Review of Jobes’s Letters to the Church
June 3, 2013
Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Karen H. Jobes. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011, xvi + 478 pp., $44.99, hardcover.
Karen Jobes is professor of NT Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College. Some of her previous publications include commentaries on Esther (Zondervan, 1999) and 1 Peter (Baker, 2005), as well as the popular Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker, 2000).
This work is intended for those studying the General Epistles for the first time. Matters are kept simple and to the point. Chapters conclude with recommended readings that offer helpful sources for further study. Information is organized by headings and subsections and each chapter contains outlines and summaries. Charts and pictures are abundant throughout. Challenging words and concepts are written in bold, indicating that they are defined in a special section in the back of the book. These various features enable Jobes to deliver a highly readable and inviting survey for readers of the General Epistles.
The book contains four main sections: (1) Hebrews, (2) letters from Jesus’ brothers, (3) letters from Peter, and (4) letters from John. Within each of these sections there are chapters introducing the epistles and highlighting their key points, such as audience, author, date, purpose, etc. Additional chapters are devoted to Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter—each containing chapters focusing on Christology and other key issues.
One of the book’s many strengths is the years of research and teaching that Jobes has devoted to the General Epistles. For example, Jobes is able to draw upon her commentaries on 1 Peter (Baker, 2005) and the Johannine Epistles (Grand Rapids, forthcoming), not to mention her numerous articles and essays. As a result, the reader benefits from Jobes’s years of seasoned reflection on these Epistles.
Another strength is Jobes’s attentiveness to the many times these epistles rely on the OT. Jobes devotes an entire chapter to this topic in Hebrews (pp. 57–77), a large section in James (pp. 203–11). In her discussion of Jude, Jobes insightfully explains Jude’s allusions to the Hebrew OT, rather than the Greek LXX (pp. 251–52). Elsewhere, Jobes sheds light on important yet often overlooked OT allusions (e.g., see her discussion on the allusion in James 3 to Hosea 14, pp. 207–08).
Despite the book’s many strengths, one weakness was apparent, and it related to the book’s numerous pictures. Pictures can be quite helpful in an introductory survey, and several were helpful in the present work, such as the maps and pictures of ancient papyri. Many, however, seemed out of place and redundant. In the discussion of Peter’s theology of suffering there are two large pictures of footprints (pp. 287, 346). In two separate discussions about the Torah there are large, modernized pictures of the Ten Commandments (pp. 74, 207). There are also two identical pictures of the Rylands fragment (pp. 9, 407). Pictures were not only redundant, but in many places unnecessary, such as the huge chart displaying 2 Peter’s steps to maturity (p. 376), or the cartoon image of animals prescribed in the OT for sacrifice (p. 95). Furthermore, there are numerous paintings of biblical characters and events that do little to illumine the content of the text. While the pictures do not detract from the book’s content, they do little to enhance it while at the same time burdening the length by at least 100 extra pages.
One surprising omission was a discussion regarding the possible coherence and theology of the General Epistles. This is a topic that is receiving increasing attention by scholars of the General Epistles (see, e.g., Robert Wall’s essay in Catholic Epistles and Apostolic Tradition, Baylor Press, 2009). Jobes does a commendable job interacting with the theology of the individual books, but her text could have been enhanced by including a chapter that considered these epistles from a broader view, perhaps considering their overarching theme or their unique contributions and distinctives.
Teachers and professors will find Jobes’s work useful in the classroom. Other works that might be comparable to Jobes’s include Donelson’s From Hebrews to Revelation (Westminster John Knox, 2001), Harner’s What are They Saying about the Catholic Epistles? (Paulist, 2004), and Chester and Martin’s The Theology of James, Peter, and Jude (Cambridge, 1994). Jobes’s survey is an ideal introduction for a college course on the General Epistles—the student will not only be equipped with a solid grasp of each letter’s background issues but also with the content and theology of these important New Testament writings.