Scallywags, Scoffers, and Schisms

December 16, 2015

by Brandon Crowe

Maybe you have picked up my new book, The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption, and you are wondering about the meaning of the titles for the book’s first three parts. How do the terms scallywags, scoffers, and schisms relate to the General Epistles? I have chosen these alliterative (and, I hope, memorable) terms to help us organize our thinking about some of the main contributions of each of these letters.


Scallywags refers to the way in which the world views Christians, according to 1 Peter. A scallywag is a rogue, a troublemaker, a good-for-nothing person who is (or, in the case of 1 Peter, seems to be) causing problems. In 1 Peter, Christians are faced with difficult circumstances and various sorts of opposition, but they are called to demonstrate by their manner of life, as they follow the selfless pattern of Christ himself, that they are anything but scallywags. First Peter makes it clear that when Christians are living faithfully, they support the public good and are above disrepute and dishonor. In other words, Christians are to disprove the charge of being scallywags by living in accord with the gospel.


The title of the book’s second part focuses on 2 Peter and Jude. Here we find that many scoffers will arise and distort the true teaching of Scripture. We will also see that when false teaching as described in 2 Peter and Jude holds sway, it leads not simply to scoffing at theological propositions, but also to scoffing at the call to discipleship and the call to be holy as God is holy.


Schisms is a term that might refer to any number of books or issues in the New Testament, but understanding schisms is particularly important for interpreting 1 John. This epistle may seem to contain many confusing or troublesome statements, but we will see that part of what John was addressing was schisms, or divisions, arising in the early church, led by those who did not follow the apostolic teaching. These schismatics had their own ideas about what makes one spiritual, and they eventually left the church. Thus, we will consider how recognizing the schisms in the background of John’s writings helps us understand the teaching of 1–3 John as it relates to us today.

I think you will find that there is much to glean about the nature of salvation in 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude. May God grant that all of us will see more clearly and deeply the depths of his love in Christ, and enable us by his grace to love and serve him and those around us with greater faithfulness.


This piece is adapted  from Brandon Crowe, The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption: Wisdom from James, Peter, John, and Jude (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2015), xix–xxi. Used with permission from the publisher.


Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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