SECTION 2 – GENERAL LETTERS
HEBREWS — instruction, warning and exhortation
This is an anonymous letter and for at least 12 centuries it was believed to have been written by Paul. However, since the Reformation it has been widely agreed that Paul did not write the letter for two main reasons:
- The emphases and writing style are different from Paul’s.
- Paul always identified himself as the author of his letters.
There are two candidates for authorship — Barnabas and Apollos. From the letter it is clear that the writer had authority in the early church and that he was an intellectual Hebrew Christian well versed in the Old Testament. Both men were associated with Paul.
Romans and Hebrews are the two great letters in the New Testament. While Romans focuses on God’s righteousness and justification by faith, Hebrews explains the absolute sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus as the fulfilment of all the Old Testament types and shadows.
The writer addressed his letter to Hebrew Christians who were tempted to return to Judaism to escape the persecution Christians were suffering under Nero. At this time Jews were still protected by the state.
“The prologue (1:1-4) presents Christ as God’s full and final revelation, far surpassing the limited preliminary revelation given in the Old Testament.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1857).The writer presents Jesus as superior to the ancient prophets, to angels, to Moses and to Aaron and his priestly descendants.
Practical applications are given throughout the letter.
JAMES — instruction and encouragement
The author identified himself as James. He could only have been James, the Lord’s brother. Jesus’ disciple, James, died in Jerusalem around AD 44 and the other two men named James mentioned in the New Testament did not have the stature or influence that this James had.
Both James and Jude, writers of New Testament letters, were Jesus’ brothers. They did not believe in Him during His life time but after the resurrection they were among the believers (Acts 1:14).
James wrote this letter to early Jewish Christians scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Syrian Antioch after persecution broke out in Jerusalem. As leader of the church in Jerusalem, he wrote as a pastor to instruct and encourage the dispersed believers in their difficulties.
James’ letter is full of practical exhortations. He emphasized a Christianity that was full of good deeds and a faith that works. This was the typically Jewish way of thinking rather than Greek philosophical thought. He referred often to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.
1 PETER — instruction and encouragement
The author identifies himself as the apostle Peter and the contents and character of the letter support his authorship.
On the day of Pentecost Peter preached to visitors from all over Asia Minor and many of them believed and were baptised on that day. He taught and preached in many of these provinces. His letter is addressed to Jewish and Gentile Christians from these same areas.
His purpose was to encourage and testify that this was the true grace of God (5:12), and especially to encourage suffering believers during times of persecution.
2 PETER — instruction, encouragement and exhortation
This letter was written towards the end of Peter’s life to the same readers as the first letter. Peter was martyred during the reign of Nero.
Jesus had given Peter a commission to feed and take care of His sheep. His first letter he teaches them how to deal with persecution from outside the church. In his second letter he instructs them how to deal with false teachers and evil doers who are inside the church. He acts as a true shepherd, focusing on both faith and practice.
1 JOHN — apologetic and instruction
Three letters were written by John, son of Zebedee and disciple of Jesus, together with his gospel and the book of Revelation. Although he does not state that he wrote the letter, the style is similar to the Gospel of John, he writes as an eyewitness, and he gives evidence of an intimate relationship with Jesus.
His letter was addressed to believers but he does not identify them. John spent most of his later years in Ephesus. It may have been a circular letter sent to Christians in a number of places.
John’s readers were confronted with a dangerous heresy called Gnosticism. Its main teaching was that spirit was good but matter was evil. Salvation was to escape from the body through special knowledge (gnosis in Greek means knowledge).
John wrote this letter with two purposes in mind:
- To expose false teachers and
- To give believers assurance of salvation.
He struck at the lack of morality of the gnostic teachers and gave eyewitness testimony to the incarnation, that Jesus Christ was truly God come in the flesh.
2 JOHN – warning and instruction
This is the Apostle John’ second of three letters. “During the first two centuries the gospel was taken from place by travelling evangelists and teachers. Believers customarily took these missionaries into their homes and gave them provisions for their journey when they left. Since Gnostic teachers also relied on this practice, 2 John was written to urge discernment in supporting travelling teachers; otherwise, someone might unintentionally contribute to the propagation of heresy rather than truth.”
(NIV Study Bible, page 1914).
3 JOHN – warning
“Itinerant teachers sent out by John were rejected in one of the churches in
the province of Asia by a dictatorial leader, Diotrephes, who even excommunicated members who showed hospitality to John’s messengers. John wrote this letter to commend Gaius for supporting the teachers and, indirectly, to warn Diotrephes, (NIV Study Bible, page 1916).
JUDE – warning
The author identifies himself as Jude which is another form of the Hebrew name, Judah, the brother of James, most likely the brother of Jesus.
Although Jude set out to write to his readers about salvation, he felt that he Must warn them about certain immoral men among them who were perverting God’s grace. They were trying to convince believers that being saved by grace meant that they could sin because their sins were no longer held against them.
Jude felt that he needed to warn his readers to be on guard against them and to be prepared to opposed to their perverted teaching with the truth of God’s grace.