Definition of epistle in English:



formal, humorous
  • 1A letter.

    ‘activists firing off angry epistles’
    • ‘The opinions expressed in these evocative epistles were remarkably forthright and revealing.’
    • ‘When he failed to receive payment, he followed up with letters, and these hilarious epistles are what he shared with us.’
    • ‘I have read your epistle at least once a day since I received it with the exception of Sunday and then I perused it twice.’
    • ‘I could almost hear her merry laugh ringing across the harbor as I slowly walked along the pier, reading her return epistle.’
    • ‘Regardless of the content of the epistle, there is still something exciting about receiving an email or a letter from someone close.’
    letter, missive, communication, written message, written communication, dispatch, report, bulletin, note, line
    correspondence, news, information, intelligence, word
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1A poem or other literary work in the form of a letter or series of letters.
      • ‘And while we have become accustomed to the epistolary poem as a quasi-public mode in the seventeenth century, many of Fane's epistles are no more than personal notes.’
      • ‘Ovid's Heroides, verse epistles from women abandoned by their famous lovers, was tremendously popular in the first decades of print.’
      • ‘In the letter that directly precedes the epistle containing his translation, Petrarch presents a series of arguments contradicting Boccaccio's request that he take literary retirement on account of his old age.’
      • ‘The collection begins with an epistle describing the courage and tension of a soldier waiting in the snow.’
      • ‘His verse is both metrically and formally experimental, ranging from satire to love lyric, from sonnet to verse epistle, from elegy to hymn.’
    2. 1.2A book of the New Testament in the form of a letter from an Apostle.
      ‘St Paul's Epistle to the Romans’
      • ‘Did St. Paul write the Epistle to the Ephesians?’
      • ‘In the epistle of St Paul to the Hebrews, St Paul speaks of the sanctuary, its rituals, its contents and the Holy of Holies.’
      • ‘St. Paul begins his epistles with a prayer of gratitude and ends with prayer.’
      • ‘From 1511 to 1517, Luther lectured on the Psalms and St. Paul's Epistles to the Romans.’
      • ‘But that's the first time I've ever heard anyone refer to the epistles of Paul as ‘simple and unambiguous.’’
    3. 1.3An extract from an Epistle (or another New Testament book not a Gospel) that is read in a church service.
      • ‘It was widely used at Mass and had the Latin text on one side of the page and the English translation on the other, with epistles and gospel readings also in English.’
      • ‘The Rev Nancy Gillespie read the first Lesson, and the Epistle was read by The Rev J.W. McKegney, Rector of St Mark's Armagh.’
      • ‘The epistle and gospel were read in both Latin and English.’
      • ‘Both the epistle and gospel readings for this Sunday describe sending out those who will gather others together.’
      • ‘The risen Lord's message to his disciples speaks of forgiveness and sin, and our epistle reading reminds us of our own sinful state.’


Old English, via Latin from Greek epistolē, from epistellein send news, from epi upon, in addition + stellein send. The word was reintroduced in Middle English from Old French.