New Testament Letters I: Overview
When we open the New Testament and look at its Table of Contents, the first striking thing is how many letters are represented there: The Letter to the Romans, the First Letter to the Corinthians …, the Letter of James, the First Letter of Peter, etc. The different letters are organized into two corpora, the Pauline corpus with fourteen letters (including Hebrews; see below) and the Catholic Epistles with seven letters. We therefore have a total of twenty-one letters, which numerically accounts for the great majority of the twenty-seven writings of the New Testament canon. Whether these are all real letters in terms of their genre is another question, which we will address on a case to case basis. A somewhat different picture of the New Testament emerges when we count not the number of letters but their length. No letter even approaches the length of the Gospel of Luke or the book of Acts. But even according to length the letters still comprise about a third of the New Testament text. Moreover, there are other letters outside the letter corpora. Two are incorporated in Acts (15:23–29 and 23:26–30), and Revelation not only contains seven letters of a special type—the open letters to the churches of Asia in chapters 2–3—but also has its own overall letter frame.
Following our presentation of the Greek and Roman literary letters (chap. 4) and of the Old Testament and early Jewish letters (chap. 6), we here approach the New Testament letters in two stages. Before our more detailed analysis of 1–2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter, and the letters in Acts in chapter 8, we first take stock of the other letters in the present chapter. Each letter is briefly introduced with a summary of the present state of research, particularly regarding epistolary and rhetorical