An Overview of the New Testament
If you were to provide the Gospel of Matthew or 2 Peter with a title, what would it be? If someone asked you to summarise Colossians, what would you write? Why and when were the books of the New Testament written? What is distinctive of 2 Corinthians or, asked another way, if we did not have [insert the name your favourite New Testament book], what would we miss? How would you outline the book of Revelation or the book of Acts? We continue our series through the Bible, holding to a conservative, evangelical perspective. Our aim is to answer these questions for each book of the New Testament.
According to Tenney (1985:130), the New Testament is ‘the record of the character and establishment of a new dealing of God with men through Christ. … The contents of the New Testament consist of the revelation of this new covenant through the recorded words of Jesus Christ and his followers.’ The New Testament contains 27 books, written by a maximum of nine different human authors and penned over a period not exceeding 50 years. These books can be classified in terms of literary character, authors or by periods (Tenney 1985:130).
The first five books of the New Testament are historical in character, providing different perspectives about the life of Jesus Christ (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), flowing into the book of Acts. Although written in the form of epistles, many books of the New Testament are doctrinal (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John and Jude), some books are personal (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 2 and 3 John) whereas the book of Revelation is prophetic (it calls itself prophetic five times).
Of course, many of the historical books contain prophecies, and many epistles are personal, so these distinctions are not cast in stone. Another way to view the literary character of the books of the New Testament is to say they are historical (the four Gospels and Acts), they are epistles and they are prophetic (Revelation). Under the heading ‘epistles’, we have the letters of Paul, Hebrew epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 Peter) and general epistles (2 Peter, the 3 letters of John and also Jude). Paul’s letters can be described as journey epistles (Galatians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Romans), prison epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon) and pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus).
The New Testament can also be classified according to its authors. Each book of the New Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The human authors had to be an apostle or had to have been vouched for by an apostle. The human authors are believed to be Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, the author of Hebrews, James, Peter and Jude. The occupations of these men include a tax collector, a doctor, a tent-maker and fishermen.
Who wrote most of the verses in the New Testament? Bock (1994:87) provides these interesting numbers: ‘Of the 7 947 verses in the New Testament, Luke-Acts comprises 2 157 verses, or 27,1%. By comparison, the Pauline Epistles have 2 032 verses and the Johannine writings have 1 407’.
According to Fruchtenbaum (2005: Introduction), five books of the New Testament are addressed primarily to Jewish believers (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, Jude), covering two major issues that the Messianic Jewish community faced: persecution (Hebrews, James, 1 Peter) as well as false doctrine (2 Peter and Jude).
As we move through the New Testament, we trust that you will enjoy the discovery of God’s Word anew, that it will not just be the accumulation of knowledge (hearers) of the Word, but that it will translate into deeds from the heart (cf. James 1:22; 2 Peter 1:3-11). Above all, may we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:19).
Bock, D.L., 1994, ‘A theology of Luke-Acts’, in R.B. Zuck (ed.), A Biblical theology of the New Testament, pp. 87-166, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2005, The Messianic Jewish epistles, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.
Tenney, M.C., 1985, New Testament Survey, revised edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids.
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