Epistolary Literature of the New Testament -- By: Louis F. Gough

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 06:0 (NA 1973)
Article: Epistolary Literature of the New Testament
Author: Louis F. Gough


Epistolary Literature of the New Testament

Louis F. Gough

Besides the two official letters included in the Acts of the Apostles, genuine letters written true to the conventional letter-form of the period in which they were written, the greater part of the New Testament is made up of books called epistles. These epistles have been treated in various manners and categorized in numerous ways in certain literary studies.

In R. G. Moulton’s The Literary Study of the Bible and his smaller and later work, A Short Introduction to the Literature of the Bible the twenty-one books of the New Testament which are usually classified as epistles are categorized in the following way:

Moulton divides the epistles under four main headings: (1) Pastoral Epistle or Pastoral Intercourse; (2) Epistolary Treatise; (3) Epistolary Manifesto; and (4) Wisdom Epistle.

According to Moulton the common structure of the “pastoral epistle” over and above the formal greeting at the commencement and personal message at the close is of three distinct parts: (a) “Recognition of the mutual relations between the writer and the people addressed”; (b) “At the end is exhortation”; and (c) “Between the recognition and exhortation comes the doctrinal discussion.”1 In this frame Moulton includes 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John.

The second group, “epistolary treatises,” Moulton characterizes by their not being addressed to a particular church on the one hand,2 and on the other hand the doctrinal discussion is a formal and ordered exposition. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans and the Epistle to the Hebrews are according to Moulton “epistolary treatises.”

The next class of epistles are the “epistolary manifestos.” Moulton writes: “Distinct from the pastoral epistles, which are concerned with the government of the churches, the manifesto

is rather an act of faith: not a discussion of details, but a reassertion of the Christian hope in all its fulness, coloured in its form by the particular circumstances which have called it forth.”3 Moulton includes under this heading Ephesians (further described as a circular epistolary manifesto), Colossians, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude, 1 John.

Moulton includes the remaining book, the Epistle of St. James, in his group of “wisdom literature” along with Matthew and the Fourth Gospel. According to him this br...

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