Daily Bible Study Tips:
Overview of the General Epistles

Day 34, Hebrews 2-10
Day 35, Hebrews 11 – James 5
Day 36, I Peter 1 - I John 1
Day 37, I John 2 – Jude

Comments on Hebrews

Comments on James and I Peter

Comments on I John 1 and 2

Comments on I John 3 - 5

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Day 34, Hebrews 2-10

These overviews were written while our church was listening each day to “You’ve Got the Time,” the recorded New Testament available from Faith Comes by Hearing. It takes 28 minutes a day, and I enjoyed it tremendously. “Day 34, Hebrews 2-10” and so on tell you what section to listen to.

A few days ago I made some comment about scholars who examine every verse with a microscope. These scholars are amateurs in comparison with the rabbis. Here is an example of rabbinical reasoning that is used at Passover:

With how many plagues did God smite the Egyptians?
Hebrews is an example of very close rabbinical reasoning all the way through. It’s difficult to read. But what it boils down to is a simple refutation of the Judaizers who were going around and saying that new Gentile Christians needed to convert to Judaism. The writer of Hebrews says that’s not true or even useful, because Jesus is in every way superior to the old religion: Jesus is superior to the angels, the patriarchs, the prophets, the Law, the temple, the sacrificial system, the priests, and the traditions. So why on earth would anyone want to convert to Judaism after becoming a Christian? 

We don’t know who wrote Hebrews. It almost certainly was not Paul, although the writer was almost certainly someone close to Paul.

Day 35, Hebrews 11 – James 5

We are now reading a group of letters called “the General Epistles.” We saw that Paul normally wrote to specific churches or individuals. Although the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude have a specific audience in mind, it is not typically an audience confined to one congregation. (III John is written to an individual.)

James is my favorite letter. It was written very early, possibly around 34 or 35 AD, which would make it the earliest New Testament book that we have. It was written by James, the brother of the Lord, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem and a man of “exceptional moral rectitude,” according to scholar Zane C. Hodges. We saw James in Acts 15, where he was the one who decided that Gentile converts should be required only to keep four basic rules from the Law. The letter he dictated there and the epistle James both have the greeting “Chairein” (KAI-rain), and no other NT letter does. There are four or five men named “James” in the NT. Of these, only James the disciple (brother of John) and James, brother of the Lord, were prominent enough to have written a canonical letter, and the disciple was martyred early (Acts 12). So the attribution of this letter is not seriously questioned.

Its worth is another matter. Martin Luther called James “an epistle of straw,” and others have called it a “string of pearls” with no central idea. What this goes to show is that even a great theologian can have an off day, and that many scholars can’t read. James mentions Jesus only twice, but it is so permeated by the Gospel message that it could only have been written by someone who was in His constant presence for many years. I have no clue why Martin Luther didn't like it. The outline for the book is clearly stated in vs. 1:19, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Three big sections follow, the first is on listening, the second is on speaking, and the third is on anger. So I also have no clue why many scholars haven't seen the outline.

James calls himself in vs. 1:1 “a slave of Jesus Christ,” never claiming for himself any other kinship with the Lord. Jude, less prominent, calls himself “a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” What a turnaround for men who did not believe in him! (John 7:5) The other letter writers normally claim the title “apostle” or sometimes “servant” of Christ (although Paul says once, in Romans, that he is “a slave and apostle”).

Day 36, I Peter 1 - I John 1

The attributions of most of these letters were not questioned until the 20th century. As I said before, there isn’t any new information, so why dispute what the very early scholars concluded, when they were 1600 to 1800 years closer to the situation than we are?

One objection that has been raised to Peter’s authorship of I Peter will show you why I get exasperated with some of these arguments. It has been stated that the Greek is too good for a Galilean fisherman. So what? I Peter is dated about 67 A.D. In the first place, by 67 Peter would have been teaching in Greek for about 30 years. You have to be really bad at languages not to become fluent in 30 years. I have friends who have become fluent in English – a much more difficult language than Greek – in 10 years. In the second place, it says right there in vs. 5:12 that Silvanus was acting as Peter’s amanuensis, or secretary. If a modern secretary put in mistakes just because the boss dictated them, that secretary would be looking for another position. And in the third place, all this assumes that we know that Galilean fishermen spoke bad Greek in the first place, which we don’t.

I Peter presents the theology of the early Church almost exactly as Peter and others preached it in Acts.

It will now come as a surprise to you when I report that Peter probably did not write II Peter. The authorship of this book has been questioned from very early times. Barclay says it was the last New Testament book to be written and the last to be accepted as part of the scripture. II Peter is directed against false teachers, mainly libertines. Recall that Galatians, Hebrews, and part of Romans were directed against false teachers that tried to compel new Christians to obey the Law. The Libertines, in contrast, taught that (a) we’re saved, (b) the body doesn’t matter anyway, and thus (c) you can do whatever you want. The truth of the matter is this: Jesus Christ will save you and then change you so that, free from the Law, you will obey it. (Well, the central parts of it, anyway – not the legalistic stuff.) The false teachers also denied the Second Coming.

Day 37, I John 2 – Jude

Even more letters directed against false teachings! We just don’t ever seem to be able to get this stuff straight!  (By the way, you never know when I'm going to throw in a false teaching by accident.  Be on your guard by reading the scripture for yourself.)

 I, II, and III John are late letters, probably written around 100 AD. They all have three points, not necessarily in the same order or depth of treatment:
Jude was written by Judas, the brother of the Lord, although he humbly claims only to be the brother of James. It is again directed against the libertinism we talked about yesterday.

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