Bible 101: What’s in the New Testament

Gospel of St. Matthew, Great Bible, 1539. (Gutenberg archives) source here

By James-Michael Smith from Bible 101: What’s in the New Testament – National methodist | Examiner.com.

Most people know certain phrases or passages in the New Testament, but don’t have a good bird’s-eye-view of the whole thing.  Here is a quick overview of the 27 documents which make up the NT:

1. The Gospels

Matthew – The Gospel of Matthew is focused on showing Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT prophecies and depictions of the Messiah. The author is believed to be the disciple, Matthew, who was a former tax-collector whom Jesus called to follow him. Matthew’s Gospel is divided into 5 sections by large discourses given by Jesus. Some believe this is Matthew’s subtle attempt to offer an NT parallel of the Torah, the 5 books of Moses, thus depicting Jesus as the new Moses. Matthew chs. 5-7 comprise the famous “Sermon on the Mount.” The book contains a striking inclusio – it begins with the nations (represented by the astrologers from the east) coming to worship the King of the Jews and ends with the King of the Jews sending His followers out into all the nations to spread the message of His Gospel (a.k.a. the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20).

Mark – Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the 4 Gospels and many believe it was the first one written. The author is believed to be John Mark, who was Peter’s traveling companion. Mark is fast paced (note how many times the words “immediately” or “as soon as” appear throughout the book) and tells the basic message of Jesus. The most interesting feature of Mark’s Gospel is that it doesn’t include an account of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, as the other Gospels do. [Note: the KJV and other older translations include 16:9-20, however, this ending is not in the original and most reliable Greek manuscripts of Mark and are later additions. Most newer translations note this by offsetting the text in question in brackets or footnoting the information.]

Luke & Acts – The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts comprise one 2-volume work written by one of Paul’s traveling companions, Luke. Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and the rise of the early church and spreading of the Gospel message throughout the Mediterranean world are filled with historical details that only an eyewitness would likely know. Luke 15 contains the parable known as the Prodigal Son, one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. Acts contains the story of Saul’s conversion and being renamed Paul by the resurrected Jesus.

John – John’s Gospel was written for one reason: “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). John follows Jesus’ ministry, not chronologically like the others, but rather thematically. This Gospel is centered around 8 miracles performed by Jesus, six of which are only found in John. Chs. 14-17 comprise the “upper room discourse” where Jesus explains His purpose in being crucified and promises to send the Holy Spirit after His ascension. John’s Gospel, unlike the others, does not record a genealogy or birth narrative, a calling of the disciples, or parables.

2. Paul’s epistles

(Note: contrary to popular understanding, Paul’s letters are actually the earliest Christian documents and reflect the theology of the very earliest followers of Jesus.  One often hears that Paul came along and distorted the original message of Jesus and „invented” a new religion…however the historical facts do not support this theory at all.)

Romans – Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is seen as the most ‘theological’ of all his letters. Paul states his purpose in writing in the first chapter: “So I am eager to preach the good news to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek…” (Romans 1:15-16). The rest of the letter follows this thought as Paul shows how God has revealed Himself to Jews and Gentiles alike in order to free them from the bondage of Sin.

1Corinthians – The church in Corinth was experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to a large degree. However, there were people in the church who were causing many problems because of their immaturity and sometimes, blatant sin. Paul writes to encourage the faithful, challenge the immature, and rebuke the sinful in Corinth. Most of the teachings on the gifts of the Spirit are found in this letter in chs. 12-14.

2Corinthians – Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth is a great example of Paul using rhetorical techniques such as irony and sarcasm to make his points. There were some among the Corinthians who were challenging Paul’s authority as an Apostle and claiming that because he was suffering so much, he surely couldn’t have divine approval. Paul uses heavy sarcasm in this letter, referring to himself repeatedly as “foolish” and his opponents as “super-apostles.”

Galatians – The churches in Galatia were wrestling with the issue of how non-Jews were to act in order to become Christians. There were some, known as the “Judaizers” who were pressuring Gentile believers to get circumcised and to obey the laws of the Torah before they could be considered true believers. Paul, himself a Pharisee of the highest pedigree, declares that to do this is to add something to what Jesus has already provided for salvation, and is therefore a mockery of the Gospel.

Ephesians – The phrase that dominates Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is “in Him” (or ‘in Christ’/ ‘in the Lord’). Paul shares with the Ephesian believers that since they have come to faith and have united themselves with Jesus, they share in His glory and have become the body of Christ. This is why he stresses how important it is to remain unified and to continue to abide in Christ rather than live in sin.

Philippians – Paul writes to the church at Philippi to encourage them by using the example of Jesus coming to earth as a model for humility and self-sacrifice. Paul tells them that though he has achieved much from a human perspective, it is all worthless when compared to the value of knowing Jesus. He encourages them to continue to run the race with perseverance.

Colossians – Paul writes to the church at Colosse in order to give them a true understanding of who Jesus really was—God in the flesh! False teachers were a constant source of danger to the churches and Paul wants the Colossian Christians to be aware of them and to be able to detect errors when it comes to claims about Jesus. Paul concludes by giving practical advice for the believers in their city and encourages them in prayer.

1Thessalonians – The church at Thessalonica was a very young church so Paul writes to them in order to give them assurance and guidance. One important topic for them was the return of Jesus—when would it take place? What about people who died before he returned? These are some of the questions Paul sought to answer in this letter.

2Thessalonians – Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians in order to comfort them to challenge them that though Jesus would return at some point, they were not to become idle in waiting for Him. Some had neglected their normal day-to-day life using the excuse that they were simply waiting on Jesus who would return at any moment. Paul challenges them to live responsibly and to continue to persevere in spite of persecution or suffering.

1Timothy – Paul’s two letters to Timothy as well as his letter to Titus are commonly referred to as the “Pastoral Epistles” because Paul is writing to two church leaders. In 1 Timothy, Paul gives the young leader guidance on how to oversee the ministry of the churches.

2Timothy – This is one of Paul’s final letters. He writes from prison in Rome to encourage Timothy to continue the work of the Gospel. This is Paul’s farewell letter to Timothy and is filled with passion and urgency as Paul seeks to pass the torch to his young friend.

Titus – Titus was a leader of the churches on the island of Crete. Like his first letter to Timothy, Paul’s letter to Titus gives him practical advice on how to lead and equip the churches so that they will grow in faith and avoid false doctrines.

Philemon – The letter to Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s letters—only 1 chapter! In it, Paul seeks to convince Philemon, a member of the Colossian church, to forgive his slave Onesimus and accept him as a brother in Christ rather than a slave—an incredible statement for Paul to make in an age when slavery was a cultural norm. Onesimus had fled from Philemon and somehow met Paul. Paul evidently led Onesimus to the Lord and was now sending him back to Philemon along with this letter so that they would be reconciled and so that Philemon could show the church that the Gospel transcends social categories and institutions.

3. The general epistles

Hebrews – The letter to the Hebrews is the only letter in the NT whose authorship is completely unknown. Some have attributed it to Paul, but this is only speculation. However, the message of the letter is definitely Apostolic. The author of Hebrews seeks to show how Jesus was the fulfillment of the OT priesthood and sacrificial system. Hebrews contains some of the strongest warnings against turning away from the Gospel message in the NT.

James – James was Jesus’ half brother and the leader of the church in Jerusalem—he’s not to be confused with James the disciple who was killed early in the book of Acts (also, Catholics believe Jesus’ mother, Mary, remained a virgin her entire life, therefore they believe James to either be Joseph’s son from a previous marriage or one of Jesus’ cousins). James’ letter is written to the church everywhere as an encouragement to endure persecution and to put into practice what Christians say they believe. James’ focus is on internal integrity being the mark of the true Christian’s life.

1Peter – Peter, like James, writes to Christians scattered throughout the Roman empire for the purpose of encouraging them to persevere in their faith despite persecution and hardship. Peter emphasizes the necessity of being God’s holy people, just as Israel has always been called to be.

2Peter – Peter’s final letter was written shortly before his execution in Rome. In this letter he writes to all the churches in order to send them a final warning to be on the lookout for false teachers and to be filled with knowledge of God so that they can expose such errors as they arise. Peter ends the letter with a final call to the church to live holy lives while awaiting the final judgment and to grow in grace and knowledge of God and His Word.

1John – According to early church tradition, the Apostle John was the last surviving Apostle and the only one to not be martyred for his faith (he was exiled to the island of Patmos instead!). 1John is believed to be his letter to all Christians, urging them to abide in Jesus (as per Jesus’ teaching in ch.15 of his Gospel) and to live lives of holy devotion while avoiding the false teaching that would eventually become known as gnosticism (the idea that true fellowship with God can be attained through secret knowledge or gnosis in Greek). 1John has been called the Letter of Love in the NT because the word ‘love’ appears 52 times in just 5 chapters. There is some doubt as to whether the author of 1, 2 and 3John is the same as the author of John’s Gospel (or whether the author is in fact the Apostle John or another elder in the early church since he is not named in these letters. It is equally possible that the author is an early Apostle, such as Lazarus).

2John – 2 John, like 1John, was written to encourage Christians in love and to warn against false teachers. The “Elect Lady and her Children” in v.1 is most likely a title for the local church to whom John is writing.

3John – 3John is a letter from John to Gaius commending him for his support of traveling ministers who spread the Gospel throughout the Roman empire.

Jude – Jude was the brother of James (the head of the Jerusalem church) and half-brother of Jesus. His letter is written to all Christians for the purpose of reminding them to keep on their guard against heresy or false teachings. Jude warns false teachers and apostates of the judgment that awaits them, should they continue to oppose and distort the Gospel.

4. Apocalyptic epistle

[Note: „Apocalyptic” is a genre of literature that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the end of the world, as the English word has come to mean.  The term literally means „unveiling” or „revealing.”  But apocalyptic writings often do look, envision things having to do with the culmination of history.]

Revelation – The most well known (and most misunderstood) book of the NT, Revelation, was written by John while he was in exile on Patmos. John has a vision from God of Jesus’ message to the churches throughout the Roman empire and then a vision of all of redemptive history as it began unfolding when Jesus ascended to Heaven after His resurrection (chs.5ff). The genre of the book is Apocalyptic, whereby world events and spiritual realities are portrayed through symbols and epic stories. Though there have been many interpretations of Revelation, the main message can be summed as an encouragement to the early church to maintain their faithful witness in spite of persecution and temptation, and they will inherit the kingdom of God.

6 comentarii (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Helpful guide to the Old Testament « agnus dei – english + romanian blog
  2. James Snapp, Jr.
    apr. 29, 2012 @ 22:25:58

    What research have you done to cause you to conclude that Mark 16:9-20 is not part of the original text?

    • rodi
      apr. 29, 2012 @ 22:49:08

      Hi James, there is a link at the top of the article, below the photo that will take you to the original article and website. If you read carefully, it notes that there is a note in Bibles other than KJV that this text is found in many old manuscripts but is omitted in two of the earliest complete copies of the Bible known as the Vaticanus (350 AD) and Sinaiticus (375 AD). And, my ESV Bible does have a note simply mentioning this. That is all I know.

    • rodi
      apr. 29, 2012 @ 23:09:08

      James, I figured you researched this issue (since you commented on it) and googled your name with the text and found your research paper on this text. Just in glancing over patristic evidence that you cite, I am confused as to why then this text is in question, if in fact it was being cited as early as the second century.

  3. James Snapp, Jr.
    apr. 30, 2012 @ 16:01:01

    Rodi, If you send me a request via e-mail, I would be glad to send you some resources about this, including a digital copy of my research-book on the subject.

    See
    http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/public/MarkOne.html for a multi-part overview of the pertinent evidence.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • rodi
      apr. 30, 2012 @ 16:15:19

      James, I don’t know how to thank you! I emailed you already and I look forward to reading it all! God bless you and may he work through you for His gain!

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