How to Study the Bible (The Epistles)


by Joe Bayless



  • Represent 21 books of the New Testament
  • 13 by Paul, 3 by John, 2 by Peter, 1 by James the brother of Jesus, 1 by Jude the brother of Jesus, 1 by an unknown writer.
  • Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, Jude


  • Epistles are letters written to churches and to individuals with the purpose of giving specific instruction for a specific situation.
  • If Proverbs and wisdom literature represent general observations for general situations, epistles represent specific observations about specific situations.


Why Study the Epistles?

1. Some of them are the earliest New Testament writings we have.

  • They represent the earliest written witnesses to the person and work of Christ.
  • James is considered the oldest, followed by Galatians and Thessalonians.

2. They contain some of the most important theological statements in the Bible.

We derive a lot of our theology from the epistles. Some examples:

  • Justification by Faith – Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:21
  • Doctrine of Christ – Colossians 1:15-20
  • Priesthood of Christ – Hebrews 3:1
  • Theology of the Resurrection – 1st Corinthians 15
  • Doctrine of Scripture – 2nd Timothy 3:16

3. They contain some of the clearest statements on practical Christian living.

Take for example James and what he teaches.

  • How to respond to trials. James 1:2-4
  • Being a doer of the word. James 1:22-25
  • Importance of taking care of widows and orphans. James 1:26
  • Praying. James 1:5-8, 5:16b-18


How to Interpret an Epistle

1. Recognize that an epistle was written to a church or to a person a long time ago.

  • Example: Romans was written to the church in Rome. Titus was written to a man named Titus.

2. Understand that there is a cultural difference between you and the original reader.

  • Example: Kissing – Rom. 16:16; Slaves – Col. 4:1; Meat sacrificed to idols – 1 Cor. 8:4-6

3. Be aware that all epistles have a similar structure.

  • Greeting. (Ex. James 1:1 – The author and audience are identified)
  • Body of the letter.
  • Conclusion.

4. Take general principles away from passages that are very specific to the original readers.

Passages are very specific because of:

  • What was going on in the church at that time
  • Example: Removal of a Corinthian church member – 1 Cor. 5
  • Cultural differences
  • Example: Slaves – Col. 4:1; Meat sacrificed to idols – 1 Cor. 8:4-8; Kissing – Rom. 16:16

5. Notice principles that apply to all believers at all times.

  • Examples: 1st John 2:15-17, James 1:22-24, 1st Thess. 5:16-18


Discussion Questions

1. Was there anything new about the epistles that you’ve learned tonight?

2. Do you read the New Testament epistles often in your Christian walk?

3. Are there particular passages that you have struggled with understanding from the epistles?

4. Which universal principle do you need to apply to your Christian walk? (1st John 2:15-17, James 1:22-24, 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18)

5. How will you approach the epistles differently after the lesson?


One thought on “How to Study the Bible (The Epistles)

  1. Pingback: How to Study the Bible « Unspoken

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