The Non-Pauline Epistles
It is a mystery who authored this great book, humanly speaking. It is entirely possible that it is the work of Paul. But some other candidates are Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Aquila, and even Clement of Rome.
Clearly the theme of Hebrews is the surpassing greatness of Christ, his superiority, and thus that of Christianity to the Old Testament system. The writer declares that Christ is superior in at least five ways (as the Son): He is superior 1) to the Old Testament prophets, 2) to angels, 3) to Moses, 4) to Joshua, and 5) to Aaron’s priest hood. Chapter one strongly declares the deity of Christ, but chapter eleven has been called “Faith’s Hall of Fame”. Hebrews 11:1 offers a surprisingly succinct description of faith, and what follows is a list and description of many of God’s saints, and how they lived out faith.
Here is an abbreviated outline of Hebrews:
I. The superiority of Christ to Old Covenant Leaders (1:1-7:28)
II. The superior sacrificial work of Christ as High Priest (chapters 8-10)
III. Final plea for persevering faith (chapters 11-12)
There were at least four prominent “James” in the New Testament. Most scholars believe that James, the half brother of Jesus, is the author.
James has been the recipient of a great deal of controversy. The great Martin Luther described it as theological “straw”. The problem is that James wanted to exhort Christians to have authentic faith, which is marked by works. It is easy to see how his emphasis was the “opposite side of the coin” to Paul’s emphasis on salvation by faith APART FROM WORKS. But the reality is this: James is a deep book. Chapter one deals with the growth that can come through endurance in trials; the need to ask God for wisdom; the true source of our temptations. All of that in just one chapter! Chapter 3 has the most complete and involved teaching regarding our speech (James uses the word “tongue”). Chapter 4 has insights about spiritual warfare.
Here is an outline for James:
I. Stand with confidence (chapter one)
II. Serve with compassion (chapter two)
III. Speak with care (chapter three)
IV. Submit with contrition (chapter four)
V. Share with concern (chapter five)
Peter was the apostle who spectacularly failed Jesus on the night of his betrayal, but who was restored by the Master Himself; and on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38), it was Peter who stood up and preached, and the New Testament was birthed. Peter’s first letter is addressed to those who were temporary residents—and probably refers to Jewish Christians, who were forced to scatter throughout the Roman provinces. Peter primarily addresses those who are suffering for Christ. Some form of the word “suffer” is used 16 times in this short book. Peter focuses on how Christ did not revile those who persecuted him (2:18-25), but responded by submitting Himself to “Him who judges justly”. Chapter three has deep insights on the marriage relationship. And chapter five (which correlates with James 4) speaks of the necessity of humility in the face of spiritual warfare.
Here is an outline of I Peter:
I. The salvation of believers (1:1-12)
II. The sanctification of believers (1:13-2:12)
III. The submission of believers (2:13-3:12)
IV. The suffering of believers (3:13-5:14)
In chapter one, Peter gives us a tremendous outline for our progressive maturity in Christ (1:3-9) but this teaching and all that follows seems to be placed in the context of warning, and a call to be on guard. There is a note of alarm, as Peter warns of false teachers coming in the last days. Chapter two really sounds this theme, and chapter three appears to correct what some false teachers communicated in reference to the Second Coming of Christ.
Here is an outline for II Peter:
I. Greetings (1:1-2)
II. The development of Christian character (1:3-21)
III. The denouncement of false teachers (2:1-22)
IV. The design and confidence for the future (3:1-18)
John the Apostle wrote the Gospel that bears his name, and especially in his first letter, he enlarges in summary form, his conclusions about Jesus Christ, and his personal involvement as a witness to his glory: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard…seen with our own eyes…which we have looked at and our hands have touched….” Compare that with John 1:14— “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory….” John is also fighting the unseen enemy of Gnosticism. Speaking of Christ’s actual life on this earth. He later speaks of the spirit of Antichrist (2:18-27 and references in later verses). But he also desires to bring assurance to believers, to help them know that they are “saved” (see 5:11-13). Perhaps the theme of the book is fellowship with God, the nature of which he describes as light, love and life. And the loving behavior which Christians should exhibit in relationships with one another is a major theme in I John.
Here is an outline for I John:
I. Introduction and purpose of the letter (1:1-4)
II. Conditions vital for fellowship (1:5-2:2)
III. Conduct consistent with fellowship (2:3-27)
IV. Characteristics of fellowship (2:28-5:3)
V. Consequences of fellowship (5:4-21)
The letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children” (1:1, 4-5), and it is a clear reference to the church at large. As in his first letter, John appears to be desire to warn against those who say that Christ did NOT come in the flesh (Gnosticism).
Here is an outline of II John:
I. Prologue and greeting (1:1-3)
II. Commendation for walking in the truth (1:4)
III. Commandment to continue to love one another (1:5-6)
IV. Cautions and instructions against false teachers (1:7-11)
V. Concluding remarks and final greetings (1:12-13)
If II John was addressed to the Universal Church at large, III John appears to be addressed to a specific man, named Gaius, who John commends for his character and consistent demonstration of love. This stands in stark contrast to the description of another man, Diotrephes, who actually tried to usurp authority, and who drove others out of the church. Demetrius is also commended.
Here is an outline for III John:
I. Greetings (1:1)
II. Commendation of Gaius (1:2-8)
III. Condemnation of Diotrephes (1:9-11)
IV. Commendation of Demetrius (12)
V. Concluding remarks (1:13-14)
Jude (literally in the Greek language “Judas”) clearly distinguishes himself from the villain Judas. He is a full brother of James, and even though he is (we presume) also a half-brother to Jesus, he declares himself as a “bond-servant of Christ”. Jude intended to write about our common salvation, but he felt compelled to warn against heresy that was infiltrating the church. He wanted the saints to “contend for the faith”. The enemy here, was once again Gnosticism, but this branch of the Gnostics held that since everything material was evil, and everything spiritual was good, they could cultivate their spiritual lives, but allowed their flesh to do anything it desired, since it would not last anyway. Among Christians, the danger was they would lead believers into sin; they would pervert grace into licentiousness. Many Old Testament references and allusions are recorded in Jude’s examples.
Here is a simple outline for Jude:
I. Greetings and purpose (1:1-4)
II. Description and exposure of false teachers (1:5-16)
III. Defense and exhortation to believers (1:17-23)
IV. Benediction (1:24-25)