A Brief Look at Patronage as Background for the New Testament

college papers

The present study is an inquiry into the interconnected reciprocal nature of patronage in the Greco-Roman imperial social setting, as one background component from the New Testament world. One would be wrong to think that such a social dynamic’s presence was minimal. In actuality, patronage and its vocabulary not only appears specifically in the New Testament (Luke 22:25; Acts 10:38; Rom 16:2; Philm 17-20, Phil 4:14-20, etc), but the social reciprocal dynamics in which its value and cultural powers are also assumed (shame, honor, unity, gratitude, fellowship, etc.). The reader who knows what to look for will see it in numerous contexts shaping the life of the body.[1] Unfortunately, the many elements vital to the matrix of patronage can only be pointed to. Yet, as Bruce J. Malina observes, it was “the most significant form of social interaction in the limited-good world of the first century is an informal principle of reciprocity, a sort of implicit, non-legal contractual obligation, unenforceable by any authority apart from one’s sense of honor and shame.”[2] The challenge in this paper is to briefly and accurately describe it.

In seeking to understand the New Testament accurately, scholars propose various exegetical principles and contextualizing models to accomplish this task.[3] The process here requires an approach which appreciates the cultural background of the New Testament to contextualize its vocabulary. This, Albert A. Bell reminds, is the “crucial part of understanding any written text.”[4] Greco-Roman words have a socially conditioned context that the modern reader may not readily identify. “Without a comprehension of the sociological dynamics of that world, our understanding… is terribly superficial at best and woefully mistaken at worst.”[5] The most crucial need for the reader of the New Testament, then, is to be able to bridge the cultural and time gap between the original (native) context and the reader’s contemporary context. This linguistic and cultural divide can be managed. In advancing a cultural-anthropological reading model, Jerome H. Neyrey argues that one can avoid ethnocentric and anachronistic readings of Paul (and the New Testament) by appreciating the difference between reading him as member of the same culture (an emic reading), and by reading him informed by the analytical and descriptive works of specialists and ethnographers (an etic reading).[6] As one gets closer to this “emic reading,” the modern reader comes closer to better appreciate the symbolic universe of Paul’s and Jesus’ culture.[7] The goal here is to gain a realistic perception from “native informants” which can illustrate and contextualize patronage as a Greco-Roman phenomenon.[8]

The presentation to follow will demonstrate how significant the social form of patronage was in the daily life of the Greco-Roman world, it will outline the vocabulary of patronage in Latin and Greek primary sources, it will sharpen this outline to differentiate between political and social patronage, and then offer a realistic scenarios that can illuminate reading the New Testament in its social and cultural world.

Daily Significance of Patronage

In modern analogy, patronage was like an ancient informal “welfare system.” Social services, like the modern model of the United States, would have been quite foreign. Instead, patronage was a cultural phenomenon in which there was a reciprocal relationship between the upper class and the lower class. It benefited lower classes with protection and patronage by means of reasonable support (legal, financial, medical, marital, etc.) for public support, the running of errands, odd jobs, escorting through streets, and providing social honor in exchange (a return). In exchange for the daily allowance (sportula), the client was at the patron’s call. Thus, it was a form of social investment between patron-client; interestingly, even slaves of wealthy households were known to have clients who hoped the slave could use their influence upon their master.[9] Greco-Roman and Christian scholarship is unequivocal about the daily and social significance of the patron-client network of relationships.[10]

Martial, in his colorful Epigrams, clocks what city life was like in the urbs (4.8.1-4): “The first and second hours wear out clients greeting their patrons.” The imagery evokes the crushing nature of the daily dependence of clients upon their patronus. A step further, Juvenal shows how important this allowance of money was for the everyday professional and collegia with his sarcastic words in the Satires (1.95-126):

For no deity is held in such reverence amongst us as Wealth; though as yet, O baneful money, thou hast no temple of thine own; not yet have we reared altars to Money in like manner as we worship Peace and Honour, Victory and Virtue, or that Concord that clatters when we salute her nest.[11]

This fits the common view that the patron-client phenomena were important to the daily life of every social stratum of the Greco-Roman world. To this point, Jérôme Carcopinodescribes that whether employed or unemployed, freedman or the parasite do-nothing, aristocrats or lower plebeians, clients “were no sooner out of bed than they were in the grip of the duties inseparable from being a ‘client.’ […] there was no man in Rome who did not feel himself bound to someone more powerful above him by the same obligations of respect, or, to use the technical term, the same obsequium.”[12] This honor-bound relationship allowed those in various professions and collegia to survive by means of this small daily “dole as their main source of revenue.”

Patronage in Latin and Greek Sources

Extant Greek and Latin sources (literary and epigraphic) speak of patronage, benefaction, and euergetism (good-doing) from political and social perspectives. Ideas such protection, assistance, help, advocacy, and philanthropy appear. Consider the following samples. It seems that patronage was initially borne out of political power and civic duty, but that distinction apparently broke down over time into a social network between the upper and lower classes in the Greco-Roman world among the rich, the poor, the freedman and freedwoman.[13]

The Roman historian Livy stretches back about four centuries to the early Roman Republic and recounts the story of Cincinnatus, the famed aristocratic plebeian consul, turn poor plebeian farmer, turn dictator, turn savior of Roman (History of Rome 3.26-29). According to Livy, his actions as dictator were reciprocated with honor and status. Livy frames (stylizes?) the response of the army as recognizing “the benefit [beneficii] they had received at his hands,” honored him with a golden crown, and “saluted him as their protector [patronum salutaverit]” (History of Rome 3.29.3). They had become his “clients,” and Cincinnatus would use this social bond to his advantage to “clear” the charges against his son Caeso who was on the run for charges of murder. The protector of Rome, then, returned his powers of dictator and returned to the rustic farm life. Later, when Augustus consolidates his power, Tacitus recounts his use of “gratuities” (donis) among the military and the poor (Annals 1.2). Michael Grant[14] interprets this as Augustus letting “it be understood that the old institution of patrons and clients had been recast, so that henceforward all the people were his own, personal clients, including the poorest citizens.” Thus, as principis Augustus and the emperors after him would portray (politically?) to the citizens of Rome and its subjects a bond of reciprocal loyalty.

Greek sources also illuminate various aspects of patronage. In the fifth century BCE, Sophocles frames the tragic Oedipus as gratefully exchanging protection from Thebes and “help [prostátisi] of the dread goddesses” who reigns in their districts, with obtaining “a great savior [sōtēr’] for this city, and troubles for my enemies” in him (Oedipus at Colunus 455-460). The Apocrypha[15] likewise points to the political upheavals in the Maccabean storyline connected to concepts of patronage. In 2 Maccabees, Simon slanders Onias, who is designated “a plotter against the government the man who was the benefactor [tòn euergétēn] of the city, the protector [tòn kēdemóna] of his compatriots, and a zealot for the laws” (4:2).[16]

In 3 Maccabees 3:13-29, “King Ptolemy Philopater” declares to his “generals and soldiers” that despite his goodwill (philanthrōpía), a desire to do good (eū poiēsaí), and to honor (timēsai) in the Jewish temple (3:15-17), the Jews “manifest ill-will toward us” and are “the only people among all nations who hold their heads high in defiance of kings and their own benefactors [euergétais], and are unwilling to regard any action as sincere” (3:19). The accommodative and benevolent king (philanthrópōs 3:20) declares that such rebellious Jews should be arrested, bound, and deported and that any who harbor them should be severely punished (3:25-29). Eventually, Philopator descends upon the Jews but is subdued by two angels. The king breaks down to pity and tears, and blames and threatens his “friends” (toís phílois):  “You are committing treason and surpassing tyrants in cruelty; and even me, your benefactor [euergétēn]” (6:24).

Political and Social Patronage in Rome

In the Greco-Roman world of the first century CE, there appears to be evidence distinguishing between political and social patronage. This can be confusing since sources often use terms like benefactor, euergetes, and patron in the process of discussion. The masculine form of the Greek prostát– (see verbal use above for “help”) is somewhat problematic. It is often considered synonymous with the Latin patronus. Interestingly, the New Testament the feminine form προστάτις is used in Romans 16:2 and translated as patron and benefactor (ESV; NIV, NRSV, HCSB). Erlend D. MacGillivray[17] takes exception to the view that these two forms are completely synonymous. The masculine appears in both Attic Greek and in the Roman Empire and carries both legal and a variety of leadership benefaction roles, but not the feminine form. MacGillivray argues that applying the masculine meaning upon prostátis is exegetically problematic for this reason. Benefaction is in view, but one must distinguish between political patronage from some interpersonal social networking.

MacGillivray argues that understanding prostátis depends, then, upon understanding the fluid nature of ancient Mediterranean reciprocal dynamics, recognizing the patron-client model is far too limiting and misleading. There is a difference between the narrow and nuanced meaning of classical patronage and the broad euergetistic/altruistic benefaction. While epigraphical gratitude evidence shows that prostátis and prostátes imply civic prestige, the nature of the evidence is, however, often weak to force synonymity. Part of the problem stems from the near normative templates in honorary Greco-Roman epigraphs that do not always neatly distinguish between the various kinds of patronage. Thus, the presence of these terms do not prove exclusively a classical patronage/patronus; consequently, MacGillivray’s work argues that prostátis and prostátes are not demonstrably synonymous.

R. A. Kearsley[18] extends this trajectory and explores several first century CE gratitude (honorarium) inscriptions shedding light on the first-century distinction between political and social patronage. These aristocratic women are named, Iunia Theodora and Claudia Metrodora, and are celebrated as female benefactors/patrons who operated in mid-first century CE Asia Minor. The cities of Lycia (Myra, Patara, Tel-messos) recount the influence of Theodora. Theodora apparently had multiple-citizenships, she freely shared her wealth, applied influenced for political and commercial purposes, and is described consistently in benefactor terms (sōphronōs, philolúkios) in Lycia. Such amounts to Theodora functioning as a social benefactor. On the other hand, Metrodora of Chiot Island likewise held multiple-citizenships, did hold political office as magistrate (stephanephoros), which required benefaction toward the people although she surpassed such requirements. She functioned in banquets, directed imperial games, gymnasiarch, public bathhouse donation, basileia in Ionia, and was praised for her public virtue. She was a benefactor as part of holding office.

Realistic Patronage Scenarios for Reading the New Testament

The above illustrations provide insight into the deep and ancient tradition of patronage and how such played out in various settings. There are two passages where patronage vocabulary is explicitly found in the New Testament.

First, in Luke, the political aspect of patronage is evident in Jesus’ counter-intuitive teaching on greatness. Jesus corrects the “greatness debate” among the disciples by saying,

“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors [euergétai]. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (22:25-26).

Frederick W. Danker observes, euergétai “served as a title for rulers in Syria and Egypt… In many cases the title would conceal tyranny under extravagant expenditure” (cf. Greek Esther 16:2-3, 13-14).[19] One might argue that Jesus is taking for granted a political euergétai known to abuse such roles, and parts from the fundamental principle of the patron-client relationship: “a service performed or a favor done shall not be transformed into status and honor.”[20] Jesus’ leadership principle, then, is that one serves detached from the demands of reciprocity and the honor and status it brings (cf. Acts 10:38).[21]

Second, in Romans 16:1-2 patronage appears to have a social component. Paul commends Phoebe to the church as “a servant of the church at Cenchreae” and as one who should be helped —reciprocally— “for she has been a patron [prostátis] of many and of myself as well.” Caroline F. Whelan[22] relates this passage to the context of Roman reciprocal social conventions within associations (collegia). Whelan maintains that women not only had the Roman legal standing to operate their wealth independently of guardians, they also functioned as civic patrons for collegia. Secondly, comparable “recommendation” letters reveal two types of reciprocal relationships. There is the superior-inferior recommendation rhetoric, and two, the social-equals recommendation rhetoric; each reflecting in some sense the inherent nature of reciprocity in Rome’s social structure, the matrix of which fuses together the economic and social. Romans 16:1-2, then, points to one of these realistic scenarios. Whelan argues that the patronage between social equals (amica, friends) is probably in view. Phoebe needs Paul’s influence among those addressed in Romans 16 (thus the recommendation), but as “equals” such rhetoric is not for his own social benefit. Instead, it is a gesture of gratitude for her own social activity as a social patron (euergetistic) to the collegia of the church in Cenchrea.


Robert Wilken asserts: “We have a distorted view of the history of early Christianity… The historian of Christianity has given the impression that the rest of the canvas is simply background for the closeup —relegating the general history of the times to an introductory chapter of vague generalities.”[23] Hopefully, this paper provides a closer, native (emic) reading. The smaller the cultural and linguistic gap is, the more accurate the reading. May this paper accomplish its task, to gain realistic perceptions from primary sources which can illustrate and contextualize patronage as an important Greco-Roman imperial phenomenon.


  1. David A. deSilva, “Honor and Shame,” “Patronage,” DNTB 518-22, 766-71; Donald Walker, “Benefactor,” DNTB 157-59; Halvor Moxnes, “Patron-Client Relations and the New Community in Luke-Acts,” in The Social World of Luke-Acts, ed. J. H. Neyrey (1991; repr., Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 241-68; Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 66-69.
  2. Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World (Louisville: John Knox, 1981), 80.
  3. Ralph P. Martin, “Approaches to New Testament Exegesis,” in New Testament Interpretation, ed. I. Howard Marshall (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 220-51.
  4. Albert A. Bell, Jr., Exploring the New Testament World (Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 2.
  5. M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., “Sociological Criticism,” in Interpreting the New Testament, eds. David A. Black and David S. Dockery (Nashville: B&H, 2001), 171.
  6. Jerome H. Neyrey, Paul, In Other Words (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990), 13.
  7. Neyrey, Paul, 14-17. Neyrey’s distinctions and concerns have value, but he makes a hardline dichotomy between Paul as one who receives supra-cultural insight (i.e., from God) and Paul as a fully incarnated product of his times (18). This distinction ignores Paul’s stated role from God. This is one of Mulholland’s four critiques of this model, it tends to be human-centered, often grounded in dynamic models foreign to the Roman world, imposes the model on the evidence, and lends itself to sociological reductionism (“Sociological Criticism,” 178-80).
  8. David A. deSilva, The Hope of Glory: Honor Discourse and New Testament Interpretation (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1999). The “native informants” are “our best instructors” (xi).
  9. Bell, Exploring the New Testament World, 191-92.
  10. Ferguson, Backgrounds, 67; Florence DuPont, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, trans. C. Woodall (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993); Micahel Grant, A Social History of Greece and Rome (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1992).
  11. Juvenal, Satire 1.95-126, http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/juv-sat1eng.asp.
  12. Jérôme Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, ed. Henry T. Rowell, trans. E. O. Lorimer (1940; repr., New Haven: Yale University, 1968), 171.
  13. Grant, Social History of Greece and Rome, 30, 54, 70-76, 114-119.
  14. Grant, Social History of Greece and Rome, 75-76.
  15. See also the verbal, and substantival, usages in Wisdom 3:5, 11:5, 13, 16:2, 19:13-14; 2 Macc 8:6; 4 Macc 8:6; Greek Esther 16:2-3 = 8:12c (tōn euergetoúntōn), 13 = 8:12n (euergétēn). Of these sources, Mordecai is framed as sōtēra and euergétēn (cf. God in LXX Psa 12:6, 56:3, 114:7).
  16. Quotations for the Old Testament Apocrypha are taken from New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible (Nashville: Nelson, 1989). The Greek text is from Septuaginta (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1996).
  17. Erlend D. MacGillivray, “Romans 16:2, prostátis/prostátes, and the Application of Reciprocal Relationships to New Testament Texts,” NovT 53 (2011): 183-99.
  18. R. A. Kearsley, “Women in Public Life in the Roman East: Iunia Theodora, Claudia Metrodora and Phoebe, Benefactress of Paul,” TynB 50.2 (1999): 189-211.
  19. Frederick W. Danker, Jesus and the New Age According to St. Luke (St. Louis: Clayton Publishing, 1979), 222.
  20. Moxnes, “Patron-Client Relations,” 261.
  21. Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the Kingdom (1988; repr., Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 158.
  22. Caroline F. Whelan, “Amica Pauli: The Role of Phoebe in the Early Church,” JSNT 49 (1993): 67-85.
  23. Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University, 1984), xiv.


Bell, Albert A., Jr. Exploring the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Jesus and the First Christians. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998.

Carcopino, Jérôme. Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire. Edited by Henry T. Rowell. Translated by E. O. Lorimer. 1940. Repr., New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1968.

Danker, Frederick W. Jesus and the New Age According to St. Luke: A Commentary on the Third Gospel. 1972. Repr., St. Louis, MO: Clayton Publishing, 1979.

deSilva, David A. “Honor and Shame.” DNTB. 518-22.

deSilva, David A. The Hope of Glory: Honor Discourse and New Testament Interpretation. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999.

deSilva, David A. “Patronage” DNTB. 766-71.

DuPont, Florence. Daily Life in Ancient Rome. Translated by Christopher Woodall. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

Grant, Michael. A Social History of Greece and Rome. New York, NY: Scribner’s Sons, 1992.

Kearsley, R. A. “Women in Public Life in the Roman East: Iunia Theodora, Claudia Metrodora and Phoebe, Benefactress of Paul.” TynB 50.2 (1999): 189-211.

MacGillivray, Erlend D. “Romans 16:2, prostátis/prostátes, and the Application of Reciprocal Relationships to New Testament Texts.” NovT 53 (2011): 183-99.

Malina, Bruce J. The New Testament World: Insight from Cultural Anthropology. Atlanta, GA: Knox, 1981.

Moxnes, Halvor. The Economy of the Kingdom: Social Conflict and Economic Relations in Luke’s Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1988. Repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004.

——-. “Patron-Client Relations and the New Community in Luke-Acts.” Pages 241-68 in The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation. Edited by Jerome H. Neyrey. 1991. Repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993.

Mulholland, M. Robert, Jr. “Sociological Criticism.” Pages 170-86 in Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues. Edited by David Alan Black and David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2001.

Neyrey, Jerome H. Paul, In Other Words: A Cultural Reading of His Letters. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1990.

Walker, Donald D. “Benefactor.” DNTB. 157-59.

Whelan, Caroline F. “Amica Pauli: The Role of Phoebe in the Early Church.” JSNT 49 (1993): 67-85.

Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1984.


Regarding the Divide Between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History

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There is a long-standing view that an impassible divide exists between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. This paper is about crossing this epistemic divide centered on what can be known about Jesus. Many scholars believe this divide cannot be bridged, but this paper argues that it can.

Growing up in San Francisco, I was surrounded by bridges. Traveling northbound from the San Francisco peninsula, one crosses the Golden Gate Straight by virtue of the world famous Golden Gate Bridge. Traveling eastbound, out of “the city,” there is the less famous double-stacked Oakland Bay Bridge, which is the workhorse among the Bay Area bridges. There are two events connected to these bridges have taught me two relevant lessons.

First, during the 6.9m 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a large section of the top level (outbound) of the Bay Bridge collapsed. I watched, on a small battery powered radio-tv, a news report of a vehicle attempting to jump the divide, only to fail tragically. The vehicle had no ability to jump the gap. I learned that day that hope is not enough to cross a wide gap. We must evaluate the evidence to “look before we leap.” Second, few know that many said the Golden Gate straight could not be bridged. In fact, engineering experts said a bridge would never be built because the straight was too long, the winds were too strong, the waters would be a nightmare for construction, and the fog would further hamper the process. Yet, four years of construction (1933-1937) later, the impossible expanse was built. Sometimes, the naysayers give you the planks upon which to build your bridge.

Christianity and the Impassable Divide

These anecdotes inspire me to challenge the so-called “impassable” ditch at hand. It is not a small challenge, for the claim has been made by some of the sharpest minds in “thinking” history. It is, nevertheless, part of the calling of every Christian to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15 ESV).[1] Peter was aware that Christians will be called upon to explain the connection between their behavior and their conviction in Jesus as Lord (1 Pet 4:1-5). Life and faith converge in Jesus. What some would argue is an impassable gulf -reality and value/significance- was the connective tissues of a Christian ethical apologetic. It may be argued, then, that first-century Christians were already crossing the “impassable” bridge between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

Peter anticipated no epistemic difficulty -no crisis- explaining how “Jesus as Lord” connects with significance to the everyday issues of his life and his future. Accordingly, this early text assumes that the full identity of Jesus held an immediate significance to the lives of struggling Christians. It is the result of both his historic existence and his spiritual Lordship viewed as one tightly interwoven reality. This “interwoven reality” is not, however, the view of many within the academic circles of biblical and philosophical criticism.

This issue at hand is multifaceted and complicated, but it is not insurmountable nor impassable. One must evaluate the evidence and acknowledge the complexity of the problem at hand in order to offer a solution. For instance, there is a large time-gap between today and the first-century. This raises a lot of genuine historical questions all by itself concerning sources which provide any measure of access to Jesus. Further, those ancient sources must be evaluated to test their genuineness to weigh their authenticity and accuracy to verify if they are primary or secondary sources, literary or non-literary sources. These and many other questions are used to evaluate ancient sources that allow the historian to reconstruct a probable and revisable picture of the ancient past. If the current matter were simply an issue regarding sources, then there are numerous literary sources from the first-century which point to Jesus, the events and personalities surrounding his ministry, his death, and the belief and practices of early Christians. Many have discussed and debated these sources,[2] but the tension at hand focuses on a level a bit “deeper” than literary sources (though they will be considered).

At its core, the problem at hand is epistemic; that is, it centers on “how” knowledge is obtained, how knowledge connects the self “within” (internal) to the world “without” (external).[3] David Lipe briefly summarizes it as, “the study of the origin, nature, extent and reliability of knowledge.”[4] Vergilius Ferm points out that epistemology seeks to answer the following questions:

What is the source of human knowledge? What are its limitations? How do we come by our knowledge of the external world, of ourselves, of others? How can we trust our ideas as valid?[5]

Schools of thought, such as empiricism and rationalism, and the debates which they create have formed the basis of the dichotomy that pits the “historical Jesus” against the Christ faith-claim. In particular, with rationalism (Decartes, Spinoza, Leibniz), mind (a priori) is regarded as being given authority/primacy over the senses (a posteriori); that is, a priori knowledge is superior to a posteriori knowledge. Conclusions drawn would be deductively reasoned knowledge such as Aristotle’s “laws of thought.” On the other hand, empiricism (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) approaches knowledge from the other direction -the senses/experience; that is, a posteriori knowledge is regarded superior to a priori knowledge. This would be inductively experienced knowledge grounded in life.[6]

Enter Immanuel Kan (1724-1804). In the late eighteenth century, Kant would attempt to split the difference by attempting to synthesize and hold both in tension. That is, we can know “how” we know something, but the knowledge is completely subjective. Knowledge is only a perception, a “representation,” and not actually real to life (the thing in-itself).[7] Kant develops the thought this way:

all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the case with objects in themselves and abstracted from all this receptivity of our sensibility remains entirely unknown to us.[8]

Yet, as Norman Geisler points out, Kant’s epistemology results into a self-defeating “philosophical agnosticism.”[9] Attempts like these to explain how we obtain knowledge is at the core of the so-called impassable gulf between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

The Contours of the Impassable Divide

This debate fundamentally represents the struggle between connecting the tangible to the intangible, life and significance, the historic and the historical. In addition to a number of certain epistemic concerns, the divide is infused with an anti-supernatural bias which has manifested in at least five forms.[10] They are summarized briefly here, with the danger of oversimplification:

Gotthold E. Lessing (1729-1781) argued that there is an “ugly ditch” between historical contingent truths and the eternal necessary truths. His “ugly ditch” language has essentially framed the whole conversation.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that there is a gulf between facts (contingent truths) and values (experience/reasons) that cannot be bridged but by faith (not knowledge).

Martin Kähler (1835-1912) expressed his concern for a reconstructed (historical) Jesus that must be mediated by the trained hands of critical scholarship. Kähler affirmed an impassable divide between the historical (reconstructed) Jesus and the historic (real) Jesus that cannot be cross unless by faith evoked by the historic Jesus. 

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) viewed that the “historical” has no connection to the eternal, so real history is immaterial to the “leap of faith” toward the spiritual/eternal.

Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), argued that Jesus —as built on untrustworthy sources (Christian testimony, myths, and legends)— is not relevant for faith nor spiritual truth claims. It is the symbolism that matters at an existential level, that is, the meaning intended by such “sources.”

These all reflect a gap, a ditch, a divide, for which it is claimed that they cannot be bridged. It will be, then, the approach of this paper to first briefly critique the arguments for this impassable gap. Then, attention will be given to ancient sources, both within the New Testament canon and outside the New Testament canon to demonstrate that history and value claims must be intertwined to make sense of evidence. From this, provisional conclusions will be made that are reasonable and consistent with this evidence.

Critique of the Impassable Gap of the Historical Quest

The problem with the arguments used to articulate the dichotomy of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are typically self-defeating and beg the question at the methodological level. The “gap” issue significantly touches on the crux of the quest for historical Jesus. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) points to Lessing’s publication of Herman S. Reimarus’ Fragments in which Reimarus separates what the apostles said about Jesus from what Jesus said about himself.[11] Since Schweitzer, the publication of Fragments has been viewed as the early stages of the quest for the historical Jesus.

Gotthold E. Lessing

Reimarus influenced Lessing, and who in turn, affirmed a tension between the relationship of history and revelation. Lessing states this as “the ugly broad ditch”; namely, “accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason [and revelation].”[12] For Lessing, a Spinozan pantheistic deist, there is no supernaturalism in the world. So, events are fortuitous (accidental) and have no meaning/significance of themselves. Why, because like Spinoza, Lessing argues that since God is immanent and extends throughout creation, he naturally governs the world with its unbreakable natural law. Accordingly, supernatural activity (miracles, providence, etc) is impossible because to do so would violate his own nature as expressed in natural law. Thus, miracles are impossible and God does not reveal himself in history. Thus, Jesus the real-person (a posteriori) is not associated with the faith-truth as the Christ (a priori) by definition. In fact, no religious claim can be absolutely true.

Lessing’s argument, however, presumes that “natural law” is inflexible. A further problem in Lessing’s epistemology is its self-defeating agnosticism that not only arbitrarily forces a divide between history and truth. For, in order to make the observation (a posteriori) that history and value (a priori) are detached from one another, Lessing must make an absolute value statement based on how history and value relate to each other historically. So, Lessing is doing what his thesis says is impossible to do: to intertwine history and evaluative judgments.

Immanuel Kant

This is essentially the same fundamental flaw in Immanuel Kant’s agnosticism (that he knows that one can perceive but not know a thing in itself). Again, Kant says,

We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though to be sure it pertains to every human being.[13]

People only know what they think they know, and what they know is not necessarily true “in itself.” This is the tension of his contradictions (“antinomies”) which, therefore, force him to reject a priori (and ontologically) arguments for believing a thing to be true in itself. For example, what is logically necessary, is not actually necessary.[14] Consequently, the Bible is not the result of God adapting to human finiteness (which is logically necessary) but is instead a book of mythology. It is not actually necessary that the Bible be from God, and such a truth claim is only a perception. Instead, what has more logical value and tangible significance to Kant is one’s duty to their neighbor.[15] Thus, the events of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels, then, is a subjective statement of a spiritual truth-claim that Jesus is the Christ of faith.

In order for Kant to make this claim (that we only know perceptions, no what is real in-itself), he is must make an absolute truth (a priori) claim in a world that he has argued can only be perceived in a subjective manner. Kant self-defeats himself by crossing the divine he denies is possible cross. Would not the argument, “I know for certain that it is impossible to know a thing in itself” argue that Kant knows this as a historical truth claim in itself? Kant derails himself.

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard argued for a dichotomy which “real history” is unimportant to faith, or rather, that it is impossible to move from the historical toward the spiritual. Kierkegaard finds no causation between a historical event and meaning (its value, or truth). In fact, this is his great paradox when it comes to truth claims since human knowledge is unable to have certainty about meaning and significance. Thus, for example, spiritual truth is beyond human rationality. For Kierkegaard seeking how to explain or understand the nature of God, one enters a paradox/contradiction. The act to explain the nature of God, is in effect, to limit a full understanding of God. To be certain about something is to limit what can be known about something.

In this sense faith —in particular, Christian faith— is a different beast altogether, for it carries within it a built-in certainty to its truth claims. In Kierkegaard’s view, it is purely nonsense that by understanding what happens in history (Jesus of history), one can obtain knowledge of the contradiction — the non-historical (Jesus of faith). Therefore, fact and history are not as important to Kierkegaard as the “leap of faith.” The problem is, as Geisler sums up, “while the historical as such does not bring one into contact wth the eternal, neither can the eternal be divorced from real history.”[16] Yet, Kiekergaard’s case proves too much on this point, for “the shift in emphasis from fact to value leads to the denial of fact and its support of faith.” It is not that all of his observations are to be dismissed, but he undermines the role of fact to understand value-claims.

Martin Kähler

Martin Kähler, who builds on Kant, also voiced his concern that the “real Christ” is not the Christ of Faith. This point is easily misunderstood. Kähler rightly argued that historical research should inform faith, so he was loved by liberals but hated by conservatives. Kähler also rejected attempts to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith and was loved by conservatives and hated by liberals. He served, therefore, as a middle ground historical critic, who was “loved” and “hated” by conservative and liberals but for different reasons. Kähler coined the phrases “historical Jesus” (historische) and “historic Jesus” (geschichtliche), yet what he meant by the terms is not how most employ the term today. The “historical Jesus,” according to Kähler is a reconstructed Jesus based on scholarship which may, or may not correspond to the “historic Jesus” — that is, the real-life Jesus. Kähler took issue with equation the two.[17]

It came down to two problems. First, there is limited knowledge, or the lack thereof, to sufficiently “reconstruct” Jesus. Second, believers are at the mercy of the “fluid results” of scholarly reconstructions about Jesus. Jesus was, therefore, mediated by the elite scholars. For this reason, Kähler declares, “the real Christ, that is, the influential Christ, with whom millions in history have had fellowship in a childlike faith… is the preached Christ.”[18] The proclaimed Christ solved this problem. For this reason, Kähler made a distinction between the “historical Jesus” from the “historic Jesus.”

The line he draws on this point, between the two, is too strong and undermines the fact that the New Testament builds its case upon sources which are built on eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3). Even if one were to argue that there is a minimal amount of authentic evidential sources about Jesus, then to that degree a faithful reconstruction of the historic Jesus can be made and understood. Which in many respects is the case for everything that could be said about Jesus of Nazareth has not been recorded (John 20:30; 21:25).

Rudolf Bultmann

One of the most significant contributors to the dichotomy of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is Bultmann. Bultmann’s significance for New Testament criticism and theology are, according to Ricard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, equaled by few and excelled by none in the areas of form-criticism and the practice of demythologizing the New Testament.[19] Working on his form-critical methodology, Bultmann differentiated between the sayings of Jesus and the deeds of Jesus (e.g. Reimarus), between the pre-scientific worldview of Jesus’ day and today, and the fact that to accept this worldview would be to sacrifice one’s intellect. Thus, he argued for a non-historical symbolism based upon kerygmatic (proclamation) themes.

What matters from the New Testament point of view, he argued, are the transcendent truths of faith (existential meaning). Thus, the resurrection “myth” did not happen, but what matters is the transcendent truth the “resurrection” is suppose to provide.[20] However, form-criticism, when properly applied is about finding genres and even sub-genres of types of literature within a text(s). It is not inherently anti-supernatural as Bultmann wielded it. In one way, it is a tool for genre classification. In another, it provides the framework for what tools an exegete may require for interpretation.[21]

Yet, Bultmann infused his approach with a naturalism which rejects the supernatural by definition. Consequently, at the methodological level, Bultmann begs the question that miracles are not possible and builds an interpretive framework in which miracles do not make sense. However, if one employs a theistic worldview that leaves the possibility open that miracles are possible,[22] then Bultmann’s approach would not have created his mythological approach to understanding Jesus, which his student Ernst Kasemann viewed as docetic.

Ancient Sources on Jesus of Nazareth

Turning now to consider sources within the New Testament canon and those outside the New Testament canon. The New Testament documents clearly emphasize a concern for and establish the historical underpinnings of the gospel message. It is the presentation of Jesus as a historic, and not mythic, figure which leads Edward M. Blaiklock to affirm that “Christianity triumphed over its most serious opponent, the soldiers’ worship of the soldierly Mithras, largely because Christianity could oppose to the legendary Mithras the historical reality of Christ.”[23]

Canonical Christian Sources

Broadly, though, there are three tests of historicity, according to James P. Moreland, that establish that New Testament documents are “as reliable as, superior to, most other ancient documents.”[24] These general tests are: bibliographical tests, internal tests, and external tests.

First, is the bibliographical test, which establishes the number of extant manuscripts and how far removed they are from the originals. In the case of the New Testament documents, the extant Greek manuscript copies exceed 5,000 (not including quotations, ancient translation, lectionaries), in fragmentary or complete form, many of which are from the second-century. In this regard, the New Testament is the most attested document of the ancient world.[25]

Second, the internal tests evaluate any claims of representing eyewitness history. The Gospel accounts and Acts reflect eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4; 3:1-2; ). Luke tells us explicitly that his Gospel is in keeping with three aspects of early Christian testimony: preexisting accounts, earliest eyewitness testimony, and those who served to deliver the Word to the world. Moreover, Luke chronicles his involvement as a collaborator with Paul (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-38, 28:1-10). The letters reflect personal encounters with Jesus (1 John 1:1-4; 2 Pet 1:16-17; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:1-11), or with those close to first-generation disciples of Jesus (Gal 1:18-19; 2:1-14).

Third, the external test verifies if there is material evidence to confirm the reliability of the document. Edwin M. Yamauchi demonstrates that despite a long-standing skepticism against the historicity of New Testament, there are numerous significant and “insignificant” confirmation of the social, political, and geographical background of the New Testament and demonstrates the literary source to be reliable.[26] One instance may illustrate these observations. In Acts 18:12-17,  Paul stands before the tribunal of the governor (proconsul) of Greece (Achaia), one L. Junius Gallio. There is an inscription was found from Delphi with Gallio’s name on it. Most likely it refers to his proconsulship during July 51 to July 52, which means Paul’s year-and-a-half stay began a year or so before this time (ca. 50-51).[27]

Non-Christian Sources

The other side of this issue is ancient testimony outside of the New Testament. Rudolf Bultmann belief that the quest for the historical Jesus lacked non-Christian sources. He ignored Christian sources specifically because they eyewitness documents which he believed inserted legendary and mythological elements, and therefore, cannot be trusted. While the extant sources are not all the kinds which a historian might like (legal documentation, birth records, etc.), what is available serve as independent literary reinforcement of that Jesus of History and Christ of faith are one interwoven as one figure.

E. M. Blaiklock surveys the sort of extant ancient sources available from the first-century. The majority of which are not focused on the region of Judea nor on history. In fact, he writes, “Bookends set a foot apart on this desk where I write would enclose the works from those significant years. Curiously, much of it comes from Spanish emigrants in Rome.”[28] Yet, what is available impressively corroborates with the historical framework of the New Testament and the significance they assert for Jesus of Nazareth.

Non-Christian sources, moreover, may be grouped into six categories of various weight and detail.[29] There are ancient historians (Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Thallus), government official correspondence between (Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian), Jewish sources (Talmudic references to Jesus, Toledoth Jesu document), other Gentile sources which do not speak favorably of Christianity (Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion), and gnostic sources (Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, Treatise on Resurrection). The latter certainly have their theological slants, but they to point to Jesus as a historical figure.

Of these non-Christian sources, two sources will receive particular attention: first-century references to Jesus in the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (ca. AD 56-121) and Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (ca. AD 37-100).

Cornelius Tacitus

Tacitus was a Friend of Pliny and Suetonius. He began writing history in AD 98 with a volume about his father-in-law, Argicola, and another about Germany, Germania. Then early in the second-century, Tacitus published two more volumes, Histories (ca. AD 100-109) and Annals (ca. AD 109-116).[30] The Histories focus on the political troubles of Rome during A.D. 69-96, including the destruction of Jerusalem (Histories 5). The Annals chronicle the reign of Augustus to Nero (AD 14-68). In describing the depravity of the Caesars, Tacitus digresses with a note about the burning of Rome:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. (Annals 15.44)[31]

Robert L. Wilken explains the usage of the term “superstition” (Lat. superstitio) in its common and familiar sense, “the term superstition referred to beliefs and practices that were foreign and strange to the Romans… that had penetrated the Roman world from surrounding lands.”[32] This is how Tacitus and other Romans felt about such groups.

More to the point, Tacitus is a Roman historian with no interest in proving Jesus existed; however, he knew the basic facts of his death as he “suffered the extreme penalty” and during the proper time frame and location while Pilate was procurator in Judea (AD 26–36).

Flavius Josephus

Flavius Josephus is a self-described first-century Pharisee and Jewish rebel during the early Jewish rebellion against Rome, who surrendered to Rome.[33] He wrote of the Jewish and Roman dynamics of the Jewish War provides a retelling of Jewish history in Antiquities of the Jews, an autobiography (Vita), and a defense of Judaism (Against Apion). There are three references in his works which are of interest, Antiquities 18:63-64, 18.116-119 and 20.200. The latter two are rather straightforward as they reference John the Baptist and James the brother of Jesus.

The first reference is Antiquities 18.116–117, in which John the Baptist is mentioned:

Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.

The reference is strikingly similar to the way the Gospel accounts outline the fate of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29).

The second reference is Antiquities 20.200, in which the Christian leader, James, is mentioned in passing as a digression to Josephus’s discussion of Ananus’s ambition to exercise his authority. Josephus mentions him as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ… James”:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was put upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and, when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.

Jesus is James’s “famous” brother. The Gospel accounts describe Jesus as having siblings (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 6:42) and the apostle Paul acknowledged James as “the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19). Interestingly, Origen (ca. 184-253) comments on this reference, “though he [Josephus] did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great” (Comm in Matt 10.17).[34]

The third reference, known as the Testimonium Flavianum (18:63-64), is complicated by Josephus’ favorable description of Jesus. The passage includes such descriptions of that question whether one should call Jesus “a man,” “he was [the] Christ,” “a doer of wonderful works,” “for he appeared to them [the disciples] alive again the third day,” and “as the divine prophets had foretold.” The textual strength of the passage is strong, but it appears to be out of balance with what is know about Josephus’s belief about Jesus (Origen above).

Origen, who appears knowledgeable of this material in Josephus, curiously does not seize upon the passage as it stands today. Eusebius appears to be the first ancient author to cite the testimonium in its present form (Ecclesiastical History 1.11).[35] James South argues, along with many scholars, that this passages is evidence of a tampering with the passage, the “culprit” most likely being an unknown Christian scribe.[36] The general approach, then, is to redact the passage to eliminate the positive language from the passage.[37] Like the following redaction to William Whiston’s translation:

Now, there was about this time, Jesus a wise man. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Nevertheless, historical scholarship agrees that Josephus said something about Jesus here. What is clear, though, is that Josephus, a premier historian of first-century Judea is fully aware of Jesus, as he is aware of Pilate, Herod, John the Baptist, and James.

Concluding Thoughts

A study like this needs to come to a sense of balance with regards to objectivity. Norman Geisler reminds that “if objective means, ‘a fair but revisable presentation that reasonable men and women should accept,’ then the door is open to the possibility of objectivity.”[38] The goal has been to cross the impassable epistemic gulf believed to exist between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. It is believed that the goal has been reached. There are just a few general observations which should be made in conclusion. First, E. P. Sanders makes an important point and warning about sifting through the available sources concerning Jesus:

Ancient history is difficult. It requires above all common sense and a good feel for sources. Our sources contain information about Jesus, but we cannot get at it by dogmatically deciding that some sentences are completely accurate and some are fiction. The truth will usually lie somewhere in between. As I have already said more than once, and may repeat several more times, we have very good knowledge of Jesus at a somewhat general level. With regard to chronology, we know that he was active during some part of the period 26-36 C.E. It is wrongheaded to try to turn the gospels – and, for that matter, Josephus – into modern encyclopaedia [sic] articles, or to suppose that one sentence is dead right, and the others are completely wrong.[39]

Only when we seek to establish by the ancient evidence what can be established historically, then we are in the position to intertwine reliable history (a posteriori) and the significance (a priori) of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The impossible bridge, then has been made. Second, despite the complexity of historic inquiry, a worldview and framework can be articulated that is objective and not be anti-supernatural.

Third, both Christian and non-Christian sources do provide evidence and information that is objective and informative regarding what was believed to have occurred by eyewitnesses and historians. Finally, at minimum here, it can be affirmed that historical evidence points to Jesus as a “wise man” who “drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles,” died under the proconsulship of “Pilate” who was influenced by the “principal men” among the Jews to condemned Jesus “to the cross;” nevertheless, Jesus had disciples “that loved him at the first who did not forsake” and they are may thought of as “tribe of Christians… so named from him… [and] … are not extinct at this day.” Bridge toll paid.


  1. Unless otherwise stated all quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).

  2. Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 187–228; F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974); Edward M. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ: Man or Myth? (1974; repr. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1984),19–31; Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987), 190–233; Graham N. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University, 1989), 139–49.

  3. C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 39–40.

  4. David L. Lipe, Values in Thought and Action (Henderson, TN: Hester Publications, 2001), 7.

  5. Vergilius Ferm, “Epistemology,” in Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. Lefferts A. Loetscher (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1955), 1:385.

  6. Ferm, “Epistemology,” 386.

  7. Michael Rohlf, “Immanuel Kant,” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant/#TraIde.

  8. Rohlf, “Immanuel Kant.”
  9. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapid, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 401–05.

  10. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 141–42.

  11. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 385–86

  12. Ricard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 102.

  13. Rohlf, “Immanuel Kant.”

  14. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 402.

  15. Lipe, Values, 78.

  16. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 409.

  17. Soulen and Soulen, Biblical Criticism, 92.

  18. Martin Kähler, “Martin Kähler on the Historical Jesus,” in The Christian Theology Reader, 2d ed., ed. Alister E. McGrath (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 294.

  19. Soulen and Soulen, Biblical Criticism, 28, Evans, Apologetics and Philosophy, 18–19.

  20. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 517–18; Colin Brown, “Quest of Historical Jesus,” DJG 334–35.

  21. Stephen H. Travis, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods, ed. I. Howard Marshall (1977; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 153–64.

  22. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 320–30.

  23. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ, 11.

  24. James P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (1987; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988), 133–57.

  25. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 135-37; Philip W. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 103–98.

  26. Edwin Yamauchi, “Archaeology and the New Testament,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gæbelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 1:647–69.

  27. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 545-86; Mark Cartwright, “Corinth,” http://www.ancient.eu/corinth/.

  28. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ, 11-12; see, Wayne Jackson, “Jesus Christ: Myth or Genuine History,” https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1061-jesus-christ-myth-or-genuine-history.
  29. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 187–228; Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 381–85; James T. South, Just Jesus: The Evidence of History, Kindle ed. (Chillicothe, OH: DeWard Publications, 2012), loc. 237–555.

  30. Albert A. Bell, Exploring the New Testament World (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998), 289.

  31. Tacitus, Annals 15.44. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=urn:cts:latinLit:phi1351.phi005.perseus-eng1:15.44.

  32. Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 50.

  33. Bell, New Testament World, 289.

  34. Origen, “Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew Book 10.” http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/101610.htm.

  35. Ken Olsen, “Eusebius Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum,” http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5871.

  36. South writes, “What we have here is likely a legitimate text from Josephus, in which he mentioned Jesus, but which has been re-worked by a Christian editor” (Just Jesus, loc. 318); Charles K. Barrett, New Testament Background: Selected Documents (1956; repr., New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1961), 198.

  37. Olsen, “Eusebius Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum”; Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, 39.

  38. Geisler, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 320–30.

  39. E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (repr. London: Penguin Books, 1995), 55–56.


Barrett, Charles K. New Testament Background: Selected Documents.1956. Repr., New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1961.

Bell, Albert A. Exploring the New Testament World. Nashville: Nelson, 1998.

Blackburn, Simon. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. 2d edition. Oxford: Oxford University, 2005.

Blaiklock, Edward M. Jesus Christ: Man or Myth? 1974. Repr., Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1984.

Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospel. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity, 1987.

Brown, Colin. “Quest of Historical Jesus.” DJG 326–41.

Bruce, Frederick F. Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974.

Bultmann, Rudolf. History of the Synoptic Tradition. Translated by John Marsh. Revised edition. Repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n.d.

Comfort, Philip W. Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005.

Craig, William Lane. “‘Noli Me Tangere’: Why John Meier Won’t Touch the Risen Lord.” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/noli-me-tangere-why-john-meier-wont-touch-the-risen-lord.

Evans, C. Stephen. Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.

Evans, Craig A. “Do the New Testament Gospels Present a Reliable Portrait of the Historical Jesus?CTR n.s. 13.2 (Spring 2016): 17–26.

Farnell, F. David. “Three Searches for the ‘Historical Jesus’ but no Biblical Christ: The Rise of the Searches (Part 1).” Master’s Seminary Journal 23.1 (Spring 2012): 7–42.

Farnell, F. David. “Three Searches for the ‘Historical Jesus’ but no Biblical Christ (Part 2): Evangelical Participation in the Search for the ‘Historical Jesus.’” Master’s Seminary Journal 24.1 (Spring 2013): 25–67.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

Ferm, Vergilius. “Epistemology.” Pages 385-87 in vol. 1 of Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Edited by Lefferts A. Loetscher. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1955.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Habermas, Gary R. “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3.1 (Sum 2012): 15–26. Repr., http://www.garyhabermas.com.

Jackson, Wayne. “Jesus Christ: Myth or Genuine.” https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1061-jesus-christ-myth-or-genuine-history.

Jackson, Wayne. “The Nature of History.” https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1332-nature-of-history-the.

Kähler, Martin. “Martin Kähler on the Historical Jesus.” Pages 292-95 in The Christian Theology Reader. 2d edition. Edited by Alister E. McGrath. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

Lipe, David L. Values in Thought and Action. Henderson, TN: Hester Publications, 2001.

Moreland, James P. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. 1987. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988.

Olsen, Ken. “Eusebius Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum.” http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5871.

Rohlf, Michael. “Immanuel Kant.” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant.

Sanders, E. P. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1993.

Soulen, Richard N., and R. Kendall Soulen. Handbook of Biblical Criticism. 3rd edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001.

South, James T. Just Jesus: The Evidence of History. Kindle edition. Chillicothe, OH: DeWard Publishing, 2012.

Stanton, Graham N. The Gospel and Jesus. Oxford Bible Series. Edited by Peter R. Ackroyd and Graham N. Stanton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Travis, Stephen H. “Form Criticism.” Pages 153-64 in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods. Edited by I. Howard Marshall. 1977. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979.

Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1984.

Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Archaeology and the New Testament.” Pages 647–69 in vol. 1 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank Gæbelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979.

Proverbs 1-9 and the Teaching of Wisdom

college papers

The book of Proverbs was the first book of the Bible that I read as a new Christian in 1996. It called my attention and spoke to me with wisdom that I did not have. It literally saved my life. I come from a street gang background, and after leaving it behind for Christ I would receive invitations and phone calls to “go out” with friends still living the life I had abandoned. The hard part was that I cared for my friends but I knew that the life they were living was dangerous. On one occasion, after reading Proverbs, I denied an invitation to go out. My friend asked, “Why?” I said, “Let me read you something.” I read to him Proverbs 1:1-33 verbatim from the American Standard Version.[1] He did not like what he heard, but he understood. It would almost be a decade later when I would have a safe outing with my old friends. In that moment, though, Proverbs spoke for me with the wisdom I did not have at the time, the words of wisdom which promise life when followed, and warnings of calamity when not.

On face value, Proverbs promises to all those who would read and apply its words of protection from calamity. The first verses invite people to learn wisdom. It calls out with the words, “To know wisdom… to discern the words… to receive instruction… to give prudence… knowledge and discretion” (1:2-4 ASV). These synonymously paralleled ideas highlight the strength, beauty, and power of this book. I am indebted to Proverbs for giving me the words and a plan of action for speaking to my friend when I was very tempted to say yes and go out with him and others. It cannot be overstated that this paper on Proverbs is not a mere academic exercise in biblical hermeneutics and interpretive methods, and their bearing on Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature. I do not believe that an academic judicious study of the Scriptures must ignore or be disinterested in practical engagement of the same. The wisdom psalm says our “delight” must be “in the law of the Lord” wherein we should meditate upon it “day and night” and, as a consequence, our actions bear its fruit (Psa 1:2-3 ESV).[2]

The present paper focuses, though, upon the contents of Proverbs 1-9 and the methodology within this section to teach wisdom. The impetus for this paper is the intriguing use of two women (Lady Wisdom, Dame/Madam Folly) dueling for the attention of a “lover/spouse” (the reader), the use of a father-figure addressing his son as to the importance of selecting a companion from one of these women, and how this motif and strategy is used to teach wisdom —presumably from God. This paper will contextualize Proverbs 1-9 in order to properly understand its literary features (genre), structure (the instruction speeches), and strategies (how it teaches wisdom); so that, trajectories may be suggested for personal spiritual growth in wisdom. The home and the church needs more wise people active in this world.

Consider first the cautionary words of Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman, III:

We will surely distort God’s message to us if we read the Old Testament as if it had been written yesterday. We will surely misapply it to our lives and the communities in which we live if we don’t take into account the discontinuity between the Israelites… and us Christians living at the beginning of the third millennium.[3]

In an attempt to reduce these potential gaps, this paper will have two movements. First, Proverbs will be considered as a work of Hebrew Poetry set within the international context of Wisdom Literature. Second, the strength of interpreting Proverbs 1-9 as a significant collection within the anthology of the whole book will be examined. Finally, some conclusions will be drawn.

1. Contextualizing the Genre of Proverbs

Proverbs is a work of Hebrew Poetry set within an ancient international context of Wisdom Literature. Proverbs must be read in light of the stylistic poetic methods of the ancient Hebrews rather than in the light of modern literary expectations. Karen Jobes reminds that the “unfamiliarity of ancient literary genres found in the Bible is undoubtedly a stumbling block to interpretation — and has been throughout the history of the church.”[4] Due to the antiquity and foreignness of the Hebrew Bible, it is important to bridge this interpretive gap by understanding the form through which God communicates His Word. To even begin to understand Hebrew poetry the Bible student must enter into “the image world of the poet” derived from “the ancient biblical culture” which is most likely quite different from the present modern (or post-modern) era today.[5] To lament with Samuel Sandmel, outside of allusions to David, Solomon, “certain ‘guilds,’” and the mentions of Asaph and the sons of Korah in the superscriptions of the Psalms, “Scripture tells us virtually nothing about the poets.”[6] Nevertheless, the legacy of their poetry suggests that they were wordsmiths and craftsmen[7] leveraged by the Spirit of God to communicate His Word in poetic form.

Poetry Appreciation

Poetry —ancient Near Eastern (ANE) or modern— is quite a different literary creature than narratives and civic codifications. To appreciate poetry and non-prosaic literature, it must be approached “with our imaginations sharpened, our rhythmic senses ready to carry us along the swells and recesses.” In others words, a poetic frame of mind must be at the ready if there will be any enjoyment or profit when reading poetic sections and books of the Bible.[8] Why? Because poetry is crafted to convey truth by means of emotion and imagery; the imagery is not to be pressed for its literalness. This is critical because the Hebrew Bible particularly is comprised of many books and sections which are framed in poetry (verse or proverb). This is a core hermeneutical skill needed to interpret and understand a large section of the Hebrew Bible, of which only Leviticus, Ruth, Ezra-Esther, Haggai and Malachi have no poetic sections.[9] Ultimately, poetry is regarded as the second most prevalent form of literature in either testament.[10]

Proverbs must be set within the international context of Wisdom Literature for this is the background of its poetic forms. This is not comfortable for some Bible students; however, when the biblical writings are set within their historical context, it becomes observable that biblical writers use the literary genres and conventions of their day and international heritage.[11] This is true as for the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament. For example, the Greco-Roman world was a letter writing community and its capacity to send information through a letter as a surrogate for a personal visit was powerfully used by the apostles and Christian prophets.[12] This utilitarian means led to the dominance of the epistolary genre of the New Testament. Likewise, it is clear that the form and function of Proverbs that its poetic nature is tied to an internationally known literary genre which centers upon teaching wisdom. It is not the form that makes them unique, it is the revelation they bear from God which set Israel’s Wisdom Literature apart from its international counterparts (2 Tim 3:16).

Consequently, while the context of God’s relationship with Israel may satisfy many interpreters of Proverbs for understanding the formation of the wisdom genre, it is probably better to understand Israel’s Wisdom Literature within the “contemporary” international context of the ANE. Merrill F. Unger offers, however, a valuable caution. Unger stresses a value for the contributions of scholarship from a variety of disciplines external to the text of Scripture (archaeology, ethnology, history, etc.), provided such disciplines are “purged of the leaven of unbelief and the unhappy results of a professed scientific but invalid method of approach that reposes [i.e., sets, lies] authority in unaided human reason.”[13] The concern is a valid one, but this conviction must not breed a fear which hinders properly contextualizing the Old Testament (cf. Longman).

International Wisdom Literature

With this said, Kenton L. Sparks, John H. Walton, and William W. Hallo have cataloged a vast array of documents and texts which make it clear that “wisdom was an international rather than strictly Israelite/Jewish phenomenon.”[14] These wisdom texts are spread across three broad ancient international regions and “states”: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the West Semitic and Hittite. The existence of Wisdom Literature external to biblical sources goes back to the third millennium BC. In Mesopotamia, wisdom is identified in such texts as the Sumerian Proverbs, the Instruction of Shuruppak, the Instruction of Urninurta, the Counsels of Wisdom, and the Advice to a Prince.[15] In Egypt, “Instruction” texts such as the following share a striking literary correspondence with Proverbs: Instruction of Ptahhotep, Instruction of Merikare, and Instruction of Any and Instruction of Amenemope.[16] In the third group, the Aramaic Proverbs of Ahiqar bears similarities with the numerical sayings of Proverbs (6:16-19).[17]

Consider a few conclusion drawn by Old Testament scholars regarding these extra-biblical international sources of Wisdom Literature. First, Walton demonstrates (following Kitchen)[18] that “a great deal of formal similarity exists between the Instruction of the ancient Near East and the book of Proverbs.”[19] Thus, one cannot ignore this similarity. Second, Israel’s wisdom genre is a late-comer, however, when compared to the international community. Nevertheless, despite the existence of international Wisdom Literature which predates Israel’s, one should not confuse pre-existing genre and form as a subversive challenge to divine revelation. Third, many of these texts are generally framed between a father and a son, provide advice and counsel, and employ riddles and figurative language. 

In the Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom (lines 81-84)[20] a father speaks to his son:

//My son, if it be the wish of a ruler that you belong to him, //If you are entrusted with his closely guarded seal, //Open his treasure (and) enter it, //For no one but you may do it.

In the Instruction of Shuruppak (lines 31-34)[21] there are sections reminiscent of the concern about proper conduct especially around a married woman (Prov 2:16-22, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27):

My son, do not commit robbery, do not cut yourself with an axe. //Do not act as the bridegroom’s friend in a wedding, do not … yourself. //Do not laugh with a girl who is married; the slander is strong. //My son, do not sit (alone) in a chamber with a woman who is married.

Fourth, the wisdom “Instructional sayings” texts emphasizing the passing on of instruction by imperatival phrases (“listen, my son”) find strong intertextual similarities with Proverbs 1-9, 22-24, and 30-31.[22] For example, the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemopet shares common literary features with the prologue of Proverbs 1 and 22:17-24:22.[23]

Solomon’s Placement

These findings stand in agreement with the biblical narrative which frames the international influence and fame of King Solomon’s wisdom (1 King 4:29-34). Solomon’s kingdom (ca. 960-922 BCE) is connected to the international community of the world. There are five elements to this passage which underscore the international stature of wisdom in Israel due to Solomon.[24]

First, as a result of Solomon seeking wisdom and “an understanding mind to govern” Israel (1 King 3:9), God grants him “wisdom [hakmah] and understanding [tebuna] beyond measure” (4:29).[25]

Second, the richness of his wisdom is as the “breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore” (4:29).

Third, Solomon’s hakmah is intentionally stated to have surpassed the pre-existing wisdom tradition of the east (Mesopotamia?) and Egypt (4:30).[26]

Fourth, Solomon’s wisdom was regarded as exceptional at home among the men of Israel (4:31).[27]

Fifth, Solomon’s wisdom had achieved international acclaim (4:31-43). Perhaps, the catalogue of Solomon’s 3,000 proverbial sayings and his 1,005 songs (masal) were appealing for their artistry and craftsmanship: “And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (4:43).[28]

Furthermore, the mention of the Ezion-geber seaport and capable seamen in 1 Kings 9:26-28 and 2 Chronicles 8:17-18 provides insight into the international trade and military capacity of Israel during the reign of Solomon. The capacity to use the sea would extend Israel’s connection to other nations and implicitly suggests that here was to some degree the transference of cultural and religious ideas. The point is, Israel was connected.[29]

Exploring the Purpose of Proverbs 1-9: Order and the Fear the Lord

What is the purpose the Wisdom Literature as revealed in Proverbs 1-9? A survey of scholarly sources can easily demonstrate the difficulty inherent in defining biblical wisdom. Some define wisdom, and ultimately the purpose of Wisdom Literature, from the point of view of a chase to obtain wisdom or to become wise. Dave Bland asserts that Wisdom Literature concerns itself with “how one gains wisdom” so that one may have ability and expertise to negotiate the difficulties of life (2:1-5).[30] James G. Williams, describes wisdom as the ability to voice and apply perspective, “wisdom is dedicated to articulating a sense of order.”[31] Williams goes on to define that “sense of order” through the lens of positive and negative retributive justice; which is it say, if you do x, then y follows — whether to reward you or to punish you. Furthermore, and what is inviting to Williams’ treatment of wisdom codified in proverbial sayings, is that the power of wisdom resides in its capacity to instill discipline and self-control (musar 1:1-7).[32]

Indeed, Kevin J. Youngblood[33] sustains and extends this thesis by arguing that “discipline” functions in four relational levels, all of which maintain the “cosmic boundaries” which protect wisdom’s order. They move from the proper order that should exist in the comprehensive first level of the cosmos as God orders it, the second level of the city with its cultural and political order, the third level being the family and household order, and finally the fourth level where self-discipline reflects the “individual expression” of the cosmic order.[34] The foundation to this order of wisdom is spelled out in the prologue of Proverbs (see Youngblood’s figure below).

Figure from Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” ResQ 51 (2009): 147.

The language of wisdom from Proverbs 1:2-6 is distinctively summed up[35] by the synonymously parallel concept of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7a). Bruce Waltke calls this verse the essential “spiritual grammar for understanding” Proverbs and in effect wisdom.[36] In agreement, if Bland and Williams may be synthesized, the pursuit to gain wisdom is to articulate and practice the treasury of human knowledge which provides the understanding and guideposts to live within the proper divinely sanctioned order of existence. In light of Proverbs 1:7a, then, the emerging wise person must begin with the primary source of earthly order, namely — the Lord. Roland Murphy believes this phrase enunciated the motto of the sages. It takes little to explain how this function of “fear” in the God of Israel is the only thing which aligns the emerging person with a right relationship with their surroundings.[37]

In addition, when seeking a broader perspective on the notion of fearing the Lord, Kenneth T. Aitken calls attention to two elements of “the fear of the Lord” illustrated in the Hebrew Bible. First, there is “deep-seated reverence and awe,” and second, there is the commitment of the emerging wise person to be loyal and obedient to the Lord’s law.[38] It was Moses who was afraid to look at God when He manifested at the burning bush (Exod 3:6), and it was Isaiah who spoke of regarding “the Lord of Hosts” as holy, your “fear” and “dread” (Isa 8:13). However, Proverbs use of “the fear of the Lord” is quite clear. The phrase is used in Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10. In the conclusion to the preamble of Proverbs (1:7), the emphasis is laid upon a promotion to begin practicing the essence of wisdom; later, Proverbs 9:10 functions as a warning to those who would be seduced by the way of folly, or as Whybray calls her Lady Stupidity.[39] “Fear of the Lord” or “fear the Lord” is used as a shorthand (Waltke’s “spiritual grammar”) for the wisdom of obedience to God’s order (Prov 3:7; 14:2; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30). In these references for “fear the Lord,” one can observe in the juxtaposed tension found in the antithetic binary line the contours of what wisdom-obedience is and is not.

We may then conclude that “fear of the Lord” or “fear the Lord” is used as a shorthand (Waltke’s “spiritual grammar”) for obedience to God’s order as it connects down the one’s personal relationships (Prov 3:7; 14:2; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30). In these references for “fear the Lord,” one can observe how the contours of what “wisdom-obedience” is and is not by the tension created in the antithetic binary line.

2. Understanding the Structure of Proverbs 1-9

The strength of interpreting Proverbs 1-9 as a significant collection within the anthology of the whole book will be examined. The book of Proverbs may be outlined in three movements: (1) the preamble (1:1-7), (2) the Instructional Sayings (1:18-9:18), and (3) the Proverbial Sayings (10:1-31:31). An outline like this demonstrates the broad outlook of the book which is framed as a father encouraging his son to follow after wisdom.[40] However, it is very clear from the headings staggered throughout Proverbs (1:1, 10:1, 22:17, 25:1, 30:1, 31:1), that the canonical form of this inspired book is the result of a purposeful editorial hand(s) marked by these collections. This anthological insight provides guideposts for knowing how to read the different parts of Proverbs.[41] It is precisely due to this diversity of literary forms in Proverbs that forces Whybray to say, “there is little gained from attempting to read the book straight through without a break.”[42] In the case of the two Solomonic headings (1:1, 10:1), it may be to acknowledge the change in literary form from Instructional discourse to two-line proverbs.[43] These headings provide internal seams to distinguish between literary collections.

Unfortunately, the academic community is divided over the exact structure of Proverbs 1:8-9:18.[44] Merrill F. Unger offers a common three-point outline: (1) the call of wisdom (1:1-33), (2) the rewards of wisdom (2:1-7:27), and (3) praise of divine wisdom (8:1-9:18).[45] Yet, the outline is simplistic and does not take into account the prologue (1:1-7), nor the various individualized thematic Instructions given on the wayward woman throughout chapters 2-7. To be fair, Unger is providing an introductory outline, and yet his outline represents the problem of oversimplification.

Outlining the Structure of Proverbs 1-9

So while there is wide agreement that Proverbs 1-9 is framed in a series of lectures or Instructions, this is where the agreement ends. Some scholars organize Proverbs 1-9 along self-proclaimed traditional lines of fifteen discourses (Bullock, Archer). Meanwhile, other scholars carve out 10 instructional speeches with a varied number of interludes (Whybray, Bland, Crenshaw). However, Patrick W. Skehan[46] takes his cue from Proverbs 9:1 advancing a seven speech (Instruction) model:

“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.”

For Skehan this is the best interpretive place to start, as the seven pillars of Wisdom personified are best explained in literary terms (a “literary edifice”). Chapters 1 and 8-9 function, according to Skehan, as the framework for the seven speeches of roughly 22 lines each within chapters 2-7. Despite some promising observations, Skehan’s forces every speech into this paradigm which runs him into trouble with Proverbs 6:1-19. His solution is to cut it out of his structure, labeling it as “intrusive.”

What is clear is that there is an intentionality in how Proverbs 1-9 was organized, but at this point, there is not total agreement among biblical scholars, who have similar and overlapping outlines. Furthermore, these smaller sections within chapters 1-9 do work together and provide the “hermeneutical guide to the interpretation of the rest of the book” (10:1-31:31).[47] It is not held here that the value of the structure of chapters 1-9 falls because of the difficulty of outlining it; instead, the value of the structure is upheld if it accomplishes its intended goal: to instruct the simple to find wisdom through the fear of the Lord. The overlapping ideas and grammatical nuances which create structural tensions may, in fact, be another measure to provoke the interconnected nature of these Instructions.

The Personification of Wisdom and Folly

The theological contribution of chapters of the Instruction sayings 1-9 is found particularly in its personification of wisdom and folly. There is the pursuit of the proper order of things (Lady Wisdom) and the disruption of the proper order of things (Dame Folly, the Adulteress, etc.). Wisdom and Folly are personified throughout Proverbs 1-9: Folly (1:10-19, 4:14-17, 5:1, 7:1, 9:13-18) and Wisdom (1:20-33, 8:1-21, 9:1-6). The personification of wisdom and folly is particularly developed in Proverbs  8:1-9:18, when the emerging wise person is called upon to make the final decision. The pageantry is over. Unlike Adam who woke up “clean slate” to Eve in the Garden, the emerging wise son must choose between two beauties. Will he choose Lady Wisdom or Dame Folly?

Bringing a mind ready for the imagery of poetry, recognizing this personification is critically important. Personification may be understood as when “an inanimate object or entity or an animal (or a god, or God) is spoken of as though it or he were a human person with human characteristics.”[48] The power in such figures of speech, over against the clarity of literal speech, relies on its power to communicate with “richness, depth, and emotional impact.”[49] Although it can be argued that such women may and do exist in real life,[50] it can not be ignored that throughout the context of chapters 1-9 they function as figurative expressions to illustrate the object lesson of both wisdom and folly.

Personification plays another important role besides providing imagery. It is clear that even “the way” which an emerging wise person will go is personified by the home of either Wisdom or Folly. These all reflect one choice to follow God or to reject His counsel. In chapters 8-9, Wisdom’s origin is above the city, “the highest places in the town” (9:3); likewise, so is Folly situated in a seat “on the highest places of the town” (9:14). It is believed by some that this is a direct allusion to the ANE idea that only the god of that city would dwell in the highest locales.[51] Derek Kidner illustrates from Canaanite practice the precedent to personify a deity from the pantheon with the principle which best represented their god or an attribute of their god (anger, war, love, etc.). Personifying God’s wisdom by a faithful honorable woman was then in keeping with literary strategy; likewise, personifying the opposition to God’s wisdom (idolatry? paganism?) by a distrusted dishonorable covenant breaking woman also fits.[52] Thus, personification is more than mere imagery. It serves as a literary feature —a tool— procured by Israel from the international religious community, and incorporated it into their own wisdom speeches to epitomize God and the deceitful “competition.”[53]

The Strategy’s Terminus

The first nine chapters of Proverbs creates a framework for understanding that seeking wisdom, and upholding how things ought to be, demonstrates the “fear of the Lord.” This “discipline” and “self-control” to choose wisdom functions then in relational ways. What the speeches in Proverbs 1-9 address is that our choices affect the order of things around us. In the four concentrated sections dealing with the adulteress or strange woman and the unfaithful wife (2:16-22; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27), wisdom is explained in terms of marital faithfulness, foolishness is explained in terms of the pitfalls of misplaced sexuality.

Again, Youngblood is correct when he observes that wisdom (for Youngblood “self-control”) “is a matter of submitting oneself to Yahweh’s governance as does all creation.”[54] It begins with the self, then in the home, then the civic interactions, and then before God himself (see figure above).[55] This transition is borne out by comparing Proverbs 3:19-20 and 24:3-4. The same wisdom that founded creation also builds our households; the same understanding by which the heavens are established also establishes our own home and life; by means of his knowledge creation functions, so to our family.[56] The choice of the which woman to dine with and to be with, is a demonstration —a graduation of sorts— for the emerging wise person, for in that choice they have shown fear and discipline (or, vice and disorder), and are living in the order that ought to be (or, how it ought not to be).

Two outcomes result at this point. In the first place, the emerging wise person has chosen the direction of their life, which according to Proverbs 1-9 ought to be wisdom and fear of the Lord. In the second, this perspective will give the reader the proper guidance for understanding judiciously and applying the binary proverbs in the later collections of Proverbs. Proverbs 1-9, then, provides the context to understand the rest of the book.

3. Models for Teaching Wisdom

Let us consider some thoughts on how to articulate a model for teaching wisdom within the home and the church.

Wisdom-Training Must Begin in the Home

The motif of a father (and mother) speaking to their son is a significant reminder of the importance Scripture places on the home as the primary location for spiritual formation. The shema passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is not only the Law but also provides and demands parents and guardians to find appropriate ways to make faith the “air that the family breathes.”

Every parent should be willing to recognize the obvious truth that with the raising and caring for children comes a learning curve — a learning curve that seems to never straighten. Nevertheless, the task in the home is to connect the children to the divine order of wisdom which speaks to their behavior. In Malachi the prophet condemned Judah for their lack of faithfulness. And in this condemnation, the Lord clearly addresses His desire for “godly offspring” (Mal 2:15).

What is at stake is establishing early the human boundaries created by God for self-control and responsible involvement to be the creative force that establishes God’s order in the world.[57] Furthermore, as Sandmel acknowledges,

a person can be trained in wisdom and, if by chance he does not himself become personally wise, he can at least absorb the wisdom in the book well enough to live prudently… to live without unnecessary risk.[58]

Proverbs is useful for developing the emerging wise person because its counsel is “safe and reliable” and fosters the virtues of “thrift, hard work, foresight, and piety.”[59] 

It was through a home education in God’s sacred writings which provided the wisdom for Timothy to obtain the salvation which is in Christ (2 Tim 3:14-15). Fathers and mothers are called upon to raise up children (1 Tim 3:4, 5:14; Tit 2:4) and train them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:1-4).

Everyday Choices are Spiritual Choices

In the use of personification in Proverbs 1-9, the spiritualization of everyday things can assist dramatically in demonstrating the consequences of wisdom and folly.

Wisdom, then, is different from learning, for an unschooled person may posses it, out of rich experience. On the other hand, there are people with rich experience to whom we would not attribute wisdom, for even that experience does not necessarily lead them to it.[60]

What are the gods of this age? How might one describe drug addiction or sexual pornographic addictions, or greedy consumerism? It comes down to choices. If we could reframe our spiritual focus down to the kitchen table choices, the check book choices, the wandering feet choices, etc., then it is possible to illustrate with clarity the heart of the problem and not the symptom.

It is the rejection of a loving obedience to God’s order which enables a lack of self-control. If you lack self-control, then you may eventually be controlled by a vice you never learned to say no to. The wisdom of Proverbs 1-9 highlights the creative ways we may seek to instill wisdom one choice at a time. Too many times, we believe simply by knowing or quoting the Scripture it will be sufficient. This is unsatisfactory.

In the temptation of Jesus, his identity as the Christ was under attack (Matt 4:1-11). It was not simply that he was hungry, or a test of God, or a test of ruling the kingdoms of men that was at the heart of the temptation. Jesus’ identity was under attack. In each response, Jesus quotes Scripture, but it was his choice to abide by the wisdom of those passages that led his victory over Satan. There was an order that he respected, thus, as the practice of fasting often typified Jesus showed himself disciplined to the leading of God.

There is a great social need for discipline and the wisdom that provides the contours of discipline. Some seek to develop spiritual discipline in recovery programs, particularly those built upon the sermon on the mount. For all the stigma such recovery programs receive, they at least are addressing the matter of discipline head-on and are not ignoring or whitewashing the issue.

For those who face their hurts, hang-ups, and habits, everyday choices are spiritual choices of restructuring their world order based upon the “fear of the Lord.” We need to champion their cause rather than subvert them, or stigmatizing them. They know who has the antidote for their weaknesses. The real question is, “do we?”

The Church Needs Wise People

Third, James A. Sanders speaks to the need for the church to develop and “produce more ‘wisemen’ and fewer ‘prophets’ for the responsible guidance of the people of God.”[61] For Sanders this would include the concern for the survival of God’s people. Wise people, as conceived in terms of Proverbs 1-9, scrutinize the power structure of any given situation, or the problem, and then work them out in realistic ways which honor their relationship with God.[62] James 1:19-20 reads,

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Developing men and women to think in terms of the fear of the Lord, to choose faithful means to serve God, is what will reinforce the ideal Divine order. Paul clearly connects the church’s identity to the outflow of God’s wisdom and the order which it creates:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:7-10)

Thus, it will take a variety of means to develop members of the body of Christ. This must be primarily accomplished at the level of the local congregation. This will require developing mentoring relationships within the body of Christ. One has wisely said, “Academic training is not the only kind of training we should utilize, however. A young person can benefit from working with someone older, wiser, more experienced.”[63] I fully concur. We must cultivate wisdom-seeking from within the church, this will aid us to be receptive to God’s lead (Eph 3:10-11; Luke 7:31-35).


Proverbs 1-9 stands as a powerful section of Wisdom Literature. It shows that God’s people can learn from others how to teach wisdom. It also reveals that wisdom is more than knowing what to do, but also doing so because of a godly “fear of the Lord.” God’s people can and must use all expedient methods to teach wisdom. As an inspired anthology, Proverbs 1-9 demonstrates a measure of creativity for teaching wisdom in the home, in the community, and in the church. Proverbs 1-9 provides guideposts for teaching wisdom and discipline in the home and the church, for living by the fear of the Lord creates God’s order.


  1. American Standard Version of The Holy Bible (1885, 1901; repr., Fort Worth, TX: Star Bible, 1992).
  2. Unless otherwise stated all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).
  3. Tremper Longman, III, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions (1998; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 22-23. Longman argues that there are four major causes for this interpretive distance, two of which are the antiquity (“vast space of time”) and foreignness (culture, civilization, images, and literary genres and forms) of the Hebrew Bible (19-22).
  4. Karen Jobes, “Stumbling Block #1: Literary Genre: Missing Clues in the Text,” Bible Study Magazine 9.1 (Nov.-Dec. 2016), 25.
  5. Jack P. Lewis, “The Nature of Hebrew Poetry,” in When We Hurt: Tragedy and Triumph in Job, ed. David L. Lipe (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardemen University, 2003), 187.
  6. Samuel Sandmel, The Enjoyment of Scripture: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (1972; repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1981), 195.
  7. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 196.
  8. A. Berkeley Mickelsen and Alvera M. Mickelsen, Understanding Scripture: How to Read and Study the Bible, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 115.
  9. Lewis, “Hebrew Poetry,” 185. This means that thirty-two books of the Hebrew Bible are composed either completely or in part (sections) as poetic literature (82%).
  10. Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1984), 87.
  11. Leland Ryken, “Bible as Literature,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, eds. David S. Dockery, et al. (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994), 56.
  12. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 13. “Examined within the full context of early Christian literature, the documents which came to constitute the NT canon are not, as a group, recognizably unique.” Cf., W. Hersey Davis, Greek Papyri of the First Century (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1933; repr., Chicago, IL: Ares, n.d.).
  13. Merrill F. Unger, “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis,” Bsac 121 (1964): 64.
  14. Kenton L. Sparks, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 56. John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (1989; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 169-97; William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, eds., The Context of Scripture (New York: Brill, 1997); James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 205-26.
  15. Sparks, Ancient Texts, 58-60.
  16. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 172-75.
  17. Sparks, Ancient Texts, 76-77.
  18. Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form.” TynB 28 (1977): 69-114. Kitchen insists that Proverbs 1-24 should be viewed as “one large composition” followed by three more main sections (25:1; 30:1; 31:1).
  19. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 177.
  20. Robert D. Biggs, trans., “Counsels of Wisdom,” in The Ancient Near East, ed. James B. Pritchard (London: Princeton University, 1975), 2:147.
  21. Bendt Alster, “Shuruppak,” COS 1.176.
  22. Dave Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002), 17.
  23. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom, 210-13.
  24. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 177; James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), 20-21.
  25. Louis Goldberg, “hakmah,TWOT 647a;  Louis Goldberg, “tebuna,” TWOT 239b.
  26. Harvey E. Finley, “The Book of Kings,” in Beacon Bible Commentary, ed. A. F. Harper, et al. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965), 2:362. “The ancient Near East could claim a considerable deposit of wisdom (hokma) before Solomon’s time. This the Historian recognized.”
  27. Are Ethan and Heman mentioned here the Ezrahites cited in the subtitles of Psalm 88 and 89?
  28. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 196. “Meter and parallelism suggest that these poets were craftsmen. One would need to conclude, too, that the people were receptive to the poems; some high status of the poet is certainly to be inferred from the epithet applied to David, that he was Israel’s sweet singer.”
  29. The visit by the Queen of Sheba by camel and the seaport mentioned lend strongly in favor of a Solomonic kingdom that was an international player. Furthermore, add the centralized placement of Israel between Egypt in the southwest and Mesopotamia in the northeast. See Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, 5th ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 141-53.
  30. Bland, Proverbs, 12.
  31. James G. Williams, “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (1987; repr., Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University,1999), 263.
  32. Williams, “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes,” 264-65. “Everything in traditional Wisdom, from its basic ideas to its literary forms, affirms order. What this means when the principle of retribution, the necessity of wise utterance, and the authority of the fathers are brought to bear on the individual is the imperative of discipline and self-control” (246).
  33. Kevin J. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries and Self-Control in Proverbs,” ResQ 51.3 (2009): 139-50.
  34. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 147.
  35. Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 180-81.
  36. Waltke, Proverbs, 180-81.
  37. Roland Murphy, Proverbs (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998), 5. Robert Alter marks this as a distinctive emphasis by Israel which is “not evident in analogous Wisdom texts in Egypt and Mesopotamia” (The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes [New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010], 194).
  38. Kenneth T. Aitken, Proverbs (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1986), 14-15.
  39. R. N. Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (London: Cambridge at the University Press, 1972), 55.
  40. Tremper Longman, III, “Poetic Books,” in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, ed. Philip S. Johnston (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 104.
  41. Thomas H. Olbricht, “The Making of Old Testament Books,” in The World and Literature of the Old Testament, ed. John T. Willis (1979; repr., Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University, 1984), 234.
  42. Whybray, Proverbs, 12.
  43. Olbricht, “Making of OT Books,” 233. Waltke labels 10:1a as a Janus verse linking the 1:1-9:18 collection and the 10:1b-22:16 collection (Proverbs, 447; cf. Murphy, Proverbs, 64).
  44. Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman, III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 238.
  45. Merrill F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament (1951; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 372.
  46. Patrick William Skehan, “The Seven Columns of Wisdom’s House in Proverbs 1-9,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9.2 (April 1947): 190-98.
  47. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the OT, 239.
  48. John C. L. Gibson, Language and Imagery in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 16-18.
  49. Craig C. Broyles, “Interpreting the Old Testament,” in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 37.
  50. Dave Bland, Proverbs, 81.
  51. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the OT, 243.
  52. Derek Kidner, An Introduction to Wisdom Literature: The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985), 38-43.
  53. Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY: Paulist, 1984), 480.
  54. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 140.
  55. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 147.
  56. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 141.
  57. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 149.
  58. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 210.
  59. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 210.
  60. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 208.
  61. James A. Sanders, Torah and Canon (1972; repr., Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1976), 100.
  62. Sanders, Torah and Canon, 101.
  63. Stan Mitchell, Will Our Faith Have Children? Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation (Henderson, TN: Hester, 2016), 10.


Aitken, Kenneth T. Proverbs. Daily Study Bible Series. Old Testament. Edited by John C. L. Gibson. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1986.

Alter, Robert. The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary. New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010.

Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Revised and expanded edition. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994.

Bland, Dave. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs. College Press NIV Commentary. Edited by Terry Briley and Paul Kissling. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002.

Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York, NY: Paulist, 1984.

Broyles, Craig C. “Interpreting the Old Testament: Principles and Steps.” Pages 13-62 in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis. Edited by Craig C. Broyles. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003.

Bullock C. Hassell. An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books. Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1988.

Crenshaw, James L. Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction. Revised and Enlarged. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998.

Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman, III. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Finley, Harvey E. “The Book of Kings.” Pages 337-507 in vol. 2 of the Beacon Bible Commentary. Edited by A. F. Harper, et al. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965.

Gibson, John C. L. Language and Imagery in the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

Guthrie, George H., and David Howard. “Reading Psalms and Proverbs.” Pages 111-30 in Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2011.

Hallo, William W., and K. Lawson Younger. Editors. The Context of Scripture. 3 vol. New York: Brill, 1997.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

Jobes, Karen. “Stumbling Block #1: Literary Genre: Missing Clues in the Text.” Bible Study Magazine 9.1 (Nov.-Dec. 2016): 24-25.

Kitchen, Kenneth A. “Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form.” TynB 28 (1977): 69-114.

Lewis, Jack P. “The Nature of Hebrew Poetry.” Pages 185-93 in When We Hurt: Tragedy and Triumph in Job. Edited by David L. Lipe. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2003.

Longman, Tremper, III. Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions. 3 Crucial Questions Series. Edited by Grant R. Osborne and Richard J. Jones, Jr. 1998. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.

Longman, Tremper, III. “Poetic Books.” Pages 95-113 in The IVP Introduction to the Bible. Edited by Philip S. Johnston. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Mickelsen, A. Berkeley, and Alvera M. Mickelsen. Understanding Scripture: How to Read and Study the Bible. Revised edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.

Miller, Clyde M. “Interpreting Poetic Literature in the Bible.” Pages 158-67 in Biblical Interpretation: Principles and Practice: Studies in Honor of Jack Pearl Lewis. Edited by F. Furman Kearley, Edward P. Myers, and Timothy D. Hadley. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986.

Murphy, Roland E. Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary 22. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998.

Paterson, John. The Book that is Alive: Studies in Old Testament Life and Thought as set Forth by the Hebrew Sages. New York, NY: Scribner’s Sons, 1954.

Pritchard, James B. Editor. The Ancient Near East. Vol. 2. London: Princeton University, 1975.

Ryken, Leland. “Bible as Literature.” Pages 55-72 in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation: A Complete Library of Tools and Resources. Edited by David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Mathews, and Robert B. Sloan. Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994.

Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.

Sanders, James A. Torah and Canon. 1972. Repr., Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1976.

Sandmel, Samuel. The Enjoyment of Scripture: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. 1972. Repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History and Literature. 5th edition. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Skehan, Patrick William. “The Seven Columns of Wisdom’s House in Proverbs 1-9.” CBQ 9.2 (April 1947): 190-98.

Smith, James E. The Wisdom Literature and Psalms. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997.

Sparks, Kenton L. Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.

Unger, Merrill F. Introductory Guide to the Old Testament. 1951. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979.

Unger, Merrill F. “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.” Bsac 121.481 (Jan.-March 1964): 58-65.

Youngblood, Kevin J. “Cosmic Boundaries and Self-Control in Proverbs.” ResQ 51.3 (2009): 139-50.

Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by Robert L. Hubbard. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

Walton, John H. Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Library of Biblical Interpretation. 1989. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990.

Whybray, R. N. The Book of Proverbs. Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible. Edited by Peter A. Ackroyd, A. R. C. Leaney, and J. W. Packer. New York, NY: Cambridge at the University Press, 1972.

Williams, James G. “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.” Pages 263-82 in The Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. 1987. Repr., Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999.

Little Did They Know: The Prose Sections of Job (1:1-2:13; 42:7-17)

college papers

The prose section of the book of Job receives a variety of approaches, but the most consistent approach is to treat it as a separate folk-tale which existed independently than the present canonical form. This “campfire” tale, or this moral free legend, had grown sufficient credibility to take on a permanent form within a community. Then an unknown poet emerges who takes the folk-tale[1] and formalizes it with a series of poetic discourses and creates an extended edition, the present form of the book of Job. As such, questions emerge as to the continuity between the prose sections (1:1-2:13; 42:7-17) and the poetic sections (3:1-42:6). This source critical approach makes an assumption that the book of Job is the result of significant editorial activity, suggesting that the book has undergone considerable layering and updating. Robert Fyall argues that such a possibility does not “in itself” deny divine inspiration but it only makes poor sense in Job’s connection to the biblical canon.[2] As such, “the question of the relationship of the prologue (chs. 1-2) and the epilogue (42:10-17) to the poetic dialogue must be explored.”[3]

Nevertheless, despite the reticence among some scholars to see a significant degree of continuity vital to understanding the tensions, themes, and argument of the present form of the book of Job, it is argued here that a proper understanding of Job does not rely upon the theoretical pre-canonical form of the two independent traditions.[4] Instead, there is a “logical coherence” between the prologue, the poetic discourses, and the epilogue.[5] It is argued here that the prose sections play an integral part to understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. The style and vocabulary purposely represents an ANE setting apart of Israelite religion in the tradition of the dramatic epic, and sets the wisdom and theodicy debate in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Moses). The prose sections place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.

The Integral Nature of the Prose Sections

First, the prose sections play an integral part to understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. In proportion to the bulk of the book this may seem to overstate the weight of the prose sections in Job. As Bernhard Anderson argues, “if we are to understand the viewpoint of the author of Job we must rely primarily on the poems rather than on the prologue and epilogue.”[6] Nevertheless, Anderson concedes that the poems are only effective because they are “framed within the context of the folk story.”[7] The book of Job is framed by “the life-situation that occasions the poetic meditations.”[8] In general, the framework of narrative transitions are, as Robert Alter observes, an act of conscious narration “in order to reveal the imperative truth of God’s works in history.”[9] The function of the prologue and the epilogue, then, is to bracket in the core discussion of Job and this is accomplished by setting the plot, the tensions, and the characters which will enter the fray of the poetic discourses in Job 3:1-42:6.

The limits of the prose sections of Job are substantially agreed upon.[10] The usual limits of the prologue of Job are from 1:1-2:13. First, the prologue has natural and literary limits. A reading of the first chapters of Job lends its to a natural outline of a narrative that transitions to a series of discourses, but as James Patrick observes there are a series of “speech ascriptions” which provides a literary limit to the prologue in particular and the speech cycles in general (“Job opened his mouth… Job said”[11]).[12] This marks the closing limit of the prologue, which as “the frame-story of Job”[13] will find its themes continued in the poetic body of the Jobine discourses (3:3-42:6).[14] Second, the prologue, then, introduces the tension of the worthiness of God to be served, the sincerity of Job’s faith, the heavenly court and the “wager” (so Anderson), the earthly trials and suffering of a pious and prosperous patriarch, and the interaction among the heavenly realms (Yahweh, The Satan, Heavenly Court) and the earthly realm (skeptic wife, the three friends, Job the hurting) where the narrative will transition to the core discussions of the book.

The epilogue, on the other hand, is generally considered to begin in Job 42:7 and ends in 42:17.[15] First, reading the closing chapters of Job, the transition from discourse (“I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”) to the actions agrees with the usual outline of Job. There are however literary markers to distinguish between 42:6 and 7. John Hartley’s observation gives a semantic starting point to the epilogue with words from the Lord in favor of Job reminiscent of 1:7, and concludes in verse 42:17.[16] Although 42:7 may be viewed as a potential ascription by the narrator before a statement, it lacks the same verb phrase (וַיַּ֖עַן) used to introduce the Lord’s speeches (38:1, 40:1) and Job’s response (42:1). Second, the epilogue, then transitions from the repentance of Job and the demonstration of the wisdom of God and serves as a narrative of resolution. The epilogue the humility and restoration of Job, the tensions removed, and Yahweh honoring Job and dishonoring the three friends who “have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Robert H. Pfeiffer, however, nuances the prose sections (“prose folk tale”) by trimming the traditional prologue to 1:1-2:10 and the epilogue as 42:10b-17. Pfeiffer takes 2:11-13 as the introduction to the entire dialogue exchange; meanwhile, 42:7-10a as a part of the dialogue structure of Job.[17] That there is an obvious shift between 2:10 to 2:11 and 42:10a to 42:10b in content is readily conceded. Pfeiffer’s discussion of the structure of Job demonstrates the quality of his imagination to reconstruct the literary development of the book, but it fails to appreciate these verses in the prose sections as transitions within the same narrative event respectively. It is here that a significant warning finds validity: “Dissecting the book of Job into its component parts actually may diminish one’s understanding of its message.”[18] Instead, it is best to appreciate the “harmony and dissonance” between the prose and poetic discourses which force a critical rereading of the themes presented in Job.[19] The prose sections then are a vital part for understanding Job.

The Genre and Hebrew of the Book of Job

Second, the genre and vocabulary of Job represents an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) setting apart of Israelite religion, set forth in the tradition of the dramatic epic, and sets then the discourses on the wisdom and theodicy in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Moses). Epic literature centers upon episodes in the life of a known figure from history, conveying “didactic instruction concerning the gods and their relations with humanity.”[20] This area of study which has some implications for the dating and setting of Job, an area which has as many dates as interpreters. Dates range from late pre-exilic, a period between Jeremiah and Isaiah, or anywhere from the eighth century to the fourth-century B.C.E.[21] Nevertheless, another warning is called to the student of Job: “it is a mistake to infer the age of the writer from the circumstances of the hero of the book.”[22]

The Genre. Craig Broyles reminds that “the Bible must be read literarily before it can be read literally. If we think of Scripture as light (cf. Psa 119:5), exegesis acts like a prism revealing its colors.”[23] The style of the prologue and epilogue show marks of the dramatic narrative genre of the epic placed in the historical setting of reminiscent of the biblical patriarchs. Many scholars concede the point that Job defies specific genre classification (sui generis “self genre”), but on a macro-level it falls generally into the wisdom literature genre which has parallels in Babylon and Egypt.[24] The prose sections, however, seem to have points of contact with the epic elements of Genesis and Ugaritic literature suggesting that the author was either influenced by preexistence literary genre of the epic, or by specific examples.[25] In keeping with epic narratives in Genesis, Job is painted as a patriarch. His wealth is measured by his cattle and servants (1:3; 42:12), he is the head of his family in both paternal and religious aspects (1:5), and his life-span is comparable to known biblical patriarchs (42:16). Also, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans are in the land of Uz (1:15, 17). In general, then, the internal evidence portrays Job “as a Bedouin sheikh, living in the land of Uz, in northwest Arabia.”[26] It is not clear that Job is directly connected to Hebrew family; aside his connection to Uz, which may imply he is an Edomite, not much can be said of his ethnicity.[27] Most likely, Job is not an Israelite and probably predates the Abrahamic covenant.[28]

The epic genre[29] is further seen in the literary structure of the prose sections fit the literary type of epic, which are directed to an “audience” rather than “reading” public. Elements such as repetition and reiteration are symmetrically constructed throughout these sections following the “epic archetype.” These elements are seen in the celestial council (1:6-12, 2:1-7), in detailing the character of Job (1:1, 8, 22, 2:3, 10), and the three successive blows with “formulaic introduction” and “concluding refrain.” Also, the significant use of numbers within the prose sections (1:2, 42:13) is a Near Eastern literary feature, supported externally in Ugaritic epics. Furthermore, the mythology represented by the celestial beings in 1:6 and 1:21 also is a feature of epic drama. Such a concept of an assembly of celestial beings (“the assembly of the gods”) “are well attested,” according to Sarna, “in the Northwest Semitic literary sphere.” There is also the “prominence of women in epic literature” as seen in the daughters of Job. The naming of the daughters in contrast to the sons is inexplicable aside from its parallel use with Baal’s daughters over his seven named sons and other Ugaritic parallels. Moreover, in Mosaic law daughters receive an inheritance in the absence of sons (Num 27:8), Job’s daughters, however, receive theirs along with their brothers (42:15). This particular point details “quite a different social milieu” like that of Ugaritic epics. Internally, Job is placed in an ancient setting which may reflect the truth about his antiquity but may not have sufficient weight in its determining date.

The Vocabulary and Hebrew. Also, the vocabulary and type of Hebrew employed in the prose covers a significant amount of syntactical and semantic ground in the philological history of the Hebrew language and its connection to the Hebrew canon. Avi Hurvitz, however, disputes this assertion. In fact, he developed criteria to inform the Old Testament exegete whether the Hebrew volume under consideration is composed in Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), as opposed to Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH). After Hurvitz evaluates seven terms and phrases he concludes are LBH in the prologue and epilogue, argues that “in spite of his efforts to write pure classical Hebrew and to mark his story with ‘Patriarchal colouring’, [sic] the author of the Prose Tale could not avoid certain phrases which are unmistakably characteristic of post-exilic Hebrew, thus betraying his actual late date.”[30]

Ian Young reassesses[31] this study by the criterion Hurvitz developed. In order for there to be identifiable LBH the terms must meet the following: linguistic distribution, linguistic contrast, extra-biblical attestations, and accumulation of the evidence.[32] Young’s own assessment of Hurvitz’s work was both negative and reaffirming. Young dismisses three of Hurvitz’s submissions and supplements three additional phrases as LBH. The total numbered tallied by Young is seven between these two scholars. Young questions whether or not this is sufficient accumulation to establish a LBH imprint on the prose sections of Job to warrant a late date for them and for the book as a whole.[33] To put the matter into perspective, Young places literature known for its LBH with a 500 word sample in a comparative chart to find the astonishing finding that does not line up with post-exilic LBH core books; instead, it is situated low and close to Genesis. Young then concludes, “according to Hurvitz’s own criterion of accumulation, the Prose Tale of Job is not in LBH.”[34]

This is not to say that this is evidence for an early date of the prose sections of Job. Instead, Young argues that LBH and EBH are overlapping styles of Hebrew, rather than EBH being a chronological precursor to LBH. “EBH and LBH would thus turn out to be two styles of post-exilic Hebrew.”[35] Whether Young is correct regarding overlapping styles of Hebrew, it has not been established. It would not seem outside the realm of possibility; yet, in terms of a written language a developmental Hebrew from earlier to later seems legitimate along with the fact that oral developments tend to have their history, nuances, and trajectories.[36] At this point, though Young’s suggestion is inviting, it may be best to accept that EBH and LBH are post-exilic writings styles as tentative until more information arises. As Derek Kidner observes in the face of the “inconclusiveness” of the linguistic evidence, “Happily, this open question is academic, in every sense of the word. This book is no prisoner of time.”[37]

Little Did They Know: Elements of the Prologue and Epilogue

The prose sections place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.[38] This emphasis is seen in several aspects which arch over the thematic issues addressed in the poetic discourses of Job. This emphasis is more pertinent to the reader than it is to hero Job.

First, there is the setting of the heavenly court (1:6; 2:1). The heavenly court introduced in the prologue recalls to the reader that “there are powers in the universe other than God and that they exercise great influence on the course of events.”[39] The heavenly court motif in Job echoes Canaanite mythology of a council of the gods,[40] or, as Alter describes it, a “celestrial entourage” as in Psa 82:1 (1b “in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”). In the prologue, the heavenly court scene appears twice where a defense of Job’s honest fidelity to God is made to rebut “the Adversary” (“the Satan”); however, in the epilogue, it is the Lord who descends upon the early court apart from the entourage and heavenly Adversary and restore’s Job’s faith and standing.

Second, this leads to a discussion of the main characters of the prose sections which are uniquely bound to each other in Job; namely, the Lord (יְהוָ֑ה), Job, and the Satan (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן). The interaction between God and the Satan place a wager upon Job’s life that he is fully unaware of; in fact, Job is never told in epilogue. The heavenly court is the stage where the celestial adversary emerges, “the Satan” (1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7). While it is thought by some that the articular “Satan” suggests a proper name,[41] Alter argues that the use of the definite article (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן) “indicates a function, not a proper name.”[42] Hartley also agrees, this use “functions as a title rather than as a personal name.”[43] This adversary (“the Satan”), then, functions as a celestial prosecutor against Job in response to the Lord (יהוה) proposal that Job is a unique human specimen of spiritual fidelity. This brings two particular elements into play which arch over the discourse cycles.

The drama is set, on the one hand, when Job becomes the subject of a “wager” that has his genuine devotion to the Lord questioned.[44] On the other hand, in the face of Job’s ignorance of the impending hard knocks which will challenge his faith, the Lord’s “justice is on the line and everything depends on the final verdict. God must act to vindicate not only Job but himself.”[45] This places the burden of the outcome upon God rather than Job. The Satan accuses, in essence, that positive rewards yield religious/pious service; hence, is not the person of God but instead a combination of divine bribery and human egocentric desire for these rewards which had motivated Job’s fidelity. It appears that the ideology of retribution builds upon these metrics.

In the epilogue, this theme is returned to after the series of discourses and a showing of Job’s penitence but the adversary is nowhere to be seen; instead, the Lord reinforces the righteousness and faithfulness of Job. It is the friends who have been arguing for the form of retribution the Satan argues for in the prologue, and now that they have been approaching it from the opposite angle. Job is indeed suffering. So, is Job suffering for no reason? The friends argue it is a response (Job 3:23) to Job’s hidden wickedness, so in order to return the hedge of rewards the patriarch must repent (5:17-27). But appeasing God in a religious transaction (repentance, sacrifice, etc.), or by piety, is not a foolproof plan to escape the hardships of life. Job, then, is not convicted to repent but holds to his integrity (Job 27:4-6). In the epilogue, though Job is not truly the victor of the debates, the friends have not changed their words and maintain Satan’s argument. Hence, in the friends the Satan’s accusation is proven inadequate and a great offense to the relationship God actually maintains with humanity.

Third, there is a level of “dramatic irony” which is shaped in the prologue and hangs through the discourses and ultimately returns in the epilogue. One the one hand, Job is completely unaware of what is about to happen to him; whereas the reader is fully knowledgeable of the perils which have been agreed to which are now coming upon Job. Yet, despite this lack of information, Job senses that there is a divine court to plead his case when his faith comes under scrutiny and serious questions about God and justice. This, however, is his longing and a position he is ultimately led to since the court of his contemporaries is already quite hostile and prejudicial towards him due to their conventional wisdom based upon their retributive theology.

On the other hand, the narrator establishes the irony of the story and its theological questions by granting permission to the intended audience of Job.[46] Job and the reader have completely different motivations as the discourses develop. Job’s questions emerge as seeking a better answer to his questions. The reader knows these are the wrong questions. For Job, the man, it is God who has hand picked Job (though this is true) to tear him down (this is not true). In fact, it is the Satan who has touched Job (though by God’s permission), to prove that humanity symbolized in Job will reject God faced with this unjust treatment (which Job refuses to do because of his own sense of integrity). It is Job who finds and exposes the inconsistencies of the conventional wisdom of retribution. In the midst of Job’s sense of indignity for his suffering as a senseless act of God, the reader knows the conversation is all wrong because God champions for Job.Job’s ignorance is the reader’s understanding of reality are carried from the prologue, hang during the poetic discussions, and returns in the epilogue.

It is Job’s ignorance which informs the reader’s understanding of reality. The world is not a tidy place, the good sometimes suffer despite being good, and the bad sometimes enjoy more good they do not “deserve.” The reader is carried along with this tension in mind from the prologue, as it hangs during the poetic discourse cycles, and returns in the epilogue only to be met with the knowledge that humanity does not have the depth of wisdom, the power of control, nor the skill to balance the wild and domesticated world. The epilogue benefits from Job’s confessions of his “smallness” in comparison to what he was critiquing (40:3-5) and that he spoke out of considerable ignorance (42:1-6). This is staggering since the reader supposes that in order to resolve the tension of the book, God would explain to Job why he is suffering. But that is not how the book ends. The resolution is found in the fact that instead of judgment upon Job and his friends for what they “deserve,” God forgives them all. This shows that God relates to humanity in terms of grace, but grace in a real world with hardships that are not always connected to, nor demonstrative of, their relationship with God.

Fourth, there is some foreshadowing in the prologue of the final verdict for Job reflected in the epilogue.[47] In Job 1:22 and 2:10 the narrator demonstrates the fortitude of Job’s faithfulness to God in the face of tragedy. After the first challenge to Job’s genuine devotion to God, the narrator observes, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22); furthermore, after the second challenge, the narrator writes again, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). These foreshadows are realized when the Lord himself validates Job’s words, “or you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). It is not that Job is sinless, but that Job committed —albeit off and on — that God was not mechanical in his wrath as his friends had been arguing in their dialogues. This is the underlying argument of the three friends, asserting an unbalanced doctrine of retribution, a “doctrine of rewards and punishments that was widespread in the wisdom literature of antiquity.”[48] In the shorthand, their view amounted to two principles: virtue is rewarded and sin is punished. The prologue reveals heaven’s sabotage of this doctrine with, as Clines observes, “a most shocking infringement.”[49]

The poetic discourses did not center on the premise that “If you sin, then you will suffer,” instead the three friends “reversed the cause and effect to reach the belief that: If you suffer, then you have sinned.”[50] This theological failure on the part of the three friends demonstrates that although they claimed to “understand the meaning of life in terms of this doctrine of retribution,”[51] they lacked wisdom. In fact, they share the same problem as Job in that they are woefully ignorant of reality and are attempting to explain it with impoverished wisdom. This speaks to why Job laments his friends, “miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2), and why, in the epilogue, the Lord rebukes them and asks Job to intercede on their behalf (Job 42:8-9). Although the doctrine of retribution does not feature in the prose section, nor are there the explicit answer to why humans suffer, the events in the prologue create a series of events which allow the book to “disabuse one common belief, the so-called doctrine of retribution.”[52] In the end, the verdict on Job’s disparaged piety is seen in his response to the Lord in 42:5-6, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s piety is maintained and his wisdom is asserted for now he sees the Lord who provides at the cosmic level down to the human earthly level and acknowledges his relationship is based upon the charitable and gracious hand of God.

Concluding Thoughts

It has been said that Job is “the greatest monument of wisdom literature in the Old Testament.”[53] Yet, for such an epithet Job requires a demanding reservoir of critical skills to grapple with its structured tensions. The prose sections of Job require tremendous skill and patience to evaluate their contribution. There is a “logical coherence” between the prologue, the poetic discourses, and the epilogue. The prose sections play an integral part in understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. The epic genre and vocabulary places the wisdom and theodicy debate in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs. Finally, they place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.


  1. The prologue is often considered the “oldest” element of Job, originally existing as a “simple folk tale” then forming the basis of the current story. See Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman, III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 202.
  2. Robert S. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 19.
  3. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 19.
  4. This does not disregard the fact that there are a variety of serious critical questions which must be considered; however, since even the consensus view as to the pre-literary origin of the prose-discourse-prose format of Job is theoretical and limited, it seems best to treat Job in its canonical form.
  5. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 202.
  6. Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1986), 590.
  7. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590. Irving F. Wood disagrees. Arguing from a source-critical point of view, the poetic discourses “displace the heart of the story” of Job found in the prologue and the epilogue. See his “Folk-Tales in Old Testament Narrative,” JBL 28.1 (1909): 39-40.
  8. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590.
  9. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1981), 46.
  10. Due to space and the complexity of the issues, the prose elements which attend to the introduction of Elihu (Job 32:1-5) and his discourses will not be discussed in this essay. Milo L. Chapman, “Job,” in vol. 3 of Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967), 101. Chapman sees this section as “part of the prose introduction of Elihu’s speeches.” See also, Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, 665, and John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 429.
  11. Unless otherwise stated all Scripture citations are from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).
  12. James E. Patrick, “The Fourfold Structure of Job: Variations on a Theme,” VT 55.2 (2005): 186. Patrick demonstrates the use of “regular speech ascriptions” throughout Job (4:1, 6:1, 8:1, 9:1, 11:1, 12:1, 15:1, 16:1, 18:1, 19:1, 20:1, 21:1, 22:1, 23:1, 25:1, etc).
  13. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 74.
  14. These themes are principally found in the lengthy arguments made by The Satan against Job (1:9-11, 2:4-5).
  15. There are some variations on the epilogue but in general this is how many outline the epilogue.
  16. Hartley, The Book of Job, 539. “Whereas Yahweh has accused Job of darkening knowledge (38:2), his charge against the friends is much stronger. Job has been genuinely groping for the truth, but the friends have spoken falsely in their attempt to defend God.”
  17. Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1941; repr., New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1948), 660.
  18. William S. LaSor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 474.
  19. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590-91.
  20. John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 46.
  21. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 593; Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 200.
  22. Avi Hurvitz, “Date of the Prose-Tale of Job Linguistically Reconsidered,” HTR 67.1 (Jan. 1974): 31-32.
  23. Craig C. Broyles, “Interpreting the Old Testament,” in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 28.
  24. Fyall argues that “we cannot force the book into a straightjacket. The nature of the book is such that into one form can cover the variety of situations, emotions, questions, protests and characters that it introduces” (Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 23). Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 573; Walton places Job along side many ANE parallel wisdom texts in Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, 169-87.
  25. See LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 472. “Our prologue and epilogue contain a considerable amount of epic substratum and that our prose version would seem to be directly derived from an ancient epic of Job.” See Nahum M. Sarna, “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” JBL 76.1 (March 1957): 15. Leland Ryken, however, does not list these prologues as examples of the epic in How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books, 1984), 78-81.
  26. Frederick F. The Wisdom Literature of the Bible: The Book of Job,” The Bible Student 23.2 (April 1952): 58.
  27. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 592.
  28. Tremper and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 200-01. Still, Job as a historical figure is known to Ezekiel and his reputation is comparable to that of Daniel (Ezek 14:14, 20).
  29. Sarna, “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” 15-24. Many other features and parallels of epic literature are discussed in Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, 58-63.
  30. Hurvitz, “Date of the Prose-Tale of Job Linguistically Reconsidered,” 18.
  31. Ian Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” VT 59.4 (2009): 606-29.
  32. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 608.
  33. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 621-26.
  34. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 626.
  35. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 626.
  36. A. Jeffery, “Hebrew Language,” IBD 2:555-56.
  37. Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 76. Indeed, Tremper Longman, III, argues that it best to remain “agnostic about the date of composition” because “fortunately the answer to this question does not bear on its interpretation,” “Poetic Books,” in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, ed. Philip S. Johnston (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 98.
  38. The following discussion follows the lead of Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34-38.
  39. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34.
  40. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34.
  41. Wayne Jackson, The Book of Job: Analyzed and Applied (Abilene, TX: Quality Publications, 1983), 20. He connects the goings of “the Satan” with 1 Pet 5:8 and argues for the Devil; in fact, Jackson opposes the view taken here that “the Satan” is a celestial member of the heavenly court describing it as “baseless.” Fyall likewise takes “the Satan” as the personal Devil (Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 36). Outside of Job, but within the Hebrew canon, the articular “the Satan” only appears in Zechariah (3:1-2). Both contexts are legal in setting which gives weight for a legal/courtroom Adversary – the prosecutor.
  42. Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes — A Translation with Commentary (New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010), 12.
  43. Hartley, The Book of Job, 71.
  44. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 35.
  45. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 35.
  46. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 37-38.
  47. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 38.
  48. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 595.
  49. David J. A. Clines, “A Brief Explanation of Job 1-3,” in Sitting with Job: Selected Studies on the Book of Job, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1992), 250.
  50. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 209.
  51. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 595.
  52. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 209.
  53. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 588.

On the Relationship between 2 Peter and Jude

college papers

[Note: This is an independent study Advanced Critical Introduction to the New Testament graduate course paper from 2005. Aside from some reformatting and stylistic emendations, the viewpoint argued for has not been altered. Furthermore, the thesis is still held to have the merit as maintained here. Not all will be satisfied with the argumentation, but I’m sharing this paper in hopes it will help others who come across this question in their biblical studies. I may return to this subject again.]


It has been suggested that in recent years the epistolary genre has received greater academic attention among scholars than in previous generations.[1] These advancements in the nature, function, and composition conventions which have been made in the last century, is demonstrated by the works of  E. Randolph Richard (1991, 2004), Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (1995), William G. Doty (1988), and Stanley K. Stower (1989).[2] The overall impact of the New Testament genre of the letter is demonstrated by Simon Kistemaker’s observation that in the letters, “the writers develop the teachings of the gospels and apply those teachings to churches and individuals,” and with regard to 2 Peter and Jude, they “address themselves to the perseverance of the saints and to the doctrine of the last things.”[3] This importance embedded within them, in addition to canonical considerations, has called attention to this genre, providing an impetus to analyze this part of the New Testament canon.[4]

Among the 21 New Testament letters, eight of them are normally called “Catholic,” or “General,” because the Christian audiences of the epistles have been taken to be universal in scope.[5] They are Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. Despite the recognition of their universal application for Christian living, it appears that, in both academic and ministerial circumstances, they have been neglected considerably for their individual contributions and context. This is not to say the General Epistles have been totally abandoned, but that in comparison to the Gospel accounts and Pauline literature, they have suffered practical orphanage.[6] So much so that J. Daryl Charles applies Rowston’s infamous declaration that 2 Peter is the most neglected book in the New Testament to the entire General group.[7] Unfortunately, due to this lack of attention, the General letters are a troublesome spot in New Testament analysis; especially, because these letters “are sufficiently different from one another to preclude any general treatment of those historical features that may group these letters into a discrete and coherent collection.”[8]

Of the several trouble spots within the General letters is the relationship between 2 Peter and Jude. The basic problem of this relationship is the similarities which exist in 2 Peter 2 and Jude regarding their treatment of certain libertine opponents (2 Peter 2:1-3:3; Jude 2-16). It is to this relationship that this paper will address itself; however, this is simply one among a number of problems. For example, within some academic circles, the authorship of 1 and 2 Peter is questioned and the conclusions drawn from that study impacts how one examines the relationship between the latter and Jude.[9] Moreover, Jude’s use and reliance on certain Hebrew sources (pseudepigrapha) move some to call into question the use of Jude by an inspired apostolic author;[10] thus, granting a rationale to see non-apostolic authorship of 2 Peter. This paper by necessity will hint at these issues; however, they cannot be discussed at length, as they do not necessarily bear upon the investigation at hand.[11]

The basic problem being addressed is as follows: how shall the similarities of 2 Peter and Jude be explained. Academic circles are divided, as is common with any issue of a critical nature, but many sources I am aware of assert or assume that these similarities are best explained by Judaic priority. This priority is typically advanced to mean that the author of 2 Peter depends upon Jude for the bulk of his denunciation of the false teachers. As will be described below, this position is not unassailable; furthermore, there are other solutions to the evidence. This critical matter shall be examined in a three-fold matter.

First, the question of whether or not dependency exists shall be examined. Second, an evaluation of key solutions to the dependency question shall be developed. Third, following the analysis of the dependency problem conclusions shall be drawn regarding the compatibility between the solution proposed and the dogma of inspiration.

Evidence Considered Germane to the Dependency Question

When 2 Peter 2:1-3:3 are studied it is a rather difficult matter to dismiss the contribution and illumination that Jude 2-18 provide;[12] however, it can be studied independently with great profit,[13] and it should be.[14] Despite these remarks, the subject matter and vocabulary are so similar that many students have suspected a dependency issue of some between them. Douglas J. Rowston states:

If one compares Jude 4-16 and 2 Pet 2:1-18, one is led to the conclusion that there is a literary relationship between Jude and 2 Peter. The parallels may be accounted for in four ways. It is possible, not probable, to explain the parallels as coincidental. By the very nature of the parallels this is most unlikely.[15]

The argument is that the similarities between 2 Peter and Jude are so strong that scholars suggest this “literary relationship” cannot be explained away as “coincidental.” Michael Green observes that, “of twenty-five verses in Jude no less than fifteen appear, in whole or in part, in 2 Peter” and that “many of the identical ideas, words and phrases occur in parallel in the two writings.” Consequently, this makes it difficult to “doubt that there is some sort of literary relationship between them.”[16]

The question faced here is whether or not this similarity demands that dependency exists. This will be accomplished by evaluating the evidence typically advanced to affirm dependency. The lines of evidence typically advanced are following in two broad argumentations: thematic content and language. Udo Schnelle provides an example of the argument:

How heavily dependent 2 Peter is on Jude is seen in the numerous details of subject matter and vocabulary as well as in the similarities in the structure of the two letters: after the introductory greeting both authors remind their churches of the faith transmitted in the tradition, a faith that now must be preserved in view of the threats of the false teachers. Then follows a description of the heretical teachers, to which are joined admonitions to hold firmly to the right faith and to be vigilant.[17]

Denial of the similarities is, consequently, impossible and it is obvious that some type of relationship explains the similarities existing between 2 Peter and Jude.

The false teachers of 2 Peter 2 are described in five ways. Jerome H. Neyrey discusses this matter in balance to Jude.[18] The theme of a denunciation against the opponents is developed as the author of 2 Peter describes them as false teachers (2 Pet 2:15, 19, 3:3-4, 15-17), who deny authority and judgment (2 Pet 2:10-11, 20, 3:4, 9; Jude 4, 8, 10, 16), whose faulty theology leads to immorality (2 Pet 2:13-14, 18, 20-22; Jude 4, 8, 16), for which judgment and ruination await (2 Pet 2:4-10, 12, 16-17, 3:5-8, 10, 16; Jude 4). With such thematic parallels, it is understandable to see the evidence for an impetus to affirm a dependency of some kind. Those like Bauckham believe that dependency flows from 2 Peter upon Jude, principally because of the brevity of Jude and comparatively larger size of 2 Peter.[19]

Guthrie, likewise, points out that the problem between these two documents is “how it came about that both epistles use such similar descriptions of these people [i.e. false teachers] and the natural conclusion is that one has used the other.”[20] Consider Guthrie’s last clause, “the natural conclusion is that one has used the other.” This conclusion has given rise to the certainty that the parallels being so strong, literary dependency then automatically seems to imply one author had to use the epistolary work of another. However, Guthrie reminds, that there exists another possibility – “that both have used the same source, incorporating the materials into their epistles in different ways.”[21] Still even here, Guthrie implicitly accepts that this source is of a literary variety, which it seems is rarely disputed. However, this assumption may prove to be more of a weakness, than it is a strength.

It is interesting to observe how proponents of Judaic priority argue with the evidence. Often an expression of certainty is made regarding the conclusion that 2 Peter 2 is based upon Jude, and then the author proceeds to detail how actually it is not that certain. This line of thinking applies not only the thematic issues between the two epistles but also within the vocabulary similarities as well. Terrance Callan is an excellent example; he writes:

It seems obvious to all readers that there is some kind of close relationship between Jude and 2 Peter. For good reasons it is now widely accepted that 2 Peter is dependent on Jude. This is so much the case that authors at times overstate this dependence, saying that 2 Peter has simply incorporated Jude. A closer examination shows that the relationship is not this simple. The author of 2 Peter adopted Jude 4-18 in 2 Pet 2:1-3:3.[22]

What is commonly described as a dependency of Jude by the author of 2 Peter is actually an adaptation, not a literary dependency; in fact, Callan continues by observing that 2 Peter “has not adapted Jude by quoting it directly.”[23] Instead, it is regarded as a redaction of Jude by the author of 2 Peter, which means it is a “free paraphrase.”[24]

Before a complete evaluation is rendered towards the thematical similarities between Jude and 2 Peter, the second line of reasoning, being vocabulary, must be considered. Statistics vary regarding how much is similar, but one thing remains constant, there are exact points of contact between Jude and 2 Peter. This may appear impressive; however, even Richard Bauckham, a proponent of Judaic priority and pseudepigraphical origin for 2 Peter, writes:

Despite the large number of rare words in Jude, it is relevant to notice that 2 Peter has, in taking over material from Jude, taken over few rare words. Of thirty-eight words in 2 Peter which occur only once or twice elsewhere in the NT, only four occur in Jude and these are only four words which are found exclusively in Jude and 2 Peter in the NT (asebeîn, empaíktēs, suneuōcheísthai, hupérongkos, and of these asebeîn is probably not borrowed from Jude). This suggests that, despite its dependence on other sources as well as Jude, few of 2 Peter’s rare words are likely to derive from sources. They belong to the author’s own vocabulary.[25]

Now observe, out of these 38 words found in the 2 Peter, only four are in Jude at the most, and quite possibly only three. What sort of dependency is this then, if the author of 2 Peter can only be said to have employed three words for “certain”? Not to mention Bauckham’s belief that these particular rare words belong to the author of 2 Peter’s own vocabulary.

Donald A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris likewise have questioned this argumentation; though, they have decided to remain somewhat moderate on the issue. They suggest that there is nothing inherently opposed to 2 Peter incorporating some verbiage that is Judaic, a moderation that Michael J. Gilmour has argued for at length.[26] Guthrie presents the following evidence regarding the verbal parallels, and seems to have the last word on the impact of such matters:

It is often overlooked that although the parallels between these epistles stretch to a wide range of subject-matter, yet verbal agreements are not impressive. If statistics are any guide, the following data may supply some indication. Out of the parallel passages comprising 2 Peter 1:2, 12; 2:1-4, 6, 10-12, 15-18; 3:2-3 and Jude 2, 4-13, 17-18, the former contain 297 words and the latter 256 words, but they share only 78 in common. This means that if 2 Peter is the borrower he has changed 70% of Jude’s language and added more of his own, whereas if Jude borrowed from 2 Peter, the percentage of alteration is slightly higher, combined with a reduction in quantity.[27]

The matter for Guthrie must still remain open because the evidence to “too short to lead to certainty”; however, he affirms based upon this evidence that “neither author can be considered more concise than the other.”[28]

The question remains, if thematic and linguistic considerations that are the ground upon which dependency is based, how does this evidence point exclusively to any other kind of dependency other than 2 Peter borrowing from Jude when the dependency is not air tight as is generally believed to be? The question has merit because even the proponents of Judaic priority observe, “despite the great similarity of theme and terminology one detects here, as elsewhere, very different agenda on the part of the two authors.”[29] Furthermore, they argue forcefully, that “Jude and 2 Peter are very different works, from very different historical contexts,” thus it is suggested, “the literary relationship between 2 Peter and Jude does not justify the common habit of classing these two works together as similar works.”[30] With the testimony of this nature it is difficult to be persuaded that literary dependence between the two epistles is as viable as it is popular.

Furthermore, much is made of the similarities between 2 Peter and Jude; meanwhile, there are considerable matters that are distinct between the two epistles, at least six.[31] Jude 1-4 and 20-25 (the beginning and close) are distinct from 2 Peter 2 and are not parallel, being the “most important and distinctive parts of Jude.”[32] Jude exclusively employs triplet constructions (Jude 1-2, 4-8, 11-13, 20-23, 25), while 2 Peter breaks them up. Jude quotes the Pseudepigrapha (9, 14-16), while 2 Peter does not (2:2-22). In fact, he is very vague in his allusions to such traditions. 2 Peter refers to the false teachers in the future tense (2:1-3); meanwhile, Jude does not (5-7, 9). Jude’s Greek is less difficult than that of 2 Peter. In fact, Daniel C. Arichea and Howard A. Hatton write:

As to style, scholars have noticed that 2 Peter is characterized by long sentences and elaborate constructions. These are all attributed to Greek influences, which have also somewhat influenced the contents of the letter. But in contrast to 2 Peter, Jude seems to use simpler constructions, although not lacking in eloquence and in figurative language […].[33]

Finally, mockers in Jude do not ridicule the delay of the Lord’s coming; however, it is abundantly clear that the opponents in 2 Peter do (3:1-7).

What may be said then about the facts and the proposals given by scholars regarding the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter? Is there reason to believe that there is a dependency issue? Little could be said which would shift the attention away from the fact that Jude and 2 Peter have similarities, but again, do these similarities demand literary dependence? Moreover, what may be said of their differences? It appears that this is not necessary to conclude that there is a literary dependency where one had the other’s epistle before them as they composed their letter. This last point will be examined when the four solutions often proposed to explain this critical problem are considered. But for now, it is sufficient so summarize that despite the thematic similarities and some vocabulary parallels, the testimony of the evidence and those who promote a literary model of dependency concede the point that such is not the solid ground upon which to build a wholesale use of Jude by 2 Peter.

An Evaluation of the Key Solutions to the Dependency Question

There are four basic proposals that have been used to explain the relationship that exists between Jude and 2 Peter. Michael Green succinctly notes them when he writes “that there is a dependence either of 2 Peter on Jude or of Jude on 2 Peter, of both on some lost document, or that both share a common author, is certain”:[34]

  1. Dependence of 2 Peter on Jude
  2. Dependence of Jude on 2 Peter
  3. Dependence of 2 Peter and Jude on a lost document
  4. 2 Peter and Jude share a common author

Others would reclassify Green’s third proposals more generally, suggesting that Jude and 2 Peter may be based from a common source. Generally speaking, scholarship tends to argue that dependency flows from the author of 2 Peter. Powerful presentations of the 2 Peter dependency proposal is represented in commentaries by Richard J. Bauckham (1983) and Jerome H. Neyrey (1993).[35] These works, among others, demonstrate that there is weight behind this proposal. Although there is a general scholarly consensus that the author of 2 Peter employed the epistle of Jude to compose the bulk of 2 Peter 2, a case can be adequately presented which argues that 2 Peter and Jude drew upon a common source to combat a common problem. The case is based upon the clear problem with defining the nature of dependency involved and the strength of some kind of common source theory.

The Problem of Defining Dependency

Arguing for literary dependency can be a misleading enterprise, especially in epistolary material. As noted above, it is difficult to argue that there is no relationship between Jude and 2 Peter, but this difficulty does not within itself demand an exclusive means to explain dependency. Literary dependency is not as foolproof as it is often assumed to be as G. Barr explains:

Beyond the area of literary dependence which is involved in direct copying, there lies a large grey [sic] area in which an author may use many synonyms of words found in another’s work, and may employ parallel syntactical constructions. In such cases it is difficult to distinguish between material which shows familiarity with the written work of another author and material which has been produced after shared discussion, each author writing up the discussion in his own way.[36]

An exclusive means to explain dependency is, therefore, unnecessary since there is another valid explanation. It is very true that at least two types of dependency exist: literary and thought (i.e. Barr’s “shared discussion”), and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish familiarity from literary dependence. Consequently, for all its prominence as a viable explanation, a weakness is evident which suggests that literary dependency is not the only appropriate explanation for the similarities that exist between Jude and 2 Peter.

It is a virtually uniform approach to Jude and 2 Peter where scholars advance that the author of 2 Peter 2 employed the bulk of Jude in their argumentation. It is interesting, though, that it is proposed that Jude’s argument and language were copied, and yet modifications are accepted and assumed and explained as the letter writer making adjustments to fit the purposes of a pseudepigraphic argument. Callan employs phrases such as “no sentence of Jude is quoted in 2 Peter,” “2 Peter re-wrote Jude, avoiding direct quotation,” “2 Peter has changed Jude’s critique,” Callan constantly claims 2 Peter changed, rewrote, omitted a phrase or a verb and as a final example 2 Peter 2:4-10a is “a thorough revision of Jude 5-8a.”[37] Such description betrays more assumption than critical analysis because the case can be easily explained as familiarity with the subject at hand rather than literary dependence upon a letter.

To affirm dependency on a literary basis Barr’s case must be acknowledged, which is that instead of low calculations such as Guthrie pointed out above, demonstrating a low level of contact, there should be a high level of contact. For dependency of a literary nature is the:

copying of vocabulary, phrases, sentences and ideas, [but it] will not be rich in synonyms as the copyist is in a position of dependence and may be unsure of precise shades of meaning. The points of contact may well cluster in the original, as some particular passages are likely to appeal to the copyist as containing the essence of the work. The borrowed portions of text may also preserve something of the order of the original.[38]

In a sense, it is what may be called “synoptical dependency.” In the Gospel narratives, there is strong verbal agreement and arrangement. The “points of contact” are so strong that there is virtually no other way to explain the relationship except the wholesale employment of a previous document, no matter which arrangement of dependency is argued for among the Gospel narratives. Among the Gospels,

not only is the wording almost exact (as is true in the Greek original), but each of the three evangelists inserts an abrupt break in Jesus’ words at the same point. Such duplication of unusual or awkward constructions occur at other places, along with passages in which tow or three of the evangelists use precisely the same words, in the same order, over several lines of text.[39]

However, the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter is such that it does not enjoy the same literary dependency, as does the synoptical record. Instead, exact “points of contact” are few, but this paucity is rationalized as redaction.[40]

In truth, the literary dependency, which supposedly exists between 2 Peter and Jude, is rather weak since it requires a significant theory of revision. On such grounds, it must be it stands or falls. The premises upon which the Judaic priority theory is based must be constantly reevaluated in light of fresh thinking and research. Here it is argued that it should be rejected, on the grounds that the relationship can be well explained through another theory which best explains the relationship. As Merrill Unger argues in his article, “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis”:

True scientific approach to the Bible must also severely test the validity of its presuppositions and the hypotheses it advances. […]. It must question relentlessly any hypothesis of literary criticism, […] that is constructed on the assumption of not only the fallibility but the actually falsity […] of the Sacred Record. […] In other words, a true scientific approach to Biblical criticism must be erected on the proper foundation of authority with its expression directed by this guiding star into channels of constructive research where human reason, enlightened and liberated by faith, will make a fair and honest effort to harmonize this sound position with the inductive difficulties of the text. ‘But in no case is the doctrine of inspiration accommodated to the difficulties. If orthodoxy were to tolerate such accommodation, it would forfeit the principle by which any Christian doctrine is established.’”[41]

Despite the fact that a majority published scholars accept a certain view on the literary relationship between 2 Peter and Jude, such a consensus must not automatically dictate opinion to any investigator of truth. Thus, the dependency solutions, for “one of the most vexing issues” of the New Testament, has been briefly reevaluated here.[42]

Three of the proposals in Green’s list and an additional proposal will be considered below. (1) Is is possible that 2 Peter and Jude independent of each other? (2) Did Jude write his letter based upon 2 Peter? (3) Was it the other way around as many believe; did Peter depend upon Jude in writing 2 Peter? (4) Or, are these two letters bound by a common source(s) which can account for the similarities and the differences?

2 Peter and Jude wrote Independently

One of the presuppositions of the present author is that revelation and inspiration can explain and support that 2 Peter and Jude were composed independently of each other. If the Holy Spirit guided all inspired writers into all truth (John 14), then it is not a stretch to affirm that each was composed independently. As Donald Fream observes:

The inspired writings of the Scriptures have a supernatural relationship that is not found in secular writings. Inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives each book of the Bible a common source and a common planner […] Thus quotations and imitations of the different writers in the planned revelation of God are not to be judged on the same basis as the writings of uninspired authors.[43]

However, since we are evaluating this relationship rationally, it must be evaluated if independent composition is still a viable alternative.

From a rationalistic point of view, we would be hardpressed to explain away the thematic and linguistic relationship – which is strong but not decisive. It may be advanced that both authors based their argumentation from contemporary Jewish exegesis of the Old Testament and Hebrew sources.  J. Daryl Charles’ work on the General letters offers some insight to this point of view.[44] Charles argues that the authors:

Reflect a conspicuous debt to the OT and to contemporary Jewish exegesis of the OT. They are rich in their appropriation of characters, events, and imagery associated with Israel’s history. In the main it is the literary tendency of the General Epistles to display their relationship to the OT technically through indirect allusions rather than direct citations.[45]

This includes non-canonical tradition material where “they mirror a Jewish religio-cultural matrix to which their message as well as mode of literary expression are owing.”[46] E. Earle Ellis likewise follows this line of reasoning in his analysis of Jude, and labels this method as “midrash patterns common to first century Judaism.”[47]

Consequently, the ability to argue in a similar fashion, and yet remain distinct can be explained through this medium. However, ancient methods of hortatory exegesis cannot unassailably stand, because there are moments within the two letters that demonstrate a similar vein of argumentation and this may weaken the case of impendent authorship.[48] Particularly, because there are words which are common between the two epistles, even if few. Still Green observes that if the two epistles are based upon a style of preaching and teaching (i.e., “catechesis”), the similarities and differences between the two presentations will be easy to understands since neither writes in slavish dependence on his outline.”[49] Ultimately, although this is a valid possibility because first century Jews were “accustomed to accept rabbinical explanations and additions to Scripture,” it is currently not widely held.[50]

Jude used 2 Peter

In his fourth century work, Eusebius chronicles the “current” status of “canonical affairs” and writes:

At this point it may be appropriate to list the New Testament writings already referred to. The holy quartet of the Gospels are first, followed by the Acts of the Apostles. Next are Paul’s epistles, 1 John, and 1 Peter. The Revelation of John may be added […]. These are the recognized books. Those that are disputed yet known to most are the epistles called James, Jude, 2 Peter, and the so-named 2 and 3 John, the work of the Evangelist or of someone else with the same name.[51]

Eusebius continues this discussion with another brief list, of spurious and heretical works under which the book of Revelation (some viewed it spurious) was listed since it was still not fully recognized. Eusebius’ work is of great value since it demonstrates that the early church had difficulty with a majority of the general epistles; of which, 2 Peter and Jude are named as disputed.[52]

However, J. Neyrey makes the observation that the early church tradition accepted that Jude was dependent upon 2 Peter. This, of course, makes sense in a context where a higher premium was given to an apostolic source, a time of pre-critical naiveté.[53] “Those who favour [sic] the priority of Peter lay stress on the unity of style in 2 Peter which makes it unlikely that he made wholesale borrowings from another author.”[54] Nevertheless, “it is also difficult to understand why, if he had the whole of 2 Peter before him, the author of Jude restricted his borrowings so drastically (it surely contained much else that he could have exploited profitably), and why he speaks vaguely (17) of ‘the apostles of our Lord’ instead of mentioning Peter by name.”[55]

One might argue based on a parody of 2 Peter that Jude should have acknowledged Peter by name if he were depending upon his second letter for composing Jude. Peter employs and calls upon the letters of Paul in 2 Peter 3:14-16 as a spiritual foreground for his letter. It allows the reader to understand that Peter’s discussions allude to and rest upon in some fashion the writings of the beloved Paul. Meanwhile, Jude makes no such allusion to Peter individually in v. 17, only the collective “apostles” who similarly predicted “scoffers/mockers” (based on same root empaiz-) as in 2  Peter 3:1-3. If Jude was using 2 Peter as part of the spiritual foreground for his letter, the lack of inclusion of Peter’s name is a curious omission.

Kistemaker suggests two weaknesses to further dismiss this option. Despite the antiquity of this view, there appears to be a subjective bias that rules out “that [1] Peter could not have borrowed passages from Jude and [2] that Jude had to consult 2 Peter.”[56] Moreover, since little is known about Jude, the widespread impact of Jude’s ministry is a mystery. This may be similarly said regarding the historical context of his letter.[57] Consequently, historical ambiguity and perceived “inconsistency” in dependence by Jude to not mention Peter when he refers to the apostles (Jude 17) suggests this as an unconvincing solution –though not outside the bounds of possibility.

2 Peter used Jude

What benefit is there to discuss a matter that is viewed by a great deal of New Testament scholars to be so self-evident[58] that rejection of the priority of Jude in the dependency question of Jude and 2 Peter implicates one as being a theologically biased student?[59] Perhaps this is a pessimistic appraisal of the academic atmosphere regarding this topic. It cannot be overlooked, however, that Jude’s priority is so widely accepted that many assume it as orthodoxy and propose how the author of 2 Peter used, augmented, revised, or omitted portions of Jude’s letter without even an equally balanced consideration of genuine Petrine articulation.[60] This is somewhat alarming since to a great extent, the explanations proposed are based upon possibilities and probabilities, not upon crisp fact.[61]

Michael Green observes that “those who favour [sic] the priority of Jude stress the freshness and vitality of the letter compared with the more restrained style of 2 Peter and the probability that the longer letter, 2 Peter, drew from the shorter, rather than vice versa.”[62] Especially is this possible when Jude is viewed as having the more “simpler constructions” than the 2 Peter’s elaborate constructions.[63] Fornberg writes, “the incidence in 2 Peter 1 and 2 Peter 3 of parallels to Jude strongly suggests that Jude, or possibly a text very like it, was the original for 2 Peter 2 rather than vice versa. There is also a general consensus that Jude can be regarded as a direct source for 2 Peter.”[64] Of this, Terrance Callan repeatedly affirms 2 Peter redaction of Jude;[65] however, Jerome Neyrey makes the observation, “The difficulties for an accurate interpretation of the redaction lie in the historical and theological scenario which commentators imagine to be the background of each document.”[66]

This means one’s reconstruction of the church setting plays a large role in interpreting the relationship between these two letters. If 2 Peter is viewed to be a pseudepigraph (lit., “false writing”), then the document is traditionally thought to be a late first-century to early-second-century document written in the power, weight, and theological tradition and authority/name of Peter. It would then be no stretch to see a Christian author writing a commemorative letter for the church to advance an “orthodox” point of view, and basing it upon the letter of Jude to do so. Hence, if one reconstructs the setting for 2 Peter as a pseudepigraph, then dependency upon Jude naturally flows.

For more on First-Century Evidence for 2 Peter read my article, “Canonization of Scripture and 2 Peter 3:15-16”

It is impressive when one stops to contemplate that a majority of biblical scholars believe that 2 Peter incorporated to some extent, Jude. Not all conclude that 2 Peter is pseudepigraphical, such as Green; however, this is a minor consideration. Nevertheless, those who promote Judaic priority, concede the inability to have completely closed the gap on this theory’s validity. In other words, as Neyrey observes, “these studies have all added weight to the hypothesis of Jude’s priority by offering convincing interpretations of 2 Peter’s use of Jude, but they have by no means proven it.”[67] And as mentioned earlier above, there are serious weaknesses in affirming that 2 Peter borrowed from Jude; namely, that “it is difficult to distinguish between material which shows familiarity with the written work of another author and material which has been produced after shared discussion.”[68] How does one tell the difference with any degree of certainty? It appears, then, that one may still appeal to another solution to the dependency issue with academic credibility intact.

2 Peter and Jude used a Common Source

If taken here that there is no rationale that requires Jude’s dependence on 2 Peter, nor that there is a necessity to conclude that 2 Peter employed in some fashion Jude; but instead, there was probably a common source of some kind rendering composition of each epistle somewhat independently. A common source is usually considered to be a written source. For example, Norman Hillyer writes that the explanation where “both writers have employed a common written source, seems more probable, for while the same topics are touched upon in the same sequence, the differences in treatment are palpable” and it just seems unlikely that they copied from one another.[69] Yet, J. N. D. Kelly remarks that while, “one point advanced in favor of this is the fact that, for all their close correspondences, actual verbal agreement is rare; the only clauses where they are identical are 2 Pet 2:17b and Jude 13b”; nevertheless, the uniformity of the logical framework of the argument in both weakens this solution.[70]

The parallels being so strong, dependency then automatically seems to imply one author had to use the epistolary work of another. After all, as Guthrie points out that the problem between these two documents is “how it came about that both epistles use such similar descriptions of these people [i.e. false teachers] and the natural conclusion is that one has used the other.”[71] Observe Guthrie’s last clause, “the natural conclusion is that one has used the other.” This natural conclusion has given rise to the certainty that the dependency issue is literary, meaning that one had to borrow from the other. However, even as Guthrie reminds, “But there is a third possibility – that both have used the same source, incorporating the materials into their epistles in different ways.”[72] Guthrie seems to implicitly accept that this source is of a literary variety, but Barr and Charles independently demonstrate this is an unnecessary limitation for the source may be a preaching style or shared theological discussion on false teachers. Since the former has already been introduced, that latter will be discussed.

Dependency may be base upon “shared theological discussion” and articulation. Again Barr is quite useful here for the definition and explanation of this type of dependency; in which he observes that while the epistles:

May show points of contact without there being any question of literary dependence, synonyms may be more commonly used as both authors are fluent in the subject. It is more difficult to distinguish between the latter case [i.e. fluency in the subject] and one in which an author is familiar with the written work of another [i.e. literary dependence], rather than having engaged in discussion with him.[73]

The case Barr makes is that “points of contact” may exist, particularly if it is allowed that the author may be fluent in the subject being addressed, which may have been obtained through discussion. There are examples of this within the New Testament.

Adding to the concept of dependence based upon previous dialog and articulation among the apostolic or inspired circles of the New Testament canon, Barr contributes substantially when he pens:

The writers of the New Testament epistles were […] original researchers breaking in new ground, developing new vocabulary in discussion of giving old words (such as agápē) new meanings. They had to tackle rival philosophies and heretical tendencies. […] Much discussion must have taken place in the group of apostolic writers as the expression of the Christian faith developed, and each writer reflected the discussion in his own way. If dependence of one upon another is to be established, then it must be shown that there is a difference between the kind of literary dependence in which one writer has before him the text of another author and copies key terms, ideas or syntactical rhythms from it, and the kind of similarities which arise from the sharing of thought and terminology among partners engaged in research and discussion.[74]

The quotation is lengthy but vital to the present discussion. Validity must be given to this observation; otherwise, the apostolic circle of authors is viewed extremely one-dimensional exempt from the communications which modern day preachers and Bible students enjoy today. This seems particularly impractical; especially, since such occasions have existed within church history during apostolic times (cf. Acts 15).

It appears that the only thing next to consider is how this latter position, which appears to explain the similarities, differences, hermeneutical preaching styles, exact word choices of each epistle, and agrees with pre-existent situations, is to consider it in light of the dogma of inspiration. Does the “Pre-existent discussion” theory, as developed here, alter the dogma of inspiration? It will be argued that it does not.

The Impact of the “Pre-Existent Discussion” Theory upon Inspiration

A common misconception regarding the Bible has to do with its origin and production. There are many who allege that the Bible originated through the sole ingenuity of humanity. The statement, “the Bible was written by men,” is a common affirmation by those who often wish to reject its message. A more accurate rendition of this negative epithet is that “that Bible was written by God-guided men.” However, how does this conception of the Bible interact with the “Pre-Existent Discussion” Theory suggested here to bring about a solution for the supposed tension between 2 Peter and Jude? In order to answer this question the nature of both revelation and inspiration will be examined, and then a discussion will be generated to see if this theory is compatible with the dogma of inspiration.

The Nature of Revelation

The word revelation is a rather expressive term which clearly distinguishes an individual preacher from another. When Paul is demonstrating the independent and authentic nature of his preaching, in contrast to those that were troubling the Galatian Christians (1:6-9), he discusses the concept of revelation. He affirms:

[11] For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. [12] For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12).[All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]

In fact, he mentions his encounter with the Apostles in Jerusalem, and that after he rehearsed to them his preaching, they “added nothing” to his preaching (2:1-10).There are several points of interest in this passage contributing to an appropriate understanding of revelation. The word revelation comes from

There are several points of interest in this passage contributing to an appropriate understanding of revelation. The word revelation comes from apocalúpsis, an “uncovering,” but when applied to the gospel means, “an expression of the mind of God for the instruction of the church.”[75] Again, revelation “has to do with that which could not be known except by direct communication from Jehovah.”[76] Consequently, revelation is God unveiling his mind to his people. Furthermore, Galatians 1:11-12 provides three more observations: First, Revelation is received it is not a religious epiphany; second, revelation has not derived from human intellect; and third, revelation is received from Jesus Christ.

The Nature of Inspiration

Revelation is God’s action of expressing his message to his prophets (1 Cor 2:11-16); inspiration, however, is a related but somewhat distinct term. The apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy provides the clearest case of what inspiration is. Paul writes to Timothy the following words:

[14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:14-17)

As Paul encourages his young friend to have confidence in his ministry and his training, placing all confidence in the “sacred writings” (here the OT), Paul uses one of the most unique words in the entire New Testament –used only once, theópneustos (“God-breathed”).

The word has often been translated as inspired, an English word that needs some clarification as to its origin. Jack P. Lewis discusses this point in Questions You’ve asked about Bible Translations. Latin translators of the New Testament used, Lewis observes, the phrase divinitus inspirata, meaning “Divinely breathed in,” not “God breathed,” and this rendition has affected English translations for subsequent generations.[77] The difference between the two is this: First, “Divinely breathed in” refers to a characteristic of Scripture; while second, “God breathed” is a statement of how Scripture came to be. To capture the meaning of “God breathed” Scripture, Louw and Nida suggest that the phrase “all Scripture God breathed” be understood as: “Scripture, the writer of which was influenced by God.”[78] Ultimately, inspiration is a characteristic of every ounce of Scripture, but this is not Paul’s point here. Paul’s point is that the origin of Scripture is due to God’s guidance.

Revelation and Inspiration

Although revelation and inspiration overlap in some aspects of their meaning, it is important to keep them distinct. It has been correctly noted, “all revelatory material contained in the Bible is inspired of God, but not all inspired material was revelatory in nature.”[79] Meaning, there are parts of Scripture that did not need God to reveal a thing, as in the case of eyewitness testimony. For example, the apostle Matthew would not have needed revelation per se to produce his Gospel account; however, he would need God’s guidance to select the appropriate narratives and emphases. Furthermore, there are examples where Paul quotes poets (Aratus in Acts 17:28), play-rights (Menander in 1 Cor 15:33), and philosophers (Epimenides in Titus 1:12). Inspiration secures that when a writer uses non-biblical literature or “un-revealed” sources, such will be selected and reproduced on God’s terms.

Turning attention to the question regarding how revelation and inspiration impact one’s perception of the Bible, it is important to recognize that God revealed and secured the accuracy of the message penned. It is interesting to reflect upon the fact that what God had his prophet preached, is the substance of what God had his prophets pen (Isa 30:8-17). The Bible is the product of revelation (a God-given message) and inspiration (God’s message accurately reproduced). The written word is as authentic and authoritative as the spoken word because each avenue of communication was Divinely guided, observe:

[19] And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, [20] knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. [21] For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:19-21)

Any student of the Scriptures must understand that its message is God given, produced through the guiding hand of God, and finally committed to written form. “God’s Word is thus not limited to books or scrolls, the prophetic words are known only because they were committed to writing.”[80] This implies that one should not suppose that it is within the epistolary documents themselves that are found the origin for all that is contained within them.

Concluding Thoughts on the Dependency Question and Common Source

Attention must now be turned to inspiration and the discussion theory. Earlier Barr was quoted defining the theory, underscoring that “points of contact” may exist, particularly if it is allowed that the author may be fluent in the subject being addressed. Moreover, this would have been obtained through discussion. Furthermore, it was advanced that examples exist within the New Testament. In the book of Acts, an example exists where Apostles, elders, and preachers gathered together to discuss what shall be done with the Gentiles who had obeyed the Gospel (Acts 15:6-21). Were they to submit to the rite of circumcision or just the fundamental laws of holiness instructed within the Hebrew Bible? There was an interchange between several individuals which some would feel had no need to discuss the matter; however, Paul and Barnabas who had been preaching the Gospel came to discuss the matter, and Peter along with the Jerusalem leadership – which consisted of apostles (Acts 15:6).

Paul and Barnabas “declared all that God had done with them” (Acts 15:4). Peter and James likewise stood up before a multitude and provided impute on this matter, regarding the Gentiles reception into the kingdom. Each provided positive testimony as to why the Gentiles should need to submit to the rite of circumcision. As a consequence of this shared discussion, “the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” (Acts 15:22) sent a letter with the results of their conference. In fact, they place in their epistle two unique phrases: first, they say, “it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you […]” (Acts 15:25); and second, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements” (Acts 15:28). The requirements were consistent with the conclusions drawn in the “conference” at Jerusalem.

The fact that such an example exists, without any negative and derogatory statement on the part of Luke, demonstrates that quite possibly when difficult issues arose Holy Spirit lead men would come together to discuss the matter. Shared discussion from such events would create the common vocabulary and common argumentation methods. Thus, it is quite within reason, and Scripture demonstrates that such has happened, that discussion can generate epistolary action and theological vocabulary to address doctrinal matters. Indeed, it almost sounds like modern conferences on biblical themes; however, their advantage is that they were guided by God to produce Scripture. Consequently, the “Pre-Existing Discussion” Theory as we have developed it is very valid and possible. In fact, it appears to have been a convention of the early church to gather together and discuss the matter. Despite the paucity of evidence, Acts 15 is a strong positive evidence for this theory. Inspiration, therefore, is preserved and buttressed as this solution theory maintains the traditional approach to 2 Peter and Jude, and the inspiration of these letters.


  1. Richard R. Melick, Jr., “Literary Criticism of the New Testament,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, eds. David S. Dockery, et al. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 436; Richard N. Longenecker, “On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New Testament Letters,” Scripture and Truth, eds. Donald A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (1983; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 101-12.
  2. E. Randolph Richards’s landmark study, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (Tübingen: Mohr, 1991), later supplemented with his Paul and First-Century Letter WritingSecretaries, Composition, and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004); Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995); William G. Doty’s introduction Letters in Primitive Christianity (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988); Stanley K. Stower’s Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1989).
  3. Simon J. Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” JETS 20 (1977): 12.
  4. E. Iliff Robson, “Composition and Dictation in New Testament Books,” JTS 18 (1917): 288-91.
  5. Arthur G. Patzia, The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text and Canon (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995), 92-93.
  6. J. Daryl Charles, “Interpreting the General Epistles,” in Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, eds. David A. Black and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 34.
  7. Charles, “Interpreting,” 434; Douglas J. Rowston, “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament,” NTS 21 (1975): 554-63.
  8. Robert W. Wall, “Introduction to Epistolary Literature,” NIB 10:377.
  9. Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter  (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 143-47.
  10. Rowston, “The Most Neglected Book,” 562-63.
  11. Consequently, a few items are assumed to be well within the framework of academic reality; such as: (1) it will be assumed that the authorship question between 1 and 2 Peter can be well explained by similar Petrine authorship (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction., 4th rev. ed. [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1990], 762-81, 812-34), E. Randolph Richards’s strong argumentation notwithstanding (“Silvanus Was Not Peter’s Secretary: Theological Bias in Interpreting dià Silouanoûégrapsa,” JETS 43:3 [Sept. 2000]: 417-32); (2) the pseudonymous theory for the authorship of 2 Peter is without substantial merit (James I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Perspectives [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958], 182-86); and (3) the role of an amanuensis plays a fundamental role in examination of epistolary literature (Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer, 6-40).
  12. D. Edmond. Hiebert, “Selected Studies from 2 Peter Part 3: A Portrayal of False Teachers: An Exposition of 2 Peter 2:1–3,” BSac 141.563 (July-Sept. 1984): 255-63.

  13. Duane A. Dunham, “An Exegetical Study of 2 Peter 2:18–22,” BSac 140.557 (Jan.-March 1983): 40-51.

  14. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 143.
  15. Rowston, “The Most Neglected Book,” 562-63.
  16. Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, 2d ed. (1987; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 23-24
  17. Udo Schnelle, The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, trans. M. Eugene Boring (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 429.
  18. Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1993), 186-93.
  19. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 142.
  20. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 917
  21. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 917.
  22. Terrance Callan, “Use of the Letter of Jude by the Second Letter of Peter,” Bib 85 (2004): 42.
  23. Callan, “Use of the Letter of Jude,” 42.
  24. Earl J. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 303-05; Callan, “Use of the Letter of Jude,” 43.
  25. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 136.
  26. Donald A. Carson, James D. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 438; Michael J. Gilmour, “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter,” EvQ 73.4 (Oct.-Dec. 2001): 299-302.
  27. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 925 footnote 1.
  28. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 925.
  29. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter, 303.
  30. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 143.
  31. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 59.
  32. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 52.
  33. Daniel C. Arichea and Howard A. Hatton, A Handbook on the Letter from Jude and the Second Letter from Peter (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1993), 3.
  34. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 23.
  35. Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter  (Waco, TX: Word, 1983) and Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1993).
  36. George K. Barr, “Literary Dependence in the New Testament Epistles,” IBS 19.4 (Oct. 1997): 149.
  37. Callan, “Use of the Letter of Jude,” 42-52.
  38. Barr, “Literary Dependence,” 153.
  39. Carson, Moo, and Morris, An Introduction, 26.
  40. Tord Fornberg, An Early Church in a Pluralistic Society: A Study of 2 Peter (Lund: Gleerup, 1977), 33-59.
  41. Merrill F. Unger, “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis,” BSac 121.481 (Jan.-March 1964): 62-63. Unger here cites E. J. Carnell, A Case for Orthodox Theology, 110.
  42. Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 415.
  43. Donald Fream, A Chain of Jewels from James and Jude (1965; repr., Joplin, MO: College Press, 1987), 246.
  44. J. Daryl Charles, “Interpreting the General Epistles,” in Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, eds. David A. Black and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 433-56.
  45. Charles, “Interpreting,” 438.
  46. Charles, “Interpreting,” 440.
  47. E. Earle Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity (1978; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 221-36.
  48. J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (1969; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 226.
  49. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 62.
  50. Walter M. Dunnett, “The Hermeneutics of Jude and 2 Peter: The Use of Ancient Jewish Traditions,” JETS 31.3 (Sept. 1988): 290.
  51. Paul L. Maier, trans., Eusebius: The Church History – A New Translation with Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 115.
  52. It is highly important to stress here that simply because they are labeled “disputed” does not mean that they can be capriciously rejected as non-canonical –i.e., not inspired.
  53. Neyrey 2 Peter, Jude, 121.
  54. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 59.
  55. Kelly, Peter and Jude, 226.
  56. Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), 222.
  57. Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 28.
  58. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 142-43; Callan, “Use of the Letter of Jude,” 42; Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 122; Ben Witherington, III, “A Petrine Source in 2 Peter,” SBLSP (1985): 187.
  59. Gary B. Ferngren, “Internal Criticism as a Criterion for Authorship in the New Testament,” BSac 134.536 (Oct.-Dec. 1977): 331.
  60. Callan, “Use of the Letter of Jude,” 42-64.
  61. Ferngren, “Internal Criticism,” 334-38; Gilmour, “Reflections,” 673-78.
  62. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 60.
  63. Arichea and Hatton, Handbook, 3.
  64. Fornberg, Early Church in a Pluralistic Society, 34.
  65. Callan, “Use of the Letter of Jude,” 63.
  66. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 121.
  67. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 122.
  68. Barr, “Literary Dependence,” 149.
  69. Norman Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 14, 18.
  70. Kelly, Peter and Jude, 226.
  71. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 917.
  72. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 917.
  73. Barr, “Literary Dependence,” 153.
  74. Barr, “Literary Dependence,” 152-53.
  75. William E. Vine, et al., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1986), 2:532.
  76. Wayne Jackson, Essays in Apologetics, eds. Bert Thompson and Wayne Jackson (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 1984), 2:236.
  77. Jack P. Lewis, Questions You’ve Asked about Bible Translations (Searcy, AR: Resource, 1991), 74-76.
  78. L&N 1:418
  79. Jackson, Essays in Apologetics, 2:236.
  80. Ken Cukrowski, Mark Hamilton, and James Thompson, God’s Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2002), 28. This volume appears to be on the spectrum of a neo-orthodox view of Scripture, but this quote is dead right on the importance of the shared weight and authority of the prophetic word and the written word.


Arichea, Daniel C., and Howard A. Hatton. A Handbook on the Letter from Jude and the Second Letter from Peter. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1993.

Barr, George K. “Literary Dependence in the New Testament Epistles.” Irish Biblical Studies 19.4 (Oct. 1997): 148-160.

Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 50. Gen. eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Waco, TX: Word, 1983.

Callan, Terrance. “Use of the Letter of Jude by the Second Letter of Peter.” Biblica 85 (2004): 42-64.

Carson, Donald A., James D. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

Charles, J. Daryl. “Interpreting the General Epistles.” Pages 433-56 in Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues. Edited by David Alan Black and David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001.

Cukrowski, Ken, Mark Hamilton, and James Thompson. God’s Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2002.

Doty, William G. Letters in Primitive Christianity. Guides to Biblical Scholarship. New Testament. Edited by Dan O. Via, Jr. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988.

Dunham, Duane A. “An Exegetical Study of 2 Peter 2:18–22,” Bibliotheca Sacra 140.557 (Jan.-March 1983): 40-51.

Dunnett, Walter M. “The Hermeneutics of Jude and 2 Peter: The Use of Ancient Jewish Traditions.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31.3 (Sept. 1988): 287-92.

Ellis, E. Earle. Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993.

Ferngren, Gary B. “Internal Criticism as a Criterion for Authorship in the New Testament.” Bibliotheca Sacra 134.536 (Oct.-Dec. 1977): 329-42.

Fornberg, Tord. An Early Church in a Pluralistic Society: A Study of 2 Peter. Lund: Gleerup, 1977.

Fream, Donald. A Chain of Jewels from James and Jude. Bible Study Textbook. 1965. Repr., Joplin, MO: College Press, 1987.

Gilmour, Michael J. “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter.” The Evangelical Quarterly 73.4 (Oct.-Dec. 2001): 291-309.

Green, Michael. The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude: An Introduction and Commentary. 2d edition. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 18. Edited by Leon Morris. 1987. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. 4th revised edition. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1990.

Hiebert, D. Edmond. “Selected Studies from 2 Peter Part 3: A Portrayal of False Teachers: An Exposition of 2 Peter 2:1–3.” Bibliotheca Sacra 141.563 (July-Sept. 1984): 255-63.

Hillyer, Norman. 1 and 2 Peter, Jude. Revised ed. New International Biblical Commentary. New Testament Series. Vol. 16. Edited by W. Ward Gasque. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.

Jackson, Wayne. Essays in Apologetics. Edited by Bert Thompson and Wayne Jackson. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 1984.

Kelly, J. N. D. The Epistles of Peter and of Jude. Black’s New Testament Commentary. London: A & C Black, 1969. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993.

Kistemaker, Simon J. “The Canon of the New Testament.” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 20 (1977):  3-14.

—. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude. New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987.

Lewis, Jack P. Questions You’ve Asked About Bible Translations. Searcy, AR: Resource, 1991.

Longenecker, Richard N. “On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New Testament Letters.” Pages 101-14 in Scripture and Truth. Edited by Donald A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. 1983. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992.

(L&N) Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene A. Nida. Editors. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains,. 2d edition. New York, NY: United Bible Society, 1989.

Maier, Paul L. Trans. Eusebius: The Church History – A New Translation with Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999.

Melick, Jr., Richard R. “Literary Criticism of the New Testament.” Pages 434-53 in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation. Edited by David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Mathews, and Robert B. Sloan. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994.

Moo, Douglas J. 2 Peter, Jude. The NIV Application Commentary. Edited by Terry C. Muck. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills. Good News Studies 41. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible. Vol. 37 C. Gen. Edited by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Packer, James I. Fundamentalism and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Perspectives. 1958. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, n.d.

Patzia, Arthur G. The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text and Canon. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995.

Richard, Earl J. Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Reading the New Testament Series. Edited by Charles H. Talbert. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000.

Richards, E. Randolph. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004.

—. The Secretary in the Letters of Paul. Tübingen: Mohr, 1991.

—. “Silvanus Was Not Peter’s Secretary: Theological Bias in Interpreting dià Silouanoûégrapsa.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:3 (Sept. 2000): 417-41.

Robson, E. Iliff. “Composition and Dictation in New Testament Books.” Journal of Theological Studies 18 (1917): 288–301.

Rowston, Douglas J. “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament.” New Testament Studies 21 (1975): 554-563.

Schnelle, Udo. The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings. Translated by M. Eugene Boring. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998. Translation of Einleitung in das Neue Testament. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. New American Commentary. 37. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, Kenneth A. Mathews, and David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

Stowers, Stanley K. Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity. Library of Early Christianity. Vol. 8. Edited by Wayne A. Meeks. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1989.

Unger, Merrill F. “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.” Bibliotheca Sacra 121.481 (Jan.-March 1964): 58-65.

Vine, William E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1984.

Wall, Robert W. “Introduction to Epistolary Literature.” Pages 369-91 in vol 10 of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2002.

Witherington, III, Ben. “A Petrine Source in 2 Peter.” Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers (1985): 187-92.

Canonization of Scripture and 2 Peter 3:15-16

college papers

It is generally the case that many critical issues arise from the study of the canonical letter 2 Peter. Objectively, this may be said for any canonical New Testament work. Since, however, the majority of modern scholarship basically denies Petrine authorship (relegating it as a second-century composition by some unknown author), any discussion which is principally based upon 2 Peter requires interaction with this critical problem. Failure to consider this vital element of Petrine studies in the discussion of any textual topic seems to stop short of objectivity. The need to grapple with this issue is readably seen in a consideration of the canonization of Scripture as studied in light of the statement penned in 2 Pet 3:15-16.

The view taken regarding the authorship of 2 Peter plays a major role not only in the evaluation of any passage but also the implications derived from it. As in the case of 2 Peter 3:15-16, divergent views regarding the canonization process, nature of Scripture, Pauline literature, and ethics of deception arise due to one’s position of authorship. For example, the statements from 3:15-16 may argue either that the apostle Peter believes that Pauline letters are “Scripture” and should always be regarded as such;[1] in contradistinction, the passage may be employed as evidence to demonstrate that some second century disciple, writing under Peter’s name and authority attempted to contribute to the normative use of the Pauline corpus as Scripture.[2]

The divergence here centers upon which argumentation for authorship is accepted by the student. Again, if 2 Peter is penned by some fictitious “Simeon Peter” (2 Pet 1:1), purporting to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, what ethical impact does this have upon the normative prohibitives of bearing false witness (Exod 20:16)? This poses an ethical dilemma, especially when the author warns against “false prophets” who employ “false words” (2:1-3).

The canonization of Scripture and 2 Peter 3:15-16 will be evaluated in 3 steps. First, the argument of 2 Peter 3:15-16 will be evaluated at face value in light of the rest of document. Second, the concept of canon and a sketch of the New Testament canon will be outlined as it relates to 2 Peter. Finally, we will consider evidence for the first-century use of 2 Peter and its implications for an early collection of Paul’s letters (i.e. a Pauline corpus).

The Argument of 2 Peter 3:15-16 in Context

To gain as near as possible to a proper understanding of 2 Peter 3:15-16 and its place in the process of the canonization of Scripture, attention must be given to the argument of the passage.

Jerome H. Neyrey depends upon a rhetorical model in order to outline and understand the flow of argument of 2 Peter,[3] suggesting that the letter is best divided into three rhetorical phases: (1) the exodium (1:3-15), (2) the probatio (1:16-3:13), and (3) the peroratio (3:14-18).[4] The exordium “announces the hortatory intention of the speaker/writer, suggests the topics to be developed in the remainder of the writing, and requests a serious hearing” (1:3-15).[5] The probatio is basically the “proof” of the author’s case which is to persuade the intended audience by refuting the opposition’s claims, thus demonstrating the validity of Peter’s claims (1:16-3:13).[6] Finally, the peroratio which consists of two integral parts: the recapitulation (repetitio) of central ideas of the document (i.e. a summation), and an emotional appeal (adfectus) to the audience based upon the validity of the arguments found within the body of the letter (3:14-18).[7]

In this light, 2 Peter 3:14-18 should then be viewed in balance to the “themes and issues raised” from the beginning of the letter (1:16-3:13); namely, eschatological godliness through knowledge, and this knowledge mediated through genuine and normative teaching (the prophetic scritpures).[8] Fittingly, this section begins with the use of the inferential conjunction dió (“therefore”) in 3:14 which serves to show these verses are logically connected either as a deduction, conclusion or even as a summary. It brings into clear view that the logical connection is “self evident” (2 Pet 1:10, 12).[9] Without laboring this point much more, dió transitions to Peter’s insistence “that the link between faith and conduct must be maintained.”[10]

The arguments raised against the heresy –a religio-philosophical school of thought– addressed in 2 Peter 2 concludes with an exhortation to live right (2 Pet 3:1-13). Thomas R. Schreiner notes that here “many themes from its [2 Peter’s] beginning reappears” and astutely observes:

Peter’s argument is not pragmatic […] he did not invent the idea of a future judgment to foster ethical living now. On the contrary, the day of the Lord, consisting of both judgment and salvation, was bedrock reality for him. On the basis of this reality, believers are exhorted to godliness.[11]

Bauckham likewise shows how this moral argument is given weight and authority throughout 3:14-18 in three ways:[12] (1) “eschatology supplies a motive for ethical conduct” (3:14-15a), (2) accurately exegeted Pauline literature supports this rationale (3:15b-16), and (3) by way of a reminder of 2 Peter’s polemic against these false teachers (3:17).

2 Peter 3:14-17 is consequently the capstone of a moral argument set forth throughout the letter, rising from both apostolic theology and eschatology. The text may be translated as follows:

[14] Therefore, loved ones, since you wait for these things be eager to be found by him as spotless ones and blameless ones in peace; [15] and consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our beloved brother Paul (according to the wisdom entrusted to him) wrote to you, [16] as also by all [his] letters addressing these things in them, in which it is hard to understand some things, which those who are ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction as also the remaining Scriptures. [17] You therefore, loved ones, knowing in advance, be on your guard, in order that you may not be carried away from [your] firm footing by the error of lawless people. (Author’s Translation)

Of particular interest here is the vocabulary employed in versus 15-16. 2 Peter employs the authoritative weight of the Apostle Paul and a collection of his letters (pásais taís epistolaìs, “all [his] letters”) to support his argument. The false teachers, moreover, are characterized as “ignorant” (‡amatheìs) and “unstable” (‡astēriktoi), are twisting (streblōsousin) Paul’s words and the “remaining Scriptures” (tàs loipàs graphàs) to their “destruction” (apōleian).

The language itself embraces canonical language; in other words, the sort of language which recognizes normative revelation.[13] The recipients of 2 Peter were expected to obey these words. Conceptionally, then, the author of 2 Peter is appealing to an inspired holy prophet (i.e., Paul 3:15; cf. 1:20-21; 3:2), the normative Scriptures of the Hebrews (3:5-6), and himself implicitly as one who can identify the “prophetic word” (1:19). This simple observation must not be overlooked. Neyrey, who questions the validity of the argument here, recognizes that this may be a claim of “legitimacy” since there “is only one tradition of teaching of God’s judgment and Jesus’ parousia.”[14] This has the double effect of authenticating 2 Peter’s argument, while “automatically discrediting” the false teachers.[15] Richard Bauckham likewise agrees that the author, whoever he is, “wishes to point out that his own teaching (specifically in 3:14-15a) is in harmony with Paul’s because Paul was an important authority for his readers.”[16] The appeal to a normative standard is definitely a necessity in order to demonstrate the validity of the argument. Is that not a canonical concept?

If the author of 2 Peter is employing normative, or standard, theological argumentation based upon authoritative figures (i.e. Paul and the Old Testament) the implication is that the false teachers are not. Yet, the text show that the false teachers are so misconstruing Paul and the Old Testament’s affirmations that they are “torturing” them, to the point of making them appear as if they teach something that they do not (streblōsousin);[17] thus, the audience is to understand that there is a normative standard which is being replaced by a foreign “interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20-21). The language of the passage is again revealing. Paul is regarded as one who was endowed with wisdom (dotheisan autō sophían), which is a natural allusion to his direct reception of revelation elsewhere synonymously described (1 Cor 2:11-13; Gal 1:12-17).[18] Paul’s letters are saturated with wisdom, but his words are subject to specious interpretive methods which disjoint their intent and meaing, and lead to a behavior that leads to a self-imposed destruction.

It seems, then, that this destruction stems from the fact that Paul’s letters and “the remaining Scriptures” (tàs loipàs graphàs) in some way share the same character.[19] 2 Peter 3:16 connects this torture of tàs loipàs graphàs to their destruction as well, meaning that the same kind of punishment awaiting those who distort the meaning of Paul’s letters is awaiting those who twist the “rest of the Scriptures.”[20] Contextually, this phrase refers to the Old Testament Scriptures since the New Testament had not been collected and collated as modern Christians experience.[21] Even Bauckham, who is opposed to Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, acknowledges that “it would make no sense to take graphàs in the nontechnical sense of ‘writings’; the definite article requires us to give it its technical sense” though he conceives of other books in the author’s purview.[22] Likewise, Earl J. Richard simply observes, “that the author means to include in this category the OT Scriptures is obvious, but beyond that it is unclear what Christian works would have been thus labeled.”[23] 

From these observations, the proposition is advanced here that the author of 2 Peter grounds his argumentation in a reference to accepted authority (tradition, or standard). This authority is threefold: (1) his prophetic office as an apostle, (2) the Apostle Paul’s letters, and (3) the rest of the writings (i.e., Old Testament). This internal textual argumentation is generally accepted despite some questions regarding 2 Peter 3:15-16 and its admission of the “hard sayings” in Paul’s treatment of some matters.[24]

2 Peter and the New Testament Canon

In order to properly evaluate the relationship between 2 Peter, the Pauline corpus, and the balance of the New Testament documents, let us consider a working sketch of the development of the New Testament canon.

The Term. Harry Gamble makes the observation that if examined “within the full context of early Christian literature, the documents which came to constitute the NT canon are not, as a group, recognizably unique.”[25] It still remains, according to King McCarver, that “the formation of the canon cannot be understood apart from divine authority.”[26] McCarver argues that the initial recipients of the New Testament books could identify these works, and because of the ability to distinguish (with varying degrees) those documents from other early Christian literature. Gamble must be taken in balance with this observation.

The term canon (kanōn) is a semitic loanword which for our purpose has three basic meanings which play, as Gamble observes, some role in the conception of the canonization of Scripture.[27] First, deriving from the literal origin of being a reed of bulrush or papyrus, kanōn came to denote for the craftsman a “measuring rod,” a “rule,” or simply put “a tool for measurement or alignment” hence a “straight rod.”[28] Second, the literal meaning gave way to metaphorical usage in keeping with the concept of standardization; thus, canon became also synonymous with “an ideal standard, a firm criterion against which something could be evaluated and judged.” Third, kanōn also came to mean “a list” or “a catalogue” which seems to have been based upon the calibration marks on the reed stick.[29] All these uses of kanōn have also found their way into the broader limits of the liberal arts for identifying unparalleled standards, but when it applies to sacred literature “canon denotes a list or collection of authoritative books.”[30] Canon, when addressing Christian literature regarded as Scripture, means that these works are “the rule of faith” (regula fidei) and “the rule of truth” (regula veritatis); consequently, they are governing normative standards of apostolic faith.[31]

A brief note on the use of kanōn in the New Testament is relevant here. Its use in the New Testament is minimal, a total of four times. Of these four uses only Galatians 6:16 carries this sense of a standard rule, “And as for all who walk by this rule [tō kanóni], peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” The other three uses are found in the same context of 2 Corinthians 10 in the sense of a measured area of ministerial labor and growth outlined by God (10:13, 15-16). This shows the spectrum of the use and meaning of kanōn in the New Testament and how the term canon came to be used to describe the authoritative writings of God’s people.

A Historical Sketch. A sketch of the development of the New Testament canon will assist to properly evaluate the relationship between 2 Peter and the letters of Paul.

For purpose of this study attention is given (1) to some factors which impeded the canonization process,[32] (2) to some of the debates among the extant Apostolic Fathers.[33]

First, factors which impeded the canonization process. Dowell Flatt in his lecture, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?,” notes that there are at least seven important factors which impeded the canonization process of the New Testament documents.[34] In summary form, these are:

(1) The early church accepted the Hebrew Bible as an authoritative body of divine literature and interpreted it christologically; consequently, “it did not immediately appear that another set of books would be needed.” 

(2) The early church was still under the shadow of the Lord’s presence and life, and many of them would feel “no need for a written account of his life.”

(3) Eyewitness testimony (i.e. apostles and close disciples) to the Lord’s life and work was still abundant and alive (1 Cor 15:6); consequently, so long as living witnesses were available there was a low need for a written account (#2).

(4) Oral tradition was a vital element in the early Jewish culture and the make-up of the early church, and “as strange as it might sound to modern ears, many Jewish teachers did not commit their teachings to writing.” Oral tradition was important even around 130 A.D., for Papias felt that “the word of a living, surviving voice” was more important than “information from books.”[35] Other factors placing an importance upon oral tradition are the expense of books, the spectrum of literacy and illiteracy among the classes,[36] and that there is no record of Jesus specifically writting nor commanding a written record be composed.[37] 

(5) The nature of many apostolic writings was letters, not literary works, so is it understandable that “such writings” as the letters “were slow to be fully recognized as Scripture.” 

(6) The early church manifested in a belief of a first-century return of Jesus to consume the age (eschatology) had “some influence” to hinder the canonization process.

(7) The divinely inspired would speak a prophetic word, and while this was available the church was in no need of a written record per se. Kurt Aland observes the second-century church, living beyond this blessing, “began to carefully distinguish between the apostolic past and the present.”[38]

McCarver adds to this list one more factor which slowed the canonization process:

(8) There was no “ecclesiastical organization” which “composed or established the canon,” but instead the slow reception of these works at various intervals, across a large geographical region, of the early church was the context of the early sifting process before the councils.[39]

No doubt other factors were in play but these allow us to appreciate the forces at work in the early church during this process.

Second, some of the debates among the extant Apostolic Fathers centered on early Christian literature and their authority. Gamble presents the various discussions and canonical debates in two significant time periods:[40] (1) the second century and (2) the third and fourth centuries. Gamble’s survey demonstrates that it was not an easy time for the early church. There were many signs of the church in transition. In particular, it manifiested in a responsibility that had never been the universal church’s responsibility, namely, the collecting and sorting out the authoritative documents of the new covenant. These were extraordinary times indeed.

The extant records of the Apostolic Fathers demonstrate that not all churches had the same documents. Furthermore, some viewed certain works inspired while others did not, meanwhile, some would use certain documents later found to be spurious and reject them.[41] One of the largest subjects to discussed was the authenticity of the Gospel narratives and that of the letters of the Apostle Paul; especially, their place when compared to other similar gospel accounts and letters. Some employed Gospel narratives which are not in our present canonical and others rejected the use of some of Paul’s letters.[42] Kurt Aland observes that “contemporary with the abating of the prophetic impulse there developed the awareness of history.”[43] In other words, the church was truly without the aid of the apostles and prophets, and its future would be now in the hands of the documents they left behind (John 16:13).

Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., gives a detailed analysis of another major problem of the second century, and well into the third century, namely that the early church had to begin sifting through Christian literature which claimed prophetic inspiration.[44] The early church was consequently embroiled in a matrix of canonical upheaval, but building upon the growing recognized canon and “the rule of faith,” it wrestled back and forth accepting what they thought was prophetic and rejecting documents having no validity and those which were inconsistent with apostolic tradition.[45] Gamble observes the travels of Origen, who was considerably informed of what documents the church had in its possession, and summarizes the items which lacked in the both the eastern and western church.[46]

The fourth century provides the work of Eusebius who was one the most informed leaders of his time. In his Church History, Eusebius informs his readers as follows regarding the state of “canonical affairs”:

At this point is may be appropriate to list the New Testament writings already referred to. The holy quartet of the Gospels are first, followed by the Acts of the Apostles. Next are Paul’s epistles, 1 John, and 1 Peter. The Revelation of John may be added […] These are the recognized books. Those that are disputed yet known to most are the epistles called James, Jude, 2 Peter, and the so-named 2 and 3 John, the work of the Evangelist or of someone else with the same name. (Maier)[47]

Eusebius continues this discussion with another brief list, of spurious and heretical works under which the book of Revelation (some viewed it spurious) was still not fully recognized. These disputed volumes were often styled the antilegomena; meaning, they were not heretical, they was simply a continued debate over their authority. Still, Gamble concludes from Eusebius, “It seems that little development had taken place during the third century” for those works where were acknowledged are “precisely” those acknowledged at the end of the second century.[48] The fourth century would see a significant change in this accepted list.

Various lists are extant from the fourth century, besides that offered by Eusebius. The Cheltenham canon (A.D. 360) recognized our entire canon except Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John.[49] The Festal Letter of Athanasius (A.D. 367) set forth for the first time a list named “as exclusively authoritative exactly the twenty-seven books which make up our NT.”[50] This did not sway the eastern church for a number of reasons. The most basic was that the Syrian church was going through its own sifting system and was recognizing books in its own time; consequently, “into the early fifth century, the Syrian church typically admitted only twenty-two books.”[51] For example, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, and Revelation did not appear in the early original Peshitta collections of the New Testament until 508 AD in the Philoxenian revision of the whole Syrian Bible.[52]

The early church was indeed grappling with the issue of canon for at least 350 years, traditionally somewhere in the mid-second century and encroaching into the fifth century A.D. During this time the Apostolic Fathers, as a body of strong church leadership evaluated what the communities of believers had received as Scripture. It is important to focus again to an important point, that there were factors which encouraged a slow process of canonization as mentioned above, and that early on there was no ecclesiastical government to encourage the universal collection, the collation, and the transmission of apostolic documents. Furthermore, it has been advanced above that the first recipients of the documents would have recognized the apostolic authority behind them and would have made a distinction between them and those which were regarded traditional but not authoritative.

In light of these points, Simon J. Kistemaker argues that the documents themselves were intrinsically authoritative, but it took time for the church universal to sift through this tremendous body of literature and come to an agreement. In other words, the early church was working to make a distinction between the words of the Spirit versus the words of Christian teachers. Kistemaker argues that the church was accepting a qualitative canon until it accepted a quantitative canon:

The books themselves, of course, have always been uniquely authoritative from the time of their composition. Therefore, we speak of a qualitative canon in early stages that led to a quantitative canon centuries later. The incipient canon began to exist near the end of the first century. The completed canon was recognized by the Church near the end of the fourth century.[53]

Consequently, as has often been maintained, “the church did not create the canon,”[54] but instead, developing from the early post-apostolic church structure to the top in the various councils to give focused attention to the authenticity of these works.[55] We may argue then that while the canon did not come into existence in a simple moment, and that the canon did increase as each document was published by a New Testament apostle and prophet (qualitative canon), but that it took a historical process to separate these individual volumes from similar Christian documents which the early church had incorporated into its lifeblood (quantitative canon). 

First-Century Evidence for 2 Peter and a Pauline Corpus?

Finally, there is the first-century evidence for 2 Peter and collection processes of the letters of Paul. Robert E. Picirilli has shown that 2 Peter cannot be quickly dismissed as a second-century document, and finds evidence 2 Peter through allusions by late first-century and early second-century Apostolic Fathers.[56] Also, E. Randolph Richards likewise provides some context for evaluating the some of the natural movements for the collection of an early Pauline corpus.[57]

A brief history of the developing canon of the New Testament shows that 2 Peter and the letters of Paul had different historical “experiences” in their reception by the church universal. 2 Peter was often grouped with others volumes that were debated as to their authority, whereas Paul’s letters were often grouped together in different collections subject to criticisms due to their content by the likes of the gnostic heretic Marcion who reduced Paul’s letters to ten. In Marcion’s case, he may have done more to force the church to evaluate and determine what are the canonical New Testament documents.

It is sometimes argued that 2 Peter has no external attestation until late second century AD, but Picirilli’s work argues to the contrary. 2 Peter has early attestation through allusions by the late first-century and early second-century Apostolic Fathers.[58] Allusions are different from quotations, of course, as quotations are much stronger evidence than allussions since the quotation is a direct appeal to the source text; however, if the allusion has significant verbal similarity (correspondence) to a source, then its passing reference should not be, nor cannot be, ignored as a witness to its text source.

Among the earliest sources with allusions to 2 Peter are 1 Clement (95-95)[59] and 2 Clement (98-100?).[60] Picirilli claims that there are “three distinctive phrases that are common to Clement and 2 Peter”:[61] (1) a periphrasis (an indirect way) for the name of God (1 Clem 9:2), (2) the description of the Christian life (1 Clem 35:5), and (3) the description of the Scriptures (2 Clem 11:2). Picirilli pays careful attention to this verbal similarity, and argues for the priority of 2 Peter to demonstrate the dependence of 1 and 2 Clement.

First, Clement writes “Let us fix our eyes on those who perfectly served his magnificent glory” (1 Clem 9:2).[62] This indirect reference to God as “his magnificent glory” (tē megaloprepei dóxe autou) has strong verbal agreement to 2 Peter 1:17.[63] Here it is says, “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory [tēs megaloprepous doxēs], ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (ESV).

Second, 1 Clement 35:5 calls the Christian life, “the way of truth” (tē hodō tēs alētheías), which resembles 2 Peter 2:2, calling attention to some who are blaspheming the Christian lifestyle – “the way of truth” (hē hodòs tēs alētheías).[64]

Third, 2 Clement 11:2 refers to the Scriptures as “the prophetic Word” (ho prophētikos lógos); and in like manner 2 Peter 1:19 “the prophetic word” (ton prophētikon lógon). This latter example seems impressive since the argument in 2 Clement is to support eschatology in exactly the same polemic context as 2 Peter, against false teachers (2 Clem 10:1-11.7; 2 Pet 1:16-3:13).[65]

In observing this verbal agreement between 2 Peter and 1 and 2 Clement, Picirilli affirms, “it is interesting that three of 2 Peter’s distinctive phrases, unique in the Bible, are used in ‘Clement’, and in exactly the same way.”[66] Picirilli recognizes that several objections can be made against his researched conclusion, but despite all these objections the Apostolic Fathers demonstrate to be a strong verbal source for other allusions to 2 Peter within the first century.[67]

In addition, Guthrie argues that the greater amount of early external attestation one gets, then the greater support for the traditional date of 2 Peter.[68] Both Picirilli and Guthrie have been criticized by Michael J. Gilmour.[69] Gilmour argues that Picirilli’s observations are not helpful in arguing for an early origin of 2 Peter despite the possible allusions from the late first-century AD, because scholars who believe it was penned prior to the second century still hold that it is pseudonymous. Further, Guthrie’s point is weakened for Paul still had to warn against contemporary pseudonymous writers (2 Thess 2:1-2).[70] In other words, possible allusions do not prove authoriship since even the first-century saw the problem of assuming Paul’s name in order to distribute their views.

However, Picirilli’s work is a response to the constant argument that 2 Peter is not known in the first century, nor quoted until late into the second. After demonstrating that significant verbal allusions to 2 Peter exist within the first-century, he argues that those who still wish to oppose the traditional view of 2 Peter must prove that “their convictions of 2 Peter’s lateness is based on some grounds other than lack of possible allusions.”[71] Gilmour may be right that allusions do not prove authorship, but he does not discredit Picirlli’s demonstration of first-century verbal allusions.

Plainly stated, 2 Peter is a first-century document strikingly alluded to by Christian leaders in the late first-century. For the purpose of this study, the present point is sufficient, though we maintain the strength of Peter’s authorship of 2 Peter. So this makes its reference to a body of Paul’s letters all the more important. It is a major feature of its final conclusion which pleads his recipients to adhere to authoritative (orthodox) writings for the shaping of their faithful lives, and apparently, Paul’s letters were meaningful in this process.

2 Peter 3:15-16, then, reflects the existence of a Pauline corpus of indefinite size (en pásais taís epistolaìs) that both the author and his audience were (presumably) aware of. Therefore, some consideration of an early Pauline corpus must be given. Some concept of how Paul’s letters were collected and then circulated must be considered. It is argued here that the process was both gradual in scope but immediate to Paul.

The basis for this belief is grounded in slow circulation among the churches,[72] the typical secretarial duty to make copies, and the arrival and usage of the codex.[73] McCarver observes that the occasional nature of the epistles highlights the point that there was some specificity to a given locale, and consequently as other churches desired copies the “exchange and copying” was gradual.[74] Randolph Richards argues that the collection was unintentional, but provides evidence that on the analogy of ancient letter writers Paul would have had a copy of any letter in which he employed a secretary, or letter-writer (an amanuensis).[75] Likewise, consistent with this analogy, the secretary would have a copy of the letters for records.[76] Consequently, a collection of Paul’s was inevitable due to custom.

2 Timothy 4:11-13 also contributes to this discussion. Despite the fact that 1-2 Timothy and Titus are often considered pseudonymous by many scholars, a strong case can be made in favor of Pauline authorship. Still, the text reads:

[11] Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. [12] Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. [13] When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (ESV)

The term “the parchments” (tàs membránas) is rather interesting since Paul, according to Richards, “is the only Greek writer of the first century to refer to membra€nai, a Roman invention.”[77] Parchments codices were used to retain copies of letters for future use to prepare rough drafts of other letters later written for delivery.[78] Richards does engage how this passage is affected if the 2 Timothy is non-Pauline. In agreement, we argue that it only affects the explicit claim by Paul, but one can still “contend for Paul’s retaining his copies in a codex notebook solely because of customary practice.”[79] 

Thus, 2 Peter’s reference to a body of Pauline writings is consistent with available evidence of cannonical history, the use of 2 Peter, and the practice of collecting letters among ancient letter writers.

Concluding Thoughts

Attention now turns to drawing some conclusions. The traditional view towards 2 Peter would argue that 2 Peter 3:15-16 is the earliest apostolic witness to a corpus of Pauline letters which a community of Christians also knew about. The implicit awareness that the community of 2 Peter possibly owned a copy of a corpus, of indefinite proportion, is a tremendous support for the fact that the letters were authoritative not only for the original recipient, but this authority extends any community of believers dealing with the same issues. Consequently, despite these letters being directed for an alternative audience, its contents are “the rule of faith” (regula fidei) and “the rule of truth” (regula veritatis) for Peter’s recipients. In other words, they are: normative, an authoritative standard, canonical. Moreover, despite the limited acknowledgement of 2 Peter throughout the canonical history, and some of the problematic issues with the reception of the Pauline corpus, these letters are (with the above presupposition) authoritative.

If 2 Peter is the product of a pseudonymous author, despite its ethical problems, 2 Peter is still a product of the last half of the first-century AD, and at the very least the author was aware of a Pauline corpus. Moreover, if as Bauckham observes, 2 Peter is a testamentary letter where the audience understood that the letter is a fictitious document the audience then, it seems, would be also aware of a Pauline corpus of indefinite size. It therefore must be one of the earliest, if not the first, in the list of post-apostolic literature that appeals to a set standard to theology and ethics based upon an authoritative set of works (or canon), the prophetic office, the Old Testament, and Pauline literature. Even then, when viewed as a late first-century AD document, canonicity is a major and early grounding point in the minds of some in the early church, who were living in the shadows of the apostolic authority. This observation also implies that grounding teaching upon an authoritative group of documents is not strange but expected.

In summary, the meaning of 2 Peter 3:15-16 demonstrates a strong appeal to an authoritative body of literature based on the prophetic-apostolic office, the Old Testament, and Pauline literature. The concept of canon and a sketch of the history of the New Testament canon highlighted the complex matrix the Apostolic Fathers found themselves in. In this setting, the process was slow and developed differently in the east and the west. The unique vocabulary of 2 Peter is arguably found in the first century A.D., and despite some criticism concerning the implications which stem from this fact, a first century placement is a strong viable case. The Pauline corpus grew very naturally as both a quick and gradual process, by means of slow copying and exchange of the churches, the work of a secretary who would make multiple copies for the author and amanuensis, and the usage of a codex (membránas) made it available for a collection to exist and grew as Paul produced more letters. All these factors are particularly important when evaluating 2 Peter 3:15-16 and the process of canonization.


  1. Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Peter and Jude (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1987), 109-16; Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990), 812.
  2. Fred B. Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude (Louisville, KY: WJK, 1993), 122; Archibald M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament, 3rd edition (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster, 1972), 186.
  3. Despite scholars showing variation in the structural outline of 2 Peter, on the main there is agreement on in the thought outline of the document. Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 2003), 282; Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1983), 135; Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 65-66; Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 232-33.
  4. Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1993), 113-18.
  5. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 113.
  6. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 116.
  7. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 117-18.
  8. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude247.
  9. L&N 89.47.
  10. D. Edmond Hiebert, “Selected Studies from 2 Peter Part 4: Directives for Living in Dangerous Days: An Exposition of 2 Peter 3:14-18a,” BSac 141 (1984): 331.
  11. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 393; cf. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 334; Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1986), 449.
  12. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 334-37.
  13. Hiebert, “2 Peter 3:14-18a,” 336.
  14. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 250.
  15. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 250.
  16. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 328.
  17. BDAG 948.
  18. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 329.
  19. Hiebert, “2 Peter 3:14-18a,” 336; Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 397-98; L&N 1:61.
  20. BDAG 602; W. Günther H. Krienke, “Remnant, Leave,” NIDNTT, 3:252.
  21. Kelcy, Letters of Peter and Jude, 162; Tord Fornberg, An Early Church in a Pluralistic Society: A Study of 2 Peter, trans. Jean Gray (Sweden: Boktryckeri, 1977), 22; Krienke, “Remnant, Leave,” 252.
  22. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 333.
  23. Earl J. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth, 2000), 390.
  24. Johnson, Writings of the New Testament, 443-44; Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter, 388; Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 250.
  25. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 13.
  26. King McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible? – New Testament” in God’s Word for Today’s World: The Biblical Doctrine of Scripture, Don Jackson, et al. (Kosciusko, MS: Magnolia Bible College, 1986), 89.
  27. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 15-18; Hermann W. Beyer, “kanōn,” TDNT 3:596-602; BDAG 507-08; L&N 33.335, 80.2; H. G. Liddell, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Logos electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 399.
  28. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 15; M-M 320.
  29. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 15.
  30. Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2001), 29.
  31. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation in the Early Church” in Church, Word, and Spirit:  Historical and Theological Essays in Honor of Geoffrey W. Bromiley, eds. James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 70; Gamble, New Testament Canon, 16-17; Linda L. Belleville, “Canon of the New Testament” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, eds. David S. Dockery, et al. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994), 375; Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2d ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 2003), 70-71.
  32. Dowell Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” in Settled in Heaven:  Applying the Bible to Life, ed. David Lipe (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University Press, 1996), 138-40.
  33. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 23-56.
  34. Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” 139; James A. Brooks, Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1969), 8:18-21.
  35. Paul L. Maier, trans. Eusebius: The Church History – A New Translation with Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 127.
  36. Alan Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (Sheffield, England: Sheffield, 2001), 154-84.
  37. Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” 139; D. I. Lanslots, The Primitive Church: The Church in the Days of the Apostles (1926; repr., Rockford, IL: Tan, 1980), 102-09.
  38. Kurt Aland, “The Problem of Anonymity and Pseudonymity in Christian Literature of the First Two Centuries,” JTS 12 (1961): 47.
  39. McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88; Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” JETS 20 (1977): 13.
  40. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 24-56.
  41. Montague Rhodes James, trans., The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), xii-xxii.
  42. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 28-34, 44-46.
  43. Aland, “The Problem of Anonymity,” 47.
  44. Robeck, “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation,” 72-74.
  45. Robeck, “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation,” 75-86.
  46. Robeck, “Canon, Regulae Fidei, and Continuing Revelation,” 50-53.
  47. Maier, Eusebius, 115.
  48. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 53.
  49. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 54.
  50. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 54.
  51. Gamble, New Testament Canon, 55.
  52. Frederick F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible, 3rd ed. (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1963), 200.
  53. Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” 13.
  54. Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” 13; McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88-90; Flatt, “Why Twenty Seven New Testament Books?” 140-42.
  55. Kistemaker, “The Canon of the New Testament,” 13.
  56. Robert E. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers,” JSNT 33 (1988): 58-74.
  57. E. Randolph Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters,” BBR 8 (1998): 155-62.
  58. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 57-83.
  59. J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, trans., The Apostolic Fathers, 2d edition, ed. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 25.
  60. Lightfoot and Harmer, Apostolic Fathers, 65-67.
  61. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 60-61.
  62. Lightfoot and Harmer, Apostolic Fathers33.
  63. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 218.
  64. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 242.
  65. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 60-61.
  66. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 60.
  67. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 74-77.
  68. Guthrie, Introduction, 810-11.
  69. Michael J. Gilmour, “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter,” EvQ 73 (2001): 298-99.
  70. Gilmour, “Authorship of 2 Peter,” 299.
  71. Picirilli, “Allusions to 2 Peter,” 75.
  72. McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88.
  73. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 155-66.
  74. McCarver, “Why are These Books in the Bible?” 88.
  75. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 158-59.
  76. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 156.
  77. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 161.
  78. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 161.
  79. Richards, “The Codex and the Early Collection,” 159-62.

Continue reading “Canonization of Scripture and 2 Peter 3:15-16”

Philippians 4:10-13: Exegesis and Syntax


college papers

The writing of a letter in ancient times was a special thing, yet it seems the estimation of what a letter is has escaped the modern person.[1] In an age where communication is as instant as the punch of a button, at text, or a voice-to-text there appears to be as E. Randolph Richards observes:

a struggle to understand how much a handwritten letter, which was already weeks old, meant to the reader. Although usually battered from the journey, such letters did more than just bring news; one could almost feel the warmth of the hand that wrote it and the sound of the voice that spoke it.[2]

Letters are not cold mechanical communiques. Charles B. Cousar mentions how letters “are always sent as surrogates for a visit,”[3] and usually in ancient times the trusted courier (“emissary”) would also “supplement” the written message with an oral greeting from the sender.[4] The arrival of a letter and a message was, therefore, a joyous occasion (Phil 2:19).

Adapting the letter for church use was, therefore, natural and ingenious.[5] The Philippian letter then, being a product of an ancient letter society, is not necessarily unique so far as its general composition is concerned;[6] however, it is inherently valuable because it is inspired instruction (2 Tim 3:16-17).[7] It allowed the apostle Paul to make his presence felt so that he might personally address a few matters (Phil 2:12). It also gave him a platform to reconnect with his beloved Philippians, those who always supported him in his ministry (Phil 1:5, 4:15).

It is this last thought which forms the focus of this study. In Philippians 4:10-13, Paul acknowledges the gift from this Macedonian congregation. Yet, this “thank you” memo quickly turns into an opportunity to stress a spiritual perspective which he himself had to learn, and one which he desperately desires them to learn: the source of strength to do the humanly impossible does not come from within, it comes from above.

This is an important lesson for the church to reflect upon. There is a temptation to derive strength from within. There is also something unnerving to surrender oneself over to the strengthening influence of an invisible God when in the presence of visible and tangible problems. We can only transcend our surroundings through God.

Background and Context

Philippians 4:10-13 follows after the paraenetic section[8] of Philippians (3:1-4:9), where despite some harsh words regarding false teachers, he encourages the Philippian church to forebear through joy and peace.[9] Handley Moule agrees noting, “the directly didactic message of the Epistle is now over and he turns to the personal topic of the alms, for himself and his work, received through Epaphroditus from Philippi.”[10] There is a hint at the beginning of the letter regarding the longevity of their support of Paul (1:3-7), but nothing explicit regarding a recent “gift” until 4:10-20 of which only verses 10-13 will be discussed below.

Letter writing often, revelation notwithstanding, was usually mitigated at the knowledge of an associate traveling.[11] Epaphroditus had arrived from Philippi, but after recovering from an illness Paul sends him with  Timothy to Philippi (2:19-30). It is without doubt that one of Paul’s purposes for the letter is to express thanksgiving for the gift he has received.[12] This created the reason for the letter.

Yet, if grattitude was one of the main reasons for ne of Paul’s reasons for sending the letter being to thank the brethren at Philippi, “it seems strange,” as Donald Guthrie writes:

on a first reading that Paul should conclude by a reference to the Philippians’ revived concern for him. It almost savours [sic] of ingratitude to be so casual about it. And yet he may have had a purpose in postponing until the end the mention of the Philippians’ gifts.[13]

Indeed, placement of some vocabulary within Paul’s section of thanksgiving has made this passage subject of much discussion.

First, it must be noted that the thanksgiving for the gift should not be viewed as the sole reason for the letter, since the letter has other specific areas that it addresses. Archibald T. Robertson suggests that Paul “seemed about to forget it in his eager discussion of other things and so he checked himself before it was too late.”[14] But again, there is no reason to treat Paul as “the absent minded apostle,” for the unity of the letter is sound.

In fact, there is an interesting parallel between “the important verbal parallels between thanksgiving (1:3-11) and the closing note of thanks (4:10-20),”[15] demonstrating a planned arrangement consistent with epistolary composition.[16] Epistolary productions were not a haphazard endeavor, there was a process from draft to final copy.[17] Gordon Fee observes that the gratitude section’s “placement at the end of the letter is most likely due to the combined influence of orality and Pauline rhetoric.”[18]

Second, Paul’s appreciation is sometimes regarded as savoring “of ingratitude to be so casual about it”; moreover, Gerald Hawthorne refers to this section as “this so-called ‘thank you’ section, since Paul does not use the verb eucharistein (‘to thank’ someone for something).”[19] But, as Gerald Peterman demonstrates, some scholars approach this issue “without taking cognizance of first century social conventions related to gratitude.”[20]

These conventions demonstrate that the use of eucharistein was inappropriate among intimate friends,[21] that instead of a verbal (i.e. written) thank you a material one of some kind was rendered, and that verbal gratitude “is an expression of debt or of one’s intention to repay.”[22] It is interesting that Paul promises God will repay the Philippians for their troubles (Phil 4:19). Consequently, the Philippian letter is in “keeping with the thankless thanks practiced in the first century Graeco-Roman [sic] world.”[23] Peterman’s observations, however, have not swayed all students of this letter.

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Exegesis of Philippians 4:10-13

10 | I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.[24]

The postpositive de is often omitted in English translations and in general it may be of minor importance since it is one of the weakest of connective conjunctions; however, the fact that it is a conjunction demonstrates that what Paul says here is related to what is previously stated. In other words, de is transitional here,[25] and its importance is Paul rhetorically demonstrating that he had not forgotten to show his thanksgiving of the Philippians.[26]

Alfred Plummer expands the de and translates the particle as “but I must not omit,”[27] and suggests that this “indicates that something has just occurred to him. He has been meaning to say it, but might have forgotten. The de looks back to vv. 4-9, or perhaps earlier. ‘I have been exhorting you to rejoice and to imitate me: so I must thank you for making me rejoice.’”[28] Paul’s “words have to be read in the light of the deep mutual affection existing between him and the Philippian church and in the light of his well-attested financial policy.”[29]

Echaren,[30] I rejoice, is the aorist passive indicative verb (chairo, “I rejoice” and “I am glad”). The word here basically expresses a “state of happiness and wellbeing.”[31] There is a complication regarding how chairo should be taken here, made evident by two renditions of echaren. The ESV renders chairo in the present force “I rejoice” (ASV, TEV, NIV, RSV, JB, NEB, NET); however, other translations render chairo with its aorist tense expressed “I was glad” (KJV, NKJV, ASV fn., NASU, FHV).

On the main, chairo is rendered as an epistolary aorist, which “is most often found in letters where there is a time gap between writing and reading”; furthermore:

As a courtesy to the reader, the writer adopts the time perspective of the reader, which is different from his own. He uses the aorist tense to describe an event which is present or future for him but which will be in the past by the time the reader receives the letter. Since there is no such idiom in English, such aorists are usually translated by using the present or future tense.[32]

While the epistolary aorist[33] makes sense, the aorist aspect of the verb[34] also makes perfect contextual sense.[35] Taking the aorist naturally, the apostle would be referring to the joy he experienced when he received the “care package” sent by the Philippians through Epaphroditus (Phil 1:5, 7; 2:25, 30; 4:18). Nevertheless, despite the plausibility of this latter translation, there is nothing requiring the interpreter to exclude the syntactical for the idiomatic association, and vice versa.[36] With this in mind, either take on the aorist verb makes sense, and this ambiguity only allows us to specifically regard Paul’s great joy as being initiated by the entire Philippian exchange.[37]

The phrase en kurio megalos, in the Lord greatly, appears to be as vivid a conception as it is unique. Albrecht Oepke observes that en kurio is a formula that is “not found prior to Paul” and is “rare outside the Pauline corpus.”[38] In fact, Oepke speculates that not only is this formula “peculiar to Paul,” but that such constructions perhaps find origin with him. The phrase en kurio “characterizes an activity or state as Christian.”[39] The activity, which is particularly a Christian activity, is the joy Paul is experiencing (Phil 4:10). Hans Conzelmann suggests that en kurio has “ecclesiological significance” since it is the sphere of this unique Christian joy.[40] This significance is seen in its eschatological emphasis as well; this latter sense is seen here in Paul’s joy, as he looks forward to the heavenly account from which the Philippians will reap spiritual dividends (Phil 4:17-20). Furthermore, Paul’s unique experience of Christian joy is enhanced by the adverb megalos, greatly, and cannot be contextually understood apart from it. When Paul rejoiced, the location of his joy was nowhere else active, aside from it being in the Lord.

The reason for such a joy was that now at length (hoti ede pote) the Philippians had revived concern for (anethalete to huper emou phronein) Paul. The expression hoti ede pote provides great insight into the mind of the Philippians, and into Paul’s knowledge of their activities. The phrase ede pote should be taken to mean, “that after so long a time you again were in a position to show […] to be in a state identical to a previous state.”[41] The “previous state” is the concern (to huper phronein) regarding Paul’s situation. Against Guthrie,[42] this does not appear to be an indictment, for anethalete (second aorist, active indicative, 2nd person, plural) as it means here, “you caused to rekindle,” demonstrates Paul’s awareness that after so long a time the Philippians had a moment to finally act out on their concern (phronein). This is more apparent in connection with imperfect verbs ephroneite and ekaireisthe later addressed.

The Philippian concern for the Apostle is more evident with the following vocabulary – to huper emou phronein– which the ESV translates your concern for me. They had, as Paul understands them, “caused to rekindle your thoughts on behalf of myself.” The expression to huper emou phronein[43] should most definitely be translated as a unit, taking the articular infinitive and the huper emou construction, to express the overarching idea that Paul was a major concern for the Philippians.[44] They were prepared to act on his behalf when the opportunity presented itself again, and the arrival of Epaphroditus demonstrates that such an avenue arose.[45] “I know that had there been a earlier moment for you to continue caring for my well being, you would have done so. Despite how much time had lapsed since you last helped me, you acted instantaneously,” is probably closest in sentiment to Paul here.[46]

The phrase eph’ ho kai, literally “upon which also,” refers back to what the Philippians were already concerned for (ephroneite); thus, the ESV translates eph’ (from epi) ho kai ephroneite as You were indeed concerned for me. The syntactical construction of the text makes a literal rendering into English somewhat awkward, however, a literal rendering of the text would result this alternative, “upon which also you had concern.” The ESV rendering retains the emphasis upon the Philippian concern for Paul, as it inserts for me, and also completes the thought in English by providing a direct object for the verb to act towards.[47] Still, the Imperfect Active Indicative 2nd person plural ephroneite, also from phroneo, rendered here, as you were concerned, fills in the chronological blanks which ede pote creates, because the latter expression implicitly suggests a lapse in time before the Philippians could revive their concern. The imperfect active indicative form of phroneo suggests continued action in the past; consequently, the picture Paul elaborately canvasses is that despite the long duration which had elapsed, the Philippian congregation’s actual concern and meditation remained constant demonstrated by this most recent financial fellowship.[48] The point is: they had never forgotten the Apostle Paul whether in action or in thought, and Paul knew it![49]

Paul again reaffirms his understanding of the situation that circumscribed the Philippians’ gift, and tells them but I know that you had no opportunity (ekaireisthe de). The transitional particle de here moves from the long-standing concern (ephroneite), to the long-standing vacuum of opportunity (ekaireisthe) to send some assistance to Paul. You had no opportunity derives from the imperfect, middle deponent, indicative, 2nd person plural verb form of akaireomai, meaning “to have no time”[50] or “to not have a favorable opportunity to do something […], to have no chance.”[51] Placing the nature of this verb in the imperfect tense, Paul details a parallel picture with ephroneite; whereas, the Philippians always had Paul on their minds, here ekaireisthe shows the Philippians suffered with the dual issue that they had no convenient moment to act out their good will towards the apostle. Robertson suggests possibly that ekaireisthe could mean, “lacked means,”[52] but akaireomai[53] is a “temporal” verb;[54] consequently, the only “means” that was lacking for them was a point in time to assist Paul.[55]

Only speculation can approximate what the hindrance was which limited the Philippians’ gift(s). Bruce suggests Paul requested the lengthy temporal retardation of financial assistance.[56] Hawthorne postulates that “time” refers to unfavorable weather conditions and a lack in traveling funds, setting up a barricade through which the Philippians could not penetrate.[57] Martin also extrapolates that perhaps there was no time available to the Philippians because of their poverty, but also speculates that Paul may have been in an “inaccessible place.”[58] Martin’s appraisal of the situation seems much far more compelling than the rest, but since there is insufficient testimony regarding why the delay, the issue must be left open.

11 | Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Paul moves from expressing his understanding of the historical background behind the Philippian gift, where he assures them that he understands their plight, to describing his own situation. Not that I am speaking of being in need (oux hoti kath’ husteresin lego),[59] demonstrates that Paul is making a clarification of some kind. In light of the Philippians’ concern for Paul, perhaps they had let their imagination get the better of them. Thus, when Epaphroditus met with Paul, this hyper-concern was revealed to Paul as a major impetus for the gift (1:12-14), so he clarifies that he is not in such dyer straights as they perhaps had thought. From grammatical considerations, it appears that Paul is explaining that (hoti) his joy, which he is speaking about (cf. lego),[60] is not the result from being in need (kath’ husteresin) when he received the gift. Instead, kath’, from kata, with the accusative singular husteresin, demonstrates that Paul affirms that the void which the gift was to fill was neither (oux) consistent, nor the reason,[61] for his joy. This seems odd since Paul uses the word husteresin, rendered as need in the ESV, which means, “the condition of lacking that which is essential” and “want in general, or poverty.”[62] It is taken here that Paul is not denying that he is in “an impoverished situation” (husteresin),[63] but instead he is elevating his joy in the Lord and denying that it was only inaugurated by receiving the a physical gift.

As noted above, Paul’s joy is the result of spiritual reflection as he looked upon the Christian fortitude demonstrated by the Philippian congregation.[64] His joy is in the Lord, not in the gift, which alleviated his “impoverished situation.” This is later demonstrated in 4:17, when he affirms, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit,” which is later expressed as being credited in the form of God’s care (cf. 4:19).[65] U. Wilckens notes that Paul’s joy “is not the joy of a poor person whose needs has been met”;[66] instead, as Gromacki observes Paul was “more grateful for the givers than for the gifts,” and as Vine concludes, “What they had sent he regarded not as so much relief, though that is was, but as a token of their spiritual prosperity.”[67] Paul’s joy is Christian in scope, and breaks away from being an “intrinsically […] secular term” as it is colored by the inspired Apostle to connote a joy that results from spiritual insight.[68]

Martin suggests that 4:11b to 4:13 is a parenthetical section, amplifying Paul’s meaning of his joy, labeling it as an “impressive statement of his ‘contentment.’”[69] The connections between 4.10-13 appear to go against Martin’s suggestion, since Paul moves from his “joy” (v. 10) towards an explanation on how he has arrived at this unique joy (vv. 11-13). Paul eventually reveals how, naming his empowering source for this joy as God (4:13); consequently, Martin’s parenthetical break appears to be unnecessary and possibly inconsistent with Paul’s thought processes. Since Paul denies that his joy stems from the gift within itself, for (gar) serves to prepare his readers’ mind for the true source of his joy. The apostle frankly admits I have learned (ego emathon). The verbal construction is emphatic, meaning “I myself found out (learned the secret).” Emathon, 2nd aorist active indicative, 1st person singular form of manthano,[70] which is a somewhat complex word, carrying three basic meanings, but contextually denotes coming “to a realization, with implications of taking place less through instruction than through experience or practice” and “reflection.”[71] Martin suggests that the aorist tense implies that “the lesson he learnt came to him in a moment of time”;[72] but, against this ambiguous evaluation of the aorist in this context, is Plummer, Robertson, Gromacki, and Hawthorne. Plummer suggests that this is a Greek idiom where the aorist, is better understood in the English perfect,[73] which corroborates with Robertson’s claim that it is a “timeless aorist” to be taken as a “constative aorist and sums up all the life of Paul as one experience.”[74] More likely, emathon “views all of his learning experiences as a whole.”[75]

The seasoned imprisoned apostle (1:7; 2 Cor 11:16-29) is sharing a spiritual pearl of wisdom, to which all ears must listen should they desire the joy he experiences; but, what he is sharing took time for even him to understand.[76] He explains that what he has learned allows him, in whatever situation (en hois) to be content (autarkes einai). The phrase, I am to be content (eimi autarkes einai) is emphatic, demonstrated by the two present active “be” verbs (eimi, “I am”; einai, “I am to be”) working together to underscore Paul’s own personal interaction with whatever situation may come his way. There is a tremendous personal emphasis made on the part of the apostle, that “he himself” learned that “he himself” must be content. No one else can do this for Paul, and no one can do it for the concerned mature Christian.

What then does Paul mean when he uses the word contentment? Contentment comes from autarkes, meaning, “pertaining to being happy or content with what one has – ‘[…] content with the circumstances in which one exists.’”[77] Moulton and Milligan have several examples of autarkes, “but” as they caution they are “only in the simple sense of ‘enough’”;[78] however, the non-literary papyri demonstrate that autarkes was employed to express “sufficiency” as in the example ton autarke keramon, translated “a sufficient number of jars.”[79] Furthermore, agreeing with Kennedy’s discussion of the philosophical usage of autarkes,[80] Moulton and Milligan express that “the [nonliterary papyri] record lends some emphasis to the Pauline use of the word in the philosophic sense of ‘self-sufficient, contented’ […] Paul could use the technical words of thinkers in their own way.”[81] Philosophically, G. Kittel observes, it carries the idea of a person who became “independent […] sufficient to himself and in need of none else”; distinctly Christian however, the word takes on the meaning of “capacity for external contentment and privation.”[82]

When Paul says, “I myself found out (learned the secret) that under whatever circumstances I myself am to be content (self-sufficient),” he is explaining why he is not rejoicing principally because of the gift. The gift within itself added nothing, from a spiritual vantage point, to Paul’s existence because he already had the mind set that he had everything necessary to exist –God (4:13, 19). Whereas “the pagan virtue is self-made, the Christian [virtue] rests upon God, [and] on his provident love and care.”[83] W. Barclay writes that the philosophical background of autarkes, promoted self-sufficiency, but Paul was God-sufficient.[84] The point in this passage is similar to that found in 2 Corinthians 1:9, where Paul says, “we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (ESV cf. 2 Cor 3:5).[85] In light of Paul’s imprisonment, his words are astounding:

Though deprived of every comfort, and cast as a lonely man on the shores of the great strange metropolis, with every movement of his clanking a fetter, and nothing before him but the lion’s mouth or the sword, he speaks serenely of contentment.[86]

“Paul could face anything, because in every situation he had Christ; the man who walks Christ can cope with anything.”[87] Mature Christians need to learn from this to “change what ought to be changed for the better. What cannot be cured has to be endured.”[88]

12 | I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

What comes next in the text are extremes which Paul lists to demonstrate what he has experienced, and there is a hint of implication that these are the lands of existence Paul pilgrimage through to learn his lesson of how to obtain Christian joy through Christian contentment. Paul employs oida twice in this passage, being a perfect active tense verb that has a present active tense meaning,[89] 1st person singular form related to ginosko, “I know.” The word means, “to have the knowledge as to how to perform a particular activity or to accomplish some goal,”[90] and in this context is employed to demonstrate Paul’s first had knowledge as to “how” to perform “not only”[91] (kai) when he is brought low (tapeinousthai) “but also” (kai) when he abounds (perisseuein). This is a sample of Paul’s defining experiences that helped him see the joy and contentment that God had been revealing to him.

Paul declares I know how to be brought low (oida kai tapeinousthai), which is the same as saying that Paul had expertise gained through experience (cf. manthano 4.11) on how to focus on the essentials when he was “subject to strict discipline” where constrainment and mortification was his reality (tapeinousthai).[92] Guthrie is right when he writes, “‘Abased or abounding’ fairly sums up the natural alternatives.”[93] Tapeinousthai is the present passive infinitive of tapeinoo, coupling the perfect-present tense of oida, Paul composes the idea that he had from the past learning, experience, and coping with being brought low, and after a history with this he could now say that I can perform if he was left to undergo such difficult circumstances. Moreover, he adds and I know how to abound (oida kai tapeinousthai), where perisseuein is the present active infinitive, of perisseuo, meaning to “have an abundance.”[94] Consequently, Paul is addressing his history of circumstance where he considered himself rich and states that he knows what it takes to be “an abundance” maker. However, should he go that route in life, Paul learned in whatever situation he was in to be content (4:11), which is Paul point here as he uses tapeinoo and perisseuo as his conflicting motifs.

With in any and every circumstance (en panti kai en pasin), Paul further develops how significant the extent of his joy making contentment. There is no circumstance, from Paul’s mind, that can shake his Christian deportment. No matter what, Paul has the disposition that he can smile in the face of adversity.[95] Besides disclosing that he had learned (ego emathon), or had an experiential knowledge regarding contentment, he now states I have learned the secret of facing plenty (memuemai, kai chortazesthai). Memuemai is the perfect passive indicative form of mueo, meaning, “to learn the secret of something through personal experience or as the result of initiation.”[96] This is somewhat a synonymous phrase, but there appears to be difference as Bruce suggests a more esoteric concept, “I have been initiated” by God.[97] Due to the perfect tense, the verb embraces two time periods at the exact same time – the past and the present. Here, the ESV rendering is a precisely vivid, and the message is this: Paul has had this secret with him for quite some time, and it because of its proven worth, it is still a faithful principle upon Paul builds his life.

Paul recounts his experience with plenty and hunger (kai chortazesthai kai peinan), and with abundance and need (perisseuein kai hustepeisthai), and affirms that he lived through them with Christian joy as his compass. These are four interesting present infinitive verbs, placed in two contrasting formulas, and connected by four consecutive kai’s:

kai chortazesthai (present passive infinitive): and to be filled with food

kai peinan (present active infinitive): and to hunger

kai perisseuein (present active infinitive): and to have abundance

kai hustepeisthai  (present passive infinitive): and to be made deficient

Another aspect of these contrasts is that one verb from each contrasting set is a passive verb; meanwhile, the other verb is an active verb. Aside from the any revelatory intentionality regarding the text, it hardly seems accidental that these are placed in this quadra-kai construction, or that a shift voice shift exists in each set. Perhaps Paul is touching on items the Philippians were concerned about, but what is definite is the case Paul is building regarding Christian joy stemming from spiritual contentment. This is the knowledge which he has been initiated into and which he wishes to share with his beloved brethren.[98]

Before considering these two sets as individual paradigms of what Paul can face, because of the experience he has with such matters, one line of thought needs to be evaluated. This is the nature of the quadrakai construction. Lenski observes this quadrakai construction, and takes them to mean “both – as well as” in each case.[99] This seems reasonable, and makes perfect sense; thus, it is suggested that the quadrakai construction must not be ignored in the interpretation of this section. First, Paul says that he has the secret to face both plenty as well as hunger (kai). Chortazesthai is the present passive infinitive of chortazo, I “fill with food,”[100] meaning here, “to be filled with food”; thus, what Paul is referring to is be satiated with food.[101] The verb peinan, the present active infinitive form of peinao, means “hunger” and serves as the exact opposite of chortazo, meaning here “to feel the pangs of lack of food.”[102]

Second, Paul says that he has the secret to face both abundance as well as need (kai perisseuein kai hustepeisthai). Perisseuein is the present active infinitive verb form of perisseuo, meaning as noted above to “have an abundance.”[103] Opposing perisseuo, the verb hustepeisthai is employed by Paul to accentuate these two antithetical words. Hustepeisthai, the present passive infinitive of hustepreo, denotes here “to experience deficiency in something advantageous or desirable.”[104] These contrasts are interesting, because they are usually things that one would not necessarily view as dangerous, particularly the positive ideas of “satiation” (chortazesthai) and abundance (perisseuein); however, each group Paul mentions can be dangerous.[105] Paul then uses these contrasts that can be used to describe the majority of life, and moves into what he really wants to tell the Philippians – the one that empowers me through these difficult times is God; consequently, I cannot but feel joy and contentment.

13 | I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul has finally prepared his readers in Philippi for better absorption of this next point, I can do all things (panta iskuo). G. Kittel makes the observation that “panta iskuo (v.13) seems to be fully identical with the philosophical autarkes en panti […] Yet the root is en to endunamounti.[106] Kittel suggests that while the philosophers depended upon their own empowering volition, the Christian has God as their empowering presence. The word iskuo, is the present active indicative, 1st person singular verb which means, “I am strong,” or having the “requisite personal resources to accomplish” a task.[107] Self-sufficiency only makes sense to the Christian if God is the empowering agent that the Christian has to make them self-sufficient. Paul in the Colossian letter explains it in this fashion, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col 1:12).

That is why Paul affirms strongly that he can do all things through him who strengthens me (en to endunamounti me). The phrase endunamounti me, having the dative masculine singular, present active participle, of endunamao, means, “to cause one to be able to function or do something” (i.e., strengthen).[108] Here, the participle in association with me should be understood as “the one who strengthens me.”

Some would argue that Paul is vague and makes no explicit claim as to who is “the one who strengthens” him. However, the context shows that “the one who strengthens” Paul is the Lord. We have argued elsewhere that

contextually, “the one who strengthens me” (4:13b) goes back to the presence of Jesus (“in the Lord”) in 4:10a and it is obvious that this is Paul’s intended meaning, even though it is not Paul’s words.[109] 

As Hendrickson words it, “The Lord is for Paul the Fountain of Wisdom, encouragement, and energy, actually infusing strength into him for every need.”[110] God is the enabler (endunamounti), through Whom Paul can face the trials of life with a smile (2 Cor 12:9-10).[111]

With these observations in hand, it is important to state a limitation to this Scripture. It is often thought that Paul’s words offer limitless promise; however, the “do all things” is best conceived of as “endure all things.” It is that Paul has learned the Christian secret that he can endure all the challenges thus far because the Lord empowers him to endure which is at the heart of this passage.

To illustrate this point, missionary Gary Reaves shares an interesting anecdote:

Once in a class at Freed-Hardeman University, my professor, Dowell Flatt, brought a scroll of papyrus to class to show us what some of the New Testament was written on. Out of nowhere he asked, “Rusty, can you see this scroll?” It is important to know that Rusty is blind.

For a moment he teased Rusty saying, “What’s the matter, if your faith was stronger you could see this… well I guess you just need to pray harder.” Then, he began the most fascinating discourse on Philippians 4.13 I had ever heard.

So often people convey a message that you can do everything through Christ who strengthens you; you can do it! But can you really do everything?[112]

No, Paul’s words are a not a limitless billboard promise that in Christ we an do anything. Some things are not subject to being done. However, they do stress that in Christ all of life’s circumstances can be endured in anticipation of gaining the hope Christ offers.


  1. Davis discusses the practical value of the ancient papyrus sheet upon which letters were written. See W. Hersey Davis. Greek Papyri of the First Century: Introduction, Greek Text, English Translation, Commentary, Notes (repr., Chicago, IL: Ares, 1933), xx.
  2. E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 13.
  3. Charles B. Cousar, The Letters of Paul (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 30; Richard N. Longenecker, “On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New Testament Letters,” Scripture and Truth, eds. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), 101-02, 104.
  4. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills (Collegeville, PA: Liturgical Press, 1995), 39.
  5. Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 312.
  6. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 13; William G. Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988), 18; Richard N. Longenecker, “Ancient Amanuenses and the Pauline Epistles,” New Dimensions in New Testament Study, eds. Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974), 283.
  7. Longenecker, “On the Form,” 101.
  8. Paraenesis is the “Greek word for ‘advice.’ Ethical, edifying material, often associated with moral instruction or preaching” (Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity, 83); Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, 3rd rev. and expanded ed. (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2001), 132-33.
  9. Richard N. Longenecker catalogues Philippians as a pastoral letter, “conveying the apostolic presence, teaching, and authority” and thus as a pastoral letter it would have been “read widely in the churches (cf. their salutations and such verses as Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27). Yet as letters arising from a particular situation and speaking to that situation, their message was more circumstantially than systematically delivered. They are not tractate- or essay letters. They are real letters dealing pastorally with issues then current, and they must be interpreted accordingly” (“On the Form,” 104).
  10. Handley C. G. Moule, Studies in Philippians (1893; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1977), 116.
  11. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer, 40.
  12. William Hendrickson, Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1962), 19.
  13. Donald Guthrie, Epistles from Prison: Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (New York, NY: Abingdon, 1964), 47.
  14. Archibald T. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ: Studies in Philippians (New York, NY: Revell, 1917), 245-46.
  15. John D. Harvey, Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 245-46. Harvey demonstrates three particular parallels within the section under discussion: chairo (1:4; 4:10), huper with phroneo (1:7; 4:10), and perisseuo (1:9; 4:12). These parallels may not alone prove the unity case, but as Harvey demonstrates there is considerable evidence to show a literary relationship between 1:3-11 and 4:10-20 (246).
  16. E. Iliff Robson, “Composition and Dictation in New Testament Books,” JTS 18 (1917): 289-91; Gordon J. Bahr, “Paul and Letter Writing in the First Century,” CBQ 28 (1966): 470.
  17. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer, 8-16.
  18. Gordon D. Fee, To What End Exegesis? Essays Textual, Exegetical, and Theological (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 284.
  19. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1983), 195.
  20. Gerald W. Peterman, “‘Thankless Thanks’: The Epistolary Social Convention in Philippians 4:10-20,” TynB 42 (1991): 261.
  21. Fee, To What End Exegesis?, 283-87.
  22. Peterman, “‘Thankless Thanks,’” 264.
  23. Peterman, “‘Thankless Thanks,’” 270.
  24. All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
  25. Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians (1937; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001), 886.
  26. Hawthorne, Philippians196.
  27. Alfred Plummer, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (London: Roxburghe, 1919), 100.
  28. Plummer, Epistle to the Philippians, 100.
  29. Frederick F. Bruce, Philippians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 148.
  30. The Greek text underlying this discussion is The Greek New Testament (UBS4), 4th revised ed., eds. Barbara Aland, et al. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2002).
  31. BDAG 1074.
  32. James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 102.
  33. Here are a few examples of the epistolary aorist within the Pauline corpus where it “is merely looking at the letter from the standpoint of the recipient” (Archibald T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, A New Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 10th ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979], 296): (1) Tuchikos… hon epempsa pros humas: Tychicus whom I am sending to you (Col 4:7-8); (2) Ego Paulos egrapsa te eme cheiri: I, Paul, write (this) with my own hand (Philem 19); (3) anangkaion hegesamen Epaphroditon… pempsai pros humas: I consider (it to be) a necessary thing to send Epaphroditus to you (Phil 2:25). See also Brooks and Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek, 102.
  34. Hawthorne, Philippians, 196.
  35. This is possibly an aorist ingressive. Jacobus Johannes Müller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 145; Moule, Studies in Philippians, 116. However, Lenski argues that this is “a simple aorist of fact” (Philippians, 886).
  36. Müller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon, 145; J. Hugh. Michael, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (London: Hodder, 1928), 212; Hendrickson, Exposition of Philippians, 203.
  37. Robert G. Gromacki, Stand United in Joy: An Exposition of Philippians. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), 186. In addition, Robertson suggests that Paul’s joy stemmed from the difficulty the apostle experienced as he would often be supported by those he ministered to, he would often defend his right to receive support and at times he would be attacked from his lack or use of financial support. Since the Philippians supported him time and again, Robertson concludes, “He rejoiced in the church at Philippi because they trusted him and understood him. They gladly and frequently made contributions for the support of his work elsewhere” (Paul’s Joy in Christ, 246-47). Gromacki further contributes: “He rejoiced because God had met his need and because God had constrained the Philippians to give. This same principle was designed to encourage the Corinthians to participate in the welfare collection (2 Cor 9:11-13)” (Stand United in Joy, 186).
  38. Albrecht Oepke, “en,” TDNT 2:541.
  39. Oepke, “en,” TDNT 2:541.
  40. Hans Conzelmann, “chaírō, chará, sungchaíro,” TDNT 9:369.
  41. L&N 1:152.
  42. Guthrie, Epistles from Prison, 47.
  43. Present active infinitive, of phroneo, “I think.” Hawthorne observes that “because phronein characterized the relationship of the Philippian Christians meant that they of necessity would be personally involved in promoting the welfare of the apostle by whatever means they had at their disposal” (Philippians, 196-97).
  44. J. Gresham Machen, in his beginner’s Greek grammar, discusses the difficulty sometimes undergone transferring the articular infinitive into the English language. The articular infinitive “is usually to be translated into English by a clause introduced by a conjunction. But it must not be supposed that the details of such translation have anything to do with the details of the Greek original. It is rather the total idea expressed by the Greek phrase which is transferred into a totally different idiom” (New Testament Greek for Beginners (1923; repr., Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2000), 139.
  45. Harry Angus A. Kennedy, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” EGT 3:469.
  46. Robert Johnstone, Lectures Exegetical and Practical on the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (1875; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1955), 393; Lenski, Interpretation, 888; Müller, Epistles of Paul, 146; Gromacki, Stand United in Joy, 186; Albert Barnes, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, updated ed., ed. Robert Frew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1949), 217; William E. Vine, “Philippians,” in The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1996), 2:323; Wayne Jackson, The Book of Philippians: A Grammatical and Practical Study (Abilene, TX: Quality, 1987), 85; William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, revised ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1975), 84; Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 177.
  47. As an aside, it is interesting to note that such an object may be implied contextually and make perfect sense in the Greek language.
  48. Jackson, Philippians, 85.
  49. The Philippians had not forgotten Paul, “he had not been out of their thoughts, but he had been beyond their reach! When, however, opportunity presented itself, their thoughts blossomed into action!” (Jackson, Philippians, 85).
  50. Gerhard Delling, “ákairpos, akairéō, eúkairos, eukairía,” TDNT 3:462.

  51. L&N 1:630.
  52. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 248.
  53. This word is a hapax legomena in the New Testament.
  54. BDAG 34.
  55. L&N 1:629.
  56. Bruce, Philippians, 148-49.
  57. Hawthorne, Philippians, 197.
  58. Martin, Philippians, 177.
  59. oux hoti is elsewhere evident in this epistle (3.12), where Paul guards “against misapprehension” (Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 248).
  60. Lego indicates and points back to something already under discussion, or to give the proper meaning about something already known (BDAG 588); here, Paul’s kairo appears to be the best candidate. Michael, Philippians, 214.
  61. BDAG 1044; Ulrich Wilckens, “hústeros, hústeron, husteréō, aphusteréō, hustérēma, hustérēsis,” TDNT 8:598.
  62. Kata, with the accusative construction, is a “marker of norm, of similarity or homogeneity” and may be translated as “according to, in accordance with, in conformity with, according to” and here according to BDAG the “norm is the reason” (512). BDAG further embellishes this meaning here by stating that contextually it connotes both the idea of “in accordance with and because of are merged” – consistency and reason (512).
  63. A. Plummer infers from that the word husteresin implies “actual penury” (Epistle to the Philippians, 101). Against this observation is Bruce, who affirms, “Paul greatly appreciated the Philippians’ kind thought, but he assures them that he had not been in need of support of this kind” (Philippians, 149). Cf. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Philippians, trans. James W. Leitch (Richmond, VA: Knox, 1962), 127. Bruce bases his case upon a supposed Pauline “policy” of not living “at the expense of his converts” (2 Thess 3:9), though he had the right to (1 Cor 9:12; Philippians, 149); however, while he did not accept support from “his [Corinthian] converts,” he “robbed” from “his [Macedonian] converts,” and received “wages” to preach full time at Corinth (2 Cor 11:7-9 ASV). Furthermore, Paul recanted from this optional situation at Corinth, seeing that it caused his ministry more harm than good (2 Cor 11:12-15) –“forgive me this wrong” (2 Cor 12:11-13). Hence, Bruce’s argumentation is flawed because its supposition is false.
  64. Lenski, Philippians, 888.
  65. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (ESV).
  66. Wilckens, “hústeros, hústeron, husteréō, aphusteréō, hustérēma, hustérēsis,” TDNT 8:599; Jackson, Philippians, 86.
  67. Gromacki, Stand United in Joy, 186; Vine, “Philippians,” 323.
  68. Conzelmann, “chaírō, chará, sungchaíro,” TDNT 9:366.
  69. Martin, Philippians, 177.
  70. This is same word used to describe Jesus in Heb 5:8 (L&N 1:327).
  71. BDAG 615; L&N 1:327.
  72. Martin, Philippians, 178.
  73. Plummer, Epistle to the Philippians, 101.
  74. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 250; Brooks and Winbery, Syntax, 99: “The constative aorist views the action in its entirety with no reference to its beginning, its end, its progress, or its result. The action is simply stated as a fact.”
  75. Gromacki, Stand United in Joy, 186; Hawthorne, Philippians, 198.
  76. As Guthrie points out, “such contentment is not automatic” (Epistles from Prison47).
  77. L&N 1:299.
  78. MM 93.
  79. MM 93.
  80. “Dr. Johnson talked with approbation of one who had attained to the state of the philosophical wise man, that is, to have no want of anything. ‘Then, sir,’ said he, ‘I do not mean simply being without, – but not having a want’” (469-70). Kennedy, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” EGT 3:469-70; Gerhard Kittel, “arkéō, arketós, autárkeia, autárkēs,” TDNT 1:466.
  81. MM 93.
  82. Kittel, “arkéō, arketós, autárkeia, autárkēs,” TDNT 1:466-67.
  83. Lenski, Philippians, 889.
  84. Barclay, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 85.
  85. Leander E. Keck, Paul and His Letters, 2d edition (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988), 121.
  86. Frederick B. Meyer, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Devotional Commentary (London: Religious Tract Society, 1912), 241.
  87. Barclay, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 85.
  88. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 252.
  89. L&N 2:172.
  90. L&N 1:335; BDAG 694.
  91. The kai-kai lends itself to the “both… and” and the “not only… but also” translation (BDAG 495).
  92. BDAG 990.
  93. Guthrie, Epistles from Prison47.
  94. BDAG 805.
  95. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 252.
  96. L&N 1:327.
  97. Bruce, Philippians, 151; MM 418; Bruce’s suggestion is based upon the root derivation of the verbal to musterion (Philippians, 151). Following Bruce’s suggestion, it appears that the word carries the idea of initiation “into the mysteries,” which of has allusion to “religious secrets” of the mystery cults. Henry H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, NY: American Book Co., 1889), 419-20.
  98. Guthrie, Epistles from Prison47, Moule, Studies in Philippians116.
  99. Lenski, Philippians, 890, Robertson,  Paul’s Joy in Christ, 254-55.
  100. BDAG 1087.
  101. MM 690.
  102. MM 501; BDAG 792.
  103. BDAG 805.
  104. BDAG 1044.
  105. Jackson, Philippians, 86.
  106. Kittel, “arkéō, arketós, autárkeia, autárkēs,” TDNT 1:467.
  107. BDAG 484.
  108. BDAG 333.
  109. Jovan Payes, “Philippians 4:13: Did Paul Write Christ?,” BiblicalFaith.wordpress.com (25 November 2015).
  110. Hendrickson, Philippians, 206.
  111. Plummer, Epistle to the Philippians, 102.
  112. Gary Reaves, “Philippians 4:13: Can You Do, or Endure?,” Livingstoncoc.wordpress.com (6 March 2011).


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