Book Review (part 6: Late NT Documents) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

codex-sinaiticusIn this sixth post regarding my recap and thoughts on Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will attempt to summarize the discussion pertaining to the last of the NT documents (§39.3b-h). In this section Dunn offers his take on the introductory issues regarding the Pastorals, Hebrews, Jude, 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Revelation. One of the refreshing feelings I walked away with after reading his comments on these document is the openness Dunn willingly admits in that some questions we just do not have enough evidence to answer with certainty (and that is OK). Too often teachers and interpreters of the Bible offer hard-pressed answers when there is not enough data to facilitate such a response. Anyway, here is where Dunn comes down on these various documents:

The Pastoral Letters

Authorship: pseudonymous, based upon language, style, historical circumstances, the share opposition to the communities, the increasing institutionalization, and the crystallization of the faith into set forms.

Purpose: to ensure that the enduring structure of Paul’s churches were cherished and passed down to the next generation of believers. Dunn notes that it is not impossible that the Pastorals were written to the historical Timothy and Titus.

Date: 80-100 CE.

 

Hebrews 

Authorship: unknown, but someone strongly influenced by the Hellenistic Jewish world.

Purpose: also unknown. The reference to greetings sent from those from Italy (Heb 13:24) could indicate that it was written in Rome. Furthermore, the note that “Timothy had been set free from prison” could equally indicate that it was penned in Ephesus.  Dunn notes how the repeated emphasis on the believer’s ‘conscience’ indicates a function of strengthening the resolves of a community with the temptation of giving up/falling away.

Date: in the 80s. The fact that Hebrews speaks of the ongoing actions of the temple and its rituals is not a strong indicator of a pre-70 CE date, as even Josephus continued to speak in this manner clearly after the temple’s destruction.

 

Jude

Authorship: probably pseudonymous, perhaps representing the teachings which were known to have come from Jude. The author clearly has a knowledge of the Hebrew text rather than the LXX, suggesting a Palestinian author.

Purpose: to distribute this sermon of sorts within Palestine, with the possibility that the author is grappling with the Pauline heritage.

Date: late in the first century in light of the following: its apocalyptic character, the reference to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” the reference to the apostles in retrospect (Jude 1:17), the possibility of libertine Gnostics as the opponents, and the lack of teaching within the document. Jude must have been written prior to 2 Peter for reasons which Dunn will soon discuss.

 

2 Peter 

Authorship: Dunn thinks this document is pseudonymous as well, noting how 2 Peter seems to have used Jude as a source (similarly to Matthew’s use of Mark and Ephesians’ use of Colossians). For support of his conclusions, he uses this chart:

jude2pet jude2peter2Since 2 Peter draws upon Jude (which itself is later than Peter’s supposed date of martyrdom) then 2 Peter must have been penned by a pseudonymous author.

Purpose: unknown, and the nature of the opponents’ identity is difficult to perceive with any measure of certainty.

Date: early second century, due in part to: the concern over the delay of the parousia and the acknowledgement that Paul’s letters are recognized Scripture.

 

1-3 John

Authorship: within the Johannine school/community. 1 John makes no claim in regard to its author, while 2 and 3 John  claim to be written by “the Elder” (perhaps another John within the Apostle John’s community).

Purpose: to address schisms within the community (likely in Ephesus), which is different from the Fourth Gospel’s issue regarding how the community is to deal with the local synagogue down the street.

Date: end of first century or even beginning of the second century CE.

 

Revelation

Authorship: a Jewish prophet named John (who never claims to be the Apostle).

Purpose: to encourages believers within the seven named churches in Asia Minor to endure the social and political pressure to participate in the imperial cult. Dunn also identifies the beast with seven heads and ten horns with Roman imperial power (along with the reference to Babylon in ch. 18).

Date: in the 90s CE, although he does footnote a discussion that some scholars are now suggesting that the book could possibly be later than that.

 

In sum, Dunn seems to follow the consensus of modern critical NT scholars, carefully noting when there is not enough information to give a strong answer. He does not suggest anything too radical at this point, thus allowing his readers who are familiar with modern scholarly conclusions on these issues regarding the NT writings to follow his train of thought with relative ease.

What do you all think? Any comments in regard to Dunn’s reconstructions?

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One thought on “Book Review (part 6: Late NT Documents) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

  1. The concept of “we do not know” if fine with me. My goal is to use the NT canon is a lens to simply gain a sense of the Apostolic church. No one text is satisfactory but repeated, clear especially formal texts, e.g. Jesus is a man and God is a distinct being from Jesus, created confidence in the actual teaching of the Apostolic church as opposed to the Traditional Church.

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