The Epistles

The word Epistle, from the Greek ἐπιστολή, epistolē, simply means letter but the connotation is of an especially literary or eloquent letter. Although The Epistles were written to handle specific problems at a specific church location or with a particular religious leader in mind, the Epistles became much more. They were circulated among Christian groups and became part of what we now call the New Testament. One could suppose that there were other letters that circulated but did not have the staying power of the ones we will consider here.

Just as the history division of the Old Testament shows what it was like for the nation of Israel to try to live in the covenant relationship to God the New Testament Epistles show us how even the New Covenant is hard for people to live out fully. In many respects the Epistles are like the prophets of the Old Testament in that they try to call people back to a right relationship with God.

The New Testament Epistles are divided by various people into different categories. The first and most major division is the Pauline Epistles, these are followed by the General Epistles. The Pauline epistles are those that are traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul and the General Epistles are by various Authors. The Epistle to the Hebrews is sometimes placed in either category.

The General Epistles are variously called the Church or Catholic Epistles. These were circular epistles that were meant to circulate among Christian groups. The authors include the Apostle John, and the half-brothers of Jesus; James and Jude. While much of the Pauline epistles are dedicated to theology, in the main, the General Epistles are more practical as it relates to living the Christian life.

 


Pauline Epistles
Epistle Traditional Author Type Traditional Date
Romans Paul Major 55-56
1 Corinthians Paul Major 54-55
2 Corinthians Paul Major 55-56
Galatians Paul Early 48
Ephesians Paul Prison 60 to 61
Phillipians Paul Prison 60 to 61
Colossians Paul Prison 60 to 61
1 Thessalonians Paul Early 51
2 Thessalonians Paul Early 51
1 Timothy Paul Pastoral/Personal 62
2 Timothy Paul Pastoral/Personal/Prison 64
Titus Paul Pastoral/Personal 63
Philemon Paul Personal/Prison 60 to 61
General Epistles
Epistle Traditional Author Type Traditional Date
Hebrews Often attributed to Paul.
Tertullian attributes it to Barnabus.
Some moderns attribute it to Pricilla.
Most say it is of unknown authorship.
General/Church 60 - 93
James James a Brother of Jesus General/Church 45
I Peter Peter the Apostle General/Church 65
II Peter Peter the Apostle General/Church 67
I John John the Apostle General/Church 85
II John John the Apostle General/Church 85 - 90
III John John the Apostle General/Church 90
Jude Jude a Brother of Jesus General/Church 67-73