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Have a Great Easter Weekend

To every one of my readers, I wish you all the best over this Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I will be back to blogging after the long weekend.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5-6)

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Synopsis of Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (Part 3)

This is the third and final of three summaries of the contents of Wolfgang Grünstäudl, Uta Poplutz, and Tobias Nicklas, eds., Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (WUNT 397, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018). This is a guest post by Wolfgang Grünstäudl.

The first contribution within the third section deals with a text-critical problem in 2 Peter 3:6 regarding whether one should read δι᾽ ὧν or δι᾽ ὅν? While the plural (δι᾽ ὧν) would most probably imply that the ‘old world’ was destroyed through ‘water’ and ‘word (of God)’ (both mentioned in 2 Pet 3:5), the singular (δι᾽ ὅν) would most probably point to ‘(God’s) word’ alone as the agent of cosmic destruction. Although the difference between ο and ω seems marginal, it immediately affects all of the cosmological background in 2 Pet 3:5-13. In his detailed analysis of the relevant Greek manuscripts as well as the versional witnesses in Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Armenian, Christian Blumenthal not only aims to solve this riddle (opting for the reading δι᾽ ὧν over against δι᾽ ὅν), but illustrates how various communities of readers dealt with this text-critical and theological challenge.

Anyone seriously interested in the exegesis of 2 Peter should appreciate Thomas J. Kraus’ detailed and comprehensive study of 2 Peter’s language and style from 2001 as an indispensable working tool. In this monograph, Kraus demonstrated convincingly the inadequacy of all those widespread prejudices regarding 2 Peter’s (allegedly) weird Greek and bombastic style. Discussing the most recent scholarship, however, Kraus realizes that those prejudices are still well and alive. Therefore, his paper concludes with guidelines for a more objective treatment of style and linguistic competence within New Testament studies.

“2 Peter’s hero” – this is the fitting designation coined by Ralph P. Martin for Lot who appears somewhat unexpected in 2 Pet 2:6-10 (cf. The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude, p. 155). Uta Poplutz explores the fascinating reception history of this biblical figure and his surprisingly positive depiction within 2 Peter. Her detailed narratological reading of Lot’s presence in 2 Peter 2 highlights the function of this reference for the overall argument of 2 Peter and sheds new light on the theological agenda of 2 Peter.

There are not so many theological discourses that find their most important Biblical reference within 2 Peter. The doctrine of biblical inspiration, however, is closely tied to 2 Peter 1:19-21 – 2 Timothy 3:16 may be the only New Testament text that matches its explicitness about scriptural inspiration. Starting from a close reading of this passage, Wolfgang Grünstäudl develops the proposal of a polytopic concept of inspiration which takes into account the Spirit’s work at different places within the Biblical cosmos. It focuses not only on the Biblical author, but simultaneously on the material transmission of Biblical texts, the allegedly marginal texts of the canon, the various voices within each text (including those of the “opponents”), and the unavoidable ethical decisions made by each and every reader.

The final paper, written by Marcus Sigismund, covers a unique and fascinating part of 2 Peter’s reception history: its translation into Hebrew (!) prepared and published by Elias Hutter. Hutter’s project started in 1599 and was by far not the only attempt of its kind in modern times. Sigismund provides valuable historical context to Hutter’s translation, shows his linguistic skills and analyzes the theological agenda of this translation.

Synopsis of Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (Part 2)

This is the second of three summaries of the contents of Wolfgang Grünstäudl, Uta Poplutz, and Tobias Nicklas, eds., Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (WUNT 397, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018). This is a guest post by Wolfgang Grünstäudl.

All seven papers of the second section analyze the possible literary and thematic relationships between 2 Peter and other early Christian literature. In his treatment of the Gospel of Matthew, Matthias Berghorn revisits the argument of Peter Dschulnigg, who had created a long list of possible connections between Matthew and 2 Peter suggesting profound influence of the first gospel on the author of 2 Peter. Berghorn, however, detects no clear evidence for a literary relationship between these two texts and, thus, remains skeptical regarding any reception of Matthew in 2 Peter.

In a similar way, Michael Kok comes to a negative result regarding possible traces of the Gospel of Mark in 2 Peter. Building on his extensive research on the early (non)reception of Mark, Kok sees no clear evidence for any connection between 2 Peter and the traditions connecting Peter to the evangelist Mark. 2 Pet 1:12-15 should not be understood as a reference to a written account of Jesus’ deeds and message (i.e., the Gospel of Mark), but rather as reference to 2 Peter itself.

Finally, the third paper on the canonical gospels also remains skeptical over whether a literary relationship between 2 Peter and John’s Gospel can be established. Nevertheless, Marida Nicolaci demonstrates thematic parallels concerning the “high” Christologies of 2 Peter and the Gospel of John. Nicolaci uses the syntagma λαμβάνω τιμὴν καὶ δόξαν (2 Pet 1:17) as a starting point for an exploration of the relational character of both John’s and 2 Peter’s Christology.

In his extensive monograph on 2 Peter’s intertextual connections, Martin G. Ruf described the Gospel of Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles as “family members” of 2 Peter, i.e. as texts with some sort of a shared identity. In his contribution to the present volume, Ruf focuses on the speeches of Peter in Acts and reads them alongside 2 Peter. While older research had sometimes claimed a rather close connection between these speeches and 2 Peter and even used this as an argument for 2 Peter’s authenticity, Ruf’s study identifies such claims as exaggerations – not excluding, however, a common environment (perhaps Syria) for Luke-Acts and 2 Peter.

In view of 2 Pet 3:14-16, a literary relationship between 2 Peter and the Corpus Paulinum is undeniable: “Peter” presents himself as an interested reader of Paul’s epistles. The question, however, regarding which Pauline writings were actually known and used by the author of 2 Peter is a tricky one indeed. Discussing the proposals of Michael J. Gilmour and Veronica Koperski, Tobias Nicklas argues that 2 Peter is not only familiar with the ἐλευθερία -motif in Paul’s writings but has a rather negative attitude to Paul’s theology – arduously hidden under rhetorical expressions of harmony.

The paper of Matthias K. Schmidt is also dedicated to Pauline literature: it compares the two “apostolic testaments” of 2 Peter and 2 Timothy. Schmidt demonstrates the comparable narrative function of the farewell situation in both letters and even argues for a literary relationship between them. In view of 2 Tim 3:1 (cf. 2 Pet 3:3), Schmidt argues, the similarities in the narrative and literary design of 2 Timothy and 2 Peter should be explained by dependence of the former on the latter.

Transcending the (later) borders of the New Testament canon, Paul Foster explores the multifaceted world of early Petrine Pseudepigrapha. Besides the Kerygma of Peter, the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Peter, and the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, he also searches the Greek-Ethipioc Apocalypse of Peter for traces of contact with 2 Peter. Taking issue with Wolfgang Grünstäudl’s argument for 2 Peter’s dependence on the Apocalypse of Peter, Foster does not find any reliable evidence for a literary relationship between this text and 2 Peter. For sure, this severe critique will deepen the debate over the “new perspective on 2 Peter” and one looks eagerly forward to the continuation of the discussion in the forthcoming Brill-volume mentioned in the previous post (with Foster and Frey being among the contributors there too).

Free Articles from Novum Testamentum

In case you missed this announcement, the journal Novum Testamentum is placing select articles for free online to celebrate the publication of the 60th volume. Check it out here.

Synopsis of Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (Part 1)

This is the first of three summaries of the contents of Wolfgang Grünstäudl, Uta Poplutz, and Tobias Nicklas, eds., Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (WUNT 397, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018). This is a guest post by Wolfgang Grünstäudl.

This volume, published in the leading series Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, contains 14 chapters (5 in English, 9 in German) written by New Testament scholars working at universities in the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, and Germany. It addresses the increased interest in 2 Peter in recent New Testament scholarship, explores the place of this rather puzzling text within the New Testament, and provides a reliable starting point for further research by bringing together well-known experts on 2 Peter and the early Petrine literature. Papers are arranged in three sections: (1) “Hermeneutische Perspektiven” (hermeneutical perspectives), (2) “Intertextuelle Verbindungslinien” (intertextual connections), and (3) “Thematische Vertiefungen” (thematic case studies).

(1) Both papers of the opening section explore 2 Peter’s place within the New Testament canon, but they do so quite differently and thus demonstrate the spectrum of interpretive approaches to this fascinating New Testament text. Jörg Frey recently published a major critical commentary on 2 Peter (and Jude) in which he adopted the argument in Wolfgang Grünstäudl’s monograph for 2 Peter being dependent on the Greek-Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter (labeled by Frey as a “new perspective on 2 Peter” [p. 31], cf. the forthcoming publication of the Radboud Prestige Lectures with Brill). Fittingly, he chooses the challenge of writing a commentary on 2 Peter as a starting point for his paper. After providing an overview of previous research, Frey discusses four problematic aspects of 2 Peter: its bold authorial fiction, its supposed deficiencies in its theology, its massive polemic against “others”, and its claim to possess the hermeneutical key to the correct interpretation of the Christian message. In his analysis Frey underlines that the New Testament canon is “not a harmonious collection, but a collection of dissenting views” (p. 36). Therefore, the tension between 2 Peter and the other voices of the canon “still calls for hermeneutical reflection and a theological verdict” (p. 36).

Robert W. Wall is not only well-known for his contributions to the application of the canonical approach within New Testament Studies, but also for his volume (written together with David R. Nienhuis) dedicated to reading the Catholic Epistles collection as a canonical unity. Wall emphasizes the function and importance of 2 Peter as an integral part of the Catholic Epistles collection and as a theological complement to 1 Peter. According to Wall, it is wrong to discern the theological value of 2 Peter (or any other Biblical writing) without acknowledging the concrete literary context in which this writing was and is received as Scripture. By outlining of what he calls the “functional aesthetic” (p. 40 n. 12, following Nicholas Wolterstorff) of 2 Peter in connection with 1 Peter, Wall demonstrates the theological consequences (regarding theology, Christology, and ecclesiology) of such a canonical reading of 2 Peter.

Notwithstanding their dissenting views, Frey and Wall agree in assessing New Testament texts in general and 2 Peter in particular not only “as a testimony of distant religious and linguistic phenomena and developments, but as theological documents that claim to have a message for present day readers” (p. 14).

A New Volume about 2 Peter and the New Testament

I contributed a chapter to Der zweite Petrusbrief und das Neue Testament (WUNT 397; Mohr Siebeck, 2018). I have invited one of the editors, Wolfgang Grünstäudl, to summarize the volume and I will post his summary over three installments in the next week. This book will be an excellent addition to anyone’s academic library on 2 Peter, especially regarding its intertextual relationship to other texts and its function within the New Testament canon. I am attaching the table of contents to this post.

Is 2 Peter an Example of a Testamentary Letter

In 2 Peter 1:14-15, Peter learned via a revelation of Jesus about his impending demise. The first image used for Peter’s death is that of laying aside his tent, tabernacle, dwelling, or habitation (skēnōma), which is paralleled in other Christian writings that metaphorically speak of the mortal body as a tent (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1, 4; John 1:14). The second image refers to Peter’s “departure” (exodos), a euphemism for death that is found in other Christian texts as well (cf. Luke 9:31; Justin, Dialogue 105.3, 5; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.1.36, 55). Since Peter would no longer be present with the audience, the letter acts as a continual reminder of what he had taught them and foretells the false teachers that are presently among them.

Scholars have called attention to “testamentary” features of 2 Peter paralleled in other Jewish and Christian literature (cf. Bo ReickeRichard Bauckham). Among the characteristic features of the testament genre were the occasion of imminent death and the farewell speech that included ethical exhortations and future predictions (e.g., blessings, curses, warnings); the function of this type of literature seems to be to ground the real author’s assessment of present conditions in the insights of an authoritative figure from the past. When the original recipients encountered the text of 2 Peter, did they recognize these generic features and classify it as belonging to a fictional testament? This view has been challenged by Mark D. Mathews, “The Genre of 2 Peter: A Comparison with Jewish and Early Christian TestamentsBulletin for Biblical Research 21.1 (2011): 51-64.

Mathews fairly highlights the differences that 2 Peter as an epistle has from testamentary narratives set in the third person and challenges Bauckham’s examples of a “letter-testament,” but I wonder if more attention needs to be paid to the testamentary features of 2 Timothy as a potential parallel. Of all the letters in the “Pastorals,” scholars have been most inclined to accept the authenticity of 2 Timothy due to its personal tone and the absence of themes present in 1 Timothy/Titus that scholars see as indicative of a late date. However, the unity of language and style between all the Pastoral Epistles may suggest a common authorship, with 2 Timothy meant to make an emotional appeal to the readers while 1 Timothy/Titus issues instructions to those in hierarchical leadership positions (e.g., bishop, presbyters or elders, deacons). Like 2 Peter, 2 Timothy is a moving farewell letter from “Paul” during his imprisonment in Rome. He has fought the good fight, finished the race, and suspects that his trial will end with his sacrifice. Like 2 Peter, 2 Timothy emphasizes the apostle’s example and urges the reader to defend the faith as part of the apostle’s legacy.

2 Peter and the Divine Nature

What does it mean to escape the corruption of the world and become partakers of the divine “nature” (physis) in 2 Peter 1:4? Here are some options:

  • Theosis: the deification of Christ-followers in their perfection and union with God, though still in a subordinate relationship to the one supreme God
  • Immortality as Christ-followers no longer live in bodies subject to physical decay
  • Character as Christ-followers imitate the divine virtues in 1:5-7

2 Peter and the Delay of the Parousia

One of the most difficult issues for Christian students to come to terms with is the imminent expectation of Jesus’s “coming” (parousia) in glory in the New Testament. For instance, 2 Peter 3:10 repeats the saying about Jesus’s sudden return like a “thief in the night” that is multiply attested all over the tradition (1 Thessalonians 5:2; Luke 12:39-40/Matthew 24:43; Thomas logion 21). Indeed, in what may be our earliest text, Paul has to reassure the Thessalonian Christ-followers that those who died in their congregation before the expected return of Christ were not lost forever but would be raised to life when the Lord descends from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). However, 2 Peter is likely written in the second or third generation when much time had passed and “scoffers” doubted that Christ would return to usher in the new eschatological age since nothing had changed since the creation of the world and the death of the “fathers” or patriarchs in Genesis. 2 Peter 3:1-15a holds the hope that the Lord will return to bring judgment, just as he did long ago in the flood, but that a thousand years is but a day from the divine point of view and that any delay allows humans time to repent. Thus, within the canon of Christian Scripture, there are texts that expect that the “second coming” of Jesus will be near and other texts that acknowledge that it could be far off. Both views can be held in tension: the anticipation of eschatological judgment and salvation may motivate holy living and provide a hopeful vision of a future for all creation, while the acknowledgement that these things only occur on God’s timing “ought” to prevent Christians from being misled by “signs” or apocalyptic calendars about the end times.

2 Peter and the Transfiguration

I have blogged on the meaning of the “Transfiguration” in the context of Mark 9:2-7 and parallels in dialogue with Simon S. Lee and Candida Moss here. Why does 2 Peter 1:17 allude to this episode? For readers who accept the traditional authorship on the epistle, it may be that highlighting an event that was exclusively witnessed by the inner circle of Jesus’s three disciples (Peter, James, John) enhances Peter’s authority as an original eyewitness as opposed to other false teachers. On the other hand, readers that judge the epistle to be pseudonymous may reduce this reference to just an aspect of the “authorial fiction” presented in the letter.

However, there may be a deeper significance to this allusion. 2 Peter is not interested in the details about Jesus’s changed appearance or the presence of Moses and Elijah, but concentrates on the heavenly voice that identifies Jesus as the “Son.” That is, Jesus is the royal messianic heir of David who would rule over the nations in Psalm 2:7-9. Moreover, there is a literary seam that links the Transfiguration to an eschatological prediction of Jesus (Mark 9:1; Matthew 16:28; Luke 9:27), with Matthew referring to the coming (erchomai) of the Son of Man in his kingdom. Thus, like Matthew, 2 Peter sees the Transfiguration as a foretaste of Jesus’s return in glory and confirms that this doctrine is not a myth, in contrast to the scoffers who deny that the promised parousia (coming, advent) of Jesus will ever occur (2 Peter 3:2-3).