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New Testament Ideas and Definitions

Contents

  1. Authors and books of the New Testament
  2. Interesting facts about the NT
    1. Why was the New Testament originally written in Greek?
    2. Do original copies of the New Testament books exist?
    3. The New Testament Apocrypha: The books not chosen to be in the New Testament: why not and what are they?
    4. When were the chapters and verses added to the New Testament?
  3. Various definitions of words and ideas used in Christianity

1. Authors and books of the NT

The NT consists of 27 books. Some of the books are long—many pages in length—and some are short—less than a page long. Nevertheless, they are all referred to as “books.” They can be divided into 2 different lists: types of books and authors of the books.

Type of book Number
Gospel   4
History   1
Letters   21
Apocalypse
(tells about future events)
  1

Author of the books Number of Books Authored
Matthew   1
Mark   1
Luke   2
John   5
Paul   13
Anonymous
(Hebrews)
  1
James   1
Peter   2
Jude   1

Note: Some New Testament scholars believe other people wrote some of the books; this is covered later.

Also, the question has to be asked: Why are the New Testament books arranged the way they are? (Note: the following is an educated guess: the early church leaders did not leave a record of why they arranged the New Testament books in the order we have.)

  • The Gospels:
    • It made sense to place the Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament, since they tell the story of Jesus.
    • They are arranged in the order of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John because the early church leaders thought they were written in that order: Matthew was written first, Mark second, etc.
  • Acts:
    • It made sense to place Acts after the Gospels: Acts tells the story of the early Christian movement from the ascension of Jesus to around the year 60.
  • Paul's letters:
    • But why did Paul's letters come next? After all, Peter was the leader of the Apostles while Jesus was alive, and was initially the leader of the early Christian movement.
    • Yes, Peter was the leader at first, and he provided the courage needed to inspire others to spread out and tell about Jesus. But Paul had the proper understanding of Jesus' purpose and started many more churches. (Much more on this in the book of Acts.)
    • Why are Paul's letters arranged the way they are? Two reasons:
      1. They are divided into two sections: the letters to cities first (Romans through II Thessalonians) and letters to individuals second (I Timothy to Philemon).
      2. Within each of those two sections, they are arranged longest to shortest: Romans is longer than I Corinthians, which is longer than II Corinthians, which is longer than Galatians, etc.
  • Hebrews
    • The author of Hebrews is anonymous, but most (if not all) early church leaders believed the author of Hebrews learned from Paul, since Hebrews is full of Paul's ideas. Therefore, it was placed after Paul's letters.
  • The General or Catholic (meaning "Universal") Letters: James through Jude.
    • James was placed next because the author of James was the leader of the house churches in Jerusalem (which, in the early-to-mid-first century, was the most important city for Christianity: all the early missionaries were sent from there and the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was held there.) He was also the half- or step-brother of Jesus. (More on that in the book of James.)
    • I & II Peter were placed next because Peter was an early leader of the Christian movement, and, in his later years, he was a rallying figure within Christianity.
    • I & II & III John were placed next-to-the-last in the General Letters since all we know about John is that he traveled with Peter right after Jesus ascended to heaven, and he was one of the original 12 Apostles. That is why he came after the letters of Paul, James, and Peter.
    • Jude is placed last because we don't know anything about him, other than he was the brother of James and the half- or step-brother of Jesus. (More on that in the book of James.)
  • Revelation was placed last because it is an Apocalyptic book; it looks to the future.

2. Interesting facts about the New Testament

A. Why was the NT originally written in Greek: The Pax Romana discussion in "The Roman World" mentioned that Greek was the most widely used language in the Roman Empire in the First Century A.D. Therefore, the writers of the NT wrote all their books in Greek. The language of the Jews in Israel at that time and the language that Jesus used was Aramaic. But, since the early church leaders wanted everyone in the Roman Empire to be able to read their books, they wrote in Greek. A few Aramaic words are still in the NT, though: Matthew 27:46 is one example of a verse that has Aramaic words.

B. Do original copies of the NT books exist?: None of the original copies of the NT books have been discovered. Whenever one church or an individual received a copy, if they could afford it, they made one or more copies and passed those to other churches. But none of the original copies have been discovered (although a piece of a copy of the original Gospel of John may have been discovered; this is discussed in the Gospel of John). What scholars have discovered are copies of copies of the original copies, and copies of copies of copies of the original copies, etc. Almost 175 of these copies of various NT books have been discovered that were written before the year 400.

  • This has caused many people to doubt the truthfulness of the NT. The complaint is that humans copied these books, so these copies cannot be trusted, and therefore the Bible cannot be trusted. But that is an incorrect understanding of the process of copying in those days.
  • This is the correct understanding: for example, if I told you that I was getting ready to die and I wanted you to copy a map I had that would lead to a million dollars in gold that is buried, do you think you would change or leave out any of the details? No. In the same way, the early Christians believed that these books were from God, and so did not leave out any details when they copied the books. For that reason, over 99.9% of the writings are the same.
  • The only major differences are when someone changed a phrase due to personal preferences: a scribe might like the phrase “Jesus Christ our Lord” better than “Our Lord Jesus Christ” and so changed that. But the vast majority of the words, and 100% of the concepts and ideas, are the same in all the copies. In that way the books of the NT are reliably duplicates of the original copies.

C. NT Apocrypha

How to pronounce:

A po cry pha
a like in "about" po like in "popcorn" cri like in "crib" pha like in "far"

The NT consists of 27 books, but in the 200 years after Jesus different people wrote around 125 writings that claimed to be Christian-based. You can find a listing of most of these books here (this list does not include the 27 book of the NT). Most of these writings came from people who wanted to change the message of Jesus and so created new books for their new religions. Therefore, out of all 150 or so books that claimed to be from God (the apocrypha plus the true 27 NT books), the early church leaders had to figure out which of these books were truly from God and which were made up. The listing here is of books the early church leaders decided were made up by people who wanted to start alternative religions and therefore were not true. The main criterion they used was the authorship of each book. If the author or the information came from an Apostle or from one of Jesus’ half-brothers (more about this in the book of James) then the book was included in the NT.

The early Christians may have gotten this idea from the Jews and the Old Testament. All the books of the OT are linked to prophets to ensure they are from God. We discussed earlier how Malachi was the last prophet, and so no books in the OT come after Malachi. (The Catholic and Orthodox Bibles do contain more books, but more on that later.) The early Christians decided to use the Apostles as the measure of trustworthiness. If a letter originated from an Apostle or one of Jesus’ half-brothers, then the letter could be trusted. Only 27 writings fit this criterion, and so only 27 books are in the NT. All the other books that claimed to be Christian but were not are known as NT Apocrypha.

  • Note for those taking the NT class, you will not be tested on the differnet links below: I provide them in case you want to dig deeper.
  • Extra: OT Apocrypha
    • Warning, this can be confusing! The OT also has its own Apocrypha. The Catholic Church does accept some of these into the Catholic Bible, but you will not find them in Protestant Bibles. Let me pause and say this: Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants (basically all Christians) only have 27 books in the NT; they all have the same books in the New Testament. The difference is in the OT.
    • Basically two different types of OT Apocrypha exists: books that all Christians believe should be excluded from the OT, and books that Catholics (and Orthodox) include in their OTs. But if the word “Apocrypha” means that it is not supposed to be in the Bible, then you can see that Catholics would not call those books Apocrypha. Instead Catholics use a different word for those books: Deuterocanonicals.
    • Catholics also accept the criterion from the Jews that a book needed to be linked to prophets in order to make it into the OT. So why the extra books? This might be oversimplifying the issue, but it is a good way to understand the situation: Remember that the OT period ended 450 years before the beginning of the NT with the prophet Malachi. Protestants use the Jewish understanding of the OT, which means that in Protestant Bibles (Baptist, Methodists, nondenominational, Pentecostal, etc.) there is a 450-year gap between the OT and the NT. Catholics (and Orthodox) decided to include some writings that were written in that 450-year period. That is where the extra books come from. Catholics recognize that these writings are not on the same spiritual level as the OT books, but are a spiritual level below the OT writings. That is why Catholics chose to use the word “Deuterocanonicals.” If you break the word apart it will make more sense: “deutero” means “secondary” and “canonical” means “holy writing.” So these books are secondary holy writings. Catholics do not believe they are on the same spiritual level as the 39 OT books, but that they should be read. Therefore, Catholic scholars included them in the Bible and gave them a special name to show that they are different. To learn more go here.
  • Extra: An early copy of the New Testament dates from the early-to-mid-300s. To learn more go here.
  • Extra: Learn about the earliest scrap of the OT that has been discovered here. (Note: this is not from the original writing; none of those exist.)
  • Extra: Learn about the earliest scrap of the NT that has been discovered here. (Note: this is not from the original writing; none of those exist.)
  • Extra: Learn how the NT books were decided here.

3. Definitions

A. Many different Christian denominations exist. My doctorate degree is in Church History, and as I have studied many different denominations and Christian groups in the 25 years since I took my first church history class, I developed a list of common beliefs that all Christian groups have. So, in order for a person or group to be considered Christian (in my opinion), he, she, or it accepts these basic eight ideas (some slight variations do occur):

  1. Trinity
  2. Incarnation
  3. Virgin Birth of Jesus
  4. Jesus crucified, buried, rose from dead
    • This includes ideas such as salvation, forgiveness of sin, etc.
  5. Everyone is separated from God from childbirth and, therefore, needs to choose to become a Christian.
  6. Jesus left the church behind for Christians to join.
  7. Attempt to love everyone.
  8. Attempt to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Note for those taking the NT class: be familiar with the links below before taking the test. (Do not memorize the information, but do know the main point of each link.)

B. The title that God gave for himself in the OT is Yahweh. This web page explains why LORD (all capital letters) is used in the OT. ("LORD" is found over 6000 times in the OT. "Lord" is also found but it means something different): go here

C. When the NT books were written the authors did not use chapters and verses like we have in the NT today. Read this web page to discover when the chapters and verses were added: go here.

D. Many Christians use a fish symbol to symbolize Christianity. But why a fish symbol? Go here.

E. Many Christians do not fully understand 8 words that are frequently used in churches. Go here to learn what these words really mean.

F. Finally, I used to wonder why Christianity has one Bible yet so many different denominations. After thinking about it for 20 years, I developed this one-word concept that explains it. This is just my opinion, but it has worked out in every situation that I have experienced: go here.

Timeline so far

Year Event
63 B.C. Romans conquer Israel.
27 B.C. Pax Romana began and lasted until A.D. 180.
All dates after this are A.D. ["c." means "about"]
64 Fire in Rome and Christians persecuted by Emperor Nero; Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded.
70 Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans (it has not been rebuilt).
95 Persecution by Emperor Domitian; Apostle John exiled on island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation.
96 Emperor Domitian died; Apostle John probably moved to Ephesus.
c.100 Aposlte John died; he was the last Apostle to die.
390's NT canon "closed" at Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).
1200's Chapters added to the New Testament.
1500's Verses added to the New Testament.

©2017 Mark Nickens