Through a detailed examination of the historical shaping and final canonical shape of seven oft-neglected New Testament letters James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude, this text introduces readers to the historical, literary, and theological integrity of this indispensable apostolic witness. While most modern scholars interpret biblical texts against the diversity of their individual historical points of composition, Robert Wall and David Nienhuis make the case that a theological approach to the Bible as Scripture is better served by attending to issues that occasioned these texts’ historical point of canonization—those key moments in the ancient church’s life when apostolic writings were grouped together into collections designed to maximize the Spirit’s communication of the apostolic rule of faith to believers everywhere.
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“The central core of this study is the insistence that the Catholic Epistles collection is in fact a canonical collection and not a random grouping of ‘other’ or ‘general’ letters that emerged from communities not founded by the Apostle Paul. We are convinced that the rehabilitation of these seven letters is dependent on recognizing the canonical intent that they be read as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.” (Page xvi)
“Because of the witness of Eusebius we can say with some confidence that the CE collection emerged from somewhere in the eastern church, some time after the work of Origen in the third century but before the work of Eusebius in the early fourth.” (Page 29)
“Of greatest importance for us is the fact that Origen is the first church father to champion the letter of James.” (Page 25)
“In doing so, we intend to challenge the critical consensus regarding the theological incoherence of the CE collection. Put simply, we contend that the canonical collection of four witnesses, James, Peter, John, and Jude (‘the Pillars of Jerusalem’), be read together as the interpenetrating parts of a coherent theological whole.” (Page 10)
“He argues on this basis that any reading of Paul that seals him off from his colleagues in Jerusalem is untenable and unhistorical and leads ultimately to a heretical distortion of the apostolic message.” (Page 21)
In this groundbreaking book David Nienhuis and Robert Wall show that the New Testament collection called the ‘Catholic Epistles’ has a structure and a rationale that profoundly impact the way its individual texts should be read. Like the fourfold canonical Gospel, this collection represents a decisive intervention in the process of creating a well-ordered Christian scripture out of the mass of early Christian writing.
—Francis Watson, professor of New Testament Exegesis, University of Aberdeen
In this eloquent challenge to current exegetical communis opinio, the authors argue forcefully for a reading of the seven Catholic Epistles as a canonical unit, which then reveals their common theology, their collective role in the scriptural canon as balance to the Pauline letters, and their cogent apostolic instruction on Christian discipleship and community both in antiquity and in today’s world.
—John H. Elliott, professor of theology, University of San Francisco
David Nienhuis and Robert Wall argue that if we shift our focus from the point of composition to much later matters of canonization, we can begin to see that the Catholic Epistles as a group round out and enrich the theological emphases of the Gospels and Paul’s letters in ways that form a more complete and even more attractive canonical whole. . . . Nienhuis and Wall present a challenging argument sustained by detailed theological attention to the canonical process and by close and lively readings of the Catholic Epistles. If taken up, their views can dramatically alter the interpretive patterns and concerns the church and the academy bring to these letters.
—Stephen E. Fowl, chair of the department of theology, Loyola College
Robert W. Wall is the Paul T. Walls Professor of Scripture and Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University. In addition to his commentary on Revelation, he has authored numerous journal articles and several books, including commentaries on Colossians/Philemon, James, Acts, and the Pastoral Epistles.
David R. Nienhuis is associate professor of New Testament studies at Seattle Pacific University.