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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

The Influence of the NT Letter Tradition

The distinctive character of the NT letters, their length and complexity, but also their authoritative claim, was to prove decisive in early Christian formation. Whatever it was in Paul's mission or self-understanding that drove him to write, his churches circulated, preserved, and eventually collected together his letters; they also imitated them, in 3 Corinthians if not, as most would claim, in the Pastoral Epistles. The seven-letter collection in Rev. 2–3, although not using epistolary formulae, as well as the opening ‘grace’ formula (Rev. 1. 4–5), probably already betrays Pauline influence. The invocation of apostolic or similar authority continues in the prescripts of nearly all the NT letters, as too does the use of a closing benediction, and even the anticipation of an imminent visit (2 Pet. 1: 1; 3: 18; 3 John 1, 10, 13; Rev. 22: 21). The Petrine (1 Pet. 1: 2; 2 Pet. 1: 2) greeting reflects, as we have seen, a Jewish/Semitic influence, but we may suspect that the introduction of ‘grace’ (which has no certain Jewish parallels and is absent in Jude) is due to Pauline influence. This formula and the extended audience is, as noted above, continued in the later martyrological tradition. Although Ignatius claims to write in ‘apostolic style’ (Trallians, preface), he reverts to the Greek chairein greeting, as do most later ecclesiastical writers; and the collection of Ignatius's letters was itself pseudonymously expanded in the fourth century. Ultimately, the letter-form was to be developed within the Christian tradition to an extent unparalleled among contemporary non-Christian writers: it continues to be used to establish and to maintain networks of power, while it also becomes a preferred medium for theological reflection.

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