Catholic Epistle, the name given to the Epistle of St. James, to that of St. Jude, to two Epistles of St. Peter and the first three of St. John, because, unlike the Epistles of St. Paul, they were addressed not to any particular person or church, but to the faithful generally after the manner of an Encyclical letter. Though addressed to particular persons the other two Epistles of St. John are also styled Catholic, because they have always been grouped with the epistles bearing that name.
The catholic epistles are:
|Traditional epistle name||Author according to the text (NIV)||Traditional attribution||Modern consensus||Addressee(s) according to the text (NIV)|
|Epistle of James||“James, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ”||James, brother of Jesus||An unknown James||“To the twelve tribes of the Diaspora”|
|First Epistle of Peter||“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ”||Simon Peter||Maybe Simon Peter||“To God’s elect, exiles” in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia|
|Second Epistle of Peter||“Sim(e)on Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ”||Simon Peter||Not Simon Peter||To all Christians|
|First Epistle of John||anonymous||John, son of Zebedee||Unknown||To fellow Christians|
|Second Epistle of John||anonymous||John, son of Zebedee||Unknown||“To the lady chosen by God and to her children”|
|Third Epistle of John||anonymous||John, son of Zebedee||Unknown||“To my dear friend Gaius”|
|Epistle of Jude||“Jude” (or “Judas”), “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James”||Jude, brother of Jesus||An unknown Jude||To all Christians|
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 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.
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. Most modern scholars believe the author is not John the Apostle, but there is no scholarly consensus on any particular historical figure. (See Authorship of the Johannine works.)
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. 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 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, 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.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia