In This Article Catholic Epistles

  • Introduction

Biblical Studies Catholic Epistles
by
Peter H. Davids, Darian R. Lockett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • 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 (James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude) form a discrete collection of works the New Testament. While 1 Peter, 1 John, and Jude were all known and used at an early period in the history of the Christian Church, all seven of these letters entered the New Testament canon as a group. Eusebius of Caesarea (Historia Ecclesiastica 2.23.25, in the early 4th century CE) was the first to explicitly list these seven letters as “the Epistles called Catholic” or Catholic Epistles. Whereas Eusebius is clearly depending upon earlier tradition, it is unclear when exactly these seven letters were first viewed as the collection called the 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 article 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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