Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


11. New Testament Letters

Video Introduction


The New Testament contains twenty-one letters that have been arranged in a recognizable pattern. Scholars and church leaders also sometimes employ various labels for discussing particular groups or types of letters (Pastoral Letters, Captivity Epistles, Catholic Epistles, etc.).

In the ancient world, letters were typically written on papyrus. Many authors would employ an amanuensis or scribe for assistance in letter writing, and the extent of that person’s contribution to the process could vary. Most letters in the ancient world exhibit a clear format consisting of four parts: salutation, thanksgiving, main body, and closing.

Many scholars believe that some of the letters in the New Testament are pseudepigraphical, that is, ascribed to an author who did not literally write that letter (indeed, who may even have been dead). A spectrum of possibilities may be discerned, with several intermediate “levels of authenticity” in between literal authorship and outright forgery. Scholars disagree on the level of authenticity that ought to be accorded many of the New Testament letters.

Study Questions

  1. List the thirteen New Testament letters that are attributed to Paul, then indicate whether each of these letters would be placed in any of the following categories: (1) undisputed letters of Paul; (2) deutero-Pauline letters; (3) Pastoral Letters; (4) Captivity Epistles; (5) Catholic Epistles. Which letters fit into more than one category?

  2. What is an amanuensis, and what role might such a person have played in the composition of New Testament letters? Why does such a role become significant in discussions of pseudepigraphy?

  3. List the four main components of an ancient letter and provide a one-sentence description for each component.

  4. List seven levels of authenticity that might be applied when questions of authorship are raised for New Testament letters and indicate what is meant by each of these.

  5. What factors might influence a scholar in deciding that a letter is or is not pseudepigraphical? Cite three factors that might incline a scholar to favor authenticity and three that might incline a scholar to favor pseudepigraphy.

Video: Letter Writing in the New Testament World

Overview: The New Testament Letters