The New Testament
The New Testament begins with God
sending his Son into the world to save us
|The New Testament is a collection of writings put together by the earliest Christians, recording the essential facts of Jesus’ life, and showing how teaching developed in the emerging churches.
Christianity emerged from 1st century AD Judaism, and eventually its writings were added to the Jewish scriptures to form the Christian Bible, consisting of the Old Testament (detailing God’s relationship with Israel), and the New Testament, the fulfilment of his purposes for us all in the coming of Jesus.
The bedrock of Christianity is the crucifixion of Jesus at Jerusalem by occupying Roman forces, some time in the 30s AD, and the claim that God raised him from the dead. The exact dating of New Testament books is uncertain, but they were all written by AD100.
At their heart lie the gospels: these are four accounts of Jesus’ work, and concentrate on the significance of his death and resurrection. All agree in basic outline, and the first three share much the same teachings and events. It is not clear how much the writers knew of each others’ work, or how much they relied on eyewitnesses. Each emphasises different facets: for Mark, Jesus is the one who shows God’s power through his vulnerability; for Matthew, he transcends all ancient Jewish kings, prophets, and lawgivers; for Luke, he displays God’s love for the poor and forgiveness for sinners; and for John he is God’s pre-existing Word.
Out of other accounts of Jesus’ life, some of which survive, these four were chosen as scripture because they had been accepted as authentic by all Christians for as long as anyone could remember; other surviving gospels tend to be from a later date, and to lack the same ring of authenticity.
Earlier than the gospels are the letters of Paul, written to early Christian communities, many of which were founded by his missionary activity throughout the eastern Roman empire. As he deals with crises of belief and behaviour, Paul explains what it means to believe in Jesus as saviour, and how Jewish Christians and pagan converts should let this transform their lives.
The book of Acts (short for ‘Acts of the Apostles’) explains how God’s Spirit guided the early Christians, and how the movement spread, largely as a result of Paul’s work. There are other letters, including two attributed to brothers of Jesus, which discuss Christian belief and behaviour.
The last book of the New Testament, Revelation, uses the Jewish genre of apocalyptic writing—intended to reassure early Christians, persecuted by fellow Jews and the Roman authorities. Symbolic language is used to explain that God is working behind the scenes to bring about the destruction of all evil empires and to reward those who have been faithful to the truth. This book has often been used to try to calculate the date of the end of the world, an activity discouraged at various points by Jesus himself.
The New Testament has been at the heart of Christian faith and of all Christian prayer, writing and thought ever since.
Pray: Lord God, if the New Testament is the story of Jesus, help me to pick it up and read it; I want to see your promises for myself. I want to try and get to know Jesus. Please help me to understand your word, and find ways to answer what I don’t understand. Amen.
Read an introduction to the New Testament
Compare the Old and New Testaments
Watch a video clip of when people think the New Testament was written
Find out about some of the incredible early translated versions of the New Testament
Find out about some of the archaeological support for the New Testament
Hear a fully dramatized reading of the complete New Testament, by Angela Bassett
Read the book Introducing the New Testament by John W Drane
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