The Story of the Bible: The General Epistles

Today’s post is the ninth installment in a series that breaks the story of the Bible down into ten ‘chapters’. Read Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven and Chapter Eight.

The next chapter in our Bibles is called the “General Epistles.” This is the traditional designation given to the eight New Testament letters that were not written by the Apostle Paul. The first of these was probably the Epistle of James, which may have been written as early as A.D. 49. James, the half-brother of Jesus, became an important leader in the Jerusalem church. Observing that many new believers were lacking in fervor for good works, James wrote to exhort his readers to live out the ethical implications of their faith.

First Peter was written by the Apostle Peter from Rome, perhaps in A.D. 63 or 64. His readers were going through the sufferings that were so common to first century Christians. Peter exhorted the believers to conduct themselves in accordance with their living hope! He encouraged them in their submission to authority and joyful response to suffering.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is the longest of the general epistles. It was written in the 60’s, probably before the emperor Nero begin persecuting Christians in the summer of A.D. 64. In the face of hardships and persecution, these believers were in danger of drifting back into the shadows of Judaism. The writer presents the person and work of Christ, urging the readers to move on to spiritual maturity.

Second Peter was written shortly before the Apostle’s death in Rome, during the summer of A.D. 64. Peter realized that false teachers had come into the church who were advocating an abandonment of moral standards and denying Christ’s second coming. Believing that his death was imminent, Peter wrote to remind his readers of the orthodox teachings and to encourage their growth in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

The Epistle of Jude appears to be written after Second Peter, but before the destruction of Jerusalem. Jude addresses the same problem that concerned the Apostle Peter, namely an outbreak of false teachers who were denying Christ and perverting the doctrine of grace. Jude wrote his letter to encourage the readers to stand firm in Christian orthodoxy in the face of rampant apostasy.

The general epistles include three letters that were written by the Apostle John. First John was probably written late in the first century, around A.D. 90. John was concerned about false teachers who were drawing true believers into their theological error. As an eyewitness of the life and ministry of Jesus, John combats false teaching with a clear presentation of the truth about His person and work. Second and Third John were written shortly after First John, and both emphasize the importance of “walking in the truth.”

 

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).