The New Testament is divided into five sections: the Gospels (Matthew through John), history (the book of Acts), the Pauline Epistles (Romans through Philemon), the General Epistles (Hebrews through Jude), and prophecy (the book of Revelation). The New Testament was written from approximately A.D. 45 to approximately A.D. 95. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (common Greek, the everyday form of the Greek language in the first century A.D.)
The Gospels give us four different, yet not conflicting, accounts of the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospels demonstrate how Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament and lay the foundation for the teaching of the rest of the New Testament. The book of Acts records the deeds of Jesus’ apostles, the men Jesus sent out into the world to proclaim the Gospel of salvation. Acts tells us of the beginning of the church and its rapid growth in the first century A.D. The Pauline Epistles, written by the Apostle Paul, are letters to specific churches – giving official Christian doctrine and the practice that should follow that doctrine. The General Epistles compliment the Pauline Epistles with additional teaching and application. The book of Revelation prophesies the events that will occur in the end times.
2. The Divisions of the New Testament:
1. The Gospels: 4 Gospels
Gospel of Matthew: Date of writing: A.D. 50.
Matthew intends to prove to the Jews that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. More than any other gospel, Matthew quotes the Old Testament to show how Jesus fulfilled the words of the Jewish prophets. Matthew describes in detail the lineage of Jesus from David, and uses many forms of speech that Jews would have been comfortable with. Matthew’s love and concern for his people is apparent through his meticulous approach to telling the gospel story.
Gospel of Mark: Date of writing: A.D. 67 or 68.
Whereas Matthew is written primarily to his fellow Jews, Mark’s gospel appears to be targeted to the Roman believers, particularly Gentiles. Mark wrote as a pastor to Christians who previously had heard and believed the Gospel (Romans 1:8). He desired that they have a biographical story of Jesus Christ as Servant of the Lord and Savior of the world (Mark 10:45) in order to strengthen their faith in the face of severe persecution and to teach them what it meant to be His disciples.
Gospel of Luke: Date of writing: A.D. 58.
Luke’s is the longest and most thorough of the four Gospels. Luke, a Gentile physician, writes both this Gospel and the book of Acts to aid a new Christian named Theophilus. The name “Theophilus” means “loved by God” or “lover of God.” It is unclear whether Theophilus refers to a specific person of that name, or to believers in Christ in general. As a missionary companion of the Apostle Paul, Luke is able to present a detailed historical account of Jesus’ life. Luke presents Jesus’ humanity more than any of the other Gospels.
Gospel of John: Date of writing: A.D. 90.
John 20:31 cites the purpose as follows: “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John was not only seeking to strengthen the faith of second-generation believers as well as bring about faith in others but also sought to correct a false teaching that was spreading. John emphasized Jesus Christ as “the Son of God,” fully God and fully man, contrary to that false doctrine which saw the “Christ-spirit” as coming upon the human, Jesus, at His baptism and leaving him at the crucifixion.
2. Historical Book
Book of Acts: Date of writing: A.D. 62-64
The Book of Acts was written to provide a history of the early church. Acts emphasis the importance of the day of Pentecost and being empowered to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ. Acts sheds light on the ministry gift of the Holy Spirit, which empowers, guides, teaches, and serves as our Counselor. When reading the Book of Acts many of the readers will be enlightened and encouraged by the many miracles that were being performed during this time by the disciples Peter, John, and Paul. The Book of Acts emphasizes the importance of obedience to God’s Word and the transformation that occurs as a result of knowing Christ. There are also many references to those that rejected the truth that the disciples preached about in Jesus Christ. Power, greed, and many other vices of the devil or (are) evidenced in the book of Acts. Acts 1:8 serves as a good summary of the Book of Acts. Acts records the apostles being Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the rest of the surrounding world.
3. The Letters
a). Paul’s Letters: 13 Letters
1. Book of Romans: A.D. 57
Paul was excited about being able to at last minister in this church, everyone was well aware of that fact (Romans 1:8-15). It was written from Corinth just prior to Paul’s trip to Jerusalem to deliver the alms that had been given for the poor there. He had intended to go to Rome and then on to Spain (Romans 15:24). His plans were interrupted when he was arrested in Jerusalem. He would eventually get to Rome as a prisoner. Phoebe who was a member of the church at Cenchrea near Corinth (Romans 16:1) most likely carried the letter to Rome.
2. Book of 1 Corinthians: A.D. 55
The Apostle Paul started the church in Corinth. A few years after leaving the church, the Apostle Paul heard some disturbing reports about the Corinthians church. The church was full of pride, the church was excusing sexual immorality, spiritual gifts were being used improperly, and there was rampant misunderstanding of key Christian doctrines. The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in an attempt to restore the Corinthian church to its foundation – Jesus Christ.
3.Book of 2 Corinthians: A.D. 56
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul returns to many of the same themes covered in his early letter. These include:
- Continued immorality between a brother and his step mother (1 Corinthians 5:1-6; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
- Paul’s plans for a future visit (2 Corinthians 1:15–2:4)
- The giving of the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:1-6)
- Divisions in the church created by Judaizers who attacked Paul’s authority (2 Corinthians 10:10-12).
Positively, Paul found the Corinthians had well received his “severe” letter. The Apostle encourages them for this in an expression of Paul’s genuine love (2 Corinthians 7:3-16). Paul also sought to vindicate his apostleship, as some in the church had likely questioned his authority (2 Corinthians 13:3).
4. Book of Galatians: A.D. 49.
The churches in Galatia were formed partly of converted Jews, and partly of Gentile converts, as was generally the case. Paul asserts his apostolic character and the doctrines he taught, that he might confirm the Galatian churches in the faith of Christ, especially with respect to the important point of justification by faith alone. Thus the subject is mainly the same as that which is discussed in the epistle to the Romans, that is, justification by faith alone. In this epistle, however, attention is particularly directed to the point, that men are justified by faith without the works of the Law of Moses.
Galatians was not written as an essay in contemporary history. It was a protest against corruption of the gospel of Christ. The essential truth of justification by faith rather than by the works of the law had been obscured by the Judaizers’ insistence that believers in Christ must keep the law if they expected to be perfect before God. When Paul learned that this teaching had begun to penetrate the Galatian churches and that it had alienated them from their heritage of liberty, he wrote the impassioned remonstrance contained in this epistle.
5. Book of Ephesians: A.D. 60-61
Paul intended all those that long for Christ-like maturity to receive this writing. Enclosed within the Book of Ephesians is the discipline needed to develop into true sons of God. Furthermore, a study in Ephesians will help to fortify and to establish the believer so he can fulfill the purpose and calling God has given. The aim of this epistle is to confirm and to equip a maturing church. It presents a balanced view of the body of Christ and its importance in God’s economy.
6. Book of Philippians: A.D. 60-61
The Epistle to the Philippians, one of Paul’s prison epistles, was written in Rome. It was at Philippi, which the apostle visited on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12), that Lydia and the Philippians jailer and his family were converted to Christ. Now, some few years later, the church was well established, as may be inferred from its address which includes “bishops (elders) and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).
7. Book of Colossians: A.D. 60-61
The Book of Colossians is a mini-ethics course, addressing every area of Christian life. Paul progresses from the individual life to the home and family; from work to way we should treat others. The entire theme of this book is the sufficiency of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in meeting our needs in every area.
8. Book of 1 Thessalonians: A.D. 51
In the church of Thessalonica there were some misunderstandings about the return of Christ. Paul desired to clear them up in his letter. He also writes it as an instruction of holy living.
9. Book of 2 Thessalonians: A.D. 52
The church in Thessalonica still had some misconceptions of the Day of the Lord. They thought it had come already so they stopped with their work. They were being persecuted badly. Paul wrote to clear up misconceptions and to comfort them.
10. Book of 1 Timothy: A.D. 63-64.
Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him in his responsibility for overseeing the work of the Ephesian church and possibly the other churches in the province of Asia (1 Timothy 1:3). This letter lays the foundation for ordaining elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7), and provides guidance for ordaining people into offices of the church (1 Timothy 3:8-13). In essence, 1 Timothy is a leadership manual for church organization and administration.
11. Book of 2 Timothy: A.D. 66-67
Imprisoned yet again, the Apostle Paul felt lonely and abandoned. Paul recognized that his earthly life was likely coming to a soon end. The Book of 2 Timothy is essentially Paul’s “last words.” Paul looked past his own circumstances to express concern for the churches and specifically for Timothy. Paul wanted to use his last words to encourage Timothy, and all other believers, to persevere in faith (2 Timothy 3:14) and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:2).
12. Book of Titus: A.D. 63-64.
The Epistle to Titus is known as one of the Pastoral Epistles as are the two letters to Timothy. This epistle was written by the Apostle Paul to encourage his brother of faith, Titus, whom he had left in Crete to lead the church which Paul had established on one of his missionary journeys (Titus 1:5). This letter advises Titus in what qualifications to look for in seeking leaders for the church as he warns Titus of the reputations of those living on the island of Crete (Titus 1:12).
13. Book of Philemon: A.D. 60-61
The letter to Philemon is the shortest of all Paul’s writings and deals with the practice of slavery. The letter suggest that Paul was in prison at the time of the writing. Philemon was a slave-owner who also hosted a church in his home. During the time of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, Philemon had likely journeyed to the city, heard Paul’s preaching and became a Christian. The slave Onesimus robbed his master, Philemon, and ran away, made his way to Rome and to Paul. Onesimus was still the property of Philemon and Paul wrote to smooth the way for his return to his master. Onesimus had become a Christian and Paul wanted Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ and not merely as a slave.
b). The General Letters (Epistles):
1. Book of Hebrews: A.D. 64-68
The late Dr. Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute and writer of the best selling Kingdom of the Cults, quipped in his usual tongue-in-cheek manner that the Book of Hebrews was written by a Hebrew to other Hebrews telling the Hebrews to stop acting like Hebrews. In truth, many of the early Jewish believers were slipping back into the rites and rituals of Judaism in order to escape the mounting persecution. This letter, then, is an exhortation for these persecuted believers to continue in the grace of Jesus Christ.
2. Book of James: A.D. 45
Some think that this epistle was written in response to an overzealous interpretation of Paul’s teaching that was never intended. This extreme view, called antinomianism, held that through faith in Christ one is completely free from all Old Testament law, all legalism, all secular law, and all the morality of a society. James was felt to be intensely Jewish and this epistle is directed to Jewish Christians scattered among all the nations. In this context the dissonance with Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and his teachings fade. Martin Luther, who detested this letter and called it “the epistle of straw,” failed to recognize this very important context. While Pauline teachings concentrate on our justification with God, James’ teachings concentrate on our discourse and justification amongst each other. James was writing to Jews to encourage them in their continued growth in this new Christian faith. James emphasizes that good actions will naturally flow from those who are filled with the spirit and questions whether someone may or may not have a saving faith if the fruits of the spirit cannot be seen, much as Paul describes in Galatians 5:22-23.
3. Book of 1 Peter: Date: A.D. 63-64.
Peter understood persecution. He was beaten, threatened, punished and jailed for preaching the Word of God. He knew what it took to stand strong. This knowledge of living hope in Jesus was the message and Christ’s example was the one to follow. Peter handed down rules for wives, husbands, slaves, elders and just all people in general.
4. Book of 2 Peter: A.D. 66.
Peter was alarmed that false teachers were beginning to infiltrate the churches. He called on Christians to grow and become strong in their faith so that they could detect and combat the spreading apostasy. He strongly stressed the authenticity of the Word of God and the sure return of the Lord Jesus.
5. Book of 1 John: Date A.D. 90.
The Book of 1 John seems to be a summary that assumes the readers’ knowledge of the gospel as written by John and offers certainty for their faith in Christ. The first epistle indicates that the readers were confronted with the error of Gnosticism, which became a more serious problem in the second century. As a philosophy of religion it held that matter is evil and spirit is good. The solution to the tension between these two was knowledge, or gnosis, through which man rose from the mundane to the spiritual. In the gospel message this led to two false theories concerning the person of Christ- Docetisn, regarding the human Jesus as a ghost, and Cerinthianism, making Jesus a dual personality, at times human and at times divine. The key purpose of 1 John: to set boundaries on the content of faith and to give believers assurance of their salvation.
6. Book of 2 John: Date: A.D. 90.
2 John is an urgent plea that the readers of John’s letter should show their love for God and His son Jesus by obeying the commandment to love each other and live their lives in obedience to the Scriptures. 2 John is also a strong warning to be on the lookout for deceivers who were going about saying that Christ had not actually risen in the flesh.
7. Book of 3 John: Date: A.D. 90.
1. To commend and encourage his beloved co-worker Gaius in his ministry of hospitality to John’s itinerant messengers who were going from place to place to preach the Gospel of Christ.
2. To indirectly warn and condemn the behavior of one Diotrephes, a dictatorial leader who had taken over one of the churches in the province of Asia, and whose behavior was directly opposed to all that the Apostle and his Gospel stood for.
3. To commend the example of Demetrius who was reported as having a good testimony from all.
8. Book of Jude: Date of writing: between A.D. 70-80.
The Book of Jude is an important book for us today because it is written for the end times, for the end of the Church Age. The Church Age began at the Day of Pentecost. Jude is the only book given entirely to the great apostasy. The book of Jude writes that evil works are evidence of apostasy. He admonishes us to contend for the faith, for there are tares among the wheat, false brethren are in the Church, the saints are in danger. A small but important book worthy of study, written for the Christian of today.
4. The Prophetic Book
Book of Revelation (Key verse 1:19) Date of writing: A.D. 95.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave John to show his servants what, must soon take place. This book is filled with mysteries and things to come. It is the final warning that the world will surely end and judgment will be certain. It gives us a tiny glimpse of Heaven and all of the glories awaiting we who keep our robes white. Revelation takes us through the great tribulation with all the woes and the final fire that all unbelievers will face for eternity. The book reiterates the fall of Satan and the doom he and his angels are bound for. We are shown the duties of all creatures and angels of heaven and the promises of the saints that will live forever and ever with Jesus in the New Jerusalem. I, like John, cannot find the words to describe what I read in the book of Revelation.