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Organization of New Testament Letters

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

The Canon of the New Testament is the recognized authoritative Scripture for all Christians. Canon means our rule of faith. The Canon was established at the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397.) It is important to note these books were canonical as soon as they were written, but the list was formalized to combat false teaching. The church at that time didn't just make up a list of books to include in the Canon. These books were already regarded as divinely inspired and simply affirmed what was in general use in the church.

The New Testament Canon is composed of 27 books that all Christian denominations recognize as our rule of faith and practice.

The organization of the books in the New Testament are organized by historical; then letters, called epistles; and then the prophetical book of Revelation.

The historical books are the 4 Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, followed by Acts.

The epistles (letters) are the 21 books, Romans through Jude.

The prophetical book, Revelation, is in a letter form written to 7 churches.

I've already written a post about the general organization of the New Testament books, The Books of the New Testament.

I wanted to explain the organization of the New Testament letters a little bit more here though.

The 21 books which are letters were written by different people, at different times (years apart), in vastly different geographical locations. Yet their theology on the essentials to the Christian faith is unified. I mention this because there was no collusion by the authors to sit down together and come up with the teaching. It was what the Lord taught them and what the Spirit guided them to write. In addition they were willing to be persecuted and martyred for what they were teaching. This speaks to their character in that they believed to their core what they were writing was the truth. All of these letters were written before AD100 and this is important because people who had witnessed the resurrection of Jesus were still alive. They would know if these authors were lying. These letters were copied and circulated to the early churches for all believers to hear. They were in general practice within years of Jesus' resurrection.

The letters are written to show us what it looks like to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. They are all about Christian living. They are instructional in nature.

Many of the New Testament letters have a similar format - an introduction, the body of the letter and end with a benediction and often a doxology. A benediction is a blessing and a doxology is a praise to God.

They are not organized in the New Testament by when they were written. They are not chronological, but this point does not really matter because there is no contradiction in theology. So they can be read out of order. They are organized by category.

Pauline letters - The apostle Paul wrote 13 letters - 9 of them were to churches and 4 of them were to individuals. In organizing the New Testament books, the councils put Paul's letters first. And they organized them by the letters to the churches - longest to shortest and then the letters to the individuals - longest to shortest. These letters are named after their recipients.

Paul's Letters to the Churches

  1. Romans was written to the church at Rome - 16 chapters.

  2. 1 Corinthians was written to the church at Corinth - 16 chapters.

  3. 2 Corinthians was another letter written to the church at Corinth - 13 chapters.

  4. Galatians was written to the church at Galatia - 6 chapters.

  5. Ephesians was written to the church at Ephesus - 6 chapters.

  6. Philippians was written to the church at Philippi - 4 chapters.

  7. Colossians was written to the church at Colossae - 4 chapters.

  8. 1 Thessalonians was written to the church at Thessalonica - 5 chapters. While 1 Thessalonians has more chapters (chapters and verse numbers were added way later), the text (number of words and sentences) is shorter than Colossians.

  9. 2 Thessalonians was another letter written to the church at Thessalonica - 3 chapters.

Paul's Letters to Individuals

  1. 1 Timothy was written to Timothy - 6 chapters.

  2. 2 Timothy was another letter written to Timothy - 4 chapters.

  3. Titus was written to Titus - 3 chapters.

  4. Philemon was written to Philemon - 1 chapter, 25 verses.

The next category of the New Testament is referred to as the General Letters. These 8 letters/ books were written by various authors and except for Hebrews are named after their authors. They are not organized chronologically or by importance (they are all considered authoritative), but for the most part by longest to shortest - although they grouped Peter's letters together and John's letters together.

General Letters

  1. Hebrews - The author of Hebrews is unknown although he was not unknown to his recipients when it was written - see Hebrews 13:22-25, the end of the letter. Most scholars believe 1 of 3 people wrote Hebrews - any of who would have had apostolic origin. 13 chapters.

  2. James was written by James - 5 chapters.

  3. 1 Peter was written by Peter - 5 chapters (1 Peter is slightly longer than the book of James and I do not know why they placed James before 1 Peter.)

  4. 2 Peter is another letter written by Peter - 3 chapters.

  5. 1 John was written by John - 5 chapters.

  6. 2 John was another letter written by John - 1 chapter, 13 verses.

  7. 3 John was another letter written by John - 1 chapter, 15 verses (less words than 2 John.)

  8. Jude was written by Jude - 1 chapter, 25 verses (longer than both 2 and 3 John, but they grouped the letters by John together.)

The New Testament letters are organized by Paul's letters to the churches (longest to shortest), followed by Paul's letters to individuals (longest to shortest), followed by the general letters written by various authors (for the most part longest to shortest, but grouped by author.)

These letters all have apostolic origin and unified teaching. All are instructional in nature about how to live a Christian life. All are considered by the universal church to be authoritative for our lives.

These letters teach us, convict us, and encourage us.

There is much God has to say to us through the New Testament letters.

They are well worth reading.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:18

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