Introduction to the New Testament

Growing in Christ

"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45

"The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed." - St. Augustine

Continue to Old Testament here

The Christian Scriptures may seem overwhelming as you begin your journey in Christ. This page is intended to help with some of the historical background as a very basic introduction. (Remember as you begin that 'Bible' simply means 'Book' and that the term 'Testament' refers to the 'Covenant Promises' God has made to His people.)  

Many far more comprehensive summaries of the Bible have been written. I have kept the following purposefully brief so an overview can be read easily, hopefully prompting interest in reading in greater depth and providing a basic context to that reading.

The New Testament can be viewed as composed of History and Letters:

 

History: this section recounts the ministry of Christ and the beginnings of the communities of those who follow Him in response to the coming Kingdom. The first three Gospels share many common elements but focus on distinct groups of hearers. 

Matthew (Levi, the tax collector) - shares the Gospel (good news) of Jesus in terms Jewish hearers could best understand, with special emphasis on the teaching of Jesus and often quoting familiar passages from the Old Testament to show how Jesus fulfilled prophesy of the Messiah.

 

Mark (a young friend of Peter; leaving his 'signature' at Mark 14:51-52) - shares the Gospel in terms Roman hearers could best understand, focusing somewhat more on Jesus' actions than His teachings. Mark follows the ministry of Jesus with special emphasis on the powerful dynamic of the Gospel to set people free from all sorts of oppression.

 

Luke (doctor and historian) - shares the Gospel of Jesus in terms Greek (i.e. non-Jewish or Gentile) hearers could best understand with special emphasis on the power of God's Holy Spirit and implications of the Gospel for the marginalized of society.

 

John - (one of Jesus' disciples and closest friends) shares his experience with Jesus somewhat more philosophically focusing on the implications of Christ's coming for the entire universe, with particular emphasis on Jesus' identity with seven "I am" statements: John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7,9; 10:11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5.

 

Acts (a continuation of the Gospel of Luke) - recounts the progress of sharing the Gospel during the 30 years following Jesus' resurrection; from Jew to Gentile, from Jerusalem to Rome. Many communities of those who follow Jesus were formed, though persecution was at times harsh. The book of Acts may have been complied or used at Paul's trial in Rome where he was executed in 67 AD.

Letters: written by various witnesses to the resurrection to the embryonic communities of those who follow Christ.

 

Letters of Paul

The purpose of Paul's letters was to establish the young churches which had been established in response to the Gospel. The early letters - Galatians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Corinthians, II Corinthians and Romans - were written to establish them in 'kerygma' (The Gospel). The middle letters - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon - were written to set the administration of the church in order. The latter letters - I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus - were written to equip the leaders. Paul's principles of church planting could be summarized as evangelize strategic cities, establish churches and equip leaders. Paul speaks of his strategy for establishing churches in Acts 14: 21-23.

Romans - was written to the church in Rome to explain the Gospel Paul proclaimed and is viewed by many as the "Magna Carta" of the New Testament. It's theme is that righteousness in God's sight is not achieved by human effort but is a gift of the grace of God through Christ's death on the cross.

 

1 Corinthians - Paul's 18 month visit to Corinth is recorded in Acts 18:1-17 during which time a church was formed in a city known for its immorality. In his first letter Paul attempts to move this church closer to God's high intention for its unity and holiness by pointing to the practical implications of the cross of Christ for personal and community life.

 

2 Corinthians - Following his first letter Paul visited the church but the visit did not go well. He then wrote a second letter (lost to us) which resulted in a much happier response. The letter responding to this reconciliation is known to us as 2 Corinthians. Chapters 3-5 give particularly rich insights into the Gospel.

 

Galatians - This letter to churches (in modern Turkey) is one of Paul's earliest letters. In it Paul addresses the central uniqueness of the message of Christianity - the question of how man comes to rightly relate to God. In it he argues for freedom from human effort given in Christ and fights the temptation of his readers to return to the familiar way of basing righteousness on adherence to law.

 

Ephesians - Written by Paul while in prison c. 61AD overviewing God's eternal purpose in the Old and New Testaments in calling and bringing to completion the Body of Christ, the church. The church, you will immediately discern, is much more substantial than some of it's physical expressions. The letter, like most of the Bible, is to be read slowly and carefully to draw from its depths.

Philippians - written by Paul while in prison c. 61AD to the first church established in Europe (during his second missionary journey). Many themes of the Christian life are drawn from the incarnation of Christ, particularly applicable to times of hardship, including gratitude, humility, peace and others flowing from the grace of Christ.

Colossians - written by Paul also from prison, probably in Rome in the early 60's. In it Paul addresses challenges to the church from philosophies which turn people from the primacy of Christ to syncretism, in this a syncretism case seeking to fuse the Gospel with Jewish legalism, worship of angels, asceticism or philosophy etc. Christ is above all and never to be reduced.

1 Thessalonians - written by Paul to the 2nd church established in Europe, probably in the early 50's, to address a range of questions and problems which had arisen in the community, mostly due to their isolation from other followers of Christ and the difficultly of breaking free of the pagan values of their context.

2 Thessalonians - Paul's follow-up letter was written soon afterwards to expand on and clarify practical questions and misunderstandings, particularly related to the second coming of Christ.

1 Timothy - The next three letters Paul gives advice to two young pastors, Timothy, who met Paul during his 2nd missionary journey, and Titus, a Gentile convert to Christ. The letters, written in the mid 60's, are often called "pastoral letters" as they deal with the leadership and pastoral care of churches.)

2 Timothy - This second letter is in some ways more personal as Paul writes from prison in Rome expecting to be executed. Paul urges Timothy to be a faithful, bearing suffering, carrying the Gospel forward whatever the cost.

Titus - had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for the council of Acts 15 and was his emissary to Corinth during Paul's 3rd missionary journey. Now he was in Crete, giving leadership in a difficult situation.

Philemon - was a slave-owner, whose run-away slave had become a friend of Paul and follower of Christ. Paul now asks Philemon (61 AD) to release his slave into his care to help advance the Gospel - which values were challenging the social conventions of the entire Roman empire.

Letters of Other Apostles / Witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ

Hebrews - is a strong encouragement to Jewish/Hebrew believers, under great pressure to give up their faith in Christ, not to relent. Chapter 11 depicts the nature of Biblical faith. The author draws frequently from the Old Testament demonstrating Jesus to be greater than Moses, the covenant and sacrifices given prior to Christ's gift. The letter dates from about 65 AD.

James - The final letters of the New Testament are sometimes called "general," "universal" or "catholic" letters in that they (except 2 and 3 John) are not addressed to a single locality. In the first of these, written near 50 AD, James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us faith is not a spiritual exercise separated from the decisions of daily life. Rather, faith affects our care for the needy, relations between rich and poor, control of our tongue, business decisions and every practical question.

1 Peter - written from Rome shortly before his martyrdom about 67 AD, to predominantly Gentile followers of Christ broadly scattered about the Roman Empire as those who didn't fit into the pagan and hostile society in which they, as "aliens" (v.1), were called to be "salt and light" (Matt. 5:13-16).

2 Peter - written from Rome shortly afterwards to encourage the faith of those "in, but not of, the world" undergoing suffering and trials, to correct the errors of false teachers and to remind his Gentile readers of the certainty of Christ's return. In all circumstances of opposition, Peter, in both letters, urges believers to live above reproach (2 Peter 3:11).

1 John - written from Ephesus in his old age, John challenged Gnosticism in this letter or sermon written about 90AD. Gnosticism often held low ethical standards which John addresses with a series of contrasts - light and darkness, love of world and love of God, children of God and children of the evil one. (Gnosticism sought power through secret knowledge.)

2 John - written to a woman or a group of believers urging faithfulness to Christ's commands in opposition to travelling teachers of Gnosticism.

3 John - because Gnosticism was often spread through travelling teachers, the question of whether the church should give hospitality to traveling teachers became an issue. John writes Gaius (v.1) encouraging continuation of the practice of hospitality to fellow believers even if they were strangers.

Jude - is written to challenge Gnostic teachers who viewed everything spiritual as good and everything material as evil. This unbiblical worldview led to immorality. Jude, like James, was a half-brother of Jesus.

Revelation: this letter, believed by most to be written by the Apostle John around 96 AD to the seven churches of modern Turkey (Rev. 2, 3), is sometimes call "apocalyptic" because of its vivid imagery related to suffering for the cause of Christ. Others view the letter more broadly as encouragement to church of all ages as it undergoes opposition and suffering, regardless of how near that suffering occurs to the return of Christ.  

Continue to Old Testament here