The Catholic epistles (also called the universal epistles or general epistles) are seven epistles of the New Testament. Listed in order of their appearance in the New Testament, the Catholic epistles are:
|Traditional epistle name||Author according to the text (NIV)||Traditional attribution||Modern consensus(3:10)|
|Epistle of James||"James, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ"||James, brother of Jesus||An unknown James|
|First Epistle of Peter||"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ"||Simon Peter||Maybe Simon Peter|
|Second Epistle of Peter||"Sim(e)on Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ"||Simon Peter||Probably not Simon Peter|
|First Epistle of John||anonymous||John, son of Zebedee||Unknown|
|Second Epistle of John||anonymous||John, son of Zebedee||Unknown|
|Third Epistle of John||anonymous||John, son of Zebedee||Unknown|
|Epistle of Jude||"Jude" (or "Judas"), "a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James"||Jude, brother of Jesus||An unknown Jude|
The word Catholic in the term Catholic epistles has been a convention dating from the 4th century. At the time, that word simply meant 'general', and was not specifically tied to any denomination, for example, what would later become known as the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, to avoid the impression these letters are only recognised in Catholicism, alternative terms such as 'general epistles' or 'general missionary epistles' are used. In the historical context, the word Catholic probably signified that the letters were addressed to the general church, and not to specific, separate congregations or persons, as with the Pauline epistles. However, 2 John and 3 John appear to contradict this view, because their addresses are respectively to the "elect lady", speculated by many to be the church itself, and to "Gaius", about whom there has been much speculation but little in the way of conclusive proof as to his identity. Some historians therefore think that the label Catholic was originally applied to just 1 John, and expanded to all other non-Pauline epistles later on.
Beginning with Martin Luther, some Protestants have sought to remove some of these epistles from the canon of the Bible or assign a lower status than the Pauline epistles. Some Protestants have termed these lesser epistles.
Three of the seven letters are anonymous. These three have traditionally been attributed to John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Consequently, these letters have been labelled the Johannine epistles, despite the fact that none of the epistles mentions any author. Modern scholars strongly doubt the author(s) were even called 'John'.
Two of the letters claim to have been written by Simon Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Therefore, they have traditionally been called the Petrine epistles. However, most modern scholars agree the second epistle was probably not written by Peter, because it appears to have been written in the early 2nd century, long after Peter had died. Yet, opinions on the first epistle are more divided; many scholars do think this letter is authentic.
In one epistle, the author only calls himself James (Ἰάκωβος Iakóbos). It is not known which James this is supposed to be. There are several different traditional Christian interpretations of other New Testament texts which mention a James, brother of Jesus. However, most modern scholars tend to reject this line of reasoning, since the author himself does not indicate any familial relationship with Jesus. A similar problem presents itself with the Epistle of Jude (Ἰούδας Ioudas): the writer names himself a brother of James (ἀδελφὸς δὲ Ἰακώβου adelphos de Iakóbou), but it is not clear which James is meant. According to some Christian traditions, this is the same James as the author of the Epistle of James, who was allegedly a brother of Jesus; and so, this Jude should also be a brother of Jesus, despite the fact he does not indicate any such thing in his text.
With the exception of the Petrine epistles, both of which may be pseudepigrapha, the seven Catholic epistles were added to the New Testament canon, because early church fathers attributed the anonymous epistles to important people, and attributed the epistles written by people with the same name as important people to those important people.(4:18)
- Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "katholieke brieven". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
- Bart D. Ehrman (2002). "16: Forgeries in the Name of Paul". Lost Christianities. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
- Bonar, Horatius (1883). Light and truth: or, Bible thoughts and themes. The Lesser epistles (4 ed.). London: J. Nisbet & co. Retrieved 14 March 2017.