Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: gnosticism

General Epistles

Most of these epistles are more like essays addressed to a wider audience than letters addressed to a particular individual or congregation.

Hebrews
My Bible says the epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. I don’t know who inserted that, or when, but it has never been the consensus of believers. The writer never identifies himself in the essay and that should be sufficient for us to conclude it is not important to know who he was. There appear to be equally valid arguments in favour of Paul, Apollos or Silas, but it seems pointless to enter into that argument.
The essay is directed towards Jewish Christians who were under intense pressure to observe all points of the Jewish law. It is useful to us today as an antidote to those who argue that certain aspects of the Old Testament Law are still valid. It can be considered a lengthy commentary on Psalm 110, and must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

James
The writer’s name was Jacob; James is the English form of the Greek form of that name. The writer feels no need to offer further identification, thus we must conclude that he was the most prominent James in the church at that time: James the brother of our Lord. Since he met a martyr’s death in AD 62 the letter probably dates from shortly before that.
Some writers consider James the Less, the son of Alpheus, to be the brother of our Lord. That is problematic, as the brethren of our Lord were evidently not His supporters during His ministry, but became so after His resurrection. The attempt to make the sons of Alpheus to be the brethren of Jesus is based more on the Roman Catholic dogma that Mary was a perpetual virgin than upon any Scriptural evidence.
James’ message is valid for all times and places, but may have been inspired by the growing resentment of the poor and landless in Judea and Galilee towards wealthy landowners. This resentment boiled over a few years later in the revolt of 66 AD led by the Zealots. He admonishes the readers to have a living faith, to be patient in trials, to be free of jealousy and hypocrisy and warns against the dangers of an unbridled tongue. He has admonitions for the rich but gives no encouragement to those with Zealot tendencies.

1 Peter
This letter was dictated by Peter to Sylvanus, who is referred to in Acts as Silas, a shortened form of the name. It is quite possible that he was also the scribe for 1 and 2 Thessalonians. All three letters are reputed to be written in a better Greek style than most other epistles.
Babylon is probably a veiled reference to Rome and it seems likely that this epistle was written at the time of Nero’s persecution of the Christians at Rome. Nero was still held in high esteem by the Christians in Asia Minor to whom the epistle is addressed, but Peter is warning that the persecution might soon come their way and admonishing them to steadfastness in the faith.

2 Peter
According to those who know Greek, this epistle is written in a different style than the first, indicating a different scribe. It is a warning against false prophets who claimed spiritual insights unknown to ordinary Christians. This may refer to early manifestations of what developed into the Gnosticism of the 2nd Century. There are obvious parallels with the epistle of Jude; it is probable that Peter saw fit to include them, or asked his scribe to do so. The epistle was probably written not long before Peter’s martyrdom.

1 John
The author of this epistle does not give his name, but there can be no doubt but that it was the apostle John, probably written towards the end of his life. Some had left the faith, either to return to legalistic Judaism or to follow false prophets. He gives two tests of genuine faith: love of the brethren and a correct belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

2 John
Written by the Apostle John, probably from Ephesus. There are two possible ways of understanding the elect lady to whom this short letter is addressed. She is either an eminent Christian lady in another city, or a Christian congregation in another city. In either case the counsel is the same: Do not receive in your home, or allow to preach in your home, anyone who teaches an incorrect view of who Jesus is.

3 John
Christians met in homes in the beginning and there might be several house churches in a large city. This short letter appears to address a situation where the leader of one of house church, Diotrephes, refuses to receive anyone sent by John. Thus John is writing to Gaius, the leader of another house church to ask him to receive Demetrius, probably a travelling evangelist.

Jude
This Jude is the younger brother of James and of our Lord. Neither James nor Jude attempt to trade on their family relationship, Jude here calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. He is writing to counter those teachers who would condone immorality in the church. The references to Michael the archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and to the prophecy of Enoch may be a corrective to false teachers who used such passages to defend their teaching.The last two verses are beautiful and reassuring words of praise.

It is no secret

I confess that I avoid books that promise to reveal a “secret” about Christian life.  I’m afraid of them — afraid of being deceived — because I don’t read anything in the Bible that speaks of a “secret” to Christian life that is only revealed to an inner circle with special enlightenment.  In New Testament times this was called gnosticism and those who followed this path wandered off in many different paths of enlightenment that really led to darkness and confusion.

“And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” (Isaiah 35:8).

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25).

Someone once said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting: it has been found difficult and therefore not tried.  Solomon wrote: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).  In other words we have a tendency to detour from the simplicity of the way that God has planned for us and invent a “secret” way that promises enlightenment and happiness, but avoids the cross.

The cross is central to Christian life.  We must flee evil, especially the evil within us, and the cross is the only way to do that.  “And he [Jesus] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  This is not a secret, but it means abandoning pride, carnal ambitions, self-righteousness and honour-seeking.  But the result is love, joy, peace and all the other good things promised to those who believe, obey and trust God.

“For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11).

It is no secret what God can do.
What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.

© Stuart Hamblin, 1951

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