What Are the General Epistles?

Women reading a book,Women reading the Holy Bible.
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Some refer to the general epistles as the non-Pauline epistles, because they are the books of the New Testament that appear not to have been written by Paul the apostle. These writings have a variety of authors and constitute seven of the New Testament books. These books aren't addressed to any particular individual, so many consider them to be universal letters addressed to everyone.

Themes of the General Epistles

The general epistles contain three themes: faith, hope, and love. These epistles were meant to inspire each of us in our daily Christian walks. When the epistles discuss faith, it is about keeping and maintaining God's commandments. James was particularly focused on us upholding those commandments. He reminds us that God's laws are absolute, not optional. He explains that God's laws aren't trying to hold us down, but give us freedom instead.

Yet what is faith without hope? Peter's epistles take the laws we uphold and give us hope for the future. We are reminded that life may be difficult, but there is eternal glory at the end. He reminds us that we all have a destiny and purpose in God and that one day the Lord will return to establish His Kingdom. This focus on the future is also why Peter's books warn us to avoid false prophets. He explains the dangers of becoming distracted from God's purpose. Jude also reiterates this concept in his epistle.

The books of John are the ones that emphasize love. While he does not identify himself as the authors of the letters, it is widely believed that he wrote them. He describes the perfect love of Jesus and puts a strong emphasis on two commandments: loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. He explained how we can show God love by living by his laws and fulfilling our purpose in Him. Obedience is an ultimate act of love.

Controversies With the General Epistles

While there are seven books that are classified as general epistles, there continues to be debate over Hebrews. Some attribute Hebrews to Paul, so it is sometimes classified as a Pauline epistle, while others believe the epistle had a different author altogether. No author is named in the epistle, so there continues to be uncertainty. Also, it is believed that 2 Peter was a pseudepigraphical work, meaning that it may have been written by another author, though attributed to Peter.

General Epistle Books

  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude

Lessons From the General Epistles

Much of the general epistles focus on the practical side of our faith. For instance, James' epistle is a guide for getting through difficult times in our lives. He teaches us the power of prayer, how to hold our tongue, and being patient. In today's world, those are incredibly undervalued lessons.

We face everyday afflictions. From those problems, we can develop a stronger faith and relationship with God. From these epistles, we learn patience and persistence. It is also through these epistles that we are introduced to the idea of deliverance. We get to hope that Christ will return, giving us hope. We are also again warned against false ministers that would lead us away from God's teaching.

Through our reading of the general epistles, we learn to overcome fear. We learn that we have power. We learn that we have the love and grace of God to overcome anything. We take comfort in that we have an eternal future in Him. He allows us to think freely. He allows us to care for others and feel cared for at all times. We are encouraged by these epistles and those of Paul to be brave in the Lord.

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Mahoney, Kelli. "What Are the General Epistles?" Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-are-the-general-epistles-712732. Mahoney, Kelli. (2021, February 8). What Are the General Epistles? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-are-the-general-epistles-712732 Mahoney, Kelli. "What Are the General Epistles?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-are-the-general-epistles-712732 (accessed March 21, 2023).