Copycats? The challenge concerning Jude and 2 Peter 2

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features Chapter 4: Copycats? The Apologist’s Challenge of Jude and 2 Peter 2.

Previously: Chapter 3: I Reckon So: The Apologist’s Standing in Christ

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History is rife with famous plagiarists. Primatologist Jane Goodall “borrowed” from sources ranging from Wikipedia to astrology websites to produce a 2013 book, Seeds of Hope: Wonder and Wisdom from the World of Plants.

Alex Haley’s epic Roots is now considered a mixture of facts, fiction, and thievery.

Joe Biden scuttled his own run for president in 1987 by stealing lines – and even whole pages – from other people’s speeches, from the British Labor Party’s Neil Kinnock to American President John F. Kennedy.

And that’s not all. Martin Luther King Jr., rocker Led Zeppelin, and composer John Williams all stand accused in varying degrees of taking other people’s creative work and calling it their own.

So, how do we deal with the reality that portions of Jude and Peter’s second epistle are uncannily similar? Are we dealing with one or more plagiarists claiming divine inspiration?

A question of canon

Take a look at the table below, which compares passages from Jude and 2 Peter 2-3. The similarities may tempt us to question the divine inspiration of one text or the other – or even to doubt their place in the canon of Scripture. However, there is no good reason to write off either of these epistles.

Commentators generally offer three explanations for the parallels between Jude and the second chapter of 2 Peter:

  • Peter borrows from Jude.
  • Jude borrows from Peter.
  • Both Peter and Jude draw from a common written or oral source, or a combination of written and oral sources.

Since both epistles are written at about the same time – likely the mid-60s A.D. – it’s not possible to say with certainty that one predates the other.

According to Thomas R. Schreiner, most scholars now believe that 2 Peter depends on Jude. After all, why would Jude have written his letter in the first place if he were merely restating much of what Peter had already written? And why the urgency to abandon writing about “our common salvation” in order to exhort readers to “contend for the faith” (v. 3) if Peter already has addressed the issue?

However, a significant number of scholars argue that Jude draws from 2 Peter, smoothing out the language and improving Peter’s writing. In addition, a distinct motive for Jude still exists because his main purpose in writing, and the crucial part of his letter, is verses 20-23, which is not found in 2 Peter 2.

Further, Peter uses the future tense a number of times in the first few verses of 2 Peter 2 – for example, “there will be false teachers among you” (v. 1 – emphasis added) – while Jude uses the present tense throughout his epistle to describe the damage these false teachers already have inflicted.

Finally, Jude’s reference to “the words foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 17) leads in the next verse to an approximate quote from 2 Peter 3:3 – “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires” (v. 18). If in fact Jude is quoting from 2 Peter in this verse, then perhaps he draws much of his epistle from Peter’s.

The common-source view should not be ruled out, although it’s a more complex hypothesis than the others. Perhaps there is an oral or written tradition from which both men glean common themes. Or, it’s possible they both use portions of an apologetic message that has been preached throughout the churches.

A fourth possibility exists, as noted by Arno Gaebelein, a prominent 19th and 20th century Methodist speaker and commentator. While there are unmistakable similarities between the two texts, they rarely agree in the exact words used, and each author expresses his thoughts differently. Therefore, “Jude may have known Peter’s Epistle, but that does not mean that he used Peter’s Epistle.” Rather, the Holy Spirit may have given both men similar inspired testimonies.

The doctrine of divine inspiration does not rule out any of these explanations. There is overlapping detail in many Old Testament books, as any chronological Bible attests. Further, the synoptic Gospels at the very least share a common oral tradition.6 Even the quoting of pagan writers and pseudepigraphical works does not disqualify a text from divine inspiration (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12; Jude 9, 14-15).

The bottom line is that we do not know for certain why Jude and 2 Peter 2 have so much in common. We may conclude, however, that the two texts are complementary rather than contradictory. They address the common theme of false teachers in the church. And originally, they may have reached different audiences at different times under different circumstances. To charge Peter or Jude with plagiarism is to deny the Holy Spirit – the divine Author of Scripture – the right to repeat Himself.

Similarities Between Jude and 2 Peter 2-3

Jude (HCSB)

 

2 Peter (HCSB)
Jude 4 For certain men, who were designated for this judgment long ago, have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 2:1-3 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. In their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.

 

Jude 6-7 … and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

 

2 Pet. 2:4, 6 For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment … and if He reduced the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes and condemned them to ruin, making them an example to those who were going to be ungodly …
Jude 8-9 Nevertheless, these dreamers likewise defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings. Yet Michael the archangel, when he was disputing with the Devil in a debate about Moses’ body, did not dare bring an abusive condemnation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

 

2 Pet. 2:10-11 … especially those who follow the polluting desires of the flesh and despise authority. Bold, arrogant people! They do not tremble when they blaspheme the glorious ones; however, angels, who are greater in might and power, do not bring a slanderous charge against them before the Lord.

 

Jude 10 But these people blaspheme anything they don’t understand, and what they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals – they destroy themselves with these things. 2 Pet. 2:12 But these people, like irrational animals – creatures of instinct born to be caught and destroyed – speak blasphemies about things they don’t understand, and in their destruction they too will be destroyed …

 

Jude 11-13 Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, have abandoned themselves to the error of Balaam for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are the ones who are like dangerous reefs at your love feasts. They feast with you, nurturing only themselves without fear. They are waterless clouds carried along by winds; trees in late autumn – fruitless, twice dead, pulled out by the roots; wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shameful deeds; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever!

 

2 Pet. 2:13b-15, 17a They consider it a pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, delighting in their deceptions as they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and always looking for sin, seducing unstable people, and with hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! By abandoning the straight path, they have gone astray and have followed the path of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness … These people are springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind …

 

Jude 16 These people are discontented grumblers, walking according to their desires; their mouths utter arrogant words, flattering people for their own advantage.

 

2 Peter 2:18 For uttering bombastic, empty words, they seduce, by fleshly desires and debauchery, people who have barely escaped from those who live in error.

 

Jude 18 … they told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires.” 2 Peter 3:3 First, be aware of this: scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, following their own lusts …

 

Next: Chapter 5: Going from Good to Better in Defense of the Faith