James – Jude are letters in the New Testament. They are referred to as the “General Letters,” because they were written to a broad audience rather than a particular church or believer.
One of their notable features is their diversity. This limited amount of material contains genres like sermon, letter, wisdom, and prophecy. Another feature that stands out is their practicality. They speak to believers in a broad variety of situations.
These short and powerful letters are an important part of the New Testament, but they have their difficulties. It took some time for the church to acknowledge their inspiration and status as Scripture. And their authorship is often questioned by scholars today.
But this small section near the end of the New Testament should not be overlooked. Although they take up much less space, they are just as theologically and practically valuable as Paul’s letters.
This book demonstrates Jesus’ superiority to the old covenant. He is our high priest who offered Himself as an effective sacrifice for our sins. He is our example of faithful obedience because He stood firm in the face of suffering. He is the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament points toward.
The authorship and exact audience of Hebrews is uncertain. It was obviously written to a group of Jewish Christians, but we cannot discern anything more about the recipients. Therefore, it is being included with the General Letters.
James is the wisdom literature of the New Testament. It contains short, memorable teachings about many topics. Its basic challenge is to put our faith into practice. Our faith should express itself through our daily lifestyle. It also determines how we regard and treat other believers.
1 Peter was written to Christians undergoing persecution. It assures us that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. It encourages us to be holy and submit to authority even in the midst of suffering. And it exhorts us to live decent and respectable lives.
2 Peter was written to Christians who were being deceived. It warns us that some will scoff at Jesus’ second coming. They will certainly be punished. But it also reminds us that His coming is certain, and we must live in expectancy.
1 John was written to churches that were experiencing fallout with some of their members. It assures us of our eternal life, exhorts us not to sin, commands us to love one another, and warns us against false teachers. And it puts forth several tests for the authenticity of our faith.
2 John was written to “the chosen lady and her children” (1), most likely a code name for a church. It asks us to love one another in obedience to God’s commands. It also warns us not to welcome or support false teachers.
3 John was written to Gaius. It commends him for his hospitality to the saints. But it condemns Diotrephes for his misconduct and lack of hospitality. It also commends Demetrius as one who does what is good.
This letter seems to be personal because it is addressed to a specific individual. But it is still regarded as a General Letter because it is most likely an appendix to 1 John.
Jude is an appeal to “contend for the faith” (3). It scathingly denounces false teachers and urges us to resist their influence. It has much in common with 2 Peter. This means that either one relied on the other, or both relied on a common source.
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