Short Introduction to the New Testament

The New Testament was written in Common (koine) Greek, which was the common language in use for trade and communication throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st Century. Common Greek differs from Classical Greek in several ways. The grammar is more simple, and the vocabulary is less extensive. This is because it is Greek for non-native speakers.The New Testament consists of 27 books. These are arranged by category as follows. Within each category, the individual books are listed, generally, by length.

GOSPELS
The genre of Gospel is neither History nor Biography. The four Gospels tell the story of Jesus life and teaching. It is not history as moderns use the term, in that they are not overly concerned with chronology – sometimes events are arranged thematically. They are not Biography, in that they leave out much of Jesus' life. The majority of them cover the time of Jesus active ministry – about three years. Mark, for example, is about half focused on the events leading up to the Crucifixion.
The Gospels are further divided. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called "Symoptics" because theya re the most like each other. John, the fouth Gospel has a distinctive style.

  • Matthew – the gospel most interested in Jesus connection with the Old Testament
  • Mark – the shortest, and perhaps earliest, with the least teaching.
  • Luke – contains many parables especially not contained in the others.
  • John – focused on seven signs, seven "I am" sayings and the most evangelistic.

HISTORY
Luke-Acts is a two volume book, but it they are separated in the New Testament arrangement. Acts covers the history of the first expansion of the early church, starting in Jerusalem and ending in Rome.

  • Acts – "some of the acts of some of the apostles."

LETTERS
Church leaders used the "epistolary" or letter form common to the 1st century to communicate with the various churches or with specific leaders of the churches.

The Letters of Paul (as traditionally held)

  • Romans – the most systematic exposition of the message.
  • I and II Corinthians – dealing with issues faced by a largely gentile church.
  • Galatians – maybe the earliest book in the New Testament.
  • Ephesians – about the nature of the Church
  • Philippians – the most personal and engaging of the Letters
  • Colossians – focused on the majesty and divinity of Christ.
  • I and II Thessalonians – a pastor talks to a church he started.
  • I and II Timothy – advice to a young church leaders
  • Titus – advice to another church leader.
  • Philemon – a letter about a runaway slave.

General Letters

  • Hebrews – a letter to Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire.
  • James – practical wisdom by James the half-brother of Jesus.
  • I and II Peter – letters of encouragement by the Apostle Peter.
  • I, II and III John – letters long held to be written by John the Apostle.
  • Jude – a letter warning of false teachers.

APOCALYPSE
Apocalyptic literature is about the breaking into this world of the world to come. It makes use of dreams, images, numbers and signs.

  • Revelation – depiction of the victory of Christ from the 1st Century to Eternity.

Galatians is thought to have been written within 20 years of Jesus' life. The Gospel of John is believed to have been written by the close of the first century. Dates are subject to considerable debate, as is authorship of certain books.

Other books, gospels, letters and histories exist, but have not been considered worthy of inclusion in the New Testament. This has to do with the criteria of inspiration, including such things as:

  • Apostolic Origin
  • Consistency with the Gospel
  • Widespread acceptance by the Churches
  • Written within the lifetime of those who witnessed Jesus' life.
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