The Apostle John told the brethren; “I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.”  I John 2:21.   James assumed the “twelve tribes scattered among the nations” had faith in the theologies, ethics and practices taught by Jesus Christ and His Spirit filled apostles; therefore, he wrote:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  Jas. 1:2, 3.  Peter believed the recipients of his letters were well grounded in the dynamic spiritual growth program he outlined in II Pet. 1:3-9.  He wrote, “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you have.”  II Pet. 1:12.

Before we attempt to determine what the content of these letters mean for us, we will need to know:  “Why each of these apostles and elders wrote their divinely inspired documents?”  We ask: “What purpose did their message serve the recipients?”  An exegetical approach for reading letters has been applied to the development of each lesson; therefore, we let the authors tell us why they wrote what they said to the recipients.

Peter gave a straight forward answer for the purpose of his letters:  “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.” II Pet. 3:1.  He made this declaration after warning God’s elect about greedy false teachers invading the fellowship of God’s elect (II Pet. 2:1-3).  This had already happened to the recipients of Jude’s letter.  Peter added a reminder about atheistic skeptics who would come in the last days saying, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?”  II Pet. 3:4.

John’s intent was to build confidence in the “dear children” he addressed in his first letter (I John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14).  The antichrist had claimed fellowship with the brethren; however, at the time John wrote, they had gone out leaving “the beloved” wondering if they had the full truth.  Still, they were trying to lead some members astray with their “seemed like” philosophy of Docetism (I John 2:18, 19, 26).  It seems the church had lost some of their previous boldness about what they knew.  John also made a clear declaration about his purpose:  “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  I John 5:13.

James did not make a “one sentence” statement about why he wrote his letter.  In a case like this, we do our historical analysis based on the topics the writer introduced.  Since James introduced several, we may conclude his purpose was to present divine instructions to solve problems he knew the recipients had encountered.

Christians can be sure we will have the same spiritual growth challenges God’s people had in the first century.  The way God spoke to them, through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit inspired writers, is how He speaks to His children today (II Pet. 1:20, 21).  He does not speak to us in a different way; therefore, we first hear the word of God in the historical context of the recipients of these letters.  This is the meaning of exegesis – “to search.”  It is in our search of the original historical and literary context of the writer and recipients we learn the meaning of divine theology, ethic and practice.  Hermeneutics is about applying principles of interpretation to Bible literature for our present learning.  Exegesis is about what the scriptures meant.  Hermeneutics relates to what they mean for us today.

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