Lecture 2: Understanding the Background of the New Testament

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The nations that controlled the nation of Israel prior to and during the writing of the New Testament affected the political and cultural climate in which it was written. The influence of the Greek religion and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is an underlying theme throughout the New Testament. Roman rule in Israel and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 are significant to both Judaism and Christianity. The four main groups in Judaism were the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. (38 min.)

Understanding the Background of the New Testament


I. The Historical & Political Background of the New Testament

A. The Persian Era (424–331 B.C.)

B. The Greek Era (331–167 B.C.)

1. The Spread of the Greek Language

2. The Spread of Greek Religions

C. The Hasmonean (Maccabean) Era (142–63 B.C.)

1. The Jewish Revolt

2. The Growing Tension between Jew & Gentile

D. The Roman Era (63 B.C. – Fifth-century A.D.)

1. The Roman Culture

a. A Common Language

b. An Empire Wide Transportation/Communication System

c. The Pax Romana (Roman Peace)

d. Roman Law

2. Roman Persecution

a. Nero’s Persecution (A.D. 64–68)

b. Domitian’s Persecution (A.D. 94–96)

c. Significance of A.D. 70

II. The Religious Background of the New Testament

A. The Greek Religions

B. Emperor Worship

C. The Mystery Religions

D. Greek Philosophical Systems

1. The Epicureans

2. The Stoics

3. The Cynics/Skeptics

E. The Gnostics

III. The Jewish Background of the New Testament

A. The Pharisees (and Scribes)

B. The Sadducees

C. The Essenes

D. The Zealots


Name Description
1 Understanding the New Testament - Quiz 2

This quiz covers the material in Understanding the New Testament, Lesson 2 – Understanding the Background of the New Testament.


  • Why is it important for us to understand the historical and political context in which the New Testament books were written? Do you think it will make a difference in how you understand the New Testament? Why?
  • Did you find it helpful to reflect on the religious background of the New Testament? Read Acts 17:18. How does understanding these religious perspectives help us understand the groups mentioned in these verses?


  • What have you learned about the Pharisees and Sadducees? Read Acts 23:6-8. How does understanding the Jewish background of the New Testament help you understand this passage? Why is that important?


38 min

Other resources

Recommended Reading

Jesus and the Gospels, pp. 8-57.

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