Chapter 19: The Epistle of Jude and the Second Epistle of Peter
Many ancient thinkers conceived of the supreme God as far removed from the material world and too pure to have anything directly to do with it. The necessary connection between God and the world, they thought, was made through a series of intermediate ideas, influences, or beings, to one of which they ascribed the creation and supervision of the material world. When people with these views became Christians, they brought most of their philosophical ideas with them into the church and combined them as far as they could with their new Christian faith.
In this way there came to be many Christians who held that the God of this world could not be the supreme God whom Jesus called his Father. Their view of Jesus himself seemed to most Christians a denial of him, for they held to the Docetic idea that the divine Spirit left him before his death. They accordingly saw little religious meaning in his death, but they considered themselves so spiritual that they did not feel the need of an atonement. In fact, they felt so secure in their spirituality that they thought it did not much matter what they did in the flesh, and so they permitted themselves without scruple all sorts of indulgence.
Such people could not help being a scandal in the churches, and a Christian teacher named Jude made them the object of a letter of unsparing condemnation. He had been on the point of writing for some Christian friends of his a discourse on their common salvation when word reached him that such persons had appeared among them. He immediately sent his friends a short vehement letter condemning the immoral practices of these people, predicting their destruction, and warning his readers against their influence. He quotes against them with the greatest confidence passages from the Book of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses, late Jewish writings which he seems to regard as scripture. The persons he attacks still belong to Christian churches and attend Christian meetings. He does not tell his readers to exclude them from their fellowship but to have pity on them and to try to save them, only taking care not to become infected with their faults.
Who this Jude was we cannot tell. He looks back upon the age of the apostles, asking his readers to recollect how they have foretold that as time draws on toward the end scoffers will appear. He probably wrote early in the second century. The words "the brother of James" were probably added to his name by some later copier of his letter who took the writer to be the Judas or Jude mentioned in Mark 6:3 and Matt. 13 :55 as a brother of James and Jesus.
A generation after this vigorous letter was written it was taken over almost word for word into what we know as Second Peter. In the early part of the second century various books began to be written in Christian circles about the apostle Peter, or even in his name, until one could have collected a whole New Testament bearing his name. There were a Gospel of Peter, Acts of Peter, the Teaching of Peter, the Preaching of Peter, the Epistles of Peter, and the Revelation of Peter. Most of these laid claim to being from the pen of Peter himself.
The one that most insistently claims Peter as its author is our Second Peter. It comes out of a time when Christians were seriously doubting the second coming of Jesus. A hundred years perhaps had passed since Jesus’ ministry, and men were saying, "Where is his promised coming? For from the day the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." The spiritualizing of the second coming which the Gospel of John wrought out did not commend itself to the writer of Second Peter, if he was acquainted with it. He prefers to meet the skepticism of his day about the second coming with a sturdy insistence on the old doctrine. In support of it he appeals to the Transfiguration, which he seems to know from the Gospel of Matthew, and to the widespread ancient belief that the universe is to be destroyed by fire. He repeats the denunciation which Jude hurled at the gnostic libertines of his day, only it is now directed against those who are giving up the expectation of the second coming. Jude has some hope of correcting and saving the persons he condemned, but the writer of Second Peter has no hope about those whom he attacks. He supports his exhortations by an appeal to the letters of Paul. He evidently knows a number of them, for he speaks of "all his letters." He considers them scripture, and says that many misinterpret them, to their own spiritual ruin. This view of the letters of Paul, combined with the use in Second Peter of other New Testament books, proves it to be the latest book in the New Testament. It was not addressed to any one church or district, but was published as a tract or pamphlet, to correct the growing disbelief in the second coming of Jesus; and to enforce his message its writer put it forth, as other men of his time were putting forth theirs, under the great name of Peter.