I Peter Commentaries

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

I have a hard time deciding between Thomas Schreiner's NAC (2003) and Karen Jobes's BECNT (2005) as my first choice on I Peter. I think Schreiner's is the best NT volume in the NAC series. Jobes has a good deal more space in her commentary, and it's a little more recent and thus has an edge in terms of having more scholarship to interact with. Schreiner includes II Peter and Jude and thus is more limited in scope in his I Peter portion. Both seem to me to be excellent both in exegesis and in sorting through the contemporary scholarship, but Jobes has more space to interact with other scholars. Both are well-written and easy to read, although Schreiner will be slightly more easy-going for those without Greek. Jobes comments directly on the Greek text, although she transliterates and translates every time she gives an expression in the Greek. Schreiner works in transliteration and translation entirely.

Both come from a theologically Reformed background, but Schreiner presses those issues a little more firmly (not a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned, and I don't think he goes overboard as some do). He connects his comments up with broader, systematic theology categories. I count both as theological conservatives, even on less central matters such as gender issues (both are complementarians, although Jobes doesn't think I Peter itself deals with the general issue of male headship in marriage, as she thinks Ephesians and Colossians do, but rather just deals with women submitting to unbelieving husbands for the sake of evangelism).

When I let a friend borrow some of my commentaries for a sermon on I Peter, he told me Schreiner's was the most useful of the bunch and an enjoyable commentary to read, although several others were helpful to him. He didn't get to read Jobes, however, so I'm not sure how he'd compare the two. On Schreiner, see also Craig Blomberg's review. Surprisingly to me (given how much I like Blomberg), I think I agree with Schreiner in most of the places Blomberg takes issue with him.

Jobes contributes three things in her work that are worth mentioning. First, her treatment of the Old Testament in this letter spends a good more time than usual in looking at how the fact that OT quotations are from the LXX should affect how we interpret their use here. This is a welcome feature that I think will affect future I Peter scholarship will have to take into account.

The most important contribution from Jobes is her appendix on the Greek of I Peter. She argues, I think convincingly, that the Greek in this book shows enough signs of a Semitic hand that we should expect its author to know Greek only as a second language. Her techniques stem from her dissertation comparing the Greek of Esther in the LXX with other Greek texts, relying on patterns of Greek syntax that are technically grammatically correct but occur far more frequently in those whose first language is Semitic than they would in native Greek speakers. This goes a long way toward combating the common assertion that the Greek of this book is too good to have been written by Peter.

Jobes also tries to take a middle ground between John Elliott's thesis that I Peter was written to literal exiles and strangers (see below) and the more common view that this expression is merely metaphorical for being strangers and exiles in the world while citizens of the kingdom of God. She proposes that the believers Peter was writing to had been freed slaves sent from Rome to the regions the letter is addressed to, and the Christians among this group ended up where they were now ethnically the minority even though they had also become citizens in the process. Her argument for this view isn't much more than positing an extensive and otherwise unsupported hypothesis to explain something puzzling, but it does remain a possibility that other commentators have not considered, and it probably ought to be investigated further.

Update: For more on Jobes, see Mark Heath's excellent review.

J. Ramsay Michaels' WBC (1988) was the favorite of the elders of my congregation, who just finished preaching through I Peter in October. I should say that they didn't have access to Jobes or Schreiner. Michaels is a moderate evangelical who defends the possibility of Petrine authorship, perhaps with the assistance of Silvanus, without indicating certainty on the issue. Unusually, he still considers it to be a late work, holding that Peter may well have lived into the 70s or even later, a supposition that flatly contradicts the only sources we have for Peter's death. My appreciation for the above two commentaries doesn't undermine my view of how good Michaels is. It's just that they are both more recent and more solidly conservative, something I like in my first-choice commentary if possible. Until those two commentaries existed, Michaels was easily my first choice.

Language and historical background are the focus here, with some attention to theology and ethics, including his observations about Peter's unwillingness to dwell very long on either at the expense of the other. Michaels broke new ground in arguing for I Peter's original contributions to the theology of the early Christians (as distinct from the Pauline views so many others find in this letter). I find the format of this series to be incredibly annoying. The lack of footnotes requires placing every scholarly reference right in the middle of the text, sometimes in the middle of sentences. It makes for very hard reading. Those who don't read Greek will have a harder time with this volume, because Michaels treats it directly in the text. One reviewer I read thinks Michaels is stronger on the details than on the overall message of the letter as a whole.

Paul Achtemeier's Hermeneia (1996) is my first-choice for a comprehensive, academic commentary on this book. I probably agree more often with Michaels, but Achtemeier has more detail, is more recent (and thus is able to interact with scholarship since Michaels, including Michaels), and is enough better on the exegesis than Elliott (see below) in my view that I'd pick this as my top academic commentary. All the reviews I've read on this book have something to say about his being a careful and judicious scholar. He argues somewhat tentatively against Petrine authorship and for a date in the 80s-90s on grounds that I find far less convincing than he does. He spends some time in the introduction on the coherence of thought and structure of the letter.

As with other volumes in this series, parallels from the Greco-Roman world play some part, but he doesn't overdo it (as many other volumes in the series do), and he recognizes Hebrew parallels as well. Linguistic and socio-cultural matters occupy a good portion of this commentary (e.g. social identity and ethics), and he gives more place for theology than is common in this series. Except on a few issues, his theological views are more conservative as compared with his critical views on introductory matters. This commentary isn't as hard to read as some academic commentaries, because he keeps to the main points in the commentary proper and saves a lot of the more serious academic issues for footnotes.

John Elliott's AB (2000) is as respected as Achtemeier's similar-level work. It's more twice as long, but it's hard to compare page counts since the formats of the two series and page sizes and fonts are so different. I do think Elliott has given us a lot more material of the two, but the page count alone is a little deceptive as to how much. As I said above, I think Achtemeier is enough better on several elements that I prefer him if I can look at only one of them. His exegesis strikes me as a little more careful. Elliott is especially strong on cultural background, and this book reflects his mature thought toward the end of a long career that has included several monographs on I Peter. Still, at points he seems to me to be a little too willing to read Greek sociological background into the text, and I am unconvinced that the recipients must be literal strangers and aliens (i.e. exiles).

Like Achtemeier, he rejects Petrine authorship on grounds that seem to me to be thoroughly unjustified. In some ways he's more evangelical-friendly than some other mainline, critical scholars, which I consider a plus, but I thought he was over-dismissive of compatibilist views of divine sovereignty and human freedom in salvation without any real argument. He does cover all of the usual elements of commentaries, even if his sociological focus takes first place. There is a lot of information here, too much for me to want to recommend as a commentary to read through while teaching the book. It will be an important reference for scholars and scholarly-minded non-scholars. It's actually fairly easy-going in terms of reading, probably easier than Michaels or Achtemeier (but Jobes easily rivals it). It's just huge and thus hard to find quick answers to questions you might be trying to look up.

Peter Davids' NICNT (1990) was for a while the evangelical standard at the mid-level. I think Schreiner is a little more desirable now, in part because later commentaries can deal with later scholarship, and even Jobes is readable for those who can't handle the more technical discussions (she uses Greek font but then transliterates and translates, and some of the more scholarly discussion is in footnotes or excurses). But Davids is a solid commentator.

This volume is much thinner than some of the more recent volumes in this series and seems to me to be more similar to the PNTC and the more substantial contributions to the NAC. He spends less time on language issues or sociological background than some of the above commentaries, and he relegates Greek to the footnotes. He defends a Petrine source for the content of the epistle, with Silvanus as the actual writer. Davids often has pastoral concerns in mind, including contemporary application.

He has an extended discussion of the theology of the book in his introduction, coming from a broadly Wesleyan theological perspective. He occasionally spends some time engaging in a more generally biblical theology, e.g. his excursus on suffering in the NT. I do wonder about one of his conclusions. He distinguishes between suffering from persecution and suffering from illness, taking suffering to be the only kind of suffering that Christians are being told to endure, since it's the explicit context of the letter, but we should pray for God to remove illness of any sort. This strikes me as overly simplistic in the light of II Cor 12:7-10 and Acts 12:5.

I. Howard Marshall's IVPNTC (1990) is viewed by many as the best expositional commentary on I Peter (e.g. Carson calls it superb, and he disagrees fairly strongly with Marshall's Arminianism and egalitarianism). It is easy to read and brief, but Marshall is not the type to spend an inadequate amount of time preparing for his exegetical judgments. Some scholarly issues are treated in the notes at the bottom of the page. The notes and commentary run in parallel without any clear indication which you should be reading before the relevant part in the text. I generally don't like that feature in this series. It does allow for somewhat more depth on some issues that readers of popular-level series like this might prefer to skip. Marshall devotes a much greater percentage of his commentary to application than most of the commentaries above do.

Edmund Clowney's BST (1994) is less recent than Marshall's and doesn't have the attention to some of the more scholarly issues that you might find in Marshall's notes. Clowney is Reformed and complementarian. I tend to agree with him far more than I do Marshall on disputed theological issues, but his scholarly reputation isn't quite on the same level as a giant like Marshall, at least in terms of biblical studies (he is a professor of homiletics and practical theology). This series tends to focus on an overview of the general message of the book, only occasionally delving into more detail, which Clowney does give on a number of issues. You can see my more in-depth review of this book here. He defends Grudem's view of the spirits in prison passage (see below) in a much quicker and more readable manner. Carson says this is the best of the popular commentaries on I Peter..

Leonhard Goppelt (German 1978, Eerdmans English 1993) is the first commentary on I Peter to focus on social background. His emphasis is on the complexity of the social and ethical situations the letter's recipients found themselves in. Goppelt is sometimes a little more conservative in his conclusions than either Achtemeier or Elliott, and his treatment is strong on Old Testament background and connections to literature outside the Bible, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. Goppelt takes Peter and Silvanus to be merely the background sources to some of what is in the letter, not authors or any sort. Despite an original publication date in the 70s, the English translation has updated bibliographies. Goppelt is widely respected for theological and ethical insight, and his exegesis fairly frequently breaks new ground. With most scholars, he accepts a pseudonymous author for the epistle.

Donald Senior's Sacra Pagina (2002), packaged with Daniel Harrington's commentary on II Peter and Jude, approvingly presents the conclusions of contemporary scholarship, especially those of Achtemeier and (to a lightly lesser extent) Elliott.

J.N.D. Kelly's BNTC (1969) also includes II Peter and Jude. While he denies Peter's authorship of II Peter entirely, he does think Peter wrote I Peter by means of Silvanus. He tries to bring out the connections between I Peter and II Peter, something that even scholars who believe Peter wrote both books don't tend to do a lot of. This commentary is fairly readable in comparison to some of the more in-depth ones above, and Kelly has an eye for application. Kelly's expertise is in the early church.

The NIVAC series spends a briefer time than even most expositional commentaries on the original meaning, but Scot McKnight on I Peter (1996) has a little more focus on exegesis than some of the other volumes. D.A. Carson, who is generally very critical of this series for what he considers a lack of adequate exegesis before moving on to application, says that McKnight doesn't have that problem. But as with other volumes in the series, its strength is in bridging principles from the original context toward contemporary application. McKnight's place in the evangelical scholarly community is in an interesting border region between moderate evangelicalism and the emergent church/conversation types. He is also a committed New Perspective on Paul advocate, which comes out very clearly in his Galatians volume in the same series. I have not looked enough at this volume to see how much those perspectives influence it.

Norman Hillyer's NIBC (1992) also includes II Peter and Jude. He is much more conservative than some commentators in this sometimes moderately critical expositional series. I haven't seen this commentary myself, but Carson calls it "sane and sensible", and it's been said to be clearly written and pastorally oriented.

Wayne Grudem's TNTC (1988) spends so little time interacting with contemporary scholarship that I've become less and less enamored of it over the last few years. I used it when leading a Bible study on I Peter back in 1997, and I liked it at the time. I've come to expect a lot more in a commentary at this point. When I got Michaels in time to use it for ch.5, I was amazed at the difference a more in-depth commentary that actually engages other views could bring to a careful study. But one nice thing about a more independent work like this is that often it will have new insights not found in commentaries that rely too much on earlier commentaries. The biggest thing I appreciate about Grudem's commentary is his detailed appendix on the spirits in prison passage. Even though one of my favorite NT scholars, D.A. Carson, agrees with Grudem (I think eventually going back to Augustine) that this passage is about Jesus preaching through Noah to the humans who rebelled against God back in the time of the flood, who are now spirits in prison, I have come to reject this view. First Michaels and then Richard Bauckham and Douglas Moo's commentaries on II Peter and Jude eventually convinced me of this. Still, Grudem's appendix is worth having, and I don't intend to sell this commentary any time soon, mostly because I'd like to keep that appendix. Grudem defends fairly conservative interpretations, including Petrine authorship and complementarianism. He is Reformed in his theology.

Eugene Boring's ANTC (1999) is a popular-level treatment aimed at preachers and Bible study leaders from a mainline sort of background. He represents a more critical perspective than many of the expositional commentaries above, arguing for a pseudonymous author who combines Petrine and Pauline theology. Boring also sees universalist theology in this letter. Nevertheless, much of this commentary is practically-focused. Carson, who isn't very fond of the critical perspectives of the commentary, says that the appendix on the narrative world of I Peter is almost worth the price of the volume (whereas he says Grudem's appendix on the spirits in prison passage is worth the price of that volume, so this is slightly less praise).

Pheme Perkins did the Interpretation volume on James, Peter, and Jude (1995). It's extremely thin for the large amount of material she covers. Yet at the same time it's not written in a very accessible manner to those unfamiliar with reading academic scholarship. It suffers, therefore, from having no audience. It doesn't have enough for those who need depth and won't be readable by those who can't handle the more detailed works.

Update: J. Daryl Charles contributed I Peter along with II Peter and Jude for the new Expositor's Bible Commentary revision. I haven't seen it, but Mark Heath has a helpful review.

Forthcoming:

Scott Hafemann is slated for the PNTC on I Peter. He is also writing II Peter and Jude for NIGTC. I don't know which is going to be first. Hafemann's II Corinthians NIVAC has been well received, tied in my view (with Belleville's IVPNTC) for the best introductory level commentary on that book. Expect this to be a good, mid-level treatment from an evangelical whose theological views sometimes dance around the edges of the New Perspective.

David DeSilva (ECC) did good work in his socio-rhetorical commentary on Hebrews, although I consider that focus to be a bit narrow. I imagine this ECC will have more on other aspects of commentating. This series tends to be very in-depth. These volumes also come at a high price.

Several other academic commentaries are in process by scholars I know little to nothing about. Troy Martin is working on the NIGTC. His dissertation was called Metaphor and Composition in I Peter. I don't know much more about him. Lewis Donelson is doing the NTL. Expect this to be one of the more readable academic treatments, judging by what's typical of the series. David Horrell is doing the ICC. This should be both very in-depth and very expensive.

Joel Green (THNTC) I heard this would be out early next year, but I haven't seen it announced yet. Green's work on Luke gets mixed reviews. I think that's because it's pretty good at what it does, but it's not really a standard commentary. The Two Horizons series is still untested waters for me. I haven't really looked at the couple volumes out so far, but the reviews I've read give me such different impressions that I don't have a good idea of what the series is going to be like.

Ben Witherington is working on several volumes for a new series called Letters and Homilies on the New Testament, including one on I Peter that he says should be out in 2008. I wonder if that theme is getting tired now for I Peter, though. We already have Elliott, Goppelt, and to a lesser extent Jobes and Achtemeier. Add to this at least DeSilva, Green, and Witherington, and we might feel a little overwhelmed. Witherington is strong on social, cultural, and historical background, but he frequently takes criticism for putting his work out too quickly without giving it the time to digest it fully (or edit it carefully).

Doug Harink is doing the BCBC. I don't recognize the author, but the series tends to be pretty brief, and its focus is more devotional and pastoral than even most expositional commentaries. Its contributors vary considerably in background, both in terms of theological perspective and in terms of academic training. Also at the introductory level, Carey C. Newman is doing the volume for Smyth & Helwys. I have very serious reservations about this series, largely due to all the bells and whistles that put it in the price range of academic commentaries.

Finally, Michael Wilkins is planning a I Peter commentary in the forthcoming Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series, whose first volume still has yet to be published, so I don't know exactly what they have in mind for the series. What I've seen on it so far suggests that it will be toward the higher end, perhaps on the level of BECNT, the more in-depth NICNT volumes, and NIGTC. But it might be more like the PNTC or the more detailed NAC volumes. I don't have a good sense of that yet. Wilkins wrote the NIVAC on Matthew and has done some work on the historical Jesus. Since this would be a very different sort of undertaking, I have no idea what to expect.

4 Comments

I haven't seen Jobes commentary, so I can't comment about it, though I've read her book on the Septuagint (with Moises Silva) which was good. When I was in undergrad I was seriously disappointed in Davids, which was considered the evangelical best at that time. Nothing has really changed that disappointment. I'm thankful Schreiner has given us his treatment.

I find it interesting that we take similar views on Achtemeier's and Grudem's books. I think Achtemeier is the best academic treatment, though I wouldn't recommend it to those who would have trouble weeding through his questionable judgments. I was once convinced by Grudem's handling of that odd passage (were you? you never explicitly say so), but have since been unconvinced. With that said, anyone doing serious study ought to engage it, and I've been disappointed that many have not (especially those outside the evangelical camp).

I heard a D.A. Carson sermon on I Peter where he mentioned that he shares Grudem's view but gave no argument and just referred people to Grudem if they wanted reasons. (The sermon wasn't on that passage. I imagine he gives reasons if he preaches on that very passage.) That leant more credibility to it, so I read Grudem's arguments, found them convincing at the time without any alternative arguments to read, and only later had a chance to see that it's an extreme minority position by seeing how few others hold it (and why).

thanks for this Jeremy - another very useful resource. I'm glad to see I already have your top two recommendations although I've not read them yet. I've just finished reading J Darryl Charles' Revised Biblical Expositors Commentary on 1 Peter (I'm in 2 Peter now), which is reasonably good, although he does not necessarily comment on every phrase.

Thank you for posting this substantive and brief review. I definitely agree with you on the distinction between Achtemeier and Elliot. I studied with Achtemeier in my doctoral program. He had just completed his 1 Peter commentary. He spent ten years of careful work in researching it.

I found him to be a masterful exegete. He was (is) rigorous methodologically but unlike some scholars his work was in the service of the Church.

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