The Letters of the Bible

How long has it been since you received an actual handwritten letter in the mail? A real letter in an envelope, with a stamp on it, and a postmark? How long since you wrote one of those yourself? For some of you, the answer is (sadly) never.

During my childhood, we received letters from Grandpa. He lived on the West coast and most of my life, we lived in Tennessee and Kentucky. He never visited us. Just like clockwork, except when he was ill, we received a letter, sometimes as many as three per month. Of course, this was long before free long distance, and cellphones were nonexistent. There were no personal computers. No Facebook or Twitter or Skype. We sent and received news via handwritten letters.

The Bible contains twenty-one letters, originally handwritten (thirteen authored by Paul). These are called epistles. What is an epistle? Wikipedia defines an epistle as a letter written in didactic style. These letters were originally written to teach and train. They were sermons, sent to a specific party, but meant to be shared (as in Colossians 4:16, “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.).

My favorite of Merriam Webster’s definitions is: a letter; especially: a formal or elegant letter. But as it applies to the biblical, this definition is more accurate: 1. (a): one of the letters adopted as books of the New Testament, or (b): a liturgical lection usually from one of the New Testament Epistles.

I can’t really choose a favorite among so many letters included in the New Testament, but Ephesians is way up there. Ephesians 5: 1-2:

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.

One of the most famous passages is found in I Corinthians 13, commonly known as the “Love Chapter.”

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13: 4-7

During much of his ministry, Paul was not a free man. He endured much hardship and pain. His letters often reflected his trials, but throughout, he continued to encourage his readers not to give up. He prayed for his readers. He told the Thessalonians, “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers.”

His letters were not just utilitarian, but pragmatic. He showed genuine love and concern for his readers. He often ended his letters with personal notations and sometimes wrote the salutation in his own hand, as in Colossians 4:18 “This salutation by my own hand––Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.”

Interesting, uplifting, encouraging, strengthening are just a few of the words off the top of my head for the many epistles of the Bible. For this reason, I encourage you to take the time to read every one of them and think of them as letters written to you. Because they are.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 1:3

Writing Prompt: I stared at the envelope in my hand for several moments. Why was I afraid to open it? Maybe because it had been twenty-five years since I’d heard from him.