I. Identifying Epistle
i. Letters that are found in the New Testament.
ii. Written first century letters that was occasional documents (“arising out of and intended for a specific occasion”).
iii. “An epistle is a letter designed for wide circulation that addresses current issues and revives personal relationship.”
i. Six elements
1. Name of the writer
2. Name of the recipient
4. Prayer wish or thanksgiving
6. Final Greeting and Farewell
ii. Two main parts
a. The factual statement of Christian truth that a Christian ought to know.
b. Typically the bulk of indicatives are found in the beginning section of the epistle.
a. The command, exhortation and prohibition that a Christian ought to practice.
b. Typically the bulk of the imperatives are found in the ending section of the epistle.
II. Principles in interpreting Epistles
a. Remember: “A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to his or her readers.”
i. Fee goes on to write that “This rule does not always help one find out what a text means, but it does help to set limits as to what it cannot mean.”
ii. Hence this principle is the objective controlling principle regulating the following principles and other hermeneutical principles in interpreting the epistles.
b. Identify the elements of an epistle
i. Identifying the elements are helpful keys to interpreting its function in the text.
ii. Asking these questions might help:
1. Who is the author and what do we know about him? Where the author located at during the writing, and what was was he going through?
2. Who are the recipients, what was their relationship to the author and where were the recipients located?
3. What was included and what was excluded in the greetings that were not typically found in other New Testament epistles?
4. What was the content of the epistle’s prayer wish or thanksgiving, and the reason for them?
5. What was the main body addressing about?
c. Consider how the passage fits into the whole of the epistle
i. What section of the epistles is the passage coming from?
ii. How does the passage contribute to the part, section and whole?
d. Find out the historical context of the epistle.
i. In considering the nature of epistles as a document addressing an occasion (see the above definition of the epistle), the background ought to be taken seriously.
ii. Background material to the Epistle can be found within the Scriptures: Book of Acts.
In a fascinating interdependence of the Biblical genre, the book of Acts as a New Testament narrative help illuminates the background information for the epistles!
iii. Background material to the Epistle can be found outside of the Scriptures: 1st Century documents, archaeology, history, etc.
e. The imperatives are to be grounded in the indicatives
The epistle’s “theological worldview provides the rationale for behavior by grounding the imperative in the indicative. That is, the epistles command, rebuke, and exhort, but they do so on the basis of the character and work of God.”
f. The implication of the epistles’ indicatives are found in the imperatives
The indicatives in the epistles are to be believed and if believed, should result in a change of behavior as covered in the imperative section of the epistle.
 Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart., How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 48.
 Jeffrey Arthurs, Preaching With Variety: How to Re-Create the Dynamics of Biblical Genres, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications), 152.
 Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart., How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 46-47.
 Ibid, 64.
 Ibid, 49-54.
 See my outline, “The aid of natural revelation as tools in hermeneutics”, in the basic course of hermeneutics available at http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/introduction-to-hermeneutics-series-session-eleven-the-aid-of-natural-revelation-in-hermeneutics/ .