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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Epistles

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which occur under the same Hebrew word with books, namely, ספר , are mentioned the more rarely, the farther we go back into antiquity. An epistle is first mentioned, 2 Samuel 11:14 , &c. Afterward, there is more frequent mention of them; and sometimes an epistle is meant, when literally a messenger is spoken of, as in Ezra 4:15-17 . In the east, letters are commonly sent unsealed. In case, however, they are sent to persons of distinction, they are placed in a valuable purse, which is tied, closed over with wax or clay, and then stamped with a signet,

Isaiah 29:11; Job 38:14 . The most ancient epistles begin and end without either salutation or farewell; but under the Persian monarchy the salutation was very prolix. It is given in an abridged form in Ezra 4:7-10; Ezra 5:7 . The Apostles, in their epistles, used the salutation customary among the Greeks; but they omitted the usual farewell at the close, namely, χαιρειν , and adopted a benediction more conformable to the spirit of the Christian religion. St. Paul, when he dictated his letters, wrote the benediction at the close with his own hand, 2 Thessalonians 3:17 . He was more accustomed to dictate his letters than to write them himself.

The name Epistles is given, by way of eminence, to the letters written by the Apostles, or first preachers of Christianity, to particular churches or persons, on particular occasions or subjects. Of these the Apostle Paul wrote fourteen. St. James wrote one general epistle; St. Peter two; St. John three; and St. Jude one.

An epistle has its Hebrew name from its being rolled or folded together. The modern Arabs roll up their letters, and then flatten them to the breadth of an inch, and paste up the end of them, instead of sealing them. The Persians make up their letters in a roll about six inches long, and a bit of paper is fastened round it with gum, and sealed with an impression of ink, which resembles our printers' ink, but is not so thick. Letters, as stated above, were generally sent to persons of distinction in a bag or purse; but to inferiors, or those who were held in contempt, they were sent open, that is, unenclosed. Lady M. W. Montagu says, the bassa of Belgrade's answer to the English ambassador going to Constantinople was brought to him in a purse of scarlet satin. But, in the case of Nehemiah, an insult was designed to be offered to him by Sanballat, in refusing him the mark of respect usually paid to persons of his station, and treating him contemptuously, by sending the letter open, that is, without the customary appendages when presented to persons of respectability. "Futty Sihng," says Mr. Forbes, "sent a chopdar to me at Dhuboy, with a letter of invitation to the wedding, then celebrating at Brodera at a great expense, and of long continuance. The letter, as usual, from oriental princes, was written on silver paper, flowered with gold, with an additional sprinkling of saffron, enclosed under a cover of gold brocade. The letter was accompanied with a bag of crimson and gold keem-caub, filled with sweetscented seeds, as a mark of favour and good omen."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Epistles'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/e/epistles.html. 1831-2.

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