The final genre I am going to write about is epistle. I think that by and large, the church gets the reading of an epistle pretty close to right. In a way, that is the problem with how we read everything else. We tend to apply the interpretation schemes we use for epistles to everything else.
What is an epistle? It is a letter sent from a person in authority to those under his authority.
Epistles are not exhaustive theological treatises although they often contain a lot of theology.
An epistle is a carefully thought out, well-developed letter of information and command. Often they were written in response to specific questions, which makes reading them sometimes a challenge because we do not have the questions before us. This is particularly true of 1 & 2 Corinthians, which are clearly pointed responses to questions we never heard asked.
How do we read epistles?
First of all, read them for internal consistency. Don’t spend all your time trying to make connections to other epistles or other portions of Scripture unless the author makes a clear connection. (Galatians is a book that has a lot of clear connections made.) Instead, read the epistle as a stand-alone letter first.
Then, consult other epistles.</b< If there a passage that seems easily misunderstood or could have multiple meanings, keep it in mind when you read other epistles. You will be surprised how often the Scriptures interpret themselves.
Most importantly, read them understanding that the authors were placed in authority over the church by Jesus himself. The apostles develop the themes of the church in the epistles. Jesus did the work of salvation; and the apostles struggle to apply that work to the church’s life.
Remember also that the epistles do, to a certain extent, involve a dialogue – a give-and-take as the apostles worked through the ramifications of Jesus’ work and teachings. It is important to let these ideas be worked out. Be dogmatic about the body of work as a whole, but don’t be dogmatic on specific, isolated passages that seem to be inconsistent with the rest.