Preaching the Hard Letters of the New Testament

October 05, 2015

by Brandon Crowe

Preaching is never easy, but some portions of Scripture seem to be easier to explain than others. One of the difficult portions is the collection known as the General (or Catholic) Epistles (James through Jude). Why did James have to say we are justified by works, and not by faith alone? Who are the spirits in prison in 1 Peter, and what practical application does it have? Why would 2 Peter say we participate in the divine nature? How can it be in 1 John that those who are born of God do not sin? You can probably think of other perplexing passages.

One of the difficulties of this and some other portions of Scripture is how they square with theological ballasts such as justification by grace through faith. Can we really say with confidence that all these letters share a common perspective on salvation? Or are there some inconsistencies, however minor, that should caution us from using certain texts to support our Protestant theological emphases?

I deny that we find irreconcilable diversity on such issues. One of the most helpful frameworks that provides clarity is the indicative-imperative structure found throughout Scripture. The indicative speaks of God’s work of salvation through Christ to save us. Think here of justification. The imperative logically follows the indicative and entails a real call to discipleship, but recognizes that we do not save ourselves by our works. Think here of sanctification…

…continue reading from Lifeway.


For more on the General Epistles, see Dr. Crowe’s newly released The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption: Wisdom from James, Peter, John, and Jude.

Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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Not One Jot or Tittle

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by Brandon Crowe