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[ih-pis-uh l] /ɪˈpɪs əl/
a letter, especially a formal or didactic one; written communication.
(usually initial capital letter) one of the apostolic letters in the New Testament.
(often initial capital letter) an extract, usually from one of the Epistles of the New Testament, forming part of the Eucharistic service in certain churches.
Origin of epistle
before 900; Middle English; Old English epistol < Latin epistula, epistola < Greek epistolḗ message, letter, equivalent to epi- epi- + stol- (variant stem of stéllein to send) + noun suffix Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for epistles
Historical Examples
  • The second and third epistles were not written by the writer of the first.

    The Bible John E. Remsburg
  • The occasion of publishing these Imitations was the clamour raised on some of my epistles.

    Essay on Man Alexander Pope
  • Having concluded and despatched these epistles, our hero determined that he would take a stroll about the metropolis.

    The Poacher Frederick Marryat
  • He never had seen anything like it, either in the odes or in the epistles of Horace.

    Samuel Brohl & Company Victor Cherbuliez
  • But I have some more foul way to trot through still, in your epistles and Satyrs, &c.

  • In his epistles he cannot conceal the irritation caused by his "chain."

  • But the mischief was done: no amount of epistles or madrigals could repair it.

  • Which of the epistles tells us that he who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God?

  • That of the epistles is a doctrine of Incarnation, appealing to the eternal manifestation of God in man.

  • The epistles of the other son are full of accounts of what he thought most remarkable in his reading.

    Isaac Bickerstaff Richard Steele
British Dictionary definitions for epistles


a letter, esp one that is long, formal, or didactic
a literary work in letter form, esp a dedicatory verse letter of a type originated by Horace
Word Origin
Old English epistol, via Latin from Greek epistolē, from epistellein to send to, from stellein to prepare, send


(New Testament) any of the apostolic letters of Saints Paul, Peter, James, Jude, or John
a reading from one of the Epistles, forming part of the Eucharistic service in many Christian Churches
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for epistles



Old English epistol, from Old French epistle, epistre (Modern French épitre), from Latin epistola "letter," from Greek epistole "message, letter, command, commission," whether verbal or in writing, from epistellein "send to," from epi "to" (see epi-) + stellein in its secondary sense of "to dispatch, send" from PIE *stel-yo-, suffixed form of root *stel- "to put, stand," with derivatives referring to a standing object or place (see stall (n.1)).

Also acquired in Old English directly from Latin as pistol. Specific sense of "letter from an apostle forming part of canonical scripture" is c.1200.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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epistles in the Bible

the apostolic letters. The New Testament contains twenty-one in all. They are divided into two classes. (1.) Paul's Epistles, fourteen in number, including Hebrews. These are not arranged in the New Testament in the order of time as to their composition, but rather according to the rank of the cities or places to which they were sent. Who arranged them after this manner is unknown. Paul's letters were, as a rule, dictated to an amanuensis, a fact which accounts for some of their peculiarities. He authenticated them, however, by adding a few words in his own hand at the close. (See GALATIANS, EPISTLE TO.) The epistles to Timothy and Titus are styled the Pastoral Epistles. (2.) The Catholic or General Epistles, so called because they are not addressed to any particular church or city or individual, but to Christians in general, or to Christians in several countries. Of these, three are written by John, two by Peter, and one each by James and Jude. It is an interesting and instructive fact that a large portion of the New Testament is taken up with epistles. The doctrines of Christianity are thus not set forth in any formal treatise, but mainly in a collection of letters. "Christianity was the first great missionary religion. It was the first to break the bonds of race and aim at embracing all mankind. But this necessarily involved a change in the mode in which it was presented. The prophet of the Old Testament, if he had anything to communicate, either appeared in person or sent messengers to speak for him by word of mouth. The narrow limits of Palestine made direct personal communication easy. But the case was different when the Christian Church came to consist of a number of scattered parts, stretching from Mesopotamia in the east to Rome or even Spain in the far west. It was only natural that the apostle by whom the greater number of these communities had been founded should seek to communicate with them by letter."

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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