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 |

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.

(Olivet discourse) Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction…from an eyewitness account (Part 1)

Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction…from an eyewitness account (Part 1) – National methodist |

During the last week of Jesus’ life, when He was teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem, His disciples were awestruck by the Temple’s grandeur (as any Galilean peasants and fishermen would’ve been!).  Jesus told them that as impressive as it all looked, it would be destroyed brick by brick.  As they left Jerusalem later that afternoon and headed across the valley to the Mt. of Olives, the Disciples asked Jesus to clarify what He had told them.  When would the destruction happen and what would be the sign of His coming into power?

(Many readers of the Gospels, upon hearing the Disciples use the word „coming” have mistakenly assumed that they were asking Jesus about His „Second Coming” and thus the end of the world.  However, they were asking about His coming to power as Messiah, not His return from Heaven–they didn’t even believe that He was going to die at that point, much less ascend to Heaven for a few thousand years and then return afterwards!)

Jesus’ answer to their question, which has come to be known as the „Olivet Discourse”, can be found in 3 forms in Matthew (24:1-26:2), Mark (13:1-37), and Luke (21:5-38).  This Discourse is given in a format that is very much in keeping with Jesus’ role of 1st century apocalyptic prophet.  In it, He warns His followers of Jerusalem’s coming destruction at the hands of Rome using language and imagery that earlier Hebrew prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel used to warn God’s people of impending destruction and judgment at the hands of foreign oppressors.

What is especially interesting is that Jesus tells His Disciples that it would all happen within „this generation” (Lk 21:32 and parallels).  In Scripture, a generation is roughly 40 years, give or take a few.  Jesus spoke these words around 30-33 AD.  Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD…right on schedule.  This has led many scholars who deny the possibility that predictive prophecy can actually happen to hold the Olivet Discourse as an account composed after the fact and placed on the lips of Jesus in order to validate Him in the eyes of the faithful.

Others, mistaking His description of Jerusalem’s fall for a description of the end of the world have taken one of two approaches:

1) Jesus was describing the end of the world as taking place within that generation; and since it didn’t happen, Jesus was simply wrong.

2) Jesus was describing the end of the world, but the phrase „this generation” should be translated „this race” (i.e. the Jews) instead.  Thus, we are still waiting on the fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse to occur.

Neither of these approaches are acceptable from the perspective of the New Testament as a whole.  The first errs in not recognizing Jesus’ use of apocalyptic imagery to describe the fall of Jerusalem rather than the end of the world.  The second not only commits that same error, but also insists on translating the word that means „generation” every other time it’s used by Jesus as „race” in order to keep Jesus from being wrong in His timetable for the events He’s describing.  But in context, telling His Disciples that the Jewish people will not pass away until the world ends doesn’t make any sense with regard to the question they are asking and the events He is describing.

No, Jesus is describing the impending judgment by God upon His city and His Temple due to their rejection of His faithful messenger…who also happens to be their long-awaited Messiah!  Just as Jeremiah had done, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem for its hard-hearted disobedience as a whole (though just as in Jeremiah’s day, there is a large remnant of faithful Jews who would survive the destruction and continue bearing the promises of the People of God).

So reading Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse gives us a prophetic apocalyptic depiction of the destruction of Jerusalem.  But what did the event itself actually look like?  Is there any way for us to fast forward those 40 years and see it all take place?

Yes, there is.

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem and wrote about it extensively and in great detail in his historical work „The Jewish Wars.”  And when we read his account of the events of 70 AD, it gives us a whole new level of appreciation for the events Jesus warned His followers to be on the lookout for and flee the city before they were caught up in them.

It is to Josephus’ account that we will now turn.

[To be continued…]

By James-Michael Smith

(Olivet discourse) Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction…from an eyewitness account (Part 2)

Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction…from an eyewitness account (Part 2) – National methodist |

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem and wrote about it extensively and in great detail in his historical work „The Jewish Wars.”  And when we read his account of the events of 70 AD, it gives us a whole new level of appreciation for the events Jesus warned His followers to be on the lookout for and flee the city before they were caught up in them.

Here are excerpts from Josephus’ Jewish War 6:1-406 along with relevant excerpts from the Olivet Discourse as found in Matthew 24:1-51 in bold.


The Destruction of Jerusalem

Jewish War 6:1 Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day, and the seditious were still more irritated by the calamities they were under, even while the famine preyed upon themselves, after it had preyed upon the people. 2 And, indeed, the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench, which was a hindrance to those who would make sallies out of the city and fight the enemy… 4 but as they had their right hands already polluted with the murders of their own countrymen,

Matthew 24:10 “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other…

and in that condition ran out to fight with foreigners, they seem to me to have cast a reproach upon God himself, as if he were too slow in punishing them…6 And truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become a desolate country all over, and its trees were all cut down: 7 nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; 8 for the war had laid all the signs of beauty quite waste: nor, if anyone that had known the place before had come suddenly to it now, would he have known it again…

24:1 “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 „Do you see all these things?” he asked. „I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.

The Famine in the City

193 Now of those who perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable; 194 for if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did anywhere appear, a war was commenced immediately, and the dearest friends started fighting one with another about it, snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. 195 Nor would men believe that those who were dying had no food; but the robbers would search them when they were expiring, lest anyone should have concealed food in their bosoms, and counterfeited dying: 196 nay, these robbers gaped for want, and ran about stumbling and staggering along like mad dogs, and reeling against the doors of the houses like drunken men; they would also, in the great distress they were in, rush into the very same houses two or three times in one and the same day. 197 Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew everything, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from belts and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: 198 the very wisps of old hay became food to some; and some gathered up fibers, and sold a very small weight of them for four Attic [drachmas].

6 “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

199 But why do I describe the shameless impudence that the famine brought on men in their eating inanimate things, while I am going to relate a matter of fact, the like to which no history relates, either among the Greeks or Barbarians? It is horrible to speak of it, and incredible when heard.

Resorting to Cannibalism

201 There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan–her name was Mary…[she] was with them besieged therein at this time…what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose… if she found any food, she perceived her labors were for others, and not for herself; and it was now…impossible for…to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow… She then attempted a most unnatural thing; 205 and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, „O you miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve you in this war, this famine, and this sedition? 206 As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves! This famine also will kill us, even before that slavery comes upon us; yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both of the other. 207 Come on; be my food, and be a fury to these seditious rebels….” 208 As soon as she had said this, she slew her son; and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. 209 Upon this the [rebels] came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied, that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them; and with this uncovered what was left of her son. 210 Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight; when she said to them, „This is my own son, and what has been done was my own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself!…the whole city was [told] of this horrid action immediately; and while everyone laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves. 213 So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die; and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries.

19 “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now– and never to be equaled again.”

The Temple Fire

…271 While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those who were caught were slain; nor was there a pity of any age, or any reverence of gravity; but children, and old men, and common persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner; so that this war went around all sorts of men, and brought them to destruction, and as well those who made supplication for their lives, as those who defended themselves by fighting.

15 „So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel– let the reader understand– 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

272 The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those who were slain; and because this hill was high, and the works at the temple were very large, one would have thought the whole city had been on fire. Nor can one imagine anything either greater or more terrible than this noise…276 for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of those bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them…

28 “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures/eagles will gather.

By James-Michael Smith

Arch of Titus Menorah.png
The sack of Jerusalem, from the inside wall of the Arch of Titus, Rome
Date March – September 70
Location Jerusalem, Judaea
Result Siege succeeds; Temple of Jerusalem destroyed and sacked.
Jerusalem (which declared independence in 66) is returned to Roman rule
Roman Empire Jews of Judea
Jewish Zealots
Jewish Sicarii
Commanders and leaders
Titus Flavius Vespasianus Simon Bar Giora
Yohanan mi-Gush Halav (John of Gischala)
Eleazar ben Simon
70,000 men 60,000 men, split among three factions
Casualties and losses
Unknown 60,000 (1.1 million according to Josephus)

source for image and chart below image – Wikipedia

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