WELCOME TO 1 PETER
The Apostle Peter was clearly the leader of the Apostles when they walked with Jesus for 3 years. He could be impulsive, outspoken and easily intimidated. In some ways, he was the most reluctant Apostle. Yet, after Pentecost he was bold and committed, and the other Apostles acknowledged his leadership. Eventually, according to ancient, and probably reliable church tradition, Peter was martyred for his faith in Christ.
The book of 1 Peter reflects the Apostle in his spiritual maturity and demonstrates how much God had transformed the man. The letter is addressed to “exiles in the dispersion” in Asia Minor, which we know as modern Turkey. The letter was probably written about 30 years after the resurrection during the reign of Emperor Nero. The evil emperor had issued an official persecution against Christians, especially in Rome, causing the “dispersion” or “exile” of believers from Rome to other, safer places like Asia Minor.
Peter is therefore writing to Christians who have been persecuted, displaced, and have experienced significant lifestyle disruption for their faith in Christ. When we read the letter of 1 Peter, even when those factors are not overtly mentioned, they should always be remembered to help us understand better what Peter is saying, and what the letter means.
The letter of 1 Peter is “pastoral” in that it seeks to encourage potentially discouraged Christians in difficult circumstances to remain faithful. Peter reminds them to live holy lives in an unholy world. He urges them to remember Christ is coming again and therefore the suffering of this life will be reversed. Peter helps the persecuted church to see itself in a different way by redefining their identity as Christ sees them, rather than as they see themselves. He also suggests practical ways for the believers to behave as faithful followers of Christ in spite of their troubles.
The letter of 1 Peter still encourages modern believers who are not in exactly the same dilemmas but who nevertheless need encouragement and spiritual growth. In other words, while you are reading 1 Peter, you can receive and apply it’s message to your own life and greatly benefit as a result.
WELCOME TO JAMES!
James is a unique book. It belongs in the category of an “epistle” but within that familiar category it has some uncommon features.
The special quality of James is it’s structure. At times it seems to be a book filled mostly with one moral instruction after another -almost like the book of Proverbs. In that way, it seems to lack the kind of personal quality of a book like 1 Corinthians, for example, which is loaded with the conversational “back and forth” tone of an actual letter. James is a letter, but at times it feels more like a collection of wise statements without context.
Fueling that feeling is the grammar itself. The book of James has more imperative commands “per capita” than any book in the New Testament giving it the feel of a stern lecture from a Father or a boss. Still, in spite of it’s authoritative style, James addresses a common pastoral concern- the problem of suffering.
Another unique feature of James has to do with the way the book addresses the relationship of faith and works. At times James appears to directly contradict Paul’s view of faith alone by stating, “faith without works is dead” (2:17). Most evangelicals have concluded James does not advocate a “works gospel” but is instead expressing truth about faith and works from a practical perspective not in contradiction to Paul’s teaching.
James mentions Jesus only twice (once in the first verse of the book where the author identifies himself as the servant of Jesus) so the book never develops doctrines of the cross or the second coming or other specifically Christological doctrines. Instead, Jesus is “heard” rather than “seen” since, at times, James feels like a loose commentary on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, clearly reflecting the language and style of the famous teaching.
James is demanding, straight forward, and instructive for the Christian life. It is definitely truth for our times.
Welcome to Hebrews! This wonderful book introduces us to a particular perspective about Jesus, developed in an in-depth manner more pronounced than in any other section of the New Testament. Jesus’ relationship to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is explored more in Hebrews than anywhere else.
One of the most enduring questions about Hebrews has to do with authorship. No one knows for certain who wrote it. While some claim Paul wrote the book (and it is assumed in most King James Bibles), there are numerous reasons to doubt Pauline authorship.
For one thing, unlike Paul’s known letters, Paul’s name is never mentioned in Hebrews. In addition, one of Paul’s favorite phrases-“in Christ” – found over 125 times in Paul’s letters, is noticeably absent. It never occurs in Hebrews. Furthermore, Gentiles are never mentioned. That’s a strange omission from “the Apostle to the Gentiles”. The title of Jesus as “High Priest” is found no where in Paul’s writings but is central in the theology of Hebrews (4:14). Another issue which contradicts Pauline authorship is the vocabulary and style of Hebrews. It is the most sophisticated use of the Greek language found anywhere in the New Testament, except for Luke’s writings (a fact which leads some to believe Luke wrote Hebrews). Hebrews includes at least 150 words not used anywhere else in the New Testament including 10 that do not appear anywhere else in any Greek writings.
Finally, the writer of Hebrews includes himself in the generation of those who received the Gospel message from others (Hebrews 2:3). Paul consistently stated the opposite, insisting he received the message by direct revelation and not from human messengers (Galatians 1:12).
Whoever wrote Hebrews had an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament and the ministry of the Jewish priesthood. There are about 35 direct quotations from the Old Testament and numerous indirect references. The original audience was clearly Jewish and the complex arguments from the Old Testament make Hebrews appear less relatable to 21st century readers. It is, however, a message we must hear even if it requires more patience on our part.
Hebrews was originally written to a group of people under so much pressure from a hostile culture they were tempted to abandon Christ! Hebrews is both a warning and a strong invitation to remain faithful and not retreat from Jesus due to cultural invectives. That’s a message we need today.
WELCOME TO EPHESIANS!
Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. Today it is an impressive city of ruins and Archeological excavation in Turkey. I’ve been there three times and each time I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer size and former beauty of Ephesus. In its day, tens of thousands of people lived there and it was a center of education, commerce, and culture.
Ephesus had one of the largest libraries in the ancient world and a huge outdoor theater with a seating capacity of over 25,000, which is still used today for concerts. Once when I was there the rock band Aerosmith was coming for a concert and the stage was being built for them. It is a surreal sight to be standing imagining the origins of Christianity and what Paul must have felt, while starring at a massive Aerosmith logo.
Ephesus is mentioned more than 20 times in the New Testament. Paul went there on his third missionary journey and spent 3 years in Ephesus, a long stay in one place for the traveling Apostle (Acts 20:31).
The book of Ephesians is full of doctrinal and practical truth for living the Christian life. The six chapters are nicely divided into 2 sections. The first three chapters are comprised of essential theology and doctrine for the Christian life. The last 3 chapters cover practical Issues of Christian living.
The letter of Ephesians is strikingly devoid of personal references to individuals, which is a surprising omission in a letter written to a group of people known so well to the Apostle. One possible explanation, which seems most likely to me, is that Ephesians is a letter which was intended to be copied and distributed to several churches in several cities in the region. The truth in Ephesians is intended for all believers, for all time. Ephesians is the letter of Paul to you and me.