As part of the new Catholic commentary on Sacred Scripture, Daniel Keating’s commentary on these “Catholic” letters, 1-2 Peter and Jude, is a valuable tool for Bible study groups or those who prepare homilies. The features of these commentaries include: cross references to other Scripture, the Catechism and the liturgical cycle, “sidebars” with background information on the Bible, the text (difficult terms) and the contributions of the Church Fathers. Finally, there are Reflections and Applications. For this volume, Keating’s reflections are on topics such as 1 Peter’s term for Christians, “sojourners”, his advice for the treatment of “slaves” in the household, or 2 Peter’s denunciation of “scoffers” who threaten Christians’ faith. “Applications” involve his own spiritual or pastoral experience, the Church’s treasury of wisdom (lives of saints, the Catechism, papal encyclicals) and Christian life in the 21st century.
Overall, Keating’s commentaries are clear, concise, and solidly based in contemporary scholarship. However, because this commentary includes three letters with distinct topics, backgrounds, and problems, I will separate his commentary on 1 Peter from his commentary on 2 Peter and Jude. He introduces the First Letter of Peter as a “hidden gem…waiting to be discovered” (p.17), whereas Second Peter is “fascinating and inspiring” but also “among the most neglected writings in the New Testament,” and, in his introduction to Jude (the letter that 2 Peter supposedly used as a source) there is no introductory paragraph: he begins with the discussion of authorship, date and recipients.
I found Keating’s commentary on 1 Peter to be the most rewarding: besides highlighting Peter’s emphasis on suffering in this letter and the theological themes behind his advice (new life through baptism, call to sobriety and holiness, giving effective witness to Christ by our lives), Keating also offers a guide for applying 1 Peter to situations today: four categories of texts for reading the letter as the “living Word of God” (p.23). Textually, he also points out the importance in 1 Peter of the Greek word, oikos: “household” or spiritual “house,” (2:5) as well as paroikos (sojourner), paroikia (the origin of the word, parish) and the verb, oikodomeo (“to be built into”). Peter is advising a Christian community. Structurally, part one of the letter (1:3-2:10) describes the new way of life in God’s Household, and part two (2:11-5:11) advises on how to live as God’s People and Household. In 2:11-3:12 Peter’s originality in his household code is to start with advice on “slaves” (or “servants”: they are usually treated last). Part two also includes a long exhortation to faithfulness in suffering for Christ (3:13-4:19), with the “most perplexing section of 1 Peter” on Christ’s descent into Hades and preaching to the “spirits in prison”, those “had been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah.” Merely understanding the difficulties (clearly presented by Keating) and then following the logic of Church Fathers who commented on this text would be a fascinating exercise for a bible discussion group.
Among the “fascinating” features of 2 Peter that still pose challenges today which I will comment on in terms of Keating’s positions are: 1) the problem of authorship and 2) Peter’s explanation for the delay in the parousia—and source of millenarianism—for the Lord, “a day is like a thousand years”. In the introduction to this letter Keating summarizes the evidence for doubting Peter’s authorship (the majority position today), as well as the responses of “some scholars.” He then states that whether pseudonymous or not, it is still canonical. Although he says he will refer to Peter as author, he sometimes refers to “the author”. The fact is, Peter’s authority is important for this late canonical letter because of the “author’s” aim: to reaffirm the faith of the apostles against opponents who threatened the early church. In chapter 1, both the letter format (vv.1-11)—to be sent out to many churches—and Peter’s farewell address or testament (vv.12-15) are important to combat the false prophets and teachers (chapter 2) and “scoffers” (chapter 3) who questioned Christianity’s teaching about God and creation and—especially—its belief in a final judgment of the world. Peter testifies to being the recipient of the revelation of Jesus Christ, who heard the voice of the Father on the holy mountain (v.18) and wants every effort to be made after his departure to recall what he is saying in this letter.
In chapter 2, “Peter” then refutes the false prophets using the Old Testament. Keating points out that his manner of using Scripture, however, is quite differently from 1 Peter: namely, by the use of examples and stories rather than citations. Chapter 2 has examples of God’s judgment of those who reject his authority (the angels…Sodom and Gomorrah…Balaam) and his favor for the righteous Noah and the “speechless donkey” who restrained Balaam! In chapter 3, the false teachers are now the “scoffers”. Keating points out that the author begins by restating the doctrine of creation—since their error was to question any plan in creation. Only then does the author explain the delay of the parousia (although this has been an important text for tracing the development of early Christian eschatology). All of the topics in these two chapters are hard to contemporize, although Keating’s discussion of the modern problem of freedom (from or for God?) and a new type of “scoffer” are good attempts. 2 Peter 3:8-14 (reading for the Second Sunday of Advent) continues to be an important text to explain today—in the face of a different type of scoffer—the agnostic.
Keating defends Jude as author of the Letter of Jude (not one of the Twelve but Jude the “brother” of Jesus). The opponents addressed are the same as in 2 Peter. The author uses the Old Testament abundantly for such a short letter calling for the church to “contend” for the faith. Textually helpful information is, first, Keating’s note on Jude’s use of “catchwords” to link the parts of the letter (especially the opening greeting, “Beloved,” v.3, and the final exhortation, “beloved” in vv. 17, 20) that forms a structure (inclusion?), and, second, triplets (twenty sets in only 25 verses!)—starting with his address in v.1 to those called, beloved and kept safe. Keatings’ reflections and applications are necessarily general, since the details about the “intruders” are minimally known.