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[ih-pis-uh l] /ɪˈpɪs əl/
a letter, especially a formal or didactic one; written communication.
(usually initial capital letter) one of the apostolic letters in the New Testament.
(often initial capital letter) an extract, usually from one of the Epistles of the New Testament, forming part of the Eucharistic service in certain churches.
Origin of epistle
before 900; Middle English; Old English epistol < Latin epistula, epistola < Greek epistolḗ message, letter, equivalent to epi- epi- + stol- (variant stem of stéllein to send) + noun suffix Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for epistle
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The thought of the unity of the Church is very prominent in this epistle.

    Expositions of Holy Scripture Alexander Maclaren
  • "Your brother means well," said Philip, when he had concluded the epistle.

    Night and Morning, Complete Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • "All right, squire; here it is," returned Bott, and handed over the epistle.

    The Young Bridge-Tender Arthur M. Winfield
  • When he had finished this epistle, Rigaud folded it and tossed it with a flourish at Clennam's feet.

    Little Dorrit Charles Dickens
  • Dear Joe,—I thank you for so full an answer to so empty an epistle.

  • I must beg your pardon for the epistle you sent me appearing in the Magazine.

  • See how it shows itself in the tender and inimitable strain of this epistle.

    Arthur Mervyn Charles Brockden Brown
  • I would not take my folio paper for this epistle, and now I repent it.

  • A word, however, from the young man himself explains how it came there, leaving the epistle to tell its own tale.

    Gwen Wynn Mayne Reid
British Dictionary definitions for epistle


a letter, esp one that is long, formal, or didactic
a literary work in letter form, esp a dedicatory verse letter of a type originated by Horace
Word Origin
Old English epistol, via Latin from Greek epistolē, from epistellein to send to, from stellein to prepare, send


(New Testament) any of the apostolic letters of Saints Paul, Peter, James, Jude, or John
a reading from one of the Epistles, forming part of the Eucharistic service in many Christian Churches
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for epistle

Old English epistol, from Old French epistle, epistre (Modern French épitre), from Latin epistola "letter," from Greek epistole "message, letter, command, commission," whether verbal or in writing, from epistellein "send to," from epi "to" (see epi-) + stellein in its secondary sense of "to dispatch, send" from PIE *stel-yo-, suffixed form of root *stel- "to put, stand," with derivatives referring to a standing object or place (see stall (n.1)).

Also acquired in Old English directly from Latin as pistol. Specific sense of "letter from an apostle forming part of canonical scripture" is c.1200.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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