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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
A letter; but the term is applied particularly to the inspired letters in the New Testament, written by the apostles on various occasions, to approve, condemn, or direct the conduct of Christian churches. The Holy Spirit has thus provided that we should have the great doctrines of the true gospel not only historically stated by the evangelists, but applied familiarly to the various emergencies of daily life. It is not to be supposed that every note or memorandum written by the hands of the apostles, or by their direction, was divinely inspired, or proper for preservation to distant ages. Compare 1 Corinthians 5:9 Colossians 4:16 . Those only have been preserved by the overruling hand of Providence which were so inspired, and from which useful directions had been drawn, and might in after-ages be drawn, as from a perpetual directory, for faith and practice-always supposing that similar circumstances require similar directions. In reading an Epistle, we ought to consider the occasion of it, the circumstances of those to whom it was addressed, the time when written, the general scope and design of it, as well as the intention of particular arguments and passages. We ought also to observe the style and manner of the writer, his mode of expression, the peculiar effect he designed to produce on those to whom he wrote, to whose temper, manners, general principles, and actual situation, he might address his arguments, etc.
Of the books of the New Testament, twenty-one are epistles; fourteen of them by Paul, one by James, two by Peter, three by John, and one by Jude. Being placed in our canon without reference to their chronological order, they are perused under considerable disadvantages; and it would be well to read them occasionally in connection with what the history in the Acts of the Apostles relates respecting the several churches to which they are addressed. This would also give us nearly their order of time, which should also be considered, together with the situation of the writer; as it may naturally be inferred that such compositions would partake of the writer's recent and present feelings. The epistles and James, by Peter and Jude, are very different in their style and application from those of Paul written to the Gentiles; and those of Paul written to the Gentiles; and those of Paul no doubt contain expressions and allude to facts much more familiar to their original readers than to later ages.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of the topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859.
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'Epistle'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/ats/e/epistle.html. 1859.