Lockett, Darian R. Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude as Canon. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xii+232 pp. Pb. $30.00 Link to IVP Academic
Darian Lockett (PhD St. Andrews) serves as professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. In his Letters from the Pillar Apostles: The Formation of the Catholic Epistles as a Canonical Collection (Pickwick, 2016; see this 2016 review from Lindsey Kennedy) he argued the title “catholic epistles” did not refer to a genre. They are not general epistles tucked away into the “other” category of the New Testament Canon, but these letters are an intentionally curated collection with consistent theological interests. Although this book uses the more common title Catholic Epistles, Lockett’s occasional use of the title Pillars Collection focuses on James, Peter and John as the “pillars of the church” (Galatians 2:9).
Early in the book Lockett asks what sets the Catholic Epistles apart from the other literature in the New Testament. He suggests they are a complementary, non-Pauline witness to early Christian practice and belief (p. 5). Two things are important about this description. First, these letters do not address the same sort of theological issues Paul does, nor do they address the same problems Paul encountered in his churches. Second, Lockett says the letters are complementary to the Pauline collection. For some in academia, The Pillars Collection was collected as a canonical balance to the Pauline collection, perhaps even a corrective. For example, David Nienhuis and Robert Wall argued the Catholic Epistles were added to the canon “in order to keep readers from falling into a Paulinist fideism” in Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John & Jude as Scripture (Eerdmans, 2013; p. 35; reviewed here). Since Lockett’s goal is to show canonical unity, both within the Pillars collection and within the overall canon of the New Testament, he is less likely to see serious differences between Paul and James, for example.
It is possible to describe the Pillars collection as addressing distinctively Jewish Christianity issues, especially in the light of the association of the Pillars with early Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem. Lockett recognizes the recipients of James were Jewish Christians, although he suggests the word diaspora in 1 Peter is a “metaphor for Christians living in hostile territory” (p. 53). Although he recognizes Karen Jobes’s argument in her commentary on 1 Peter that 1 Peter’s audience was primarily Jewish, he concludes a gentile audience is “most plausible” (p. 56). However, Lockett offers a list of thirteen similarities between James and 1 Peter (p. 52). This list may also be evidence 1 Peter’s audience was primarily Jewish Christian, like James? Lockett recognizes Jude writes to a “predominately Jewish Christian group” (p. 190). Although the epistles of John provide little evidence one way or another, the letters can plausibly be read in the light of a more Jewish form of Christian than Gentile.
Each chapter begins with setting the letter into the canon of the Catholic epistles. Lockett does this by pointing out keywords that drawing the canonical unit together. The next two sections of each chapter deal with basic introductory material: authorship, audience, occasion, and setting. For the most part Lockett presents one or two options and concludes the traditional view of authorship, occasion and date is most likely. For example, although the 1 John is anonymous, Lockett argues it is most likely written by the author of the gospel of John and Revelation, the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee. The same is true for James; although there are other options, James the Lord’s brother is the most likely.
Following the introductory material, the bulk of each chapter is a commentary on the letter under examination. This commentary is based on the English text and only interacts lightly with contemporary scholarship in footnotes. Lockett’s comments are clear and helpful for understanding the overall flow of the argument of each letter.
Lockett identifies five theological points uniting these letters: the love command; enduring trials; the relationship of God in the world; faith and works; dealing with false teaching. Throughout the book there are occasional side-bars highlight the theme in the book under examination and in his short conclusion, he reviews his five themes in summarizes the overall teaching of these letters. In addition, each chapter includes short excurses entitled “Going Deeper.” For example, Lockett discusses two ways theology in James, James and Paul on justification the meaning of “water and blood in John 5 and the Comma Johanneum, Suffering in 1 Peter, 2 Peter as a Testament, the relationship of 2 Peter and Jude, and Jude’s use of 1 Enoch.
Each chapter ends with a section entitled “Further Reading.” He identifies technical commentaries and rates some as recommended or highly recommended. Adding a section of questions for further reflection would have enhanced the book’s value for classroom use.
Conclusion. Letters to the Church is an excellent introduction to the letters associated with the Pillars. Although I see these letters as reflecting early Jewish Christianity than Lockett does in this book, the introductions provided in this short book are helpful. His comments on the content of each book cover all the important issues and will provide a foundation for students who want to study these letters more closely.
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.