(Editor’s note: This week we transition from a focus on the books of the OLD testament to the books of the NEW testament. By way of introduction, we begin with some general information drawn from the late brother Frank J. Dunn’s excellent book, Know Your Bible.)
The books of the new testament are titled in some older copies of the bible as “the Last Will and Testament of Jesus the Christ.” This part of the bible is comprised of 27 books penned by at least nine inspired writers (ten, if Paul was not the penman for the letter to the Hebrews). These books divide naturally into four basic sections, which deal with the gospel record (Matthew-John, which record the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus), the establishment of the church (the book of Acts, which illustrates how to become a Christian), letters to churches and individual Christians (Romans-Jude, which explain how to live faithfully as a Christian), and the Revelation, which emphasizes the eternal hope of the Christian.
The four gospel records present only one account, of one life (the life of Jesus the Christ); therefore, what we have are four accounts of THE gospel, rather than four “gospels.” Each writer addressed distinct and different segments of first century society, emphasizing facts about the Christ that would most effectively impact the members of each segment. Matthew was written to Jews by a Jewish Christian, and emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of the old testament’s prophecies of the Messiah and the long-awaited King of the Jews. Mark– the shortest record of Jesus’ life –displays only the basic facts of His life, presenting Him as a man of action (which would appeal to the Roman way of thinking), the perfect and all-powerful Servant of God. Luke presents Jesus as the ideal man, the embodiment of every good, pure or perfect quality. As the “perfect” man, this image not only appealed to the intellectualism of the Greek mind, it also reveals Him as both the Savior and the perfecter of all people. Finally, John (called the “Christian” gospel by some scholars) presents Jesus as the Divine Son of God, Who became human in order to provide eternal life for all who will accept Him.
The twenty-eight chapters of Acts display both the basic steps involved in becoming a Christian and the record of the beginning and growth of the church. We see the gospel spread, first from an exclusively Jewish audience to the Samaritans, and eventually to the Gentile world. Luke, the inspired writer, also provides much historical background for the subsequent epistles (or, “letters”) that were addressed to various congregations and individuals. We should not discount the importance of the book of Acts in matters of doctrine beyond the fundamentals of how to become a Christian, however, for Luke also provides a wealth of both doctrinal and practical information. (Acts contains several examples of how Christians re-solved conflicts among themselves, in a variety of situations.)
The “epistles,” or letters to individual Christians and congregations (Romans through Jude) further develop and expand for us a number of key teachings given by Jesus, as well as showing some of the problems, challenges, and errors the original Christians had to confront. These letters also emphasize the love, hope, and joy which are meant by God to be characteristics of the Christian life.
The Revelation–the final book of the bible –provides hope and comfort for Christians who face severe challenges to their faith. Written mostly in figures and symbols, the message of this book draws heavily on the old testament books of Ezekiel and Daniel. Its message to Christians is that no matter how fearsome those op-posing the Christ and His gospel may appear, we should understand that the final outcome of the conflict between good and evil was decided (in favor of God and His people!) at Calvary. Therefore, Christians can live boldly and confidently no matter how bleak or hopeless the conditions in the world may seem to be.
-Adapted by Dave Rogers