V. The Role of Hebrews & General Epistles

Do the other NT epistles function like Paul’s? Are they in unison with Paul?

The remaining NT epistles, Hebrews and the seven “general” epistles, seem to function in the same manner as Paul’s. Their explicit references to the Jesus traditions are almost nonexistent, with the exception of Peter’s “Transfiguration” experience (2 Pet 1:17-18). This, however, does not mean the traditions were unknown to them or their audiences. Textual evidence supports that they at least presupposed the Jesus traditions in their letters, especially the testimony passed on by the apostles (e.g. Heb 2:3; 13:7; Jam 1:19; 1 Pet 1:12; 2 Pet 1:16-18; 3:2; 1 John 2:24; 3:23; Jude 3, 17). Thus, they too interpreted Jesus for the people in the believing communities spread abroad. For the purposes of theology, then, they function primarily as explanatory or instructive epistles.

The question of whether or not these writers agreed in interpretation of the Gospels’ testimony for their communities should not be a large concern either, considering the noticeable agreement among them and in their teaching. For example, despite their disagreement at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14), Paul still shows that he and Peter (and the other apostles) are “servants of Christ” for the common cause of stewarding the “mysteries of God” (1 Cor 1:10-4:21). Furthermore, Peter readily speaks of Paul as a “beloved brother”, and affirms his writings as Christian Scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16). On an even larger scale, Markus Bockmuehl keenly points out that the mere decision of the “implied interpreter” to bind together into a single canon “writings in the name of Paul and the Jerusalem ‘pillars’ Peter, James, and John” surely highlights there was a common subject among them, namely, the Gospel (Seeing the Word, 132). Therefore, not only do these latter letters function like Paul’s, but they also do so in union with him.

Peter and Paul

[I would like to insert a brief parenthesis here, and mention something my wife and I had the opportunity to observe this past weekend at the Kimbell Art Museum. Recently, this museum has been displaying some of the earliest Christian art in their “Picturing the Bible” exhibit. The exhibit contains paintings, sarcophagi, mosaics, sculptures, medallions, etc. dating from the late third century on into the sixth. One room seemed to be devoted particularly to the apostles Peter and Paul. What was fascinating about each piece in this room was the fact that Jesus, Peter, and Paul were in union with one another. In several cases, Jesus was passing on a scroll to Peter while Paul applauded or raised a hand of affirmation. In others, the two of them were embracing one another. They even had a fourth-century belt-buckle with Paul and Peter embracing on the face of it. What a great addition to the wardrobe! 🙂 What made it so meaningful was that these pieces revealed what the early church believed about the apostolic testimony, namely, it was unified. There was no pitting Jesus against Paul, or Paul against Peter, as the critics have done with their hermeneutic of suspicion in the wake of the Enlightenment. Instead, the Church saw all of the apostles and their writings as applauding and explaining the Son of David.]

This leaves us with one more book to consider, the Revelation.

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4 Responses to “V. The Role of Hebrews & General Epistles”

  1. Billy Marsh Says:

    This is a great post, you say a lot in few words. I admire that trait and I know you wish I had the same ability at care group. I like Bockmuehl’s quote. I’ve got to sit down and read that book soon cover to cover. He is so insightful. It is fascinating how the canon is authored exactly by those you would imagine contribute the most. That is very consistent with the emphasis and main characters in the gospels. As far as the artwork goes, I think you have made a great point by observing the interpretations of the early church. It is so amazing to get to see the artwork which can very easily, as in their writings, function as a window back in time to see how they viewed Christ, the apostles, church, and doctrine. What a privilege! Praise God that there is unity and diversity in the canon. Also, in light of your post on John and his authorship, I was hoping that you would submit who you believe to be the author of Hebrews and James?

  2. Bret Rogers Says:

    Billy, thanks for the encouragment, brother. Hmmm…the author of Hebrews and James…this is a good question. For James I guess we have three options: James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2); James, one of the three pillars of the Jerusalem church (Gal 2); or James, the brother of Jesus (Luke 24:10). One would have to date the letter pretty early for it to be James, the brother of John, since he was killed by the sword towards the beginning of the apostolic mission (Acts 12:2). Hmmm…I don’t know yet. 🙂 For Hebrews, I would say check out Dr. Allen’s NAC commentary. He thinks Luke wrote it. I find this interesting since Dr. Ellis also marks Hebrews as one of the documents used in the “Pauline Mission”, along with Luke-Acts, and Paul’s Epistles (see his The Making of the NT Documents). I don’t know on this one either.

  3. thewordisnotimprisoned Says:

    Bret,
    Where did you get the picture? Also, did you see that neat (this is one of your common words) Chi/Rho in the shape of a cross with the Alpha and Omega hanging from the cross piece?

    js

  4. Bret Rogers Says:

    Hey brother!

    The picture came from a museum web site. Try out this link: http://www.museoarcheo-aquileia.it/aquileia_eng/museo_paleoeng/pop/p_pop2.htm. Also, I did see that cross, and it was very unique. I noticed several like that.

    Love ya man, Bret

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