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The English word "letter" originated from a Latin word, litera, which meant to spread, or to daub, as with a liquid (the English word "liquid" originated from the same root word, as did "literal" and "literature"). A "letter" came to be defined as a significant (i.e. with meaning, from which we also get the words sign and signature) mark made upon a writing surface. As well, the writing surface itself, whether papyrus (from which we got the word paper), leather, or some other material, also came to be called a "letter" because of the "letters" written upon it.

A number of words of the Holy Scriptures are translated as "letter":

  • the Hebrew word pronounced sif-raw, which means to mark

  • the Hebrew word pronounced nish-tev-awn, which means a letter, as in a written communication

  • the Hebrew word (of Persia origin) pronounced ig-er-awh, which means an official communication

  • the Hebrew word pronounced nish-tev-awn, which means a correspondence

  • the Hebrew word pronounced pith-gawm, which means word or answer

  • the Hebrew word pronounced ig-eth-reth, which means an official communication

  • the Greek word pronounced gram-mah (from which we got the English word grammar), which means writing, as in to learn

  • the Greek word pronounced ep-is-tol-ay (from which we got the English word epistle), which means a written message

"How knoweth this man letters?"

"How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" was an arrogant remark by the religious "authorities" (i.e. they had the political power, not the Truth) of how The Prophet Of Galilee had greater understanding than they did - because He based what He taught, and lived by, on the actual Word of God ("My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent Me"), not their "traditions of men." What Jesus actually didn't have was a Degree in Mis-Education (see Doctorates Of Error).

The Holy Scriptures

"7:14 Now about the midst of the feast [i.e. the Feast of Tabernacles; see The Messiah Of Tabernacles] Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.

7:15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?

7:16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me." (John 7:14-16 KJV)

Some have even used the "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" to imply that Jesus was illiterate i.e. that the "Word of God" (John 1:1-2,14) couldn't read the Word of God. But not only could the Messiah read, He knew what to read (see The By-The-Book Messiah) and where to find it:

"4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day [see What Did Jesus Do On The Sabbath?], and stood up for to read. 4:17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias [i.e. Isaiah]. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,

4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 4:19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

4:20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 4:21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:16-21 KJV)

The crux commissa, shaped in the form of a capital T, was the actual device used by the Romans for crucifixions (see Crossing The T). The upright post, which was notched at or into the top, was already in place. The executed man was tied and/or nailed (through the wrists, not the hands, which would not hold) to the cross-section, which was often carried to the place of crucifixion by the condemned man, as was done with Christ, and set into the notch or joint at the top of the upright post. The condemned man hung down below the level of the horizontal beam, so there was plenty of room for a sign (which served as a public notice of the man's "crime") to be nailed above his head - as Pontius Pilate did to the Messiah in letters of "Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin."


"19:19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews. 19:20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.

19:21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.

19:22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written." (John 19:19-22 KJV)

Among the religious authorities who failed, at first, to recognize the Messiah was a Pharisee (see also The Origin Of The Essenes, Sadducees And Pharisees) named Saul - who the Christ later knocked down into the dust on the road to Damascus (see Was Paul Among Them?). Prior to his conversion, Saul used "official" letters (in effect, arrest warrants so that "he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem") from the Jerusalem authorities to persecute Christians in far-away places - the reason that Paul was on his way to Damascus that day.

"9:1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 9:2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

9:3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 9:4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (Acts 9:1-4 KJV)

One of the greatest ironies of Paul's life after his conversion (Paul did not change religions, "from Jew to Christian" - he simply came to recognize the fruition of all that was to come; see Paul's Blindness Lesson) was that his Roman citizenship enabled him to travel freely throughout the empire that he preached was going to fall (see Paul's Passport). At times, he was even protected by Roman troops - the same men who killed the Christ, and who eventually killed Paul too. In this example, a Roman military letter was sent to Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea:

"23:25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:

23:26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix [see also Festus] sendeth greeting.

23:27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman. 23:28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council: 23:29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds. 23:30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell." (Acts 23:25-30 KJV)

The "letter of the Law" is one of the most misunderstood terms of Paul's letters. Many people use (part of) what he said as their rebellious excuse to "do away with the Law" (see Grace Into Licentiousness), while Paul always taught obedience to the Law i.e. "shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid."

"7:4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 7:6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:4-6 KJV)

Paul taught becoming "servants of righteousness," by observing God's Law, rather than remaining "servants of sin."

"6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 6:17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 6:18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." (Romans 6:15-18 KJV)

Nearly all of the New Testament, after the four "Gospels" and the book of Acts (although even Luke and Acts were actually letters, written by Luke to Theophilis - see Luke's Lessons To Theophilus) were letters, or "epistles" (the Greek word for letter, as explained above). Even the "book" of Revelation was a letter (see the Fact Finder question below).

"3:1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, Epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? 3:2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.

3:4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." (2 Corinthians 3:1-6 KJV)

In his letters, Paul wrote by the power of God's Word, not his own. Sometimes, when people met Paul in person, they were not impressed with him because of his humility.

"10:7 Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's. 10:8 For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: 10:9 That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters.

10:10 For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. 10:11 Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present." (2 Corinthians 10:7-11 KJV)

Fact Finder: Although written with "letters," was the book of Revelation also a "letter"?
See The Old Man's Letter

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