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Easton's Bible Dictionary
The apostolic letters. The New Testament contains twenty-one in all. They are divided into two classes.

(1.) Paul's Epistles, fourteen in number, including Hebrews. These are not arranged in the New Testament in the order of time as to their composition, but rather according to the rank of the cities or places to which they were sent. Who arranged them after this manner is unknown. Paul's letters were, as a rule, dictated to an amanuensis, a fact which accounts for some of their peculiarities. He authenticated them, however, by adding a few words in his own hand at the close. (see GALATIANS, EPISTLE TO.)

The epistles to Timothy and Titus are styled the Pastoral Epistles.

(2.) The Catholic or General Epistles, so called because they are not addressed to any particular church or city or individual, but to Christians in general, or to Christians in several countries. Of these, three are written by John, two by Peter, and one each by James and Jude.

It is an interesting and instructive fact that a large portion of the New Testament is taken up with epistles. The doctrines of Christianity are thus not set forth in any formal treatise, but mainly in a collection of letters. "Christianity was the first great missionary religion. It was the first to break the bonds of race and aim at embracing all mankind. But this necessarily involved a change in the mode in which it was presented. The prophet of the Old Testament, if he had anything to communicate, either appeared in person or sent messengers to speak for him by word of mouth. The narrow limits of Palestine made direct personal communication easy. But the case was different when the Christian Church came to consist of a number of scattered parts, stretching from Mesopotamia in the east to Rome or even Spain in the far west. It was only natural that the apostle by whom the greater number of these communities had been founded should seek to communicate with them by letter."

Catholic epistles: The epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; so called because they are addressed to Christians in general, and not to any church or person in particular.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

a-pok'-ri-fal e-pis'-ls: A few epistles have been attributed to the Virgin Mary, but these are very late and without value. The following epistles fall to be noted as apocryphal:

1. Letter Attributed to our Lord:

The letter attributed to our Lord is given in Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, I, 13) who records that in his day a copy of the letter was to be found among the archives of Edessa. Abgarus, king of Osroene, which was a small country in Mesopotamia, writes from Edessa, the capital, to our Lord, asking for healing and offering Him protection. Our Lord sends back a short letter saying that He cannot leave Palestine, but that, after His ascension, a messenger will come and heal Abgarus. The letters are obviously spurious. Osroene was actually Christianized about the beginning of the 3rd century, and the legend took shape and received official sanction in order to show that the country had received the Gospel at a much earlier date. See ABGAR.

2. Letter Attributed to Peter:

The Clementine Homilies is a work of fiction attributed to Clement of Rome; it was actually written about the end of the 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd. At the beginning of it there is set a letter of Peter to James. In it Peter counsels James not to show the book containing Peter's preaching except to a limited circle, and makes a violent attack upon the apostle Paul. It is thus evidently Ebionitic in tendency, and is, like the homilies to which it is prefixed, spurious.

3. Letters Attributed to Paul:

(1) The Epistle from Laodicea.

The mention of such an epistle in Colossians 4:16 evidently tempted someone to forge a letter. It is written in Latin, and consists of 20 vs; it is a mere cento of Pauline phrases strung together. It is mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment (170 A.D.); and by the end of the 4th century. it had a wide circulation. It is now almost universally rejected as spurious. See COLOSSIANS; EPHESIANS; LAODICEANS, EPISTLE TO THE.

(2) Lost Epistle to the Corinthians.

In 1 Corinthians 5:9 a letter to the Corinthians is mentioned which appears to have been lost. In a 5th century Armenian version of the Scriptures there is inserted after 2 Corinthians a short letter from the Corinthians to Paul, and one from Paul to the Corinthians. These are also found in Syriac, and were evidently accepted in many quarters as genuine at the end of the 4th century. They formed a part of the Apocryphal Acts of Paul, and date from about 200 A.D. See CORINTHIANS.

(3) An Epistle to the Alexandrines.

This is mentioned only in the Muratorian Fragment, and has not come down to us.

(4) Letters of Paul to Seneca.

This is a correspondence in Latin, six of the letters being attributed to Paul and eight to Seneca. Regarding this correspondence Lightfoot says: "This correspondence was probably forged in the 4th century, either to recommend Seneca to Christian readers, or to recommend Christianity to students of Seneca." It had a wide circulation in the Middle Ages.


See article "Apocrypha" in Encyclopedia Biblica and RE. For text of Peter's letter to James, see Roberts' and Donaldson's Ante-Nicene Christian Library, XVII. For the Pauline letters consult Zahn, Geschichte des New Testament Kanons, II. For Paul's Laodicean letter, see Lightfoot's Commentary on Colossians (where the text of the letter is graven); and for the letters to Seneca, Lightfoot's Commentary on Philippians, Dissertation II, with Appendix.

John Macartney Wilson


kath'-o-lik (epistolai katholikai): In distinction from the apostolic or Pauline epistles which were addressed to individual churches or persons, the term "catholic," in the sense of universal or general, was applied by Origen and the other church Fathers to the seven epistles written by James, Peter, John and Jude. As early as the 3rd century it came to be used in the sense of "encyclical," "since," as Theodoret says, "they are not addressed to single churches, but generally (katholou) to the faithful, whether to the Jews of the Dispersion, as Peter writes, or even to all who are living as Christians under the same faith." Three other explanations of the term have been given, namely,

(1) that it was intended to indicate a common apostolic authorship (only a few support this view);

(2) that it signifies that the seven epistles were universally received as genuine;

(3) that it refers to the catholicity of their doctrine, i.e. orthodox and authoritative versus heretical epistles whose teachings were in harmony with Christian truth. By some misconception of the word "catholic" the Western Church interpreted it as signifying "canonical" and sometimes called these epistles epistolae canonicae. That it was originally used in the sense of "general" epistles is now commonly received.

This is evident from their form of address. James wrote to all Jews, "of the Dispersion," who had embraced the Christian faith. In his first epistle Peter addressed the same Christians, including also Gentileconverts, resident in five provinces of Asia Minor: "elect who axe sojourners of the Dispersion." His second epistle is to all Christians everywhere. John's first letter was evidently written to a cycle of churches and intended for universal use. Jude also had in mind all Christians when he said "to them that are called beloved in God," etc. The seeming exceptions are 2 and 3 Jn, addressed to individuals, but included with the catholic epistles as properly belonging with John's first epistle and of value to the general reader. The character and contents of these seven epistles are treated under their various heads. The letters of James and Jude belong to the Judaic school of Christianity; those of Peter to a broad and non-partisan type of faith that both includes and mediates between the Judaists and Paulinists. John's letters were written after the internal doctrinal controversies of the church had ceased, and the pressure of opposition and error from without tended to unite his "little children" in a new community of love and spiritual life.

Dwight M. Pratt



1. A True Letter

2. Subject-Matter

3. Characteristics of the Writer

4. Style and Diction


1. Gnosticism

2. Docetism

3. Antinomianism

4. Cerinthus


1. The Prologue, 1 John 1:1-4

2. First Cycle, 1 John 1:5-2:28

The Christian Life as Fellowship with God (Walking in the Light) Tested by Righteousness, Love and Belief

(a) Paragraph A, 1 John 1:8-2:6

(b) Paragraph B, 1 John 2:7-17

(i) Positively

(ii) Negatively

(c) Paragraph C, 1 John 2:18-28

3. Second Cycle, 1 John 2:29-4:6

Divine Sonship Tested by Righteousness, Love and Belief

(a) Paragraph A, 1 John 2:29-3:10a

(b) Paragraph B, 1 John 3:10b-24b

(c) Paragraph C, 1 John 3:24b through 4:6

4. Third Cycle, 1 John 4:7-5:21

Closer Correlation of Righteousness, Love and Belief

(a) Section I, 1 John 4:7-5:3a

(i) Paragraph A, 1 John 4:7-12

(ii) Paragraph B, 1 John 4:13-16

(iii) Paragraph C, 1 John 4:17-5:3a

(b) Section II, 1 John 5:3b-21

(i) Paragraph A, 1 John 5:3b-12

(ii) Paragraph B, 1 John 5:13-21


1. Traditional View

2. Critical Views

3. Internal Evidence


1. Common Characteristics

2. Coincidences of Vocabulary

3. Divergences of Vocabulary

4. Arguments against Unity of Authorship

5. Conclusion

6. Question of Priority


Among the 7 New Testament epistles which from ancient times have been called "catholic" (universal) there is a smaller group of three in which the style alike of thought and language points to a common authorship, and which are traditionally associated with the name of the apostle John. Of these, again, the first differs widely from the other two in respect not only of intrinsic importance, but of its early reception in the church and unquestioned canonicity.


I. General Character.

1. A True Letter:

Not only is the Epistle an anonymous writing; one of its unique features among the books of the New Testament is that it does not contain a single proper name (except our Lord's), or a single definite allusion, personal, historical, or geographical. It is a composition, however, which a person calling himself "I" sends to certain other persons whom he calls "you," and is, in form at least, a letter. The criticism which has denied that it is more than formally so is unwarranted. It does not fall under either of Deissmann's categories-the true letter, intended only for the perusal of the person or persons to whom it is addressed, and the epistle, written with literary art and with an eye to the public. But it does possess that character of the New Testament epistles in general which is well described by Sir William Ramsay (Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, 24): "They spring from the heart of the writer and speak direct to the heart of the readers. They were often called forth by some special crisis in the history of the persons addressed, so that they rise out of the actual situation in which the writer conceives the readers to be placed; they express the writer's keen and living sympathy with and participation in the fortunes of the whole class addressed, and are not affected by any thought of a wider public..... On the other hand, the letters of this class express general principles of life and conduct, religion and ethics, applicable to a wider range of circumstances than those which called them forth; and they appeal as emphatically and intimately to all Christians in all time as they did to those addressed in the first instance." The 1st Epistle of John could not be more exactly characterized than by these words. Though its main features are didactic and controversial, the personal note is frequently struck, and with much tenderness and depth of feeling. Under special stress of emotion, the writer's paternal love, sympathy and solicitude break out in the affectionate appellation, "little children," or, yet more endearingly, "my little children." Elsewhere the prefatory "beloved" shows how deeply he is stirred by the sublimity of his theme and the sense of its supreme importance to his readers. He shows himself intimately acquainted with their religious environment (1 John 2:19; 1 John 4:1), dangers (1 John 2:26; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 5:21), attainments (1 John 2:12-14, 21), achievements (1 John 4:4) and needs (1 John 3:19; 1 John 5:13). Further, the Epistle is addressed primarily to the circle of those among whom the author has habitually exercised his ministry as evangelist and teacher. He has been wont to announce to them the things concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1, 2), that they might have fellowship with him (1 John 1:3), and now, that his (or their) joy may be full, he writes these things unto them (1 John 1:4). He writes as light shines. Love makes the task a necessity, but also a delight.

2. Subject-Matter:

There is no New Testament writing which is throughout more vigorously controversial: for the satisfactory interpretation of the Epistle as a whole, recognition of the polemical aim that pervades it is indispensable. But it is true also that there is no such writing in which the presentation of the truth more widely overflows the limits of the immediate occasion. The writer so constantly lifts up against the error he combats, the simple, sublime and satisfying facts and principles of the Christian revelation, so lifts up every question at issue into the light of eternal truth, that the Epistle pursues its course through the ages, bringing to the church of God the vision and the inspiration of the Divine. The influence of the immediate polemical purpose, however, is manifest, not only in the contents of the Epistle, but in its limitations as well. In a sense it may be said that the field of thought is a narrow one. God is seen exclusively as the Father of Spirits, the Light and Life of the universe of souls. His creatorship and government of the world, the providential aspects and agencies of salvation, the joys and sorrows, hopes and fears that spring from the terrestrial conditions and changes of human life, their disciplinary purpose and effect-to all this the Epistle contains no reference. The themes are exclusively theological and ethical. The writer's immediate interest is confined to that region in which the Divine and human vitally and directly meet-to that in God which is communicable to man, to that in man by which he is capax Dei. The Divine nature as life and light, and love and righteousness; the Incarnation of this Divine nature in Jesus, with its presuppositions and consequences, metaphysical and ethical; the imparting of this Divine nature to men by regeneration; the antithesis to it-sin-and its removal by propitiation; the work of the Holy Spirit; the Christian life, the mutual indwelling of God and man, as tested by its beliefs, its antagonism to sin, its inevitable debt of love-such are the fundamental themes to which every idea in the Epistle is directly related. The topics, if few, are supremely great; and the limitations of the field of vision are more than compensated by the profundity and intensity of spiritual perception.

3. Characteristics of the Writer:

The Epistle is in a sense impersonal to the last degree, offering a strange contrast to that frankness of self-revelation which gives such charm to Paul's letters; yet few writings so clearly reveal the deepest characteristics of the writer. We feel in it the high serenity of a mind that lives in constant fellowship with the greatest thoughts and is nourished at the eternal fountain-head; but also the fervent indignation and vehement recoil of such a mind in contact with what is false and evil. It has been truly called "the most passionate" book in the New Testament. Popular instinct has not erred in giving to its author the title, "Apostle of Love." Of the various themes which are so wonderfully intertwined in it, that to which it most of all owes its unfading charm and imperishable value is love. It rises to its sublimest height, to the apex of all revelation, in those passages in which its author is so divinely inspired to write of the eternal life, in God and man, as love.

But it is an inveterate misconception which regards him solely as the exponent of love. Equally he reveals himself as one whose mind is dominated by the sense of truth. There are no words more characteristic of him than "true" (alethinos, denoting that which both ideally and really corresponds to the name it bears) and "the truth" (aletheia, the reality of things sub specie aeternitatis). To him Christianity is not only a principle of ethics, or even a way of salvation; it is both of them, because it is primarily the truth, the one true disclosure of the realities of the spiritual and eternal world. Thus it is that his thought so constantly develops itself by antithesis. Each conception has its fundamental opposite: light, darkness; life, death; love, hate; truth, falsehood; the Father, the world; God, the devil. There is no shading, no gradation in the picture. No sentence is more characteristic of the writer than this: "Ye know that no lie is of the truth" (1 John 2:21 margin). But again, his sense of these radical antagonisms is essentially moral, rather than intellectual. It seems impossible that any writing could display a more impassioned sense, than this Epistle does, of the tremendous imperative of righteousness, a more rigorous intolerance of all sin (1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:4, 8, 9, 10). The absolute antagonism and incompatibility between the Christian life and sin of whatsoever kind or degree is maintained with a vehemence of utterance that verges at times upon the paradoxical (1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18). So long as the church lays up this Epistle in its heart, it can never lack a moral tonic of wholesome severity.

4. Style and Diction:

The style is closely, though perhaps unconsciously, molded upon the Hebrew model, and especially upon the parallelistic forms of the Wisdom literature. One has only to read the Epistle with an attentive ear to perceive that, though using another language, the writer had in his own car, all the time, the swing and cadences of Hebrew verse. The diction is inartificial and unadorned. Not a simile, not a metaphor (except the most fundamental, like "walking in the light") occurs. The limitations in the range of ideas are matched by those of vocabulary and by the unvarying simplicity of syntactical form. Yet limited and austere as the literary medium is, the writer handles its resources often with consummate skill. The crystalline simplicity of the style perfectly expresses the simple profundity of the thought. Great spiritual intuitions shine like stars in sentences of clear-cut gnomic terseness. Historical (1 John 1:1) and theological (1 John 1:2; 1 John 4:2) statements are made with exquisite precision. The frequent reiteration of nearly the same thoughts in nearly the same language, though always with variation and enrichment, gives a cumulative effect which is singularly impressive. Such passages as 1 John 2:14-17, with its calm challenge to the arrogant materialism of the world-"And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever"-or the closing verses of the Epistle, with their thrice-repeated triumphant "we know" and their last word of tender, urgent admonition, have a solemn magnificence of effect which nothing but such simplicity of language, carrying such weight of thought, could produce. If it has been true of any writer that "le style est l'homme," it is true of the author of this Epistle.

II. Polemical Aim.

The polemical intention of the Epistle has been universally recognized; but there has been diversity of opinion as to its actual object. By the older commentators, generally, this was found in the perilous state of the church or churches addressed, which had left their first love and lapsed into Laodicean lukewarmness. But the Epistle gives no sign of this, and it contains many passages that are inconsistent with it (1 John 2:13, 14, 20, 21, 27; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:18-20). The danger which immediately threatens the church is from without, not from within. There is a "spirit of error" (1 John 4:6) abroad in the world. From the church itself (1 John 2:18), many "false prophets" have gone forth (1 John 4:1), corrupters of the gospel, veritable antichrists (1 John 2:18). And it may be asserted as beyond question that the peril against which the Epistle was intended to arm the church was the spreading influence of some form of Gnosticism.

1. Gnosticism:

The pretensions of Gnosticism to a higher esoteric knowledge of Divine things seems to be clearly referred to in several passages. In 1 John 2:4, 6, 9, e.g. one might suppose that they are almost verbally quoted ("He that saith"; "I know Him"; "I abide in Him"; "I am in the light"). When we observe, moreover, the prominence given throughout to the idea of knowledge and the special significance of some of these passages, the conviction grows that the writer's purpose is not only to refute the false, but to exhibit apostolic Christianity, believed and lived, as the true Gnosis-the Divine reality of which Gnosticism was but a fantastic caricature. The confidence he has concerning his readers is that they "know him who is from the beginning," that they "know the Father" (2:13). "Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God" (4:7); and the final note upon which the Epistle closes is: "We know him that is true, and we are in him that is true" (5:20). The knowledge of the ultimate Reality, the Being who is the eternal life, is for Christian and Gnostic alike the goal of aspiration.

But it is against two closely related developments of Gnostic tendency, a docetic view of the incarnation, and an antinomian view of morals, that the Epistle is specifically directed. Both of these sprang naturally from the dualism which was the fundamental and formative principle of Gnosticism in all its many forms. According to the dualistic conception of existence, the moral schism of which we are conscious in experience is original, eternal, inherent in the nature of beings. There are two independent and antagonistic principles of being from which severally come all the good and all the evil that exist. The source and the seat of evil were found in the material element, in the body with its senses and appetites, and in its sensuous earthly environment; and it was held inconceivable that the Divine nature should have immediate contact with the material side of existence, or influence upon it.

2. Docetism:

To such a view of the universe Christianity could be adjusted only by a docetic interpretation of the Person of Christ. A real incarnation was unthinkable. The Divine could enter into no actual union with a corporeal organism. The human nature of Christ and the incidents of His earthly career were more or less an illusion. And it is with this docetic subversion of the truth of the incarnation that the "antichrists" are specially identified (1 John 2:22, 23; 1 John 4:2, 3), and against it that John directs with wholehearted fervor his central thesis-the complete, permanent, personal identification of the historical Jesus with the Divine Being who is the Word of Life (1 John 1:1), the Christ (1 John 4:2) and the Son of God (1 John 5:5): "Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh." In John 5:6 there is a still more definite reference to the special form which Gnostic Christology assumed in the teaching of Cerinthus and his school. According to Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., i.26, 1) this Cerinthus, who was John's prime antagonist in Ephesus, taught that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary, and was distinguished from other men only by superiority in justice, prudence and wisdom; that at His baptism the heavenly Christ descended upon Him in the form of a dove; that on the eve of His Passion, the Christ again left Jesus, so that Jesus died and rose again, but the Christ, being spiritual, did not suffer. That is to say, that, in the language of the Epistle, the Christ "came by water," but not, as John strenuously affirms, "by water and blood.... not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood" (1 John 5:6). He who was baptized of John in Jordan, and He whose life-blood was shed on Calvary, is the same Jesus and the same Christ, the same Son of God eternally.

3. Antinomianism:

A further consequence of the dualistic interpretation of existence is that sin, in the Christian meaning of sin, disappears. It is no longer a moral opposition (anomia), in the human personality, to good; it is a physical principle inherent in all nonspiritual being. Not the soul, but the flesh is its organ; and redemption consists, not in the renewal of the moral nature, but in its emancipation from the flesh. Thus it is no mere general contingency, but a definite tendency that is contemplated in the repeated warning: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us..... If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8, 10).

With the nobler and more earnest spirits the practical corollary of this irreconcilable dualism in human nature was the ascetic life; but to others the same principle readily suggested an opposite method of achieving the soul's deliverance from the yoke of the material-an attitude of moral indifference toward the deeds of the body. Let the duality of nature be boldly reduced to practice. Let body and spirit be regarded as separate entities, each obeying its own laws and acting according to its own nature, without mutual interference; the spiritual nature could not be involved in, nor affected by, the deeds of the flesh. Vehement opposition to this deadly doctrine is prominent in the Epistle-in such utterances as "Sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4) and its converse "All unrighteousness is sin" (1 John 5:17), but especially in the stringent emphasis laid upon actual conduct, "doing" righteousness or "doing" sin. The false spiritualism which regards the contemplation of heavenly things as of far superior importance to the requirements of commonplace morality is sternly reprobated: "Little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous" (1 John 3:7); and the converse application of the same doctrine, that the mere "doing" of sin is of little or no moment to the "spiritual" man, is met with the trenchant declaration, "He that doeth sin is of the devil" (1 John 3:8). The whole passage (1 John 2:29-3:10) presupposes, as familiar to its readers, a doctrine of moral indifferentism according to which the status of the spiritual man is not to be tested by the commonplace facts of moral conduct. It is only as a passionate contradiction of this hateful tenet that the paradoxical language of 1 John 3:6, 9 and 5:18 can be understood.

To the same polemical necessity is due the uniquely reiterated emphasis which the Epistle lays upon brotherly love, and the almost fierce tone in which the new commandment is promulgated. To the Gnostic, knowledge was the sum of attainment. "They give no heed to love," says Ignatius, "caring not for the widow, the orphan or the afflicted, neither for those who are in bonds nor for those who are released from bonds, neither for the hungry nor the thirsty." That a religion which banished or neglected love should call itself Christian or claim affinity with Christianity excites John's hottest indignation; against it he lifts up his supreme truth, God is love, with its immediate consequence that to be without love is to be without capacity for knowing God (1 John 4:7, 8). The assumption of a lofty mystical piety apart from dutiful conduct in the ordinary relations of life is ruthlessly underlined as the vaunt of a self-deceiver (1 John 4:20); and the crucial test by which we may assure our self-accusing hearts that we are "of the truth" is love "not in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18).

The question is raised whether the polemic of the Epistle is directed against the same persons throughout or whether in its two branches, the Christological and the ethical, it has different objects of attack. The latter view is maintained on the ground that no charge of libertine teaching or conduct is brought against the "antichrists," and there is no proof that docetism in Asia Minor lay open to such a charge. But the other view has greater probability. The Epistle suggests nothing else than that the same spirit of error which is assailing the faith of the church (1 John 4:6) is also a peril to the moral integrity of its life (1 John 3:7). And if there is no proof that docetism in Asia Minor was also antinomian, there is no proof that it was not. The probability is that it was. Docetism and the emancipation of the flesh were both natural fruits of the dualistic theory of life.

4. Cerinthus:

The name, which unvarying tradition associates with the Epistle, as John's chief antagonist in Ephesus, is that of Cerinthus. Unfortunately the accounts which have come down to us of Cerinthus and his teaching are fragmentary and confused, and those of his character, though unambiguous, come only from his opponents. But it is certain that he held a docetic view of the incarnation, and, according to the only accounts we possess, his character was that of a voluptuary. So far as they go, the historical data harmonize with the internal evidence of the Epistle itself in giving the impression that the different tendencies it combats are such as would be naturally evolved in the thought and practice of those who held, as Cerinthus did, that the material creation, and even the moral law, had its origin, not in the Supreme God, but in an inferior power.

III. Structure and Summary.

In the judgment of many critics, the Epistle possesses nothing that can be called an articulate structure of thought, its aphoristic method admitting of no logical development; and this estimate has a large measure of support in the fact that there is no New Testament writing regarding the plan of which there has been greater variety of opinion. The present writer believes, nevertheless, that it is erroneous, and that, in its own unique way, the Epistle is a finely articulated composition. The word that best describes the author's mode of thinking is "spiral." The course of thought does not move from point to point in a straight line. It is like a winding staircase-always revolving around the same center, always recurring to the same topics, but at a higher level.

Carefully following the topical order, one finds, e.g., a paragraph (1 John 2:3-6) insisting upon practical righteousness as a guaranty of the Christian life; then one finds this treated a second time in 1 John 2:29-3:10 a; and yet again in 5:3 and 5:18. Similarly, we find a paragraph on the necessity of love in 2:7-11, and again in 3:10b-20, and yet again in 4:7-13, and also in 4:17-5:2. So also, a paragraph concerning the necessity of holding the true belief in the incarnate Son of God in 2:18-28, in 4:1-6, and the same subject recurring in 4:13-16 and 5:4-12. And we shall observe that everywhere these indispensable characteristics of the Christian life are applied as tests; that in effect the Epistle is an apparatus of tests, its definite object being to furnish its readers with the necessary criteria by which they may sift the false from the true, and satisfy themselves of their being "begotten of God." "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (5:13). These fundamental tests of the Christian life-doing righteousness, loving one another, believing that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh-are the connecting themes that bind together the whole structure of the Epistle. Thus, if we divide the Epistle into 3 main sections, the first ending at 2:28, the second at 4:6, the result is that in the first and second of these sections we find precisely the same topics coming in precisely the same order; while in the third section (4:7-5:21), though the sequence is somewhat different, the thought-material is exactly the same. The leading themes, the tests of righteousness, love, and belief, are all present; and they alone are present. There is, therefore, a natural division of the Epistle into these three main sections, or, as they might be descriptively called, "cycles," in each of which the same fundamental themes appear. On this basis we shall now give a brief analysis of its structure and summary of its contents.

1. The Prologue, 1 John 1:1-4:

The writer announces the source of the Christian revelation-the historical manifestation of the eternal Divine life in Jesus Christ-and declares himself a personal witness of the facts in which this manifestation has been given. Here, at the outset, he hoists the flag under which he fights. The incarnation is not seeming or temporary, but real. That which was from the beginning-"the eternal life, which was with the Father"-is identical with "that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled."

2. First Cycle, 1 John 1:5-2:28:

The Christian life, as fellowship with God (walking in the Light) tested by righteousness, love and belief.-The basis of the whole section is the announcement: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). What God is at once determines the condition of fellowship with Him; and this, therefore, is set forth: first, negatively (1 John 1:6): "if we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness"; then, positively (1 John 1:7): "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light." What, then, is it to walk in the light, and what to walk in darkness? The answer is given in what follows.

(a) Paragraph A, 1 John 1:8-2:6:

(Walking in the Light tested by righteousness): First, in confession of sin (1 John 1:8-2:2), then in actual obedience (1 John 2:3-6). The first fact upon which the light of God impinges in human life is sin; and the first test of walking in the light is the recognition and confession of this fact. Such confession is the first step into fellowship with God, because it brings us under the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, His Son (1 John 1:7), and makes His intercession available for us (1 John 2:1). But the light not only reveals sin; its greater function is to reveal duty; and to walk in the light is to keep God's commandments (1 John 2:3), His word (1 John 2:5), and to walk even as Christ walked (1 John 2:6).

(b) Paragraph B, 1 John 2:7-17:

(Walking in the Light tested by love):

(i) Positively:

The old-new commandment (1 John 2:7-11). Love is the commandment which is "old," because familiar to the readers of the Epistle from their first acquaintance with the rudiments of Christianity (1 John 2:7); but also "new," because ever fresh and living to those who have fellowship with Christ in the true light which is now shining for them (1 John 2:8). On the contrary, "He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness" (1 John 2:9). The antithesis is then repeated with variation and enrichment of thought (1 John 2:10, 11). (Then follows a parenthetical address to the readers (1 John 2:12-14). This being treated as a parenthesis, the unity of the paragraph at once becomes apparent.)

(ii) Negatively:

If walking in the light has its guaranty in loving one's "brother," it is tested no less by not loving "the world." One cannot at the same time participate in the life of God and in a moral life which is governed by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of the world.

(c) Paragraph C, 1 John 2:18-28:

(Walking in the Light tested by belief): The light of God not only reveals sin and duty, the children of God (our "brother") and "the world" in their true character; it also reveals Jesus in His true character, as the Christ, the incarnate Son of God. And all that calls itself Christianity is to be tested by its reception or rejection of that truth. In this paragraph light and darkness are not expressly referred to; but the continuity of thought with the preceding paragraphs is unmistakable. Throughout this first division of the Epistle the point of view is that of fellowship with God, through receiving and acting according to the light which His self-revelation sheds upon all things in the spiritual realm. Unreal Christianity in every form is comprehensively a "lie." It may be the antinomian "lie" of him who says he has no sin (1 John 1:8) yet is indifferent to keeping God's commandments (1 John 2:4), the lie of lovelessness (1 John 2:9), or the lie of Antichrist, who, claiming spiritual enlightenment, yet denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22).

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1. External Evidence

2. Genuineness Questioned


1. Relative to Paul's Experiences

(1) Data in 1 Timothy

(2) Data in 2 Timothy

(3) Data in Titus

2. Subject-Matter Post-Pauline (1) Difficulty Regarding Church Organization

(2) The Doctrinal Difficulty

3. Difficulty Relative to Language

4. Is There "Another Gospel" in the Pastorals?


1. Date of the Epistles

2. Their Order


The First and Second Epistles to Timothy, and the Epistle to Titus form a distinct group among the letters written by Paul, and are now known as the Pastoral Epistles because they were addressed to two Christian ministers. When Timothy and Titus received these epistles they were not acting, as they had previously done, as missionaries or itinerant evangelists, but had been left by Paul in charge of churches; the former having the oversight of the church in Ephesus, and the latter having the care of the churches in the island of Crete. The Pastoral Epistles were written to guide them in the discharge of the duties devolving upon them as Christian pastors. Such is a general description of these epistles. In each of them, however, there is a great deal more than is covered or implied by the designation, "Pastoral"-much that is personal, and much also that is concerned with Christian faith and doctrine and practice generally.

I. Genuineness.

1. External Evidence:

In regard to the genuineness of the epistles there is abundant external attestation. Allusions to them are found in the writings of Clement and Polycarp. In the middle of the 2nd century the epistles were recognized as Pauline in authorship, and were freely quoted.

"Marcion indeed rejected them, and Tatian is supposed to have rejected those to Timothy. But, as Jerome states in the preface to his Commentary on Titus, these heretics rejected the epistles, not on critical grounds, but merely because they disliked their teaching. He says they used no argument, but merely asserted, This is Paul's, This is not Paul's. It is obvious that men holding such opinions as Marcion and Tatian held, would not willingly ascribe authority to epistles which condemned asceticism. So far, then, as the early church can guarantee to us the authenticity of writings ascribed to Paul, the Pastoral Epistles are guaranteed" (Marcus Dods, Introduction to the New Testament, 167).

The external evidence is all in favor of the reception of these epistles., which were known not only to Clement and Polycarp, but also to Irenaeus, Tertullian, the author of the Epistle to the churches of Vienne and Lyons, and Theophilus of Antioch. The evidence of Polycarp, who died in 167 A.D., is remarkably strong. He says, "The love of money is the beginning of all trouble, knowing.... that we brought nothing into the world, neither can carry anything out" (compare 1 Timothy 6:7, 10). It would be difficult to overthrow testimony of this nature.

2. Genuineness Questioned:

The decision of certain critics to reject the Pastoral Epistles as documents not from the hand of Paul, "is not reached on the external evidence, which is perhaps as early an attestation as can be reasonably expected. They are included in the Muratorian Canon, and quoted by Irenaeus and later writers as Paul's" (A.S. Peake, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament, 60). This admission is satisfactory. In recent times, however, the authenticity of these epistles has been called in question by Schmidt, Schleiermacher, Baur, Renan, and many others. Baur asserted that they were written for the purpose of combating the Gnosticism of the 2nd century, and of defending the church from it by means of ecclesiastical organization, and that the date of their composition was about the year 150 A.D.

II. Alleged Difficulties against Pauline Authorship.

Various difficulties have been alleged against the reception of the Pastoral Epistles as Pauline. The chief of these are:

(1) the difficulty of finding any place for these letters in the life of Paul, as that is recorded in the Acts and in the Pauline Epistles written before the Pastorals;

(2) the fact that there are said to be in them indications of an ecclesiastical organization, and of a development of doctrine, both orthodox and heretical, considerably in advance of the Pauline age;

(3) that the language of the epistles is, to a large extent, different from that in the accepted epistles; (4) the "most decisive" of all the arguments against the Pauline authorship-so writes Dr. A.C. McGiffert (A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, 402)-is that "the Christianity of the Pastoral Epistles is not the Christianity of Paul."

Where can a place be found for these epistles, in the life of Paul? The indications of the date of their composition given in the epistles themselves are these.

1. Relative to Paul's Experiences:

(1) Data in 1 Timothy

In 1 Timothy 1:3 Paul had gone from Ephesus to Macedonia, and had left Timothy in Ephesus in charge of the church there. In the Acts and in the previously written Pauline epistles, it is impossible to find such events or such a state of matters as will satisfy these requirements. Paul had previously been in Ephesus, on several occasions. His 1st visit to that city is recorded in Acts 18:19-21. On that occasion he went from Ephesus, not into Macedonia, but into Syria. His 2nd visit was his 3 years' residence in Ephesus, as narrated in Acts 19; and when he left the city, he had, previous to his own departure from it, already sent Timothy into Macedonia (19:22)-a state of matters exactly the reverse of that described in 1 Timothy 1:3. Timothy soon rejoined Paul, and so far was he from being left in Ephesus then, that he was in Paul's company on the remainder of his journey toward Jerusalem (Acts 20:4 2 Corinthians 1:1).

No place therefore in Paul's life, previous to his arrest in Jerusalem, and his first Roman imprisonment, can be found, which satisfies the requirements of the situation described in 1 Timothy 1:3. "It is impossible, unless we assume a second Roman imprisonment, to reconcile the various historical notices which the epistle (2 Timothy) contains" (McGiffert, op. cit., 407).

In addition to this, the language used by the apostle at Miletus, when he addressed the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:30) about the men speaking perverse things, who should arise among them, showed that these false teachers had not made their appearance at that time. There is, for this reason alone, no place for the Pastoral Epistles in Paul's life, previous to his arrest in Jerusalem. But Paul's life did not end at the termination of his first Roman imprisonment; and this one fact gives ample room to satisfy all the conditions, as these are found in the three Pastorals.

Those who deny the Pauline authorship of these epistles also deny that he was released from what, in this article, is termed his 1st Roman imprisonment. But a denial of this latter statement is an assumption quite unwarranted and unproved. It assumes that Paul was not set free, simply because there is no record of this in the Acts. But the Acts is, on the very face of it, an incomplete or unfinished record; that is, it brings the narrative to a certain point, and then breaks off, evidently for the reason which Sir W.M. Ramsay demonstrates, that Luke meant to write a sequel to that book-a purpose, however, which he was unable, owing to some cause now unknown, to carry into execution. The purpose of the Acts, as Ramsay shows (St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 23, 308), is to lead up to the release of Paul, and to show that the Christian faith was not a forbidden or illegal religion, but that the formal impeachment of the apostle before the supreme court of the empire ended in his being set at liberty, and thus there was established the fact that the faith of Jesus Christ was not, at that time, contrary to Roman law. "The Pauline authorship.... can be maintained only on the basis of a hypothetical reconstruction, either of an entire period subsequent to the Roman imprisonment, or of the events within some period known to us" (McGiffert, op. cit., 410). The one fact that Paul was set free after his 1st Roman imprisonment gives the environment which fits exactly all the requirements of the Pastoral Epistles.

Attention should be directed to the facts and to the conclusion stated in the article PRAETORIUM (which see), Mommsen having shown that the words, "My bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard" (Philippians 1:13), mean that at the time when Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians, the case against him had already come before the supreme court of appeal in Rome, that it had been partly heard, and that the impression made by the prisoner upon his judges was so favorable, that he expected soon to be set free.

The indications to be drawn from other expressions in three of the epistles of the Roman captivity-Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon-are to the same effect. Thus, writing to the Philippians, he says that he hopes to send Timothy to them, so soon as he sees how matters go with him, and that he trusts in the Lord that he himself will visit them shortly. And again, writing to his friend Philemon in the city of Colosse, he asks him to prepare him a lodging, for he trusts that through the prayers of the Colossians, he will be granted to them.

These anticipations of acquittal and of departure from Rome are remarkable, and do not in any degree coincide with the idea that Paul was not set free but was condemned and put to death at that time. "It is obvious that the importance of the trial is intelligible only if Paul was acquitted. That he was acquitted follows from the Pastoral Epistles with certainty for all who admit their genuineness; while even they who deny their Pauline origin must allow that they imply an early belief in historical details which are not consistent with Paul's journeys before his trial, and must either be pure inventions or events that occurred on later journeys..... If he was acquitted, the issue of the trial was a formal decision by the supreme court of the empire that it was permissible to preach Christianity; the trial, therefore, was really a charter of religious liberty, and therein lies its immense importance. It was indeed overturned by later decisions of the supreme court; but its existence was a highly important fact for the Christians" (Ramsay, op. cit., 308). "That he was acquitted is demanded both by the plan evident in Acts and by other reasons well stated by others" (ibid., 360).

It should also be observed that there is the direct and corroborative evidence of Paul's release, afforded by such writers as Cyril of Jerusalem, Ephrem Syriac., Chrysostom and Theodoret, all of whom speak of Paul's going to Spain. Jerome (Vir. Ill., 5) gives it as a matter of personal knowledge that Paul traveled as far as Spain. But there is more important evidence still. In the Muratorian Canon, 1, 37, there are the words, "profectionem Pauli ab urbe ad Spaniam proficiscentis" ("the journey of Paul as he journeyed from Rome to Spain"). Clement also in the epistle from the church in Rome to the church in Corinth, which was written not later than the year 96 A.D., says in reference to Paul, "Having taught righteousness to the whole world, and having gone to the extremity of the west (epi to terma tes duseos elthon) and having borne witness before the rulers, so was he released from the world and went to the holy place, being the greatest example of endurance." The words, "having gone to the extremity of the west," should be specially noticed. Clement was in Rome when he wrote this, and, accordingly, the natural import of the words is that Paul went to the limit of the western half of then known world, or in other words, to the western boundary of the lands bordering the Mediterranean, that is, to Spain.

Now Paul never had been in Spain previous to his arrest in Jerusalem, but in Romans 15:24, 28 he had twice expressed his intention to go there. These independent testimonies, of Clement and of the Muratorian Canon, of the fact that after Paul's arrest in Jerusalem he did carry into execution his purpose to visit Spain, are entitled to great weight. They involve, of course, the fact that he was acquitted after his 1st Roman imprisonment.

Having been set free, Paul could not do otherwise than send Timothy to Philippi, and himself also go there, as he had already promised when he wrote to the Philippian church (Philippians 2:19, 24). As a matter of course he would also resume his apostolic journeys for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel. There is now ample room in his life for the Pastoral Epistles, and they give most interesting details of his further labors. The historical and geographical requirements in 1 Timothy are, in this way, easily satisfied. It was no great distance to Ephesus from Philippi and Colosse, where he had promised that he would "come shortly."

(2) Data in 2 Timothy

The requirements in 2 Timothy are (a) that Paul had recently been at Troas, at Corinth, and at Miletus, each of which he mentions (2 Timothy 4:13, 20); (b) that when he wrote the epistles he was in Rome (1:17); (c) that he was a prisoner for the cause of the gospel (1:8; 2:9), and had once already appeared before the emperor's supreme court (4:16, 17); (d) that he had then escaped condemnation, but that he had reason to believe that on the next hearing of his case the verdict would be given against him, and that he expected it could not be long till execution took place (4:6); (e) that he hoped that Timothy would be able to come from Ephesus to see him at Rome before the end (4:9, 21). These requirements cannot be made to agree or coincide with the first Roman captivity, but they do agree perfectly with the facts of the apostle's release and his subsequent second imprisonment in that city.

(3) Data in Titus

The data given in the Epistle to Titus are

(a) that Paul had been in Crete, and that Titus had been with him there, and had been left behind in that island, when Paul sailed from its shores, Titus being charged with the oversight of the churches there (Titus 1:5); and

(b) that Paul meant to spend the next winter at Nicopolis (3:12).

It is simply impossible to locate these events in the recorded life of Paul, as that is found in the other epistles, and in the Acts. But they agree perfectly with his liberation after his first Roman imprisonment. "As there is then no historical evidence that Paul did not survive the year 64, and as these Pastoral Epistles were recognized as Pauline in the immediately succeeding age, we may legitimately accept them as evidence that Paul did survive the year 64-that he was acquitted, resumed his missionary labors, was again arrested and brought to Rome, and from this second imprisonment wrote the Second Epistle to Timothy-his last extant writing" (Dods, Introduction to the New Testament, 172).

2. Subject-Matter, Post-Pauline:

The second difficulty alleged against the acceptance of these epistles as Pauline is that there are said to exist in them indications of an ecclesiastical organization and of a doctrinal development, both orthodox and heretical, considerably later than those of the Pauline age.

(1) Difficulty Regarding Church Organization

The first statement, that the epistles imply an ecclesiastical organization in advance of the time when Paul lived, is one which cannot be maintained in view of the facts disclosed in the epistles themselves. For directions are given to Timothy and to Titus in regard to the moral and other characteristics necessary in those who are to be ordained as bishops, elders, and deacons. In the 2nd century the outstanding feature of ecclesiastical organization was the development of monarchical episcopacy, but the Pastoral Epistles show a presbyterial administration. The office held by Timothy in Ephesus and by Titus in Crete was, as the epistles themselves show, of a temporary character. The directions which Paul gives to Timothy and Titus in regard to the ordaining of presbyters in every church are in agreement with similar notices found elsewhere in the New Testament, and do not coincide with the state of church organization as that existed in the 2nd century, the period when, objectors to the genuineness of the epistles assert, they were composed. "Everyone acquainted with ancient literature, particularly the literature of the ancient church, knows that a forger or fabricator of those times could not possibly have avoided anachronisms" (Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, II, 93). But the ecclesiastical arrangements in the Pastoral Epistles coincide in all points with the state of matters as it is found in the church in the time of the apostles, as that is described in the Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.

It seems an error to suppose, as has often been done, that these epistles contain the germ of monarchical episcopacy; for the Christian church had already, from the day of Pentecost, existed as a society with special officers for the functions of extension, discipline and administration. The church in the Pastoral Epistles is a visible society, as it always was. Its organization therefore had come to be of the greatest importance, and especially so in the matter of maintaining and handing down the true faith; the church accordingly is described as "the pillar and stay of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15 margin), that is, the immovable depository of the Divine revelation.

(2) The Doctrinal Difficulty

The other statement, that the epistles show a doctrinal development out of harmony with the Pauline age is best viewed by an examination of what the epistles actually say.

In 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul speaks of profane and vain babblings and oppositions of gnosis (the Revised Version (British and American) "knowledge," the King James Version "science") falsely so called. In Titus 3:9, he tells Titus to avoid foolish questions and genealogies and contentions and strivings about the law. These phrases have been held to be allusions to the tenets of Marcion, and to those of some of the Gnostic sects. There are also other expressions, such as fables and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3, 4; 1 Timothy 6:3), words to no profit but the subverting of the hearer (2 Timothy 2:14), foolish and unlearned questions which do gender strifes (2 Timothy 2:23), questions and strifes of words (1 Timothy 6:4, 5), discussions which lead to nothing but word-battles and profane babbling. Such are the expressions which Paul uses. These, taken with what is even more clearly stated in the Epistle to the Colossians, certainly point to an incipient Gnosticism. But had the writer of the Pastoral Epistles been combating the Gnosticism of the 2nd century, it would not have been phrases like these that he would have employed, but others much more definite. Godet, quoted by Dods (Intro, 175), writes, "The danger here is of substituting intellectualism in religion for piety of heart and life. Had the writer been a Christian of the 2nd century, trying, under the name of Paul, to stigmatize the Gnostic systems, he would certainly have used much stronger expressions to describe their character and influence."

It should be observed that the false teachers described in 2 Timothy 3:6-9, 13, as well as in other places in these epistles, were persons who taught that the Mosaic Law was binding upon all Christians. They laid stress upon rabbinic myths, upon investigations and disputations about genealogies and specific legal requirements of the Old Testament. What they taught was a form of piously sounding doctrine assuming to be Christian, but which was really rabbinism.

"For a pseudo-Paul in the post-apostolic age-when Christians of Jewish birth had become more and more exceptions in the Gentile Christian church-to have invented a description of and vigorously to have opposed the heterodidaskaloi, who did not exist in his own age, and who were without parallel in the earlier epistles of Paul, would have been to expose himself to ridicule without apparent purpose or meaning" (Zahn, Introduction, II, 117). "A comparison of the statements in these epistles about various kinds of false doctrine, and of those portions of the same that deal with the organization and officers of the church, with conditions actually existing in the church, especially the church of Asia Minor, at the beginning and during the course of the 2nd century, proves, just as clearly as does the external evidence, that they must have been written at latest before the year 100. But they could not have been written during the first two decades after Paul's death, because of the character of the references to persons, facts and conditions in Paul's lifetime and his own personal history, and because of the impossibility on this assumption of discovering a plausible motive for their forgery. Consequently the claim that they are post-Pauline, and contain matter which is un-Pauline, is to be treated with the greatest suspicion" (Zahn, op. cit., II, 118).

3. Difficulty Relative to Language:

The third difficulty alleged against the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles is connected with the language employed, which is said to be, to a large extent, different from that in the accepted epistles. The facts in regard to this matter are that in 1 Timothy there are 82 words not found elsewhere in the New Testament; in 2 Timothy there are 53 such words, and in Titus there are 33. But, while the total of such words in the three epistles is 168, this number, large though it appears, may be compared with the words used only once in the other Epistles of Paul. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians and Philemon, the words of this description are 627 in number. So nothing can be built upon the fact of the 168 peculiar words in the Pastoral Epistles, that can safely be alleged as proof against their Pauline authorship. The special subjects treated in these epistles required adequate language, a requirement and a claim which would not be refused in the case of any ordinary author.

The objections to the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, based upon the dissimilarity of diction in them and in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, cease to exist when theory is no longer persisted in, that the nucleus of the Pastoral Epistles was composed during the Roman imprisonment, which, according to this theory ended, not in the apostle's release, but in his execution. The fact that he was writing to intimate and beloved friends, both on personal matters and on the subject of church organization, and on that of incipient Gnosticism, which was troubling the churches of Asia Minor, made it essential that he should, to a large extent, use a different vocabulary.

4. Is There "Another Gospel" in the Pastorals?:

The "most decisive" of all the arguments against the Pauline authorship is that "the Christianity of the Pastoral Epistles is not the Christianity of Paul" (McGiffert, A History of Christianity, 402). "For the most part," Dr. McGiffert writes, "there is no trace whatever of the great fundamental truth of Paul's gospel-death unto the flesh and life in the Spirit." Now this is not so, for the passages which Dr. McGiffert himself gives in a footnote (2 Timothy 1:9-11; 2 Timothy 2:11 Titus 3:4-7), as well as other references, do most certainly refer to this very aspect of the gospel. For example, the passage in 2 Timothy 2 contains these words, "If we died with him (Christ), we shall also live with him." What is this but the great truth of the union of the Christian believer with Christ? The believer is one with Christ in His death, one with Him now as He lives and reigns. The objection, therefore, which is "most decisive of all," is one which is not true in point of fact. Dr. McGiffert also charges the author of the Pastoral Epistles as being "one who understood by resurrection nothing else than the resurrection of the fleshly body" (p. 430). The body of our Lord was raised from the dead, but how very unjust this accusation is, is evident from such a passage as 1 Timothy 3:16, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness;

He who was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit,

Seen of angels,

Preached among the nations,

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory."

Charges of this nature are unsupported by evidence, and are of the kind on which Dr. A.S. Peake (A Critical Introduction to the New Testament, 71) bases his rejection of the Pauline authorship-except for a Pauline nucleus-that he "feels clear." More than an ipse dixit of this sort is needed.

The theory that the Pastoral Epistles are based upon genuine letters or notes of Paul to Timothy and Titus is thus advocated by Peake, McGiffert, Moffatt and many others. It bears very hard upon 1 Timothy. "In 1 Timothy not a single verse can be indicated, which clearly bears the stamp of Pauline origin" (Peake, op. cit., 70). "We may fairly conclude then in agreement with many modern scholars that we have here, in the Pastoral Epistles, authentic letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus, worked over and enlarged by another hand" (McGiffert, op. cit., 405). In regard to 1 Timothy he writes, "It is very likely that there are scattered fragments of the original epistle in 1 Timothy, as for instance in 1:23. But it is difficult to find anything which we can be confident was written by Paul" (p. 407).

Dr. McGiffert also alleges that in the Pastoral Epistles, the word "faith" "is not employed in its profound Pauline sense, but is used to signify one of the cardinal virtues, along with love, peace, purity, righteousness, sanctification, patience and meekness." One of the Pauline epistles, with which he contrasts the Pastorals, is the Epistle to the Galatians; and the groundlessness of this charge is evident from Galatians 5:22, where "faith" is included in the list there given of the fruit of the Spirit, along with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and self-control.

If the Pastoral Epistles are the work of Paul, then, Dr. McGiffert concludes, Paul had given up that form of the gospel which he had held and taught throughout his life, and descended from the lofty religious plane upon which he had always moved, to the level of mere piety and morality (op. cit., 404). But this charge is not just or reasonable, in view of the fact that the apostle is instructing Timothy and Titus how to combat the views and practices of immoral teachers. Or again, in such a passage as 1 Timothy 1:12-17 the King James Version, the author of the epistle has not descended from the lofty plane of faith to that of mere piety and morality, when he writes, "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."

If such be the "most decisive" objection against the Pauline authorship, the other difficulties, as already seen, need not cause alarm, for they resolve themselves into the equally groundless charges that the historical requirements of the epistles cannot be fitted into any part of Paul's life, and that the doctrine and ecclesiastical organization do not suit the Apostolic age. These objections have been already referred to.

The real difficulty, writes Dr. Peake (A Critical Introduction, 68), is that "the old energy of thought and expression is gone, and the greater smoothness and continuity in the grammar is a poor compensation for the lack of grip and of continuity in the thought." Dr. Peake well and truly says that this statement does not admit of detailed proof. Lack of grip and lack of continuity of thought are not the characteristics of such passages as 1 Timothy 1:9-17, a passage which will bear comparison with anything in the acknowledged Pauline Epistles; and there are many other similar passages, e.g. Titus 2:11-3:7.

What must be said of the dullness of the intelligence of Christian men and of the Christian church as a whole, if they could thus let themselves be imposed upon by epistles which purported to be Paul's, but which were not written by him at all, but were the enlargement of a Pauline nucleus? Can it be believed that the church of the 2nd century, the church of the martyrs, was in such a state of mental decrepitude as to receive epistles which were spurious, so far as the greater portion of their contents is concerned? And can it be believed that this idea, so recently originated and so destitute of proof, is andequate explanation of epistles which have been received as Pauline from the earliest times?

When placed side by side with sub-apostolic writings like the Didache, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Ignatius, "it is difficult to resist the idea which returns upon one with almost every sentence that.... the Pastorals are astonishingly superior" (Moffatt, The Historical New Testament, 556). Godet, quoted by R.D. Shaw (The Pauline Epistles, 441), writes, "When one has had enough of the pious amplifications of Clement of Rome, of the ridiculous inanities of Barnabas, of the general oddities of Ignatius, of the well-meant commonplaces of Polycarp, of the intolerable verbiage of Hermas, and of the nameless platitudes of the Didache, and, after this promenade in the first decade of the 2nd century, reverts to our Pastoral Epistles, one will measure the distance that separates the least striking products of the apostolic literature from what has been preserved to us as most eminent in the ancient patristic literature."

In the case of some modern critics, the interpolation hypothesis "is their first and last appeal, the easy solution of any difficulty that presents itself to their imaginations. Each writer feels free to give the kaleidoscope a fresh turn, and then records with blissful confidence what are called the latest results..... The whole method postulates that a writer must always preserve the same dull monotone or always confine himself to the same transcendental heights..... He must see and say everything at once; having had his vision and his dream, he must henceforth be like a star and dwell apart..... To be stereotyped is his only salvation.....

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//christianbookshelf.org/cyprian/the epistles of cyprian/

Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians
Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians. <. Homilies on
the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians Saint Chrysostom. ...
/.../chrysostom/homilies on the epistles of paul to the corinthians/

Two Epistles Concerning Virginity
Two Epistles Concerning Virginity. <. Two Epistles Concerning Virginity Clement
of Rome. Translated by the Rev. BP Pratten Table of Contents. ...
//christianbookshelf.org/clement/two epistles concerning virginity/

The Epistles in General
... The Epistles in General. THE EPISTOLARY FORM IN BIBLICAL LITERATURE. ... Aside from the
Gospels his Epistles form the most prominent part of the New Testament. ...
/.../drummond/introduction to the new testament/the epistles in general.htm

The Pastoral Epistles
... The Pastoral Epistles. AUTHORSHIP ... Yet it is especially on the strength of
internal evidence that these Epistles have been attacked. ...
/.../drummond/introduction to the new testament/the pastoral epistles.htm

The Epistles of Paul
... The Epistles of Paul. PAUL There ... years. From the pastoral epistles and tradition
we may infer that his first trial ended in acquittal. ...
/.../drummond/introduction to the new testament/the epistles of paul.htm

The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained
The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained. <. ...
/.../luther/the epistles of st peter and st jude preached and explained/

The Epistles.
... Section 86. The Epistles. ... This is the best evidence of their divine inspiration.
The Epistles are divided into two groups, Catholic and Pauline. ...
/.../schaff/history of the christian church volume i/section 86 the epistles.htm

Epistles (2 Occurrences)
... (1.) Paul's Epistles, fourteen in number, including Hebrews. ... (see GALATIANS, EPISTLE
TO.). The epistles to Timothy and Titus are styled the Pastoral Epistles. ...
/e/epistles.htm - 80k

... Catholic epistles: The epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; so called because
they are addressed to Christians in general, and not to any church or person ...
/c/catholic.htm - 9k

Philemon (2 Occurrences)
... Philemon, Epistle to. Was written from Rome at the same time as the epistles
to the Colossians and Ephesians, and was sent also by Onesimus. ...
/p/philemon.htm - 17k

Antichrist (4 Occurrences)
... IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 1. The Gospels 2. Pauline Epistles 3. Johannine Epistles
4. Book of Revelation III. IN APOCALYPTIC WRITINGS IV. ...
/a/antichrist.htm - 26k

... 3. Epistles of Paul: The Epistles are permeated with the doctrine of
self-surrender. The Pauline Epistles are particularly full of it. ...
/s/selfsurrender.htm - 17k

... 3. Epistles of Paul: The Epistles are permeated with the doctrine of
self-surrender. The Pauline Epistles are particularly full of it. ...
/s/self-surrender.htm - 17k

Laodiceans (2 Occurrences)
... EVIDENCE FAVORING EPISTLE TO EPHESIANS 1. Marcion's Opinion 2. References in Ephesians
and Other Epistles 3. Ephesian Church Jewish in Origin 4. Ephesians and ...
/l/laodiceans.htm - 28k

Colossians (1 Occurrence)
... Like some of his other epistles (eg, those to Corinth), this seems to have been
written in consequence of information which had somehow been conveyed to him of ...
/c/colossians.htm - 23k

... 1) Christ as Prophet (2) Christ as King (3) Christ as Priest (Redeemer) 2. Primitive
Apostolic Teachings (1) The Early Speeches in Acts (2) Epistles of James ...
/m/mediation.htm - 38k

Mediator (7 Occurrences)
... 1) Christ as Prophet (2) Christ as King (3) Christ as Priest (Redeemer) 2. Primitive
Apostolic Teachings (1) The Early Speeches in Acts (2) Epistles of James ...
/m/mediator.htm - 42k

What are the Pauline Epistles? | GotQuestions.org

What is an epistle? What are the Epistles in the Bible? | GotQuestions.org

What are the prison epistles? | GotQuestions.org

Epistles: Dictionary and Thesaurus | Clyx.com

Bible ConcordanceBible DictionaryBible EncyclopediaTopical BibleBible Thesuarus
Epistles (2 Occurrences)

2 Corinthians 3:1
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

2 Peter 3:16
As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.



Epistles of Luke to Theophilus

Epistles of Paul To Timothy

Epistles Of Peter

Epistles: from the Congregation at Jerusalem to the Gentiles

Related Terms


Philemon (2 Occurrences)

Antichrist (4 Occurrences)



Laodiceans (2 Occurrences)

Colossians (1 Occurrence)


Mediator (7 Occurrences)



Law (670 Occurrences)





Holy (1097 Occurrences)

Thessalonians (6 Occurrences)

Spirit (706 Occurrences)


Church (110 Occurrences)

Fullness (31 Occurrences)

Tychicus (5 Occurrences)

Discourse (25 Occurrences)


Adoption (5 Occurrences)


Silas (22 Occurrences)

Thessalonica (8 Occurrences)


Apostles (79 Occurrences)


Lady (37 Occurrences)

Charity (29 Occurrences)

Galatians (2 Occurrences)

Ephesians (4 Occurrences)

Introduction (3 Occurrences)


Simon (75 Occurrences)


Philippians (2 Occurrences)

Praetorian (2 Occurrences)

Timothy (28 Occurrences)

Bishop (4 Occurrences)

Hebrews (24 Occurrences)

Ascension (1 Occurrence)

Reconciliation (11 Occurrences)

Reconcile (10 Occurrences)

Persecution (22 Occurrences)

New (1850 Occurrences)

Romans (8 Occurrences)



Titus (15 Occurrences)

Paul (207 Occurrences)

Jude (4 Occurrences)

Text (5 Occurrences)


Corinthians (3 Occurrences)

Syriac (2 Occurrences)


King (25505 Occurrences)


Supper (17 Occurrences)


Intercession (12 Occurrences)


Apostle (25 Occurrences)

Person (807 Occurrences)


Malefactor (2 Occurrences)

Faithful (136 Occurrences)

Guard (185 Occurrences)

Grace (277 Occurrences)

Literature (2 Occurrences)

Consist (7 Occurrences)

Ministry (44 Occurrences)

Doctrine (52 Occurrences)

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