JAMES; 1, 2 PETER; 1,2,3 JOHN; JUDE (The People’s Bible) by Mark A. Jeske
This book is part of “The People’s Bible,” a commentary set written for “the people,” that is the average Bible reader. It is based on the New International Version, which is printed out in the commentaries. Each section contains not only explanations of the text, but also personal applications and comments on the historical background. The editor says: “The most important feature of these books is that they are Christ-centered.” This commentary series is a product of the Commission on Christian Literature of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
The volume under discussion covers the so-called “General Epistles.” These seven letters, James through Jude, were apparently first identified as a grouping of books by Eusebius in his “Ecclesiastical History” (ca. 300 A.D.). He called them “catholic,” in the sense that they were written for a universal/worldwide audience, and not just for a specific congregation. Accordingly, these seven letters are named for their authors, not their recipients.
Mark Jeske, the author of the present volume, believes that the book of James is the product of “James, the half brother of Jesus,” one of four brothers. James ultimately became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and he played a conciliatory role at the council of Jerusalem (ca. 50 A.D.) at which Paul reported on his missionary activities. According to Flavius Josephus, James was stoned to death by the Jewish high priest Annus II in 62 A.D.
James wrote his letter “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” that is, Jewish Christians living outside Judea. He writes little about basic Christian doctrines – he mentions the name of Christ only twice. It is rather an essay on Christian living. He is especially concerned with “phony faith.” His main point is that “real faith produces good works.” This is expressed especially in 2:14-26, the section of James that has caused many Christian scholars, including Martin Luther, to question James’ orthodoxy. However, Jeske barely discusses this matter in his commentary.
The commentary of the first book of Peter could serve as a model for what the editor seeks to accomplish with the People’s Bible. Namely: it has a concise introduction covering matters of authorship and historical context, it is clearly outlined, and the explanatory comments are well written and helpful.
Jeske believes that the second book of Peter was written by the apostle Peter to the same audience as First Peter. Jeske does not discuss the contention of many that Second Peter was written by someone else, though he does observe that chapter 2 of Second Peter is very similar to the epistle of Jude. Jeske thinks that Jude may have been written before Second Peter. Jeske presents helpful definitions of “apostle” (1:1) and prophet (1:19). In this context he discusses the concept of inspiration. His brief definition is found on p. 167.
In connection with his discussion of chapter two, Jeske states the characteristics of false teachers and identifies false teachings in the early church, such as Gnosticism, Montanism, Ariansim, Nestorianian, Adoptionism, and Monophysitism, as well as false teachers and teachings of the present day. He mentions Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and the “Jesus Seminar.” Jeske elaborates on the certainty of God’s judgment on false teaching and unbelief, but he also highlights God’s mercy: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (3:9)
Jeske’s commentary on Jude repeats his contention that Jude, one of the brothers of Jesus, is the author. Jeske believes that “the verses of Jude and those of Second Peter chapter two are so similar that one must be quoting from the other.” He suggests that it was probably Peter who drew on the existing letter of Jude.
Jeske follows tradition in considering John the son of Zebedee and a disciple of Jesus, as the author of the three books of John. He acknowledges the difficulty of outlining First John, rather he speaks of three cycles: “Christians walk in the light, Christians know and Christians love.”
In the first cycle, Jeske focuses on what he calls the teaching of objective (2:1-2) and subjective (1:8-10) justification and the teaching about “antichrist.” The first (justification) is the positive teaching of the Gospel; the second, antichrist, represents the attempt to undermine or destroy the Gospel. Jeske thoroughly explores what “antichrist” means in the Scripture and how it has been applied through the history of Christianity, including especially among reformers such as John Wycliff, John Hus, three of the Lutheran Confessions, the Second Scottish Confession of 1580 ,and others.
Jeske shows that in his second cycle John compares what the world does not “know,” but what the Christian “knows.” Then in the third cycle, John returns to the “atoning sacrifice” (4:10, 2:2) of Christ as the supreme example of God’s love.
Jeske takes special care to deal with 5:6-8. He lays out three possibilities for the meaning of water, blood and Spirit. He dismisses the longer version of v. 7 found in the King James Version as something that crept into the Latin Vulgate, but which is not found in Greek manuscripts of First John.
Though one may quibble with some of Jeske’s emphases in these commentaries, all in all they present a comprehensive, Christ-centered interpretation in a relatively small space of seven books of the New Testament which any Christian, lay or clergy, could read with great profit.
Merlin D. Rehm
Trinity Lutheran Church