What Are the Epistles?

The New Testament Epistles Are Letters to the Early Churches and Believers

Epistles
Paul writing from prison. SuperStock / Getty Images

The Epistles are letters written to the fledgling churches and individual believers in the earliest days of Christianity. The Apostle Paul wrote the first 13 of these letters, each addressing a specific situation or problem. In terms of volume, Paul's writings constitute about one-fourth of the entire New Testament.

Four of Paul's letters, the Prison Epistles, were composed while he was confined in prison.

Three letters, the Pastoral Epistles, were directed toward church leaders, Timothy and Titus, and discuss ministerial matters.

The General Epistles are the seven New Testament letters written by James, Peter, John, and Jude. They are also known as Catholic Epistles. These epistles, with the exception of 2 and 3 John, are addressed to a general audience of believers rather than to a specific church.

The Pauline Epistles

  • Romans - The book of Romans, the Apostle Paul's inspirational masterpiece, explains God's plan of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians - Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to confront and correct the young church in Corinth as it was struggling with matters of disunity, immorality and immaturity.
  • 2 Corinthians - This epistle is a deeply personal letter from Paul to the church in Corinth. With great transparency we are shown Paul's heart.
  • Galatians - The book of Galatians warns that we are not saved by obeying the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ, teaching us how to be free from the burden of the Law.
  • Ephesians (Prison Epistle) - The book of Ephesians gives practical, encouraging advice on living a life that honors God, which is why it's still relevant in a conflict-ridden world.
  • Philippians (Prison Epistle) - Philippians is one of Paul's most personal letters, written to the church in Philippi. In it we learn the secret to Paul's contentment.
  • Colossians (Prison Epistle) - The book of Colossians warns believers against the dangers which threaten them.
  • 1 Thessalonians - Paul's first letter to the church in Thessalonica encourages new believers to stand firm in the face of strong persecution.
  • 2 Thessalonians - Paul's second letter to the church in Thessalonica was written to clear up confusion about end times and the second coming of Christ.
  • 1 Timothy (Pastoral Epistle) - The book of 1 Timothy describes Christ-centered living in the Christian church, both for leaders and members.
  • 2 Timothy (Pastoral Epistle) - Written by Paul just before his death, 2 Timothy is a moving letter, teaching us how we can be confident even during hardship.
  • Titus (Pastoral Epistle) - The book of Titus is about choosing competent church leaders, a topic especially relevant in today's immoral, materialistic society.
  • Philemon (Prison Epistle) - Philemon, one of the shortest books in the Bible, teaches an important lesson on forgiveness as Paul deals with the issue of a runaway slave.

The General Epistles

  • Hebrews - The book of Hebrews builds a case for the superiority of Jesus Christ and Christianity.
  • James - James has a well-deserved reputation for providing practical advice for Christians.
  • 1 Peter - The book of 1 Peter offers hope to believers in times of suffering and persecution.
  • 2 Peter - The book of 2 Peter contains Peter's final words to the church: a warning against false teachers and an encouragement to press on in faith and hope.
  • 1 John - 1 John contains some of the Bible's most beautiful descriptions of God and his unfailing love.
  • 2 John - The book of 2 John delivers a stern warning about ministers who deceive others.
  • 3 John - 3 John catalogs the qualities of four types of Christians we should and should not imitate.
  • Jude - The book of Jude shows Christians the dangers of listening to false teachers, a warning that still applies to many preachers today.