The word ĎEpistleí means a communication or a letter written by the Apostles to Churches, individuals or Christians at large. Most of these letters were read out aloud to believers in the early Church and addressed specific issues affecting their faith. Some of the Epistles were also used as circulars and were distributed between Churches. The teachings in the Epistles enable a person transformed by the Gospel of Christ to walk in faith, provide assurance of salvation, warn against false doctrines, give clear guidelines for a believerís conduct and ring out alarm bells on falling from their belief.
A huge chunk of the New Testament writings, totaling 21 books is made up of Epistles or letters. The Apostle Paul features as the writer of 13 of these letters which are often termed as Pauline Epistles while the other 8, referred to as General Epistles were penned by different authors.
Imprisoned for his faith and ministry, the Apostle Paul continued to take an active part in building the Churches he had established through his tireless letter writing. Paulís letters number much more than the 13 Epistles recorded in the Bible and were written to individuals and Churches whom he nurtured spiritually. Paul, known to have an eye ailment, dictated his letters and sealed them off with a final salutation in his own hand.
Hebrews is an Epistle often mistaken to be Paulís writing. However the style and content of this letter differs greatly from the ones penned by Paul and so the author of Hebrews remains a mystery. The other Epistle writers include, Peter, John, James and Jude who addressed their letters to Christian believers.
Hints to get the most out of Epistle Reading
Epistles were written to either a group of believers or as personal notes to individuals. It is important to know the audience to which a particular letter was addressed before reading through. It is also essential to bear in mind that Epistles were written to address concerns affecting believers in the early Church and to be aware of these issues. Just as in the case of any letter, the whole essence of an Epistle can be grasped only when the passage is read at one stretch and not chapter wise as in the case of other Bible books.