Lesson 11: James and First and Second Peter

New Testament Survey


The letter of James has been called "the epistle of common sense." It has also been referred to as "the book of Proverbs of the New Testament." It is a practical letter which was written in the first century by a Christian named James. There were two apostles named James. One was James, brother of John, the first of the apostles to be killed for his faith (Acts 12:1, 2). The other was James, the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:2, 3). A third James, though not one of the twelve apostles, was James, the son of Mary and Joseph, the half brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). Very few dispute that this James is the human author of the letter which bears his name.

James and his brothers did not believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry (John 7:5). Jesus appeared to James after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). From this time on we find the brothers of Jesus, along with their mother, Mary, in the company of the apostles (Acts 1:14).

James became an elder in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:2, 6,13-21; 21:18; Galatians 1:19). He was a married man (1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:2). Historians say he was known as "the just." After serving Christ faithfully for many years, James was taken by the high priest, the scribes, and the Pharisees to the top of the temple. They commanded him to deny Jesus. Instead, he cried out, "Jesus is the Son of God and the Judge of the world." They threw him down. Then they stoned him. Seeing he was still alive, he was beaten with a club until he died. The book of James was written about A.D. 60 near the close of James' life.

Chapter one speaks of the blessing of trials, God as the true source of wisdom, the worthlessness of riches, the origin of temptation, God as the Giver of every good gift, the importance of being doers of God's Word, the need to control one's tongue, and a definition of pure religion.

Chapter two condemns showing respect of persons based on wealth. The relation of faith and works is also discussed. If one's faith does not express itself in obedience, it is a dead faith (James 2:26).

Chapter three is a discussion of sins of the tongue. The wisdom which is from above is contrasted with the wisdom which is of the earth. Chapter four speaks of the dangers of a covetous spirit and a love for this world. Christians are admonished to humble themselves in the sight of the Lord and not to speak evil of one another. We ought to take God into all our plans because life on earth is brief and uncertain.

Chapter five is directed toward the rich who have lived in luxury and unfairly dealt with their workers. Christians are encouraged to be patient and wait for the coming of the Lord. The prophets of old are held up as examples of patience. Christians are also warned not to swear. They are urged to sing praises, pray to God and confess their sins one to another. Elijah is given as an example of earnest, effective prayer. Those who restore the erring have saved a soul from death.

I and II Peter

The letters of First and Second Peter were written by the Apostle Peter. Peter's actual name was Simon. Jesus gave him the name "Cephas" which is Aramaic for "small stone" (John 1:40-42). The word "Peter" comes from the Greek word "petros" which means "small stone." Peter was the son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17) and brother of Andrew who brought him to Jesus (Matthew 4:18-20). Peter and Andrew were fisherman and were partners of James and John (Luke 5:10). Peter's home was Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44), but he later lived in Capernaum where he and Andrew had a house (Mark 1:21, 29).

Peter was a married man (Matthew 8:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 9:5). Therefore, he could not have been a pope as the Roman Catholic Church claims. Peter was bold and courageous by nature (John 13:36-38). However, he was weak and cowardly at times (Galatians 2:11-16). He defended Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, but denied Him three times the same night (John 18:10; 15-27). He repented, and was given the opportunity to confess Christ three times (John 21:15-17). Peter was given the privilege to preach the Gospel first to both the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 2:10). He thus used the keys of the kingdom to open the doors of the kingdom (Matthew 16:18, 19). Jesus foretold the manner of Peter's death (John 21:18).

First and Second Peter were both written to Christians in Asia Minor where Paul had earlier evangelized. The time of writing was between A.D. 64 and A.D. 67. The Roman emperor, Nero, was persecuting the church. Peter refers to this time of persecution as a fiery trial (1 Peter 4:12). The key word in First Peter is "suffering." In chapter one, Peter reminds Christians of their hope in Heaven. Though they are being tested by fire, their faith will be made stronger by it.

In chapters two and three he reminds Christians that they must live a holy life as the elect of God.

In chapter four, he tells them they must glorify God in their suffering. Peter reminds Christians they no longer live according to the flesh. He tells them how they should behave in this time of persecution. They should not be surprised at the trials they are undergoing. Even Christ Himself suffered.

In chapter five, elders are urged to be good shepherds of the flock. Younger Christians are told to submit to the older. All must humble themselves under God's hand. In due time He will raise them up.

In Second Peter, chapter one, Peter encourages Christians to add the Christian graces to their lives. He mentions that he must soon die as Jesus had foretold. He reminds the Christians that they did not believe fables, but the truth. He himself had been an eyewitness of Christ and was present on the Mount of Transfiguration where he heard God, the Father, acknowledge Jesus as His beloved Son.

In chapter two, Peter warned of false teachers who were entering the church. He described them as deniers of the Lord, blasphemers, liars, and covetous. He assured the Christians the false prophets will be punished just as God had punished other evildoers in the past.

In chapter three, Peter answered some who were denying that Jesus would return. He pointed out that just as God destroyed the earth before in the flood, He would destroy it a second time by fire. Therefore, Christians should be diligent to be ready.

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    Fill in the blanks:
  1. What has the book of James been called?   
  2. What else has James been called?   
  3. Which one of the men named James in the New Testament wrote the book of James?   
  4. What was James, the brother of Jesus, called?   
  5. If one's faith does not express itself in obedience, what kind of faith is it?   
  6. Which chapter in James discusses sins of the tongue?   
  7. Who are held up as examples of patience?
  8. Who is given as an example of earnest, effective prayer?   
  9. If one restores the erring, what does he save?   
  10. What was the name Jesus gave to Simon?   
  11. What does it mean?   
  12. Who was Peter's brother?   
  13. Why could not Peter have been a pope?   
  14. When did Peter use the keys of the kingdom?   
  15. What is the key word in First Peter?   
  16. Who foretold the death of Peter?   
  17. Where had Peter heard the Father acknowledge Jesus as His beloved Son?   
  18. How did Peter describe the false prophets?   
  19. How did God destroy the earth in the days of Noah?   
  20. How will he destroy it when Jesus comes again?   
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