The Info List - Epistle

An epistle (/ɪˈpɪsəl/; Greek ἐπιστολή, epistolē, "letter") is a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually an elegant and formal didactic letter. The epistle genre of letter-writing was common in ancient Egypt as part of the scribal-school writing curriculum. The letters in the New Testament from Apostles to Christians are usually referred to as epistles. Those traditionally attributed to Paul are known as Pauline epistles
Pauline epistles
and the others as catholic (i.e., "general") epistles.


1 Ancient Argon epistles 2 Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
and Rome 3 Form of Christian epistles

3.1 Opening 3.2 Body

4 New Testament
New Testament

4.1 Pauline Epistles 4.2 Catholic (i.e., "general") epistles

5 Non canonical epistles 6 Lost epistles 7 Epistles of Apostolic Fathers 8 Liturgical use

8.1 Western churches 8.2 Eastern churches

9 Medieval Epistles 10 See also 11 Notes 12 External links

Ancient Argon epistles[edit] The ancient Egyptians wrote epistles, most often for pedagogical reasons. Egyptologist
Edward Wente (1990) speculates that the Fifth-dynasty Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi—in his many letters sent to his viziers—was a pioneer in the epistolary genre.[1] Its existence is firmly attested during the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, and is prominently featured in the educational guide The Book
of Kemit written during the Eleventh Dynasty.[1] A standardized formulae for epistolary compositions existed by the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The epistolary formulae used in the Ramesside Period
Ramesside Period
found its roots in the letters composed during the Amarna Period
Amarna Period
of the Twentieth Dynasty. Wente describes the "Satirical Letter" found on the Papyrus Anastasi I of the Nineteenth Dynasty as an epistle which was commonly copied as a writing exercise by Egyptian schoolchildren on ceramic ostraca (over eighty examples of which have been found so far by archaeologists). Epistle
letters were also written to the dead, and, by the Ramesside Period, to the gods; the latter became even more widespread during the eras of Persian and Greek domination.[1] Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
and Rome[edit]

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (January 2010)

Epistles in prose and verse were a major genre of literature among the Greeks and particularly the Romans. The letters of Cicero
are one of the most important sources on the history of the late Roman Republic and preserve features of colloquial Latin
not always in evidence in his speeches and treatises. The letters of Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger
likewise are studied as both examples of Latin
prose with self-conscious literary qualities and sources for historical information. Ovid produced three collections of verse epistles, composed in elegiac couplets: the Heroides, letters written in the person of legendary women to their absent lovers; and the Tristia
and Ex Ponto, written in first person during the poet's exile. The epistles of Seneca, with their moral or philosophical ruminations, influenced later patristic writers. Form of Christian epistles[edit] Epistles are written in strict accordance to formalized, Hellenistic tradition, especially the Pauline epistles. This reflects the amount of Hellenistic influence upon the epistle writers. Any deviancy is not the result of accident but indicates an unusual motive of the writer. Opening[edit] In contrast to modern letters, epistles usually named the author at the very beginning, followed by the recipient (for example, see Philippians
1:1). The scribe (or more correctly, the amanuensis) who wrote down the letter may be named at the end of the episte (e.g., Romans 16:22). In the absence of a postal system, the courier may also be named (e.g. Ephesians
6:21–22). After the names of the author and recipient, Pauline epistles
Pauline epistles
often open with the greeting, "Grace and peace to you." "Grace" was a common Hellenistic greeting, while "peace" (shalom) was the common Jewish greeting; this reflected Paul's dual identity in Jewish faith and Hellenistic culture. There may also be a word of thanks to the audience. In secular letters, a prayer or wish for health followed. Body[edit] The body begins with a brief statement introducing the main topic of the entire body. New Testament
New Testament
epistles[edit] The epistles of the New Testament
New Testament
canon are usually divided as follows: Pauline Epistles[edit] Main article: Pauline Epistles See also: Pastoral epistles

to the Romans First Epistle
to the Corinthians Second Epistle
to the Corinthians Epistle
to the Galatians Epistle
to the Ephesians Epistle
to the Philippians Epistle
to the Colossians First Epistle
to the Thessalonians Second Epistle
to the Thessalonians First Epistle
to Timothy Second Epistle
to Timothy Epistle
to Titus Epistle
to Philemon

Catholic (i.e., "general") epistles[edit] Main article: General epistles

Letter to the Hebrews Letter of James First Epistle
of Peter Second Epistle
of Peter First Epistle
of John Second Epistle
of John Third Epistle
of John Epistle
of Jude

Non canonical epistles[edit]

to Seneca the Younger Third Epistle to the Corinthians
Third Epistle to the Corinthians
(canonical for a time in the Armenian Orthodox) Epistle to the Laodiceans
Epistle to the Laodiceans
(found in Codex Fuldensis) Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul
Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul
(addressed to Paul, not written by him) Letter of Peter to Philip

Lost epistles[edit]

The first Epistle
to Corinth[2] referenced at 1 Corinthians 5:9 The third Epistle
to Corinth called Severe Letter referenced at 2 Corinthians 2:4 and 2 Corinthians 7:8–9 The Corinthian letter to Paul referenced at 1 Corinthians 7:1 The Earlier Epistle
to the Ephesians
referenced at Ephesians
3:3–4 The Epistle to the Laodiceans
Epistle to the Laodiceans
referenced at Colossians 4:16 The Earlier Epistle
of Jude[3] referenced at Jude 1:3 The Earlier Epistle
of John[4] referenced at 3 John 1:9

Epistles of Apostolic Fathers[edit] These are letters written by some very early Christian leaders, in the 1st or 2nd century, which are not part of the New Testament. They are generally considered to form part of the basis of Christian tradition. The ennobling word "epistle" is used partly because these were all written in Greek, in a time period close to when the epistles of the New Testament
New Testament
were written, and thus "epistle" lends additional weight of authority.

of the Romans to the Corinthians (1 Clement)[2] Epistle
of Ignatius to the Ephesians
[3] Epistle
of Ignatius to the Magnesians [4] Epistle
of Ignatius to the Trallians[5] Epistle
of Ignatius to the Romans [6] Epistle
of Ignatius to the Philadelphians [7] Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans
Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans
[8] Epistle
of Ignatius to Polycarp [9] Epistle
of Polycarp to the Philippians[10] Epistle of Barnabas
Epistle of Barnabas
[11] Epistle
to Diognetus

Liturgical use[edit]

Opening of the Epistle
to the Galatians, illuminated manuscript for reading during Christian liturgy.

In the context of a liturgy, epistle may refer more specifically to a particular passage from a New Testament
New Testament
epistle (the Pauline epistles and the General epistles)—sometimes also from the Book of Acts
Book of Acts
or the Revelation of John, but not the Four Gospels—that is scheduled to be read on a certain day or at a certain occasion. Western churches[edit] In the Roman Catholic Mass and Anglican Eucharist, epistles are read between the Collect
and the Gospel
reading. The corresponding Gregorian chants have a special tone (tonus epistolae). When the epistle is sung or chanted at Solemn Mass
Solemn Mass
it is done so by the subdeacon. Epistles are also read by an Elder or Bishop
in the Lutheran Divine Service, between the gradual and the Gospel. Eastern churches[edit]

The Kniga Apostol (1632), lectionary in Church Slavonic
Church Slavonic
for use in the Divine Liturgy
of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the Divine Liturgy
of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
and the Byzantine Rite Catholics the Epistle
reading is called the Apostol (the same name is given to the lectionary from which it is read). The Apostol includes the Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
as well as the Epistles, but never the Apocalypse
(Revelation of John). Unlike the Latin
Rite there are never readings from the Old Testament.[5] There are Epistle
lessons for every day of the year, except for weekdays during Great Lent, when the Divine Liturgy
is not celebrated. These daily Epistle
readings are a part of the Paschal cycle, being ultimately dependent upon the date of Pascha (Easter). There are also lessons appointed for the feast days of numerous saints and commemorations. There may be one, two, or three readings from the Apostol during a single Liturgy. The Epistle is read between the Prokeimenon and the Alleluia. The Epistle
reading is always linked to a reading from the Gospel, though some services, such as Matins, will have a Gospel
lesson, but no Epistle. A number of services besides the Divine Liturgy
will have an Epistle
and Gospel reading. Such services often include a Prokeimenon and Alleluia
as well. The Epistle
is chanted by the reader, though at a Hierarchical Liturgy
(a Divine Liturgy
celebrated by a bishop), it is read by a deacon. The one who chants the Epistle
also reads the verses of the Prokeimenon. Medieval Epistles[edit] During the Middle Ages, the art of letter writing was taught in numerous manuals, and the ars dictaminis became an important genre of instructional discourse. The necessity for letter writing was in large part due to the general deterioration of civil life and the decay of the Roman road system in the early Middle Ages, factors that obliged literate people with business to transact to send letters instead of travel themselves.[6] A vast number of letters and letter-writing manuals were written in the period's lingua franca, Latin.[7] See also[edit]

Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
(genre) Agrapha Authorship of the Bible Epistle
(Quaker) Epistolography Epistolary novel, a novel written as a series of letters or similar writings Epistolary poem New Testament
New Testament
apocrypha Pseudepigraphy Textual criticism Shikshapatri


^ a b c Edward F. Wente (1990). Letters from Ancient Egypt: Society of Biblical Literature Writing from the Ancient World Series Volume 1. Translated by Edmund S. Meltzer. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. ISBN 978-1555404734.  ^ Also called "A Prior Epistle
of Paul to the Corinthians""Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2006-06-29.  or "Paul’s previous Corinthian letter".[1], possibly Third Epistle
to the Corinthians ^ Also called 2 Jude. ^ Also called "The Epistle
of John to the Church Ruled by Diotrephes" Archived 2006-06-23 at the Wayback Machine. ^  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Apostle (in Liturgy)". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.  ^ Richardson, Malcolm (2007). "The Art dictaminis, the Formulary, and Medieval Epistolary Practice". In Poster, Carol; Mitchell, Linda C. Letter-Writing Manuals and Instruction from Antiquity to the Present: Historical and Bibliographic Studies. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. pp. 52–66. ISBN 978-1570036514.  ^ Poster, Carol; Utz, Richard (2007). "Appendix B: A Bibliography of Medieval Latin
Dictamen". In Poster, Carol; Mitchell, Linda C. Letter-Writing Manuals and Instruction from Antiquity to the Present: Historical and Bibliographic Studies. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. pp. 285–300. ISBN 978-1570036514. 

External links[edit]

Look up epistle in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Epistle". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.  Catholic Encyclopedia: Epistles David Trobisch, "How to read an ancient letter collection", 1999: the possibility of a narrative critical study of the Letters of Paul

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