A Brief Overview of each Book and Letter in the New Testament

by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Please click here for Overviews of the Four Gospels (on a separate page).
For the other 23 books and letters, either scroll down this page, or click on the appropriate name below:

Acts
Galatians
1 Thessalonians
Titus
1 Peter
3 John
Romans
Ephesians
2 Thessalonians
Philemon
2 Peter
Jude
1 Corinthians
Philippians
1 Timothy
Hebrews
1 John
Revelation
2 Corinthians
Colossians
2 Timothy
James
2 John
Pauline Chronology

Key to the following tables:

Canonical Name (the full title as it appears in most Bibles)

Abbreviation: the abbreviation commonly used today   (link to the full text, NAB translation)   [a study guide, if available]
Attributed Author(s): the person(s) named in this work as its author(s)
Named Recipients: the person(s) addressed in this work, to/for whom it was written
Date: no NT writing is explicitly dated, but when was this work probably written?
Where From: few biblical books tell us directly, but where was this work probably written?
Authenticity: was this work actually written by the attributed author(s), or by someone else?
Unity: was this work written all at one time, or was it later compiled from separate writings?
Integrity: was any part of this work not in the original composition, but added or changed later?
Literary Genre: what type of literature is this work? to which literary category does it belong?
Language: the whole NT is written in Greek, but what style of Greek is used in this work?
Purpose: what is the main theme of this work? what is the author's main point?

Four Main Phases of Paul's Missionary Activity (as mentioned under the "date" sections below):

Phase I  early missionary work in the East (Syria & Cilicia), as assistant to the apostle Barnabas (ca. 35-49 CE)
Phase II initial missionary work in Macedonia and Achaia (esp. Corinth), with Silas & Timothy (ca. 50-53 CE)
Phase III mature missionary work in Asia (esp. Ephesus), with Timothy and many collaborators (ca. 54-57 CE)
Phase IV journey back to Jerusalem; arrest and travel to Rome; (later also Spain?); death in Rome (ca. 58-64 CE)

Click here for more details about this Pauline Chronology.


The Acts of the Apostles

Abbreviation: Acts   (full text)
Attributed Author: no attribution in the book itself; traditionally ascribed to "Luke", a physician and companion of Paul (Col 4:4; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24); definitely a well-educated Greek writer, probably of Gentile heritage
Named Recipients: "Theophilus" (1:1); a well-educated Greek-speaking person, or a group familiar with Paul's teachings
Date: late 80's; written shortly after Luke
Where From: unknown, possibly Antioch in Syria
Authenticity: definitely by the same author as the Gospel of Luke
Unity & Integrity: definitely a single work, but compiled from multiple older sources (see Luke 1:1-4)
Literary Genre: a record of "acts"; a partial account of the growth of early Christianity, focusing only on certain Apostles
Language: good literary Greek; quoted speeches use various Greek styles
Purpose: to continue the "orderly account" begun in the Gospel of Luke, showing the growth of Christianity
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The Letter of Paul to the Romans
Abbreviation: Rom   (full text)
Attributed Author: "Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle. (long personal introduction)." (1:1-6)
Named Recipients: "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints" (1:7); mixed groups of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, whom Paul has never visited before
Date: late 50's (winter of 57/58?), as Paul is wrapping up his mission around the Aegean Sea (early in Phase IV of Paul's missionary work - see Rom 15:19, 22-29)
Where From: definitely from Corinth (see 16:23; also 15:25-26; 16:1)
Authenticity: not disputed; definitely by Paul (although written through the scribe Tertius - 16:22)
Unity: probably a single letter; some scholars suggest chapter 16 was originally separate
Integrity: most likely all by Paul; very few scholars suggest Rom 9-11 is a non-Pauline addition
Literary Genre: personal letter of introduction; in parts more formal, like a sermon or exhortation
Language: Greek
Purpose: to introduce himself & his theology to them; to stress the unity of Jews & Gentiles in Christianity
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The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians
Abbreviation: 1 Cor  (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes" (1:1)
Named Recipients: "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours" (1:2); a mixed community with some Jewish Christians but mostly Gentile converts in Corinth, a very prosperous Greek city which was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia
Date: about 54 CE, from early in Phase III of Paul's missionary activity
Where From: definitely written from Ephesus (16:8)
Authenticity: definitely by Paul himself; but not Paul's "first" letter to this church (see 5:9)
Unity: most likely a single letter, although possibly written in stages over a few weeks
Integrity: probably all by Paul; very few scholars propose 13:1-13 and/or 14:34-35 were added later 
Literary Genre: a personal letter of exhortation and instruction
Language: Greek
Purpose: to address problems Paul heard about through oral reports (1:11) and through letters sent to him (7:1)
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The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians
Abbreviation: 2 Cor   (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother" (1:1a)
Named Recipients: "to the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia" (1:1b - larger group based around the same people as in 1 Cor)
Date: mid-50's, later in Phase III of Paul's missionary work; (if composite, then various letters written over a period of several years)
Where From: probably Ephesus; later portions possibly from Macedonia, as Paul is traveling back to visit Corinth
Authenticity: definitely authentic, although not all written at once
Unity: mostly likely a composite of between 2 and 5 originally separate letters - click here for details
Integrity: probably all by Paul; some scholars propose 6:14-7:1 is a non-Pauline insertion
Literary Genre: personal letter of exhortation and instruction
Language: Greek
Purpose: different for each sub-letter; from instruction to admonition to warning
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The Letter of Paul to the Galatians
Abbreviation: Gal   (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul an apostle-sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-and all the members of God's family who are with me" (1:1-2a)
Named Recipients: "To the churches of Galatia" (1:2b - plural churches in the Province of Galatia); probably Northern Galatia, a region around Ancyra in what is now central Turkey; or possibly Southern Galatia: the area around Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, and Derbe, where Barnabas & Paul preached in Acts 13-14
Date: unknown; possibly 54-55 CE (in Phase III of Paul's work), or maybe already early 50's (Phase II)
Where From: unknown; probably Ephesus
Authenticity: not disputed; definitely by Paul
Unity & Integrity: not disputed; a single letter
Literary Genre: real personal letter of exhortation and admonishment
Language: Greek
Purpose: to scold them for abandoning the faith as Paul had preached it, by later accepting circumcision
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The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians
Abbreviation: Eph   (full text)
Attributed Author: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" (1:1a - no co-author listed)
Named Recipients: "to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus" (1:1b); mostly Gentile converts to Christianity in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia; a major Pauline center
Date: most likely from the late first-century CE (if by Paul, then near the end of his life in the mid-60's CE)
Where From: unknown; possibly Ephesus itself (if by Paul, then from Caesarea or Rome)
Authenticity: most scholars (80%) think it is clearly "deutero-Pauline" (not by Paul himself, but by a later follower)
Unity: certainly a single letter, written as a later expansion of Colossians
Integrity: the introductory words "in Ephesus" (1:1) were possibly added later
Literary Genre: pseudonymous general letter of exhortation; possibly a cover-letter for a collection of Paul's letters
Language: more difficult Greek; long complex sentences
Purpose: to guide new converts in their new life as Christians, living no longer as pagans (4:17; 2:12-13)
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The Letter of Paul to the Philippians
Abbreviation: Phil   (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul and Timothy, servants/slaves of Christ Jesus" (1:1a)
Named Recipients: "To all the saints of Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (1:1b); mostly Gentile converts to Christianity in Philippi, a prosperous RomanColony (Acts 17:12) within Greek Macedonia on the highly traveled Via Egnatia 
Date: probably ca. 56-57 CE (if from Ephesus), in Phase III of Paul's work; possibly later, from Phase IV 
Where From: from prison, probably in Ephesus (possibly later in Caesarea or Rome)
Authenticity: not disputed; definitely by Paul
Unity: many scholars (including myself) see it as a combination of what were originally three different letters (called Phil A - 4:10-12; Phil B - 1:1-3:1 & 4:2-9, 21-23; Phil C - 3:1-4:1) - click here for details
Integrity: no later additions; but 2:6-11 may be an earlier Christian hymn adapted by Paul
Literary Genre: real personal letter(s) of friendship and encouragement
Language: Greek
Purposes: A: to thank them for their support; B: to encourage their faith; C: to warn them against errors
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The Letter of Paul to the Colossians
Abbreviation: Col   (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, Timothy our brother" (1:1)
Named Recipients: "to the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae" (1:2a); mostly Gentile Christians in Colossae (in Asia, about 100 miles E of Ephesus); a church founded by Epaphras (1:7; 4:12)
Date: if by Paul, then ca. 60-64, from Phase IV of his life (if not by Paul, then from the 70's or 80's)
Where From: if by Paul then possibly Caesarea, probably Rome (if deutero-Pauline, maybe from Ephesus)
Authenticity: disputed; many scholars (including myself) think it is probably by Paul near the end of his life; others think it was not written by Paul, but by a later follower
Unity: definitely written all at the same time
Integrity: many scholars believe Col 1:15-20 is an earlier hymn adapted by the author of this letter
Literary Genre: a letter of exhortation
Language: more difficult Greek; long complex sentences
Purpose: to warn against some kind of "philosophy" and religious practices that threaten Pauline Christianity
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The First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians
Abbreviation: 1 Thess   (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy" (1:1a) - that's all it says!
Named Recipients: "To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:1b); some Jewish Christians but mostly Gentile converts in Thessalonica, a culturally Greek city which in the first century was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia
Date: 50 or 51 CE, from Phase II of Paul's missionary activity
Where From: Corinth (3:1-7; cf. Acts 18:1-5)
Authenticity: definitely authentic; Paul's oldest surviving letter
Unity: almost certainly written as a single letter
Integrity: very few scholars suggest 2:13-16 might be non-Pauline and/or 5:1-11 might be a later addition
Literary Genre: personal letter of encouragement and instruction
Language: Koine Greek (i.e. common everyday language, not in sophisticated literary style)
Purpose: to encourage them to persevere in the faith despite persecutions; to assure them about the future
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The Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians
Abbreviation: 2 Thess   (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy" (1:1a)
Named Recipients: (1:1b) - exactly the same as in 1 Thess
Date: if by Paul, shortly after 1 Thess (ca. 51 CE); if not authentic, then from the late first century
Where From: if by Paul, also from Corinth; if not authentic, then of unknown origin
Authenticity: disputed; about half of scholars today (including myself) think it was written by Paul himself; the other half of scholars think is was not written by Paul, but by a later follower in the "Pauline school"
Unity & Integrity: not disputed; written as a single letter
Literary Genre: personal letter of instruction
Language: same common Greek style as 1 Thess
Purpose: to correct false eschatological expectations; against claims that the Day of the Lord has already come
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The First Letter of Paul to Timothy
Abbreviation: 1 Tim   (full text)
Attributed Author: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope" (1:1 - but most likely pseudepigraphic)
Named Recipients: "to Timothy, my loyal child in the faith" (1:2a - also pseudonymous; actual recipients unknown)
Date: probably in the 80's or 90's or later (or if by Paul, then just before his death in the mid-60's CE)
Where From: unknown; possibly Ephesus, the major Pauline center after his death
Authenticity: disputed; almost certainly deutero-Pauline, i.e. written by a later disciple after Paul's death
Unity & Integrity: not disputed; a single letter, but incorporating some previous sources 
Literary Genre: a "church order"; one of the three "Pastoral Epistles"
Language: good, philosophical Greek
Purpose: to warn against "false teachers," to provide rules for ethical living & guidelines for church leadership
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The Second Letter of Paul to Timothy
Abbreviation: 2 Tim   (full text)
Attributed Author: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus" (1:1 - probably pseudepigraphic)
Named Recipients: "to Timothy, my beloved child" (1:2a - probably also pseudonymous)
Date: possibly the late 60's (if by Paul or one of his closest followers shortly after his death); more likely from near the end of the first century (if pseudonymous)
Where From: if by Paul, from his final imprisonment in Rome; more likely from Ephesus or another Pauline city
Authenticity: disputed; possibly by Paul near the end of his life; more likely deutero-Pauline, by a follower
Unity & Integrity: not disputed; definitely a single letter
Literary Genre: a "testament"; one of the three "Pastoral Epistles"
Language: Greek
Purpose: to exhort believers to persevere in enduring suffering for the faith
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The Letter of Paul to Titus
Abbreviation: Titus   (full text)
Attributed Author: "Paul, a servant/slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. (continues with a long theological introduction - 1:1-3)
Named Recipients: "to Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share" (1:4a - probably pseudonymous)
Date & Place: same as 1 Timothy
Authenticity, Unity, Integrity: same as 1 Timothy
Literary Genre: a "church order"; one of the three "Pastoral Epistles
Language: Greek
Purpose: to provide rules for ethical living and guidelines for church leadership
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The Letter of Paul to Philemon
Abbreviation: Phlm   (full text)
Attributed Authors: "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother" (v. 1a)
Named Recipients: "To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house" (1b-2) - Paul's friends in Colossae (about 100 miles E of Ephesus)
Date: most likely mid-50's, from Phase III of Paul's missionary work
Where From: from prison, probably in Ephesus (possibly in Caesarea or in Rome)
Authenticity: not disputed; definitely by Paul
Unity & Integrity: not disputed; a single letter
Literary Genre: real personal letter attempting to influence someone
Language: Greek
Purpose: to influence Philemon to free his slave Onesimus, so the latter can work as a missionary with Paul
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The Epistle (or Letter) to the Hebrews
Abbreviation: Heb  (full text)   [study guide]
Attributed Author: none attributed - an anonymous writing!
Named Recipients: "Hebrews" are not explicitly named; but they were Christians familiar with Jewish rituals
Date: possibly 60's, more likely 80's, but before 95 (when passages of Heb are quoted in 1 Clement)
Where From: unknown; possibly Rome (cf. greetings from "those from Italy" - 13:24b)
Authenticity: the work itself does not even claim to be by Paul, but the mention of "our brother Timothy" (13:23) has led some people to assume (incorrectly) that it was written by Paul
Unity & Integrity: not disputed; a single writing
Literary Genre: not really a letter, but an "exegetical sermon" or scriptural exhortation, with an epistolary ending (i.e. only the end, 13:20-25, looks like a typical ancient letter); the author himself refers to this work as a "word of exhortation" (13:22)
Language: fairly sophisticated literary Greek
Purpose:

argues that Christians do not need to be or become Jewish, since Christ is superior to the structures and rituals of Judaism; people have access to God directly through Christ; thus, it exhorts Christians to live according to Christ's example of faithfulness to God.

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The Epistle (or Letter) of James
Abbreviation: James   (full text)
Attributed Author: "James, a servant/slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:1a); this is "James of Jerusalem," also called the "brother of the Lord" (see Mark 6:3; Gal 1:19)
Named Recipients: "to the Twelve tribes in the Dispersion" (1:1b); i.e., Jewish-Christians living in the "Diaspora" (outside of Israel)
Date: 50's or early 60's if authentic (before James' death in 62 CE);or 80's or 90's if actually by a follower of James
Where From:  probably Jerusalem or elsewhere in Palestine, due to its strong connections with Judaism
Authenticity: disputed; many scholars think it was written by an anonymous Jewish-Christian who admired James; but it could be written by James himself, a leader in the early church in Jerusalem
Unity & Integrity: not really disputed today
Literary Genre: starts as an "encyclical" or circular letter; actually more like a homily or Jewish "wisdom literature"
Language: fairly elegant Greek
Purpose: stresses ethics of Christian living; also corrects a misunderstanding of Paul's teaching (2:14-26)
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The First Letter (or Epistle) of Peter

Abbreviation: 1 Pet   (full text)   [study guide]
Attributed Author: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1a)
Named Recipients: "to the exiles of the dispersion." (mainly Gentile converts) in five Roman provinces of Northern and Western Asia Minor (1:1b-2)
Where From: definitely Rome, whether by Peter or not (see 5:13; "Babylon" is used as a code name for Rome after 70 AD)
Date: if by Peter, then early 60's, just before his death in 64/65; if pseudepigraphic, probably from the 70's or 80's
Authenticity: possibly by Peter, but writing through his scribe, Silvanus (5:12); or pseudonymous, by a disciple of Peter (possibly Silvanus, who was associated with Peter and the Jerusalem church; cf. Acts 15:22, 27, 32)
Unity & Integrity: probably a single writing; but some scholars see 4:12-5:11 as a later addition, after some persecution has started
Sources: quotes from the OT (1:16, 24-25a; 2:6-8, 10, 22; 3:10-12; 4:18; 5:5);  alludes to sayings and teachings of Jesus (1:22; 3:8; 4:8, 14);  probably also incorporates older Christian hymns and professions of faith (3:18-22)
Literary Genre: an "encyclical" or circular letter, intended for several different churches at the same time
Language: very good Greek
Purpose: to argue that Christians are not a threat to Roman social order, since they live ethically; to encourage Christians to persevere in faith despite innocent sufferings and persecutions [click here for more details]
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The Second Epistle (or Letter) of Peter

Abbreviation: 2 Pet   (full text)   [study guide]
Attributed Author: "Simeon Peter, a servant/slave and apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1a)
Named Recipients: "to those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (1:1b); intended for a group of Gentile Christians, possibly in Asia
Date: probably the last NT work written, as early as the 90's or as late as the 120's;  if by Peter, then just before his death in 64/65
Where From: unknown; probably Rome
Authenticity: almost certainly pseudonymous, by someone who admired Peter and appeals to his authority
Unity & Integrity: not seriously disputed; a single letter
Sources: quotes the OT (2:22a) and a non-biblical proverb (2:22b); often alludes to other OT texts (1:20-21; 2:4-10; 3:11-13); presupposes knowledge of the Transfiguration (1:17-18) and of Paul's letters (3:15-16); ch. 2 is closely based on the Letter of Jude
Literary Genre: a "testament" (1:12-15), but in the form of a letter (3:1-2)
Language: fairly good Greek
Purpose: stresses the preservation of apostolic teachings, esp. on ethics (proper Christian living) and eschatology (Christian hope for the final judgment) [click here for more details]
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The First Epistle (or Letter) of John

Abbreviation: 1 John   (full text)
Attributed Author: none attributed - an anonymous writing! 
Named Recipients: none mentioned - but intended for one part of the Johannine community after it was divided
Date: around 100 CE; some time after the Gospel according to John was written
Where From: probably Ephesus, as traditionally maintained; but possibly from elsewhere
Authenticity: by someone in the "Johannine School", but probably not by the same author as the Fourth Gospel, nor by "John, son of Zebedee," one of the original twelve apostles mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels
Unity: not seriously disputed
Integrity: one addition: 5:6-8 was inserted in the 3rd or 4th centuries
Literary Genre: not really a "letter"; more like a theological treatise or biblical sermon ("homily")
Language: a Greek with similar vocabulary but a somewhat different style from the Fourth Gospel
Purpose: to exhort readers to "remain" with traditional Christian teachings about Jesus and to love one another; to warn them against errors associated with false interpretations of the Fourth Gospel
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The Second Letter (or Epistle) of John

Abbreviation: 2 John   (full text)
Attributed Author: "The elder" (v. 1a); probably not the same author as the Fourth Gospel 
Named Recipients: "to the elect lady and her children whom I love in the truth." (v. 1b-2), with more about "truth"; some part of the Johannine church after it has undergone a division
Date & Place: same as 1 John
Authenticity: by the same author of the "Johannine school" who wrote 3 John, and probably also 1 John
Unity & Integrity: not disputed
Literary Genre: a real letter
Language: the same Greek style as 1 John and 3 John
Purpose: to warn the community against false teachers or "deceivers" (v. 7)
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The Third Letter (or Epistle) of John
Abbreviation: 3 John   (full text)
Attributed Author: "The elder" (v. 1a)
Named Recipients: "to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth" (v. 1b); a leader of some Johannine church
Date & Place: same as 1 & 2 John; possibly sent together at the same time
Authenticity: by the same author as 2 John
Unity & Integrity: not disputed
Literary Genre: a real, personal letter
Language: the same Greek style as 1 John and 2 John
Purpose: to praise Gaius for his hospitality, and to attack a rival Christian leader named Diotrephes
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The Letter (or Epistle) of Jude
Abbreviation: Jude   (full text)
Attributed Author: "Jude, a servant/slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James" (v. 1a; see Mark 6:3)
Named Recipients: "to those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ" (v. 1b); Jewish-Christians in some unknown area, possibly in or near Palestine
Date: unknown; as early as the 50's if authentic; or as late as the 90's if not by Jude
Where From: probably Jerusalem or nearby in Palestine; possibly Alexandria
Authenticity: disputed; too short too determine, but quite possibly by this early Christian leader
Unity & Integrity: definitely a single letter with no later additions
Literary Genre: a letter of exhortation and encouragement, incorporating some apocalyptic ideas
Language: Greek
Purpose: to warn the readers against false teachers/teachings and to exhort them to live moral lives
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The Book of Revelation
a.k.a. The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, or The Apocalypse
(but it should not be called "Revelations," plural!)

Abbreviation: Rev   (full text)
Attributed Author: "John" (1:1, 4, 9), a Jewish-Christian prophet; mostly likely not the brother of James, son of Zebedee, named in the Gospels, nor the authors of the "Fourth Gospel" and the "Johannine Epistles"
Named Recipients: "seven churches" in Asia Minor (1:4; 2:1-22)
Date: mid-90's, near the end of the reign of Emperor Domitian (who died in 96 CE)
Where From: the Roman Province of Asia (possibly the city of Ephesus itself)
Authenticity: almost certainly by some early Christian named "John"
Unity & Integrity: a single work, but possibly composed in stages, incorporating some older apocalyptic materials
Literary Genre: an "apocalypse" (1:1; 4:1), with an epistolary frame (letter-like introduction & conclusion - 1:4; 22:21)
Language: highly symbolic Greek, including some Semitic influences
Purpose: to encourage Christians to preserve faith in the midst of trials and tribulations (cf. 13:10b; 14:12)
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