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What is an Epistle?

Ancient letters were sent to a specific person. They averaged around 200 words, which was about the maximum that one sheet of papyrus could hold. This, of course, depended heavily on the handwriting of the person writing the letter. Most letters occupied no more than one page of papyrus. Epistles were written to a broad group of people normally containing a political, philosophical, or other essay of the sort. This is why Paul’s Letters and the other works of the New Testament are called epistles. However, the New Testament Letters were written to specific people or people groups. They were not broad and generic, but dealt with specific situations and addressed directly different individuals. This would not fit the classification of an epistle; this would be a letter. However, because of the length, how the early church eventually circulated these letters to audiences that were not a part of the intended audience along with the other similarities between the New Testament Letters and ancient epistles, they were classified as epistles.


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