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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Epistles

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In directing our inquiry first of all towards the relation in which the Epistles stand to the other component parts of the New Testament, we find that both the Old and New Testament have been arranged by divine wisdom after one and the same plan. All the revelations of God to mankind rest upon history. Therefore in the Old, as well as in the New Testament, the history of the deeds of God stands first, as being the basis of Holy Writ; thereupon follow the books which exhibit the doctrines and internal life of the men of God—in the Old Testament the Psalms, the writings of Solomon, etc. and in the New Testament the Epistles of the Apostles; finally, there follow in the Old Testament the writings of the prophets, whose vision extends into the times of the New Testament; and at the conclusion of the New Testament stands its only prophetic book, the Revelation of John.

In this also we must thankfully adore divine wisdom, that the Epistles, which lay down the doctrines of the Christian religion, originate, not from one Apostle alone, but from all the four principal Apostles; so that one and the same divine truth is presented to our eyes in various forms as it were in various mirrors, by which its richness and manifold character are the better displayed.

The Epistles of the New Testament divide themselves into two parts—the Pauline and the so-called Catholic.

The Pauline Epistles are thirteen in number; or fourteen, if we add to them the Epistle to the Hebrews. The very peculiar character of the Pauline Epistles is so striking as to leave not the least doubt of their genuineness. Depth of thought, fire of speech, firmness of character—these manly features, joined withal to the indulgence of feelings of the most devoted love and affection, characterize these Epistles. The amiable personal character of the Apostle may be most beautifully traced in his Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon.

All the Epistles, except the one to the Romans, were called forth by circumstances and particular occasions in the affairs of the communities to which they were addressed. Not all, however, were preserved; it is, at least, evident, from , that a letter to the Corinthians has been lost; from , it has also been concluded—though probably erroneously, since there perhaps the letter to the Ephesians is referred to—that another letter to the community of Laodicea has likewise been lost. Press of business usually compelled Paul—what was, besides, not uncommon in those times—to use his companions as amanuenses. He mentions (), as something peculiar, that he had written this letter with his own hand. Paul himself exhorted the communities mutually to impart to each other his letters to them, and read them aloud in their assemblies (). It is therefore probable that copies of these letters had been early made by the several communities, and deposited in the form of collections.

The letters of Paul may be chronologically arranged into those written before his Roman imprisonment, and those written during and after it; thus beginning with his first letter to the Thessalonians, and concluding with his second to Timothy, embracing an interval of about ten years (A.D. 54-64). In our Bibles, however, the letters are arranged according to the preeminent parts and stations of the communities to whom they were addressed, and conclude with the Epistle to the two bishops and a private letter to Philemon.

The Catholic Epistles.—There is, in the first instance, a diversity of opinion respecting their name: some refer it to their writers (letters from all the other Apostles who had entered the stage of authorship along with Paul); some again, to their contents (letters of no special but general Christian tenor); others, again, to the receivers (letters addressed to no community in particular). This last opinion is most decidedly justified by passages from the ancient writers. The Pauline Epistles had all their particular directions, while the letters of Peter, James, I John, and Jude were circular epistles. The Epistles II and III John were subsequently added, and included on account of their shortness, and to this collection was given the name Catholic Letters, in contradistinction to the Pauline.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Epistles'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/e/epistles.html.

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