Catholic epistles

Last updated

The catholic epistles (also called the general epistles [1] ) are seven epistles of the New Testament. Listed in order of their appearance in the New Testament, the catholic epistles are:


Traditional epistle nameAuthor according to the text (NIV)Traditional attribution [2] Modern consensus [2] Addressee(s) according to the text (NIV)
Epistle of James "James, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ" James, brother of Jesus An unknown James"To the twelve tribes of the Diaspora" [3]
First Epistle of Peter "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" Simon Peter Maybe Simon Peter "To God's elect, exiles" in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia [4]
Second Epistle of Peter "Sim(e)on Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ" Simon Peter Not Simon Peter To all Christians [5]
First Epistle of John anonymous John, son of Zebedee UnknownTo fellow Christians [6]
Second Epistle of John anonymous John, son of Zebedee Unknown"To the lady chosen by God and to her children" [7]
Third Epistle of John anonymous John, son of Zebedee Unknown"To my dear friend Gaius" [8]
Epistle of Jude "Jude" (or "Judas"), "a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James" Jude, brother of Jesus An unknown JudeTo all Christians [9]


The word catholic in the term catholic epistles has been a convention dating from the 4th century. At the time, that word simply meant "general", and was not specifically tied to any denomination, for example, what would later become known as the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, to avoid the impression these letters are only recognised in Catholicism, alternative terms such as "general epistles" or "general missionary epistles" are used. In the historical context, the word catholic probably signified that the letters were addressed to the general church, and not to specific, separate congregations or persons, as with the Pauline epistles. However, 2 John and 3 John appear to contradict this view, [1] because their addresses are respectively to the "elect lady", speculated by many to be the church itself, and to "Gaius", about whom there has been much speculation but little in the way of conclusive proof as to his identity.[ citation needed ] Some historians therefore think that the label catholic was originally applied to just 1 John, and expanded to all other non-Pauline epistles later on. [1]

Some Protestants have termed these "Lesser Epistles". [10]


Three of the seven letters are anonymous. These three have traditionally been attributed to John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Consequently, these letters have been labelled the Johannine epistles, despite the fact that none of the epistles mentions any author. Most modern scholars believe the author is not John the Apostle, but there is no scholarly consensus for any particular historical figure. (See Authorship of the Johannine works.)

Two of the letters claim to have been written by Simon Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Therefore, they have traditionally been called the Petrine epistles. However, most modern scholars agree the second epistle was probably not written by Peter, because it appears to have been written in the early 2nd century, long after Peter had died. Yet, opinions on the first epistle are more divided; many scholars do think this letter is authentic. [2]

In one epistle, the author only calls himself James (Ἰάκωβος Iákobos). It is not known which James this is supposed to be. There are several different traditional Christian interpretations of other New Testament texts which mention a James, brother of Jesus. However, most modern scholars tend to reject this line of reasoning, since the author himself does not indicate any familial relationship with Jesus. A similar problem presents itself with the Epistle of Jude (Ἰούδας Ioudas): the writer names himself a brother of James (ἀδελφὸς δὲ Ἰακώβου adelphos de Iakóbou), but it is not clear which James is meant. According to some Christian traditions, this is the same James as the author of the Epistle of James, who was allegedly a brother of Jesus; and so, this Jude should also be a brother of Jesus, despite the fact he does not indicate any such thing in his text. [2]

With the exception of the Petrine epistles, both of which may be pseudepigrapha, the seven catholic epistles were added to the New Testament canon because early church fathers attributed the anonymous epistles to important people, and attributed the epistles written by people with the same name as important people to those important people. [2] :4:18

See also

Related Research Articles

Epistle of Jude Book of the Bible

The Epistle of Jude, often shortened to Jude, is the penultimate book of the New Testament as well as the Christian Bible. It is traditionally attributed to Jude the Apostle, brother of James the Just, and thus possibly brother of Jesus as well.

First Epistle of Peter Book of the Bible

The First Epistle of Peter, usually referred to simply as First Peter and often written 1 Peter, is a book of the New Testament. The author presents himself as Peter the Apostle. The ending of the letter includes a statement that implies that it was written from "Babylon", which is possibly a reference to Rome. The letter is addressed to the "chosen pilgrims of the diaspora" in Asia Minor suffering religious persecution.

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

The New Testament (NT) is the second division of the Christian biblical canon. It discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. The New Testament's background, the first division of the Christian Bible, is called the Old Testament, which is based primarily upon the Hebrew Bible; together they are regarded as sacred scripture by Christians.

Second Epistle of Peter Book of the Bible

The Second Epistle of Peter, often referred to as Second Peter and written 2 Peter or in Roman numerals II Peter, is a book of the New Testament of the Bible, traditionally held to have been written by the Apostle Peter. Most critical biblical scholars consider the epistle pseudepigraphical, but doubts about the epistle's attribution to Peter had already been expressed by Church Fathers as early as the 2nd century.

Second Epistle of John Book of the Bible

The Second Epistle of John, often referred to as Second John and often written 2 John or II John, is a book of the New Testament attributed to John the Evangelist, traditionally thought to be the author of the other two epistles of John, and the Gospel of John. Most modern scholars believe this is not John the Apostle, but in general there is no consensus as to the identity of this person or group.

Third Epistle of John Third-to-last book of the New Testament

The Third Epistle of John, often referred to as Third John and written 3 John or III John, is the third-to-last book of the New Testament and the Christian Bible as a whole, and attributed to John the Evangelist, traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles of John. The Third Epistle of John is a personal letter sent by "the elder" to a man named Gaius, recommending to him a group of Christians led by Demetrius, which had come to preach the gospel in the area where Gaius lived. The purpose of the letter is to encourage and strengthen Gaius, and to warn him against Diotrephes, who refuses to cooperate with the author of the letter.

John the Apostle Apostle of Jesus

John the Apostle or Saint John the Beloved was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. Generally listed as the youngest apostle, he was the son of Zebedee and Salome. His brother was James, who was another of the Twelve Apostles. The Church Fathers identify him as John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, John the Elder, and the Beloved Disciple, and testify that he outlived the remaining apostles and was the only one to die of natural causes, although modern scholars are divided on the veracity of these claims.

Epistle Letter written for a didactic purpose

An epistle 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 and the others as catholic epistles.

Muratorian fragment Ancient list of books of the New Testament

The Muratorian fragment, also known as the Muratorian Canon or Canon Muratori, is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of most of the books of the New Testament. The fragment, consisting of 85 lines, is a 7th-century Latin manuscript bound in a 7th- or 8th-century codex from the library of Columbanus's monastery at Bobbio Abbey; it contains features suggesting it is a translation from a Greek original written about 170 or as late as the 4th century. Both the degraded condition of the manuscript and the poor Latin in which it was written have made it difficult to translate. The beginning of the fragment is missing, and it ends abruptly. The fragment consists of all that remains of a section of a list of all the works that were accepted as canonical by the churches known to its original compiler. It was discovered in the Ambrosian Library in Milan by Father Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1750), the most famous Italian historian of his generation, and published in 1740.

Pseudepigrapha Falsely attributed works

Pseudepigrapha are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.

Jude the Apostle One of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus; traditionally identified with Jude the brother of Jesus

Jude was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. He is generally identified with Thaddeus, and is also variously called Jude of James, Jude Thaddaeus, Judas Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus. He is sometimes identified with Jude, the brother of Jesus, but is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus prior to his crucifixion. Catholic writer Michal Hunt suggests that Judas Thaddaeus became known as Jude after early translators of the New Testament from Greek into English sought to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot and subsequently abbreviated his forename. Most versions of the New Testament in languages other than English and French refer to Judas and Jude by the same name.

New Testament apocrypha Writings by early Christians, not included in the Biblical Canon

The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that give accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. Some of these writings have been cited as scripture by early Christians, but since the fifth century a widespread consensus has emerged limiting the New Testament to the 27 books of the modern canon. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches generally do not view these New Testament apocrypha as part of the Bible.

Authorship of the Johannine works New Testament works attributed to John the Apostle

The authorship of the Johannine works has been debated by biblical scholars since at least the 2nd century AD. The debate focuses mainly on the identity of the author(s), as well as the date and location of authorship of these writings.

Authorship of the Pauline epistles New Testament works attributed to Paul the Apostle

The Pauline epistles are the fourteen books in the New Testament traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle.

Johannine epistles Three epistles contained in the New Testament

The Johannine epistles, the Epistles of John, or the Letters of John are three of the catholic epistles of the New Testament, thought to have been written between 85 and 100 AD. Most scholars agree that all three letters are written by the same author, although there is debate on who that author is.

Authorship of the Petrine epistles

The authorship of the Petrine epistles is an important question in biblical criticism, parallel to that of the authorship of the Pauline epistles, since scholars have long sought to determine who were the exact authors of the New Testament letters. Most scholars today conclude that Saint Peter was not the author of the two epistles that are attributed to him and that they were written by two different authors.

Development of the New Testament canon Set of books regarded by Christians as divinely inspired

The canon of the New Testament is the set of books many modern Christians regard as divinely inspired and constituting the New Testament of the Christian Bible. For historical Christians, canonization was based on whether the material was from authors socially approximate to the apostles and not based solely on divine inspiration – however, many modern scholars recognize that the New Testament texts were not written by apostles. For most, it is an agreed-upon list of 27 books that includes the canonical Gospels, Acts, letters attributed to various apostles, and Revelation, though there are many textual variations. The books of the canon of the New Testament were written before 120 AD. Although the list of what books constituted the canon differ among the hundreds of churches in antiquity; there was a general consensus according to ancient church historian Eusebius that the same 27 books presently constituting the canon today were the same 27 books generally recognized in the first century.

Saint Peter Apostle of Jesus and 1st pope between 30 AD till 64–68 AD

Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, Cephas, or Peter the Apostle, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, and one of the first leaders of the early Church.

New Testament people named John

The name John is prominent in the New Testament and occurs numerous times. Among Jews of this period, the name was one of the most popular, borne by about five percent of men. Thus, it has long been debated which Johns are to be identified with which.

New Testament people named James Men named James in the New Testament

The name James appears 38 times in the New Testament. James was a very common given name in the historical period and region of Jesus, but surnames were still very rare. It is therefore not always clear which person these names refer to, and whether some refer to the same person or distinct characters, which has led to confusion. Therefore, Christian authors and modern scholars have given these men names based on their known attributes. According to American theologian and scholar Donald Hagner (2012), there are at least 5, and possibly up to 7, different Jameses in the New Testament.


  1. 1 2 3 Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "katholieke brieven". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Ehrman, Bart D. (2003). Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew . Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0195141832.
  3. James 1:1
  4. 1 Peter 1:1
  5. 2 Peter 1:1
  6. The letter addresses the audience as "my dear children" (e.g. 1 John 2:1) and "dear friends" (e.g. 1 John 2:7). 1 John 3:2 states: 'Dear friends, now we are children of God...', showing that the author is addressing fellow Christians, whom he intermittently calls 'children of God' (which includes himself), as well as 'dear friends' (or 'beloved' in some translations).
  7. 2 John 2
  8. 3 John 1
  9. Jude 1
  10. Bonar, Horatius (1883). Light and truth: or, Bible thoughts and themes. The Lesser epistles (4 ed.). London: J. Nisbet & co. Retrieved 14 March 2017.