The New Testament
The New Testament consist of twenty seven books written by first and second century Christians. The New Testament books can be grouped into three different categories as shown in the table below.
The Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, Matthew) and The Acts of the Apostles.
The Thirteen Epistles of Paul (Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon), The Epistle to the Hebrews, James, I & II Peter, I, II & III John and Jude
|The Books of the New Testament|
The Narrative Books
The first four books of the New Testament are called gospels.[a] These books, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John relates the birth, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the gospels Jesus was born in the Judean town of Bethlehem but grew up in the Galilean town of Nazareth. At about thirty years of age he started his preaching, initially in the towns of Galilee and finally in Jerusalem. There he was betrayed by one of his twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot, and handed over to the Jewish court. He was tried, found guilty of blasphemy and handed over to the Roman court on a trumped up charge of sedition. Under Pontius Pilate he was sentenced to death by crucifixion. Three days after his death on the cross he appeared to his disciples who finally understood his teachings.
The Acts of the Apostles is actually a continuation of the gospel of Luke. It relates the story of the apostles of Jesus after his ascension into heaven. A new apostle is also introduced here, Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus. Saul initially persecuted the followers of Jesus but the experience of an overpowering vision while he was on the road to Damascus converted him. Saul changed his name to Paul upon conversion. He thenceforth gave himself the title of apostle and considered himself an equal to the other apostles of Jesus. Acts relates some tension between Paul and the original followers of Jesus, particularly Peter and James, on the issue of admitting uncircumcised Gentiles into the faith. The book ends with Paul being arrested and placed under house arrest in Rome.
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The next thirteen book are actually epistles (letters) to various churches and persons which were traditionally ascribed to Paul. It is within these epistles that we see the kernels of subsequent Christian theology. The epistles of Paul are not arranged chronologically in the New Testament. They are arranged by putting the longest epistles first and shortest ones last. The epistle to the Romans is the longest and the most systematic of all the Pauline epistles. In it Paul argued that sin is so universal that no act of man can redeem himself in God's eyes. Man can only be saved by the grace of Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice. The two epistles to the Corinthians deal with a variety of subjects. In the first epistle Paul discusses the Eucharist, love and the resurrection. In the second epistle, Paul was defending his status as an apostle to his followers in Corinth. The epistle to the Galatians had Paul again trying to defend his status as an apostle and his theology. Apparently some of Jesus original apostles had told the Christians in Galatia that they had to keep all the commandments of the Jewish Law. To Paul this was an erroneous teaching and his epistle clearly shows his self assurance in the correctness of his theology. The epistles to the Ephesians and Collossians have much the same message; to recall the people to faith in Jesus Christ. The epistle to the Philippians contain the usual Pauline warning against the Judaizing party within the new religion. In this epistle he also recounted the successes of his missionary work. The epistles to the Thessalonians contains Paul's teachings regarding the second coming of Christ. The next three epistle, the epistles to Timothy and Titus are normally called the "pastoral epistles". The epistles chief concern was the appointment and duties of church elders. The last epistle is the one to Philemon. The epistle is addressed to a Christian master whose slave, Onesimus, had escaped and sought refuge with Paul. The letter was a plea for Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to take him back.
The Epistle to the Hebrews asserts the finality of the Christian faith and its superiority to the old covenant. The tone is definitely Pauline (i.e. from the same theology as Paul) but its original author is unknown. The epistle of James, attributed to the brother of Jesus, is entirely moral in content emphasizing the importance of good works. I Peter, attributed to the apostle, was written to Christian communities in Asia Minor to give them strength for the persecution they were going through. II Peter is a warning against false and ungodly teachers. The next three epistles were traditionally attributed to John the apostle and author of the fourth gospel. I John was written to oppose false doctrines on the person of Christ. II John talked about the need to avoid people who teach false doctrines. III John encouraged hospitality to Christian brothers who travel spreading the good news. The epistle of Jude was written to counter the spread of false doctrines.
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The last book of the New Testament is the book of Revelation. The book, like the second part of Daniel in the Old Testament, consists of a series of visions of the author, John the Divine. The Revelation is called an apocalypse, in the sense that it tells things to come without extolling the right living, as in prophecies. John had visions of angels, beasts, the throne of God, the Lamb who turns into the conqueror on the white horse, dragons and many other things. These visions are hard to make sense of and Christians throughout history have interpreted these to events, countries and people in their own time. The book of Revelation closes with a promise of the imminent return of Jesus.
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|| The word gospel came from an old English word godspel which means "glad tidings".|
1 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p444
2 ibid: p130-131
3 ibid: p204-205
4 ibid: p119
5 ibid: p399
6 ibid: p510
7 ibid: p515
8 ibid: p398
9 ibid: p233
10 ibid: p394
11 ibid: p274
12 ibid: p282
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