What hermeneutic principles can be applied to our study of the apostolic epistles to demonstrate that they have full relevance to the entire Church (past present and future from the inception described in the early chapters of Acts) rather than having only limited relevance to the immediate recipients of the letters to whom they were originally addressed ?

I have tagged 'Pauline epistles' but my question is about all of the apostolic epistles, but I could not find a more comprehensive tag.

  • 1
    common sense approach tells us that whatever was written by the disciples or apostles approved by them or their fellow companions for the early churches is good enough for all the churches in all times; there is no expiry date to them. At the same time, we should not make the books into an idol by limiting God to it.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 15:56
  • @Michael16 I was asking for 'hermeneutic principles' not 'common sense approach' which is other words for 'my own opinion'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 22:08

2 Answers 2


There are probably at least two answers to this question:

1. Similar Questions

Message of the NT prophets addressed to specific groups are frequent such as:

  • the seven churches of Asia-minor in Rev 2, 3
  • specific cases about a particular person and his sin in 1 Cor 5
  • a series a specific stories about specific people throughout the book of Acts
  • all the incidents about specific situations and specific people throughout the Gospels

In answering the OP's question, might we expect only pure theology such as in Romans and Hebrews? I believe God has been very kind to us as erring, finite humans to give specific examples of how to understand general theological principles and NT morality.

[NOTE: every teacher of (say) primary and high school mathematics knows that when teaching any principle, numerous specific examples must be used to show how the principle works. This is also the case in the way the NT is written.]

This general idea is explicitly stated in 1 Cor 10:6 -

These things took place as examples to keep us from craving evil things as they did.

2. Early Church Decision

The other standard answer is found in the way the early church selected the NT canon - some writings were included and many were omitted. The ones included are well-known. However, there are many that were omitted such as:

  • The gospel of Mary
  • The protoevangelion
  • Paul's letter to the Laodiceans (Col 4:16)
  • The Shepherd of Hermas

... etc, etc, and many many more. The other side of this coin says that the works included were both authenticated (as inspired by the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 1:19-21) and deemed appropriate for universal instruction.

Certainly the non-canonical works which have survived are almost universally recognized as either pseudepigraphons (forgeries) or inconsistent with the rest of NT teaching.


I am personally very glad that God included a series of very specific instructions to specific people in specific to better understand how apply Bible principles. It has made the NT and Bible generally much more accessible to more people.

APPENDIX - Difficult Question

The more difficult question that arises from this is how to derive the principles from the examples such as:

  • 1 Cor 11:2-16 about covering the head during worship and long hair vs short hair.

This answer is from the perspective of the hemeneutic previously referred to as 'sensus plenior'; so-called because it purports to be able to exegete the Old Testament the way the NT authors did; expounding God's intended meaning of which, the human authors were unaware.

The foundation - it's all about teaching

In the study of 'the mystery, hidden from the beginning', The Hermeneutic of Notarikon reveals that Elohim means "God אל separated from creation י ; finished by the Son ם , by ignorance ה ". Israel means 'man יש joined to God אל by revelation ר ".

Jerusalem means "teaching of peace" and the New Jerusalem is the "new teaching of peace" ushered in by Christ when he said "You have heard it said... but I say ..."

The kingdom is like leaven/teaching.

Saved means "the flesh יע with a love for the increase of the word (teaching) ש."

The Hebrew word for 'marriage' also means 'doctrine'; so the bride are those who are taught by Christ.

Eating is a metaphor for learning, and the marriage supper of the lamb was the explosion of doctrine after the cross which revealed the mystery to the church.

'Born again' in Hebrew is to be 'yalad' again. 'Yalad' is the hand יד (a metaphor for work) with teaching ל at the heart.

If we restate the Westminster catechism, we might say that the chief end of man is is to know God, make him known, and give him pleasure; all through teaching.

The OP. Why should the church, past, present and future care about the epistles?

The choice.

Some choose to believe that after the cross, God gave the NT authors special revelation to teach something new. This is implausible considering Paul's experience at Berea. He taught the Hebrews there his 'New Covenant' but they checked his doctrine and teaching against the Old Testament; the only scriptures they had.

Paul was teaching the sensus plenior of scripture; revealing the hidden mystery through the lens of Christ and the cross. The doctrine of Gospels and letters are derived from, and are a commentary on, the Old Testament sensus plenior.

When using the methods taught by the Gospel writers, and those revealed by the authors of the epistles, we not only eliminate the need for a Q document, but solve the Synoptic Problem.

For example, Notaikon is taught By John in 1 Jo 5:7-8, and Matthew in Matt 1:23. Paul teaches the use of metaphor in Galatians as he uses the two women as Grace and law. The hidden meaning of God is taught by the author of Hebrews as he shifts from milk to meat and the use of Melchizadek. John teaches the use of complex riddles in Rev 17 concerning the beast. All of these are based in the assumption that the literal history of Israel was used as a parable as God said it would be in De 28:37. It is a parable with the hidden meaning of Christ, the cross, and his bride.

The Q source is the OT itself when read for the sensus plenior. The differences between the Gospels demonstrate the increase of capability of the apostles to apply the teaching of Jesus to their OT studies. Mark began his story with the teaching of John. Matthew pushed it back to Abraham. Luke pushed the beginning to Adam, and John pushed it to Ge 1:1, deriving the doctrine of Jo 1:1-4 from the first three words of Ge 1:1. The Gospel are snapshots of their understanding at 10-15 year intervals.

The Epistles are teachings based in the understanding of the sensus plenior and using the techniques of it.

Together they give us what is needed to unpack the OT.

The answer

The methods of Sensus Plenior are derived from the NT authors use of the OT. Without these methods, scholars confess that they cannot read the scriptures the way Jesus and the NT authors did. (The result of a decade of debates concerning sensus plenior).

  • "The Hebrew word for 'marriage' also means 'doctrine'" Which word is this?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 23:11

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