and vagueness. In part, this vagueness is clearly intentional. The author uses the letter of Jude as the foundation of his second chapter, but while Jude regarded I Enoch as scripture, II Peter does not share his view and therefore rewrites the sentence in which Enoch was quoted; similarly he makes obscure the allusion to the Assumption of Moses. We know that II Peter was concerned with the interpretation and the meaning of scripture, for he stated that some persons ‘twist’ the letters of Paul ‘like the rest of the scriptures’ (3:16). He may have known written gospels, for his account of the Transfiguration is close to Matthew 17:5 and the prediction of Peter’s death may come from John 21:18-19; the parallels, however, do not prove that he was not using oral tradition.
Since he incorporated Jude in his letter and revised it, he clearly did not regard it as scripture.
The letter consists of three parts which correspond to the three chapters into which it is now divided. (1) ‘Symeon Peter’ wishes to give a farewell discourse to his readers everywhere. What he says is confirmed by his vision of the Lord’s greatness, apparently at the time of the Transfiguration. The voice from heaven confirmed the apostles’ interpretation of the inspired prophets. Just as prophecy was given by God, so the interpretation of prophetic scriptures is not a matter for private judgement. (2) But as there were false prophets in Israel, so there will be false teachers among you — and here ‘Peter’ takes over the epistle of Jude in order to describe these teachers and their doctrines. (3) ‘This is my second letter to you, to remind you of the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and of the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles.’ The false teachers ask, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ They say that ‘since the fathers died everything has remained as it was from the beginning of the creation’. Such persons neglect (a) the fact that there has already been one deluge, and (b) the Old Testament statement that with God ‘a thousand years is as a day’ (Ps. 90:4); the author states that the converse is also true: ‘a day is as a thousand years.’ The Lord is patiently awaiting universal repentance, but the day will come like a thief and with fire. Paul too (apparently in I Timothy 1:16) spoke of the ‘long-suffering’ of the Lord as salvation, though heretics distort his letters like the rest of the scriptures. Therefore avoid error and grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The lateness of II Peter is evident from several features. (1) No specific group of readers is addressed (1:1), but it is stated that ‘this is now the second letter that I have written to you’ (3:1). This means that I Peter, written to ‘the exiles of the dispersion’ in Asia Minor, has now come to be regarded as a general epistle. (2) Similarly the Pauline epistles are treated as general, not specific (‘Paul wrote to you,’ 3:15), and they are viewed as scripture (3:16). This situation reflects the beginning of the second century or the end of the first.
Is it not only late but also corrupt? Käsemann, for example, claims that it should be excluded from the canon because in it orthodoxy, based on a fictitious Peter, has replaced faith. As in Jude, faith has become adherence to orthodox tradition. The orthodox will enter God’s eternal kingdom, while the godless will be destroyed in fire; Christianity is regarded as ‘participation in the divine nature’ (1:4), and thus (bad) Greek terminology has replaced (good) Hebrew.
This description of II Peter is slightly exaggerated and it does no justice to the historical Situation of the Church. On the other hand, it may be admitted that, in part because of this historical situation, II Peter may seem rather less meaningful today than other parts of the New Testament.
The Johannine Epistles
The group of letters traditionally ascribed to John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, contain no mention of their author, except that II and III John are written by someone who calls himself ‘the elder’. The first attestation of their authorship is to be found in the writings of Irenaeus, who says that II John was written by ‘John the Lord’s disciple’ (Adv. haer. 1, 16, 3) and refers to I and II John as one letter (3, 16, 8).(This point does not really show that Irenaeus regarded I and II John as one letter; see sections on the Thessalonian and Corinthian letters.) The Muratorian fragment mentions two letters by John, though it is uncertain whether this means I-II John or I/II-III John.
The vocabulary of these epistles is remarkably small. They contain a total of 2,600 words, with a vocabulary of only 302 (i i.6 percent); in this regard, as in the choice of words involved, they closely resemble the Gospel of John (6.~ per cent). Since the third century, at least, it has been recognized that the vocabulary and style of the Gospel and of I John are very closely related, though it is possible, as C. H. Dodd has tried to prove, that the author of I John was a disciple of the evangelist. Because the differences are so slight it seems likely that, as in the case of Ephesians, they should be disregarded.
1. 1 John
From early times the first epistle of John has been well attested and almost universally accepted. It was known to Papias, according to Eusebius, and Polycarp too seems to have known it. Irenaeus was the first to state that it was written by the author of the Fourth Gospel, though the resemblances in vocabulary and style are obvious. The main point of the letter is expressed in 3:23: ‘and this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.’ The author is deeply concerned with ‘false prophets’ (4:1) or ‘antichrists’ (2:18), who have led nominal Christians out of the Church (2:19). They deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:22); they do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2-3); they say that they have no sin (1:8); they say that they know God (2:4). Against them the author insists on love within the community and on the gift of ‘chrism from the Holy One’ (2:20). He emphasizes that Jesus Christ really came among men ‘not by water only but by water and blood’ (5:6).
Before we can try to discover who the author’s opponents were we must ask whether the document is simple or composite. It has often been noticed that I John is not carefully articulated. There are disconnected thoughts, exhortations, and warnings. Little groups of unrelated maxims are inserted between longer sections. Ideas are frequently repeated in new forms but without any logical development. Because of these features of the letter, scholars have sought to disentangle an original document from a kind of meditation or commentary based upon it. The commentary is to be identified by its use of such expressions as ‘we write these things to you’ or ‘if you know’ or ‘by this we know’. By means of such an analysis a hypothetical original document has been discovered in I John 1:1-3, 5-10; 2:4-6, 9-11, 15-20, 22-5, 28; 3:11-15, 17-18; 4:1-8, 11-14, 16-5:1; 5:4-10, 12. The rest consists of meditation or commentary.
Unfortunately this analysis is hard to confirm, since it has to be admitted that the style and vocabulary of both the original document and what has been added is the same. It is more profitable to hold that for the purposes of logical analysis the ‘original’ ideas are the key ones, but that the author was unable or unwilling to write a letter which could be outlined. Logical analysis does not produce results which are directly convertible into the presumed sources of a document.
To identify the author’s opponents precisely is a difficult task, but we have a potential candidate in a certain Menander of Antioch, a Gnostic teacher at Antioch towards the end of the first century. He held that he himself was the Saviour or Christ, and that his own special rite of baptism resulted in immediate and permanent immortality. It may be that the author of I John has such teaching in mind when he insists that Jesus is the Christ and came not by the water (of baptism?) alone but by blood (death?) as well. Followers of Menander may well have held that they had no sin and that they knew God.
Some of the author’s own expressions have Gnostic parallels. Thus his statement that ‘God is light’ (1:5) goes beyond the Old Testament or Jewish apocalyptic literature in the direction of Philo and the Hermetic writings. His emphasis on unction with chrism (2:26-7) reminds us of the Naassenes, who held that ‘we alone of all men are Christians, who complete the mystery at the third gate and are anointed there with speechless chrism’ (Hippolytus, Ref. 5, 9, 22). And the mention of a spiritual ‘seed’ (3:9) recalls similar Naassene and Valentinian doctrines. At the same time, he is no Gnostic. When he tells us that ‘God is love’ (4:8, 16) he is speaking of the act of God in sending his Son into the world (John 3:16); he is not providing a definition of God. His use of terminology also found among Gnostics suggests either that he is Christianizing their vocabulary or that both he and they are drawing on a common stock of expressions.
2. II-III John
The situation envisaged in these two little letters is much the same and while we cannot be sure that they were addressed to members of one church at one time, it is at least possible that such was the case. In the first of them ‘the elder’ or ‘the presbyter’ addresses an individual community (‘the elect lady’) and its members, some of whom ‘follow the truth’, and urges them to love one another by following the commandments of the Father and by acknowledging the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Those who visit the community and do not bring this doctrine are not to be admitted. If the other letter is related to the same situation, it would appear that a certain Diotrephes, ‘who likes to put himself first’, has refused to allow the first letter to be read in the church, has attacked the author’s authority, and has rejected itinerant brothers who have come from him. The letter is addressed to a certain Gaius, who has apparently accepted these brothers; the elder informs Gaius that in this dissension-torn community there is another reliable Christian named Demetrius.
If the two letters belong together, we see an early Christian Church which is being disturbed by both Docetism (the denial that Jesus Christ came ‘in the flesh’) and the schism-producing jealousy. On the other hand, the circumstances may be different. If this is the case, there are heretics who try to infiltrate one church and power struggles which tear asunder another.
In either case, the elder is evidently someone who has authority in his own community and tries to exercise it in another. It may be that he is not an apostle, for Diotrephes evidently feels free to oppose him; but in view of the opposition faced by the apostle Paul it is impossible to say that apostolic authority was always unquestioned.