Epistle is the Greek word for letter. The New Testament contains twenty-two divinely inspired and inerrant epistles written to Christ’s Church by various apostles.
The letters are the result of the apostles’ carrying out Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that He commanded. Accordingly, the Church has always gathered to listen to the epistles be read and to learn about the Christian faith and life. Given the use of the “brother” language in the epistles there is good reason to believe that the apostles wrote to local parish pastors who would then read the letter to the congregation. As time progressed the clerical office of lector (reader) developed. By the seventh century there were seven different clerical offices, and the privilege of reading the epistle fell to the sub-deacon (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Thess. 5:27; Heb. 13:23-24).
Justin Martyr (d. 166 A.D.) wrote, “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the [presiding minister] verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.”