Darian Lockett offers this monograph to promote a canon-conscious approach to reading the Catholic Epistles. He argues that these epistles can be read as an intentional collection within the New Testament.
In chapter 1, Lockett presents a survey of the approaches made to view the seven Catholic Epistles as a collection. In describing the contributions made by past approaches, the author highlights various issues that emerge. Lockett raises the question of the definition of canon: Is it a final list of books, or is it defined by how the texts were used in community?
In chapter 2, Lockett clarifies two foundational elements critical to his study. First, puts forth a balanced approach, affirming the understanding canon as both a standard of authority and an accepted list of books. Second, the author advocates for a close connection between canon and scripture, which allows for consideration of the entire canonical process, from composition to finalization.
In chapter 3, Lockett examines patristic and manuscript evidence that the Catholic Epistles were considered a sub-collection. Early manuscripts grouped the Catholic Epistles with Acts as the Praxapostolos, and Eusebius (fourth century) referred to them as a collection. Lockett then cites suggestive indications of a collection from patristic figures prior to Eusebius. In examining early manuscripts like P72 and P100, Lockett demonstrates associations between the Catholic Epistles before the major codices. The major majuscule codices are witnesses to the understanding of Acts and the Catholic Epistles as a collection.
In chapter 4, Lockett considers the paratextual evidence of the view of Catholic Epistles as a distinct collection. First, he shows evidence of the consistent collection and arrangement of the documents in the early manuscripts. The typical internal ordering suggests a particular logic behind them, especially the possibility that they are arranged as the “pillar apostles” in Galatians 2:9. Second, Lockett demonstrates that the titles of the Catholic Epistles in manuscripts shows basic consistency, indicating that they were viewed as a collection. Third, the author shows that the consistent usage of nomina sacra and chapter divisions suggests the intention of the scribe or editor to associate the epistles together. Fourth, Lockett examines the views on the association between Acts and the Catholic Epistles, which were grouped together in the fourth century codices. He recommends that Acts likely serves as a preview and narrative guide for reading the Catholic and Pauline Epistles.
In chapters 5 and 6, Lockett presents compositional evidence for the Catholic Epistles being a distinct collection. First, he examines the intertextual connections of the Catholic Epistles, analyzing their use of the Old Testament. Through a survey of the concentrated usage of Proverbs 3:34, Isaiah 40:6–8, Proverbs 10:12, Leviticus 19, Ezekiel 33–34, Genesis 6–7, and Genesis 4, Lockett demonstrates that the Catholic Epistles depend on shared traditional material from the OT. Next, surveying the shared catchwords such as diaspora, and the truth, Lockett reinforces the interrelation of these authors as presented in Acts. He then examines framing devices and themes within the Catholic Epistles in chapter 6. He particularly looks at the commonalities between James and Jude, supporting the idea that the compiler(s) purposely placed James and Jude as bookends of the collection. In the final section of chapter 6, Lockett surveys the central place of the love command from Leviticus 19 in the Catholic Epistles and its direct connection with the word/law/commandment theme. After this, he traces several sub-themes: enduring trial, God and the world as incompatible allegiances, and the relationship between faith and works. Lockett presents all of this study to support the “collection consciousness” of the Catholic Epistles.
In chapter 7, Lockett summarizes each of the preceding chapters and then offers some reflections on his view of canon. He holds a holistic view that includes the process of composition, redaction, collection, and arrangement. He ends by urging the reader to consider the context of the Catholic Epistles as a collection in order to appropriately interpret each one.
Acting like a detective, Lockett follows a systematic approach and explains his method and conclusions in a manner that is clear and accessible for his intended readers. While he assumes some familiarity with the issues raised, he skillfully explains difficult terms to situate the reader. His multi-pronged methodology is well-communicated and thorough. While all of his book demonstrates quality and depth of research, it is in chapters 5 and 6 where Lockett’s work shines the most. His masterful grasp on the exegetical and context issues surrounding the text makes his arguments strong and compelling.
Lockett’s study does display some small weaknesses. In a few places, especially in chapter 4, the evidence falls short of being convincing. His suggestions of the intent of the editor/compiler could use more substantiation. Also, his exposition of the common themes in chapter 6 leaves out a number of other themes that could have been studied, such as the rich and poor, wisdom, suffering, and false teaching. Lockett’s admirable desire for clarity make his previewing and recapitulating of each section a bit repetitive.
In the end, Darian Lockett soundly accomplishes what he aimed to do: build a strong case for viewing the Catholic Epistles as a canonical collection. His thoroughly researched monograph serves as an excellent resource of the early and modern reception of these seven epistles as a corpus. I recommend it for anyone seeking to interpret these letters, either in academia or in the church.