Distinct Voices: James, Peter, John, and Jude
The Good Book Club, Fall 2021
From Sept. 1 through Oct. 24, our Good Book Club will read the New Testament letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude. In Sunday-morning readings and Bible studies, we don’t hear much about these letters. As an interpreter of Jesus and his teachings, the apostle Paul tends to steal the show because of the number of his letters preserved in Scripture and because of their theological depth. But Scripture also offers the witness of these “lesser” letter writers, even though they sometimes conflict directly with Paul’s teaching (e.g., the Letter of James) and may make us uncomfortable by blending God’s good news with the patterns of the dominant culture (e.g., the teachings in 1 Peter about gender relationships and slavery). Each day, you’ll get a text or email with a brief summary of the daily reading, along with a link to that day’s verses. To sign up for the Good Book Club, just email Fr. John.
Here’s a complete list of the daily readings with links to the text.
The letter of James is concerned primarily with the way Jesus’ followers live out their faith. James deals less with doctrine and more with “works” (2:14), the day-by-day decisions that spring from loving God and honoring Jesus as Lord. James has challenging words for those who cling to faith as the key to salvation, arguing that faith alone is insufficient: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17). Because of James’ focus on works over faith, Martin Luther questioned whether this letter should even be considered part of Scripture. But it remains, warning Christians that salvation requires countercultural practices of charity, humility, self-control, and patience in suffering.
The two letters of Peter may or may not actually have been written by Peter; many scholars believe his name was used for credibility by a later writer or writers. 1 Peter deals with the tensions sparked by the conversion of people from a Roman way of life. Christianity and other “foreign” religions threatened established Roman social hierarchies, and 1 Peter seeks to allay these concerns – thereby, for modern readers, reinforcing patriarchy and slavery. But 1 Peter presents an inspiring vision of resurrected life and of the Church as God’s new chosen people. 2 Peter also offers hope by reminding readers that Jesus will return, strengthening their resolve as they await the final judgment in a hostile secular world.
The three letters of John reflect the theology and writing style of the Gospel of John, with 1 John even quoting some material from the fourth gospel. The letters address internal divisions, using “antichrists” to refer to people who have left the community of believers and become opponents and, in 3 John, complaining about a particularly divisive individual. These letters call the community to cling to traditional understandings about Jesus – his identity as both human and Son of God, the saving power of his death, and his directive that his followers must love one another, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Finally, the very brief letter of Jude encourages readers to stand firm against false teachers who claim special Spirit-based authority and who assert their freedom to do whatever they want. The letter ties faith in Jesus to morally upright behavior, urging readers not to be deceived by the attractions of immorality, lest they lose their salvation as they pursue worldly freedom.