In This Article Catholic Epistles

  • Introduction

Biblical Studies Catholic Epistles
by
Peter H. Davids
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0018

Introduction

Alongside the four Gospels, Acts, the Pauline letters (which often included Hebrews) and the Apocalypse, the Catholic Epistles (also known as the General Epistles) form the fifth collection of works the New Testament. While James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude were all known at an early period in the history of the Christian Church and sometimes combined along with other works in a single codex, the Bishop and Church Father Eusebius of Caesarea (Historia Ecclesiastica 2.23.25, in the early 4th century CE) was the first to explicitly group these seven letters as “the Epistles called Catholic” or Catholic Epistles. He grouped them since none of them is addressed to a single named church and so they are catholic (in the sense of “universal”) or general. About the same time, the great 4th-century codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus featured the seven in the same order as they are found in most New Testaments today. This collection of seven disparate works from multiple authors became a standard part of the New Testament canon, grouping, as it does (if one accepts the traditional attribution of the works), two of Jesus’ apostles (Peter and John); James, the brother or relative of Jesus (whom later tradition also identified as one of the Twelve); and his brother Jude (called “the brother of James”). The order of the books deliberately brackets Peter and John between the bookends of the third “pillar” of the Jerusalem Church (Gal 2:9) and his brother. This bibliography entry will be broken down into treatments of multiple works and then treatments of each work or group of works.

General Overviews

Because of the disparate nature of these works, there are few truly general treatments. For the purpose of clarity, these will be divided into two groups: those that treat all seven Catholic Epistles and those that treat only two to four of them.

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