The Other Letters

The Letter of James

    The author lists himself as "James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jas 1:1). This James is unlikely to be the son of Zebedee, as that James was martyred in A.D. 44 and there is no evidence for a very early date for the letter. Most commonly, the author has been believed to be James, the brother of Jesus (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 15:7). This is supported by parallels between the letter of James and the speech of James in Acts 15. James was a common name during this time, and there are several others in the New Testament, so some other James is still a possibility. The support from tradition is weak on this letter. Origen refers to it (Commentary on John 19.61), as do Eusebius (Church History 2.23.25), and Jerome (Illustrious Men 2). However, both Eusebius and Jerome list the letter as being disputed by some. Taken together, it is difficult to be sure which James wrote it. The Greek of the letter is very good, making it likely that an amanuensis assisted with the writing. James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred in A.D. 61, so if we accept his authorship, it was likely written in the 50s. If we don't, it was probably written later, but most likely before A.D. 100, as a late date would have made it easier to identify as a forgery to the church fathers, and there is no internal evidence of a late date.

The Letter of Jude

    The author self-identifies as "Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James" (Jude 1). This is generally understood to make him Jude, the brother of James and Jesus (Mk 6:3, Mt 13:55). The Muratorian Fragment, Clement (Stromata 3.2.11), and Tertullian (On Female Fashion 1.3) accept it. Origen (Commentary on Matthew 10.17) also accepts it, but states that not all do (Commentary on John 19.6). Eusebius lists it as disputed (Church History 3.25.3), and Jerome accepted it (Letter to Paulinus 9). Many of the fathers never mention it. However, it is likely that those who rejected it, rejected it because of its content rather than its source. It is short and not that useful. In addition, it quotes two non-canonical and not particularly reputable sources: The Assumption of Moses (Jude 9) and Enoch 1 (Jude 14-15). The weight of the evidence is on the side of the letter being authentic, but the evidence is on the light side. If it was indeed written by Jude, the brother of James, a date between A.D. 60 and 100 is reasonable. If not written by Jude, we should increase the range to A.D. 120. A much later date is unlikely, because we have early sources that label the letter as authentic.

First Letter of Peter

    The author claims to be the apostle Peter (1 Pet 1:1) and is confirmed as such by all the church fathers who comment. It is quoted without attribution by Polycarp (Letter to the Philippians 8.1 and others) and Tertullian (Scorpiace 12). It is quoted with attribution by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 5.7.2) and Clement (Eusebius's Church History 2.15.2). Authorship is confirmed by Origen (Eusebius's Church History 6.25.8) and Jerome (Illustrious Men 1). In this way the situation is similar with the letters of Paul, in that the default position is to accept authenticity unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The objections to authentic authorship are recent and similar to those used against Paul. The first objection is that the Greek is highly polished and unlikely to come from a Galilean fisherman. However, in the conclusion he writes "I write you this briefly through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother" (1 Pet 5:12). This implies that Silvanus is the amanuensis for this letter. Another objection is that the persecutions described by Peter in the letter must refer to the more widespread persecutions of Domitian or Trajan after Peter's death. However, even if the persecutions had not yet reached the eastern churches (the addressee of Peter's letter) it would be reasonable for Peter to assume that because persecution was rampant in Rome, that it was a problem elsewhere as well. Finally, objections are raised that Peter's writing is too similar to Paul's; but this requires very specific and unjustified assumptions about the relationship between Peter and Paul. Because of the emphasis on persecution (1 Pet 4:12-19) it is likely that the letter was written during Nero's persecution of Christianity towards the end of his reign. This would place the letter somewhere from A.D. 64-67. Nero's persecution led to Peter's execution in A.D. 67 in Rome.

Second Letter of Peter

    The second letter is in a very different category than the first. Specifically, few of the church fathers refer to it; and those that do refer to it, use it with reservations. Origen (Eusebius's Church History 6.25.8), Jerome (Illustrious Men 1), and Eusebius (Church History 3.25.3) list it as disputed. By the time of Augustine (On Christian Doctrine 2.8.13), the letter began to be accepted; but this development is too late to be used to authenticate it. The author claims to be the apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:1); but he tries too hard, with explicit references to the Peter of the Gospels (2 Peter 1:16-18) and the Peter of the first letter (2 Peter 3:1). He argues against those who see the delay of the Apocalypse as a sign against Christianity (2 Peter 3). However, this would not have been an issue while Peter was still alive. The author speaks of Paul's letters as if they are already collected and part of scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). It would be very surprising if Paul's writings had been collected and considered scripture before the deaths of Peter and Paul in A.D. 67. Because the letter is not written by Peter, an early date is unlikely. The upper limit for the letter is the writing of the Apocalypse of Peter, an apocryphal work which quotes this letter. This apocalypse is itself referred to in the Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 170). This gives the second letter of Peter a range of approximately A.D. 100-150.

The Letter to the Hebrews

    The author of this letter (or more accurately, sermon) does not identify himself. Because of his focus on the relationship between Judaism and Jesus, we can be confident that he was a Jewish Christian. There have been numerous theories as to the authorship in ancient and recent times, but none of them have enough evidence to support any sort of confidence. Clement of Rome cites it in his Letter to the Corinthians (Compare Heb 11:37 with 1 Clem 17 and Heb 1:3-4 with 1 Clem 36); so we can date it before this letter, which is generally accepted to have been written about A.D. 95. In addition, the author refers to the rituals in the temple in the present tense, implying that they are on-going (Heb 9:6, 9:13, 13:10). This implies that the letter was written before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. If for some reason this use of language is a literary device (as is implied by some later documents which describe temple rites in the present tense), it would still be very odd that a letter so concerned with Jewish rituals would leave out a mention of the destruction of the temple had it already occurred. A very early date is not likely because he is not an eyewitness (Heb 2:3), and his readers have been believers for some time (Heb 5:12, 10:32). Therefore, we expect a date in the range of A.D. 60-70.

This page was last changed on 2011/08/28