The General Letters

The eight general letters in the New Testament cover a range of themes like the letters of Paul. In general, they tend to be more sermonic in style and address a broader audience.

Hebrews

We can’t be certain who the author to the letter to the Hebrews is. Proposals have been given suggesting that it was Paul, Luke, or Apollos. But there is no way of verifying this. The author writes a “word of exhortation” (13:22) with the purpose of persuading his audience to persevere in the faith. He does this by showing that Jesus Christ is better than the angels (1:1-2:18), Moses (3:1-4:13), and the priesthood (4:14-10:39). After this he provides his readers with a call to a life of faith (11:1-12:29) and then gives practical appeals to holy living (13:1-25). If one is going to understand the letter to the Hebrews, it is important to have a good understanding of the Old Testament. This letter contributes greatly in helping us understand how to read the Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ.  

James

The Epistle of James is classed in the group of letters in the New Testament called General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John and Jude). James is a practical book and finds itself in a class of its own when compared with the other NT epistles. It doesn’t appear to contain much structure and lacks an introduction and benediction. After a brief greeting (1:1) he gets right into it (1:2). The style of James has been likened to the book of Proverbs because of the emphasis on wise living. Of the 108 verses in this epistle there are 54 commands thus providing lots of exhortation. It has been said that the best way to understand James is to see it as a series of sermons. Another feature of this letter is the use of metaphors of everyday life making it very illustrative and relevant. James writes this letter to encourage his readers to manifest their faith by being obedient to the Word of God.

1 & 2 Peter

The apostle Peter wrote these two letters. As you read through them the pastoral care for the people of God clearly is a focus. In his first letter Peter addresses it “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1b). It would appear that this reference includes a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers located throughout regions in Asia Minor. The term “elect exiles” points to the fact that as Christians they are temporary residents of this world and their final destination is the glory of Heaven. Writing to believers as pilgrims the focus of his first letter is a Pilgrim’s Progress in Salvation (1:3-2:10), a Pilgrim’s Progress in Submission (2:11-4:11), and a Pilgrim’s Progress in Suffering (4:12-5:12). His second letter reminds his readers of the necessary realities needed in order for them to grow in grace. If this growth is going to occur, it is essential that God’s people be aware of three important realities. Peter calls for them to Remember the Scriptures (1:3-21), Recognise the Swindlers (2:1-22), and Respond to the Second Coming (3:1-18). All of these are to be built on the foundation of having an equal standing with the saints “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” that He accomplished for us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

1, 2, & 3 John

In these three letters, the apostle John addresses matters concerning godly Christian living, and the importance of protecting ourselves against false teaching. In 1 John there are two significant statements regarding the character of God. John writes, “God is light” (1:5) and “God is love” (4:8). These two themes are discussed and developed through the letter explaining godly Christian living and guarded Christian living against false teachers. 2 and 3 John are significantly shorter. 2 John is a call to walk in the truth and to avoid false teachers. In his third letter John endorses the godly behaviour of Gaius and exposes the ungodly behaviour of Diotrephes.

Jude

The author of this brief letter is Jude, the half brother of Jesus. Jude eagerly and urgently writes to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The reason for this is because troublemakers have crept into the church perverting God’s Word. So with great clarity and conviction, Jude calls them out and provides a detailed profile of false teachers (Jude 5-16). He concludes by calling the readers to perseverance in the faith. 

SUMMARY

The twenty-one letters in the New Testament provide the Church will inspired instruction. This instruction informs us of how we ought to live and honour our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They describe what the Christian is to know and live. We ought to regularly read these letters, and seek to live in accordance to what they say and teach to glory of God.