New Testament

I. Contents. In speaking of the books of the NT we must be clear whether we refer to the individual documents or to the whole collection as such. The individual documents naturally existed before the collection, and some of them were grouped in smaller collections before they were ultimately gathered together in the complete NT. All, or nearly all, of the individual documents belong to the first century A.D.; the NT as a collection makes its appearance in the second century.

The order in which the twenty-seven documents appear in our NT today is an order of subject-matter rather than a chronological order. First come the four Gospels—or rather the four records of the one and only gospel—narrating Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. These are followed by the Acts of the Apostles, which begins by mentioning Jesus' appearances to the disciples following the Resurrection; from then on we are told how, over the next thirty years, Christianity spread along the road from Jerusalem to Rome. This book was originally written as the continuation of the Gospel of Luke. These five constitute the narrative section of the NT.

The next twenty-one documents take the form of letters written to communities or individuals. Thirteen of these bear the name of Paul as writer, one the name of James, two of Peter, and one of Jude (Judas). The others are anonymous. One of these, the Letter to the Hebrews, is more properly described as a homily with an epistolary ending; its authorship remains a matter of conjecture to this day. The three that we know as the letters of John are so called, not because they bear John’s name, but because it is plain from their contents that they are closely associated with the fourth Gospel (which, though itself anonymous, has from early times been known as John’s). First John is an exhortation in which the writer impresses on his readers (whom he calls his “dear children”) the practical implications of some of the leading themes of John’s Gospel. In 2 and 3 John the writer refers to himself as “the elder.”

The last book of the NT bears some features of the epistolary style in that it is introduced by seven covering letters addressed to churches in the Roman province of Asia; but for the most part it belongs to the class of literature to which it has given its own name (“apocalyptic,” from “Apocalypse” or “Revelation”). In apocalyptic literature the out-working of God’s purpose on earth is disclosed in the form of symbolical visions. Written probably between a.d. 69 and 96, when the Flavian dynasty ruled the Roman Empire, Revelation aims to encourage persecuted Christians with the assurance that they are on the winning side; that Jesus, and not the Roman emperor, has won the victory that entitles him to exercise sovereignty over the world and control its destiny.

II. Order of Writing. Although the four Gospels deal with events of the first thirty years of the Christian era and the NT letters belong to the remaining two-thirds of the first century, several of the letters were in existence before even the earliest of the Gospels. With the possible exception of James, the earliest NT documents are those letters that Paul composed before his two years’ detention in Rome (a.d. 60-62). Therefore, when one of Paul’s earlier letters mentions an action or saying of Jesus, that mention is our first written account of it. For example, Paul’s account of the institution of Holy Communion (1Cor.11.23-1Cor.11.25) is earlier by several years than the account of it given in our oldest Gospel (Mark.14.22-Mark.14.25).

Jesus himself wrote no book, but he gave his teaching to his disciples in forms that could be easily memorized and enjoined them to teach others what they had learned from him. There is good reason to believe that one of the earliest Christian writings was a compilation of his teaching, arranged according to the chief subjects he treated, though this document has not been preserved in its original form but has been incorporated into some of the existing NT books.

The necessity for a written account of the life of Jesus was not felt acutely in the earlier years of the Christian mission. In those years, when there were so many eyewitnesses of the saving events who could testify to what they had seen and heard, their testimony was regarded as sufficient, and the Gospel material circulated far and wide by word of mouth. But even in those early years the necessity arose for an apostle to give instruction in writing to people from whom he was separated at the time. While ministering in Ephesus, Paul heard disturbing news of the state of affairs in the church he had founded three or four years previously in Corinth. He was unable just then to visit Corinth in person but sent his converts in that city a letter conveying much the same message as he would have given them orally had he been with them. Again, a few years later, he proposed to visit Rome and thought it wise, during a brief stay in Corinth, to prepare the Roman Christians for his coming, especially as he had never been in their city before. So he sent them a letter in which he took the opportunity of making a full-length statement of the gospel as he understood and preached it. In such “occasional” circumstances the NT letters were first written. Yet Paul and the other writers were conscious of the fact that they expressed the mind of Christ, under the guidance of his Spirit. Their letters are therefore full of teaching, imparted to the first readers by apostolic authority, which retains its validity to the present day, and have by divine providence been preserved for our instruction.

The Gospels began to appear about the end of the first generation following the death and resurrection of Jesus. By that time the eyewitnesses were being removed by death, one by one, and before long none of them would be left. It was desirable, therefore, that their testimony should be placed on permanent record, so that those who came after would not be at a disadvantage as compared with Christians of the first generation. About the middle sixties, then, we find gospel writing first undertaken. Mark provided the Roman church with an account of Jesus’ ministry, from his baptism to his resurrection, which is said by Papias and other second-century writers to have been based in large measure on the preaching of Peter. In the following years Matthew provided the Christians of Antioch and the neighborhood with an expanded version of the life of Jesus, including a systematic presentation of his teaching. Luke, Paul’s companion and dear physician, having traced the course of events accurately from the beginning, set himself to supply the “most excellent Theophilus” with an ordered narrative of Christian origins that not only related “all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up” (Acts.1.1-Acts.1.2), but went on to tell what he continued to do after that, working by his Spirit in his apostles. Then, toward the end of the century, John recorded Jesus’ life in a different way, bringing out its abiding and universal significance, so that his readers might apprehend the glory of Jesus as the Word that became flesh, and by believing in him might have life in his name. These four records are not biographies in the ordinary sense of the term; they are concerned rather to perpetuate the apostolic witness to Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the world.

III. Early Collections of Writings. For some time these four evangelic records circulated independently and locally, being valued, no doubt, by those for whom they were primarily written. But by the early years of the second century they were gathered together and began to circulate as a fourfold record throughout the Christian world. When this happened, Acts was detached from Luke’s Gospel, to which it originally formed the sequel, and set out on a new, but not insignificant, career of its own.

Paul’s letters were preserved at first by those to whom they were sent. At least, all that have come down to us were so preserved, for here and there in his surviving correspondence we find reference to a letter that may have been lost at a very early date (cf. 1Cor.5.9; Col.4.16). But by the last decade of the first century there is evidence of a move to bring his available letters together and circulate them as a collection among the churches. Thus Clement of Rome, writing as foreign secretary of his church to the church of Corinth about a.d. 96, was able to quote freely, not only from Paul’s letter to the Romans (which would naturally be accessible to him) but also from 1 Corinthians and possibly from one or two of his other letters. What provided the stimulus for this move to collect Paul’s letters, or who began to collect them, can only be a matter of speculation. Paul himself had encouraged some interchange of his letters (cf. Col.4.16), and one or two of them may have been from the start general or circular letters, not to be confined to one single group of recipients.

By the first or second decade of the second century, at any rate, a Pauline collection was in circulation—first a shorter collection of ten letters, and then a longer collection of thirteen (including the three “pastoral letters,” those addressed to Timothy and Titus).

From the time when the first collection of Paul’s letters began to circulate, the letters appear to have been arranged mainly in descending order of length. That principle is still apparent in the arrangement most familiar today: Paul’s letters to churches come before his letters to individuals, but within these two groups the letters are arranged so that the longest comes first and the shortest comes last. (There is one inconspicuous exception to this rule: Galatians, which is slightly shorter than Ephesians, comes before it, and has had this position since the second century. There may have been some special reason for this.)

IV. Canon of the New Testament. The circulation of two collections—the fourfold gospel and the Pauline corpus—did not constitute a NT, but it marked a stage toward that goal. About a.d. 140 the Gnostic leader Valentinus, according to Tertullian, accepted practically the whole NT as it was recognized toward the end of the second century. It is not certain, however, whether Valentinus knew the NT as a closed canon or simply quoted as authoritative most of the documents that Tertullian acknowledged as making up the NT.

The church was stimulated to define the NT limits more precisely, not by the main Gnostic groups, but by Marcion. Marcion came to Rome about a.d. 140 from Asia Minor, where he had tried unsuccessfully to press his views on leading churchmen. He rejected the OT altogether, as reflecting the worship of a different God from the God whom Jesus revealed as Father, and he held that the writings of all the apostles except Paul had been corrupted by an admixture of Judaism. He promulgated a Christian canon comprising (1) “The Gospel” (an edition of Luke’s Gospel edited in accordance with his own viewpoint) and (2) “The Apostle” (ten letters of Paul, excluding the Pastorals, similarly edited). Paul, in Marcion’s eyes, was the only faithful apostle of Christ, all the others having Judaized; but even Paul’s letters had been tampered with by Judaizing scribes or editors and required correction back to their original form. The publication of Marcion’s NT, with its restricted number of documents, was a challenge to the leaders of Christian orthodoxy. If they refused Marcion’s canon, it was incumbent on them to define the canon they accepted. They replied to his challenge by saying, in effect, that they did not reject the OT. They accepted it as Holy Scripture, following the example of Christ and the apostles. Along with it they accepted the NT writings—not one Gospel only, but four (one of the four being the authentic text of the Gospel that Marcion issued in a mutilated form); not ten letters only of Paul, but thirteen; not letters of Paul only, but of other apostolic men as well. They also accepted the Acts of the Apostles and appreciated as never before its crucial importance as the “hinge” of the NT. Acts links the fourfold Gospel with the apostolic letters because it provides the sequel to the former and supplies a historical background for much of the latter. Moreover, it provides irrefutable independent evidence of the sound basis for the authority that Paul claims in his letters. Tertullian and others were not slow to expose the folly of those Marcionites who asserted the exclusive authority of Paul while rejecting the one document that supplied objective testimony to his authority. The Marcionites, indeed, had no option but to reject Acts, as it also bore witness to the authority of Peter and the other apostles, whom they repudiated. But the very fact that Acts attested the authority both of Paul and of Peter and his colleagues gave it all the greater value in the eyes of orthodox churchmen. From this time on it was called “The Acts of the Apostles.” Indeed, toward the end of the second century one zealously anti-Marcionite work, the Muratorian list, goes so far as to call it “The Acts of All the Apostles.” That was a great exaggeration, but Acts does at least record something about most of the apostles or apostolic men to whom are ascribed the letters the catholic church came to acknowledge as canonical.

Another factor that made it advisable to define what was, and what was not, the Word of God was the rise of the Montanists from the mid-second century onward. They claimed to announce further revelations by the Spirit of prophecy; it was helpful, therefore, to appeal to a recognized standard by which such claims might be evaluated; and such a standard was provided by the canon of Scripture.

From the second half of the second century, then, the church came to acknowledge a NT of the same general dimensions as ours. For a considerable time there was some questioning about a few of the books at the end of our NT, and arguments were occasionally put forward for the recognition of books that did not ultimately maintain their place within the collection. But after some generations of debate about the few “disputed” books in relation to the majority of “acknowledged” books, we find the twenty-seven books that make up our NT today listed by Athanasius of Alexandria in a.d. 367, and not long after by Jerome and Augustine in the West. These leaders did not impose decisions of their own but published what was generally recognized. It is unhistorical to represent the limits of the NT as being fixed by the verdict of any church council. When first a church council did make a pronouncement on this subject (a.d. 393), it did no more than record the consensus of the church in East and West.

The invention of the codex, or leaf-form of book, made it a practicable matter to bind the NT writings, or indeed the whole Bible, together in one volume—something that could not have been done with the older scroll-form of book. The earliest comprehensive codices known to us belong to the fourth century, but already in the third century, and possibly even in the second, groups of NT books were bound together in smaller codices. The Chester Beatty biblical papyri (early third century) include one codex of the four Gospels and Acts, one of ten Pauline letters and Hebrews.

V. Authority of the New Testament. The authority of the NT is not based on archaeological evidence or on any other line of comparative study. By such means we can confirm the historical setting of the record in the first century and provide ourselves with an illuminating commentary on it. The value of this should not be underestimated, but the essential authority of the NT derives from the authority of Christ, whether exercised in his own person or delegated to his apostles. The NT documents are the written deposit of the apostles’ witness to Christ and of the teaching they imparted in his name. When we emerge from the “tunnel” period, which separates the apostolic age from the last quarter of the second century, we find the church still attaching high importance to apostolic authority. The apostles are no longer there, but the apostolic faith is confessed, the apostolic fellowship is maintained, and apostolic church order is observed. We find too, that the apostolic writings, whether penned directly by apostles or indirectly by their associates (“apostolic men”), are available in the NT canon to serve as the church’s rule of faith and life—the criterion by which it may be determined whether doctrine or fellowship or anything else that claims to be apostolic really is so. And from those days to our own, it is the NT that, from time to time, has called Christians back to the ways of apostolic purity, to the truth as it is in Jesus. Reformation is not something that the church needed once for all in the sixteenth century; true “reformation according to the word of God” is an abiding need of the church. And where the NT is given its proper place in the church’s belief and practice, true reformation goes on continually.

Not only in his works and words during his earthly ministry, but also in the continuing ministry that he has exercised since his exaltation, Jesus reveals God to human beings. Therefore not only the Gospels, which record the revelation given in the days of his flesh, but also the other NT books, which record the further outworking of that revelation, are accepted by the church as her normative documents. The Holy Spirit, who came to make the significance of Jesus plain to his followers and to lead them into all the truth, still performs these services for his people; and the NT writings are his primary instrument for their performance. How else could the Spirit take the things of Christ and declare them to men and women today if these writings were not available as a basis for him to work on? The Spirit who was imparted in fullness to Jesus and who worked through the apostles is the Spirit under whose direction the Christians of the earliest centuries were enabled to distinguish so clearly the documents that bore authoritative witness to Jesus. He is also the Spirit by whose illumination we today may appropriate that witness for our own and others’ good.

In all this the place of the OT as an integral part of the Christian Scriptures is not ignored. The two Testaments are so organically interwoven that the authority of the one carries with it the authority of the other. If the OT records the divine promise, the New records its fulfillment; if the OT tells how preparation was made over many centuries for the coming of Christ, the New tells how he came and what his coming brought about. If even the OT writings are able to make the readers “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and equip them thoroughly for the service of God (2Tim.3.15-2Tim.3.17), how much more is this true of the NT writings! Our Lord’s statement of the highest function of the earlier Scriptures applies with at least equal force to those of the NT: “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John.5.39).

Bibliography: D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 1970; F. F. Bruce, New Testament History, 1971; G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 1974; R. P. Martin, New Testament Foundations, 2 vols., 1975-78; I. H. Marshall, ed., New Testament Interpretation, 1977; R. F. Collins, Introduction to the New Testament, 1983; M. C. Tenney, New Testament Survey Revised, 1985.——FFB

 

 


A translation of two Greek words which, better rendered “new covenant,” occur in 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8, 9, 13. The term is based upon the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 that God would make a new covenant with his people. The apostolic church believed that He had done so in Christ. When the writings of the apostles and their companions were collected and put on a similar footing to the scriptures of Israel, it was natural for Christians to refer to “the old covenant” and “the new covenant.” The NT canon was finally fixed to include twenty-seven books. The first four are the gospels, with details of the life, death and resurrection, and teaching of Jesus. Then there is the nodetitle, showing how after Pentecost the Gospel was taken from Jerusalem to Rome, followed by the epistles, letters of apostles and others to Christian congregations, and finally the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.

 

 

 

 


New Testament

Matt—Matthew

Mk—Mark

Lk—Luke

Jn—John

Acts—nodetitle Rom—Romans

1 Cor—1 Corinthians

2 Cor—2 Corinthians

Gal—Galatians

Eph—Ephesians

Phil—Philippians

Col—Colossians

1 Thess—1 Thessalonians

2 Thess—2 Thessalonians

1 Tim—1 Timothy

2 Tim—2 Timothy

Tit—Titus

Phlm—Philemon

Heb—Hebrews

Jas—James

1 Pet—1 Peter

2 Pet—2 Peter

1 Jn—1 John

2 Jn—2 John

3 Jn—3 John

Jude

Rev—The Revelation to John (Apocalypse)

NEW TESTAMENT. There are twenty-seven books in the NT, made up of four gospels, the Book of Acts, twenty-one epistles, and the nodetitle. (For a detailed account of how these particular books came to be treated as a special collection see nodetitle.) It is the purpose of this article to give a brief summary of the historical situation out of which the collection of books came into being, a survey of its contents, and a discussion of its authority.

 

 

 

 

Historical background

Foremost in any study of the history of the NT is a consideration of its relationship to the OT. There are two aspects to this consideration: (1) the estimate of the OT found in the NT, and (2) the essential historical and theological link between them. There can be no doubt that the high esteem which the Lord had for the OT was the same among the Jews at that time, involving an acceptance of its full inspiration and authority. This must also have been assumed by the earliest Christian church at Jerusalem, where the members had been drawn from a Jewish milieu. This high regard for the OT exercised a profound influence on the growth of the NT, particularly because the OT immediately assumed importance as the sole Scriptures of the Early Church. This is substantiated by the frequency with which various writers of the NT cite the testimony of the OT, often with formulae of citation which reveal the highest regard for the authority of the OT. Such formulae as “Scripture says,” or “This has come to pass in order that that which has been spoken might be fulfilled,” show the integral relationship between the OT Scriptures and the Christian message. It is against this background that the growth of the NT collection must be traced.

It is a fair assumption that in early Christian worship the reading of the OT occupied a position of prime importance, as it had done in Judaism. It is further safe to say that comments on the OT text giving a Christian interpretation would at once be added, special attention being paid to passages which showed a direct fulfillment in the life of Jesus. Parallel to this development was a deep interest in the teaching of Jesus, which for the Christians possessed authority similar to the pronouncements of the OT. The teachings of Jesus possessed the same authority as Jesus Himself. It was these teachings that the disciples were exhorted to teach to others (Matt 28:20). They could not have done this unless the teachings of Jesus were well stored in their minds.

Parallel to this development was the practice of reading in Christian assemblies letters from apostolic sources. That this practice was common is evident from Paul’s references to his own epistles being read to different communities (cf. Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27). How soon there was a general interchange of and consequent public reading of Paul’s epistles is not known, but a collection of epistles may well have been made within the period soon after Paul’s death (cf. 2 Pet 3:15, 16). Evidence for the early use of these epistles is based mainly on the few extant early subapostolic writings that appear to echo them. While not all the epistles of Paul are cited in these writings, there is sufficient evidence to suggest the existence of an authoritative collection well before the beginning of the 2nd cent.

With the passing of eyewitnesses, and esp. when the apostolic witnesses were no longer available to act as authenticators of doctrine, a pressing need would be felt for the authoritative record, not only of the teaching of Jesus, but also of His deeds. This was prob. an important factor in the production of written gospels. The writing of gospels may have been an independent phenomenon to meet various special needs of the communities. It is certain that, as the Church spread, the need for authoritative lit., particularly the gospels, would become more acute. They would be valuable for evangelistic purposes in areas where no eyewitnesses of the events of the life of Jesus existed. John 20:31 makes the evangelistic purpose clear, at least for the fourth gospel, while the description of all the records as “gospels” designates their purpose as the impartation of good news. It is easy to see that an authoritative character would soon be attached to them. Although it was not until the 2nd cent. that definite evidence of their authoritative and exclusive use in the orthodox Christian Church is forthcoming, the usage is unchallenged in the period from Irenaeus onwards, and so strongly suggested by earlier evidence, that it is certain that the attitude of the churches had much earlier become firmly established. These four gospels stood out from all others as authentic records of the life and teaching of Jesus. It appears from all the extant evidence that as early as the authoritative reception of the gospels, the Book of Acts was also received. This book, which was so closely linked with the gospel of Luke in the tradition, was no doubt received on the same basis as the gospel, of which it appears to be a continuation (cf. the testimony of the late 2nd cent. Muratorian Canon).

In addition to the epistles of Paul, which at least by the mid-2nd cent., and in all probability much earlier, had been collected into the group of thirteen epistles as in the NT, the other NT epistles were gradually included. There is strong early evidence for 1 Peter and 1 John, but it is not known for certain when the other smaller epistles were added to the collection. Some of these are not so readily quotable as the longer epistles, and it is not therefore surprising that definite citations among the early writers are sparse, if present at all. Certainly by the mid-3rd cent., in many parts of the E these minor letters were all included in the NT, but in other parts there was some hesitation over their canonical status. The Book of Revelation was in a similar position, being received as authoritative at an early date in some areas, but being regarded with some hesitancy in others.

When eventually church councils (at Laodicea and Carthage) confirmed the limits of the NT, those limits had long been defined by usage among the great majority of orthodox churches. When the lists approved by these two councils are compared, the only difference was the exclusion of Revelation from the first and its inclusion in the second.

As a collection of Christian books, the NT possesses in itself considerable historical significance. The gospels are practically the only source of information about the historical Jesus. Various schools of NT criticism have suggested doubts concerning the extent to which the gospels preserve genuine information about the historical Jesus (see article on Jesus Christ). Since much of the speculation is not based on historical evidence, the gospels still may be regarded as furnishing a considerable amount of information about the historical Jesus, even though it is impossible to reconstruct from them a biography in the modern sense.

Another problem which has been raised over the use of the gospels as historical evidence is the estimate of the historicity of the fourth gospel. This cannot be discussed here, but it is certain that more historical veracity may be attributed to this gospel than many of its critics will allow. In recent years there has been generally a greater readiness to treat its statements as history.

The Book of Acts and the Pauline epistles are the main sources of historical information for the history of the earliest Christian churches, supplemented by the minor epistles. Although there is much more that one would like to know about the methods of procedure within the primitive Christian communities, the NT books contain sufficient data to enable a picture to be drawn, which is adequate for the enunciation of principles. Two books, 1 Peter and Revelation, are particularly valuable as evidence of the way in which the Early Church faced persecution. The Epistle to the Hebrews shows the interplay of Heb. and Hel. ideas, but furnishes little in the way of historical information.

 

 

 

 

Contents

The main concern of this article is to give a general survey of the contents of the NT with the special purpose of showing its essential unity. In spite of the value of the analytical approach, much would be lost if the NT ceased to be regarded as a whole. It is a collection of books of various types, but each part contributes to the unity of the whole.

 

 

 

 

Gospels.

The first three of these are known as synoptic gospels because they share a common outline in their main features and because they are distinguished from John. The four books are not biographies of Jesus, although there is some biographical material in them. They are essentially gospels, announcing good news. Their form is unique among the lit. of the contemporary world, because they have a unique purpose, and announce a unique Person. Within their common aim, each has its own point of view, which will be brought out when the separate gospels are considered.

 

 

 

 

Matthew.

 

 


It is not unimportant to observe that the gospel is arranged on a pattern of alternating sections of narrative and discourse. This shows something of the intended message of the book. It records a Christ who both acts and speaks. Whereas there is some support for the view that Jesus is portrayed in the dress of a Jewish rabbi, there are some important differences. The rabbis taught traditional material related to and based upon the ancient law, but Jesus brought His own authoritative exposition of the truth. While not denying what Moses had said, He provided His own independent interpretation (cf. the statement, “But I say unto you”), which is esp. seen in the Sermon on the Mount to which Matthew gives such prominence. There is no question that of the synoptic gospels, Matthew presents the clearest picture of Christ as teacher, but this by no means exhausts Matthew’s portrait of Him.

Another important feature of his treatment is the emphasis found on the theme of the kingdom. Most of the parables are specifically described as parables of the kingdom. Jesus undoubtedly thinks of Himself in the role of king. This is in keeping with Matthew’s infancy narrative, in which the child Jesus receives homage from the Magi, and with the account of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in a regal manner. The more important aspect of this kingly approach is the incipient Messianism of this gospel. The many occasions when OT passages are claimed to support the actions of Jesus, call attention to the strong emphasis on fulfillment and to the close connection between past predictions and present events. In some cases Matthew treats as Messianic passages which were not so treated by the Jews. In Matthew’s presentation Jesus is not an isolated phenomenon, but the Messiah who would fulfill all the hopes of the past.

In spite of these strong Jewish flavorings, the gospel is by no means exclusively Jewish. The note on which it ends could not be more universalistic. The risen Christ is described not only as commissioning His disciples to go and teach all nations, but also commanding them to teach whatever He has commanded. Although given in a Jewish setting, the teaching of Jesus had a universalistic application.

One feature of Matthew’s gospel which is shared by the other gospels is the large proportion of the book which is devoted to the Passion narrative. The record of activity and teaching which precedes these narratives is essential, but the real center of interest is the Passion of Jesus, for this was the purpose for which He had come.
 

Mark.


Mark often records instances of Jesus’ description of Himself as Son of man, which fits well into the general picture of Jesus as perfectly human. Much debate has surrounded the meaning of this title, and it is not easy to decide what it meant to the people of Jesus’ own day. Yet, there can be little doubt that for the Lord it had Messianic connotations. He preferred the title because the title of Messiah had become confused on account of the many wrong conceptions of His contemporaries concerning it. Jesus did not come to lead the nation in a political coup. He had come, in Mark’s presentation of Him, to seek and to save the lost by laying down His life in an act of deliverance (Mark 10:45).

Another equally important facet of the presentation of Jesus is the use of the title nodetitle, which Mark uses at the beginning of his book. Although the statement is subject to textual variations, the best attested text supports the view that Mark intended writing a gospel about Jesus, the Son of God (1:1). Although the title cannot be said to be characteristic of this gospel, this aspect of the Lord’s claims is most evident in the powerful acts of Jesus. These are incredible as the acts of a mere man. They require a concept of Jesus which is consonant with supernatural power. Mark’s account, in short, leaves the reader with the impression of a unique person who is at once thoroughly human and yet is possessed of divine powers.
 

Luke.

If Matthew’s gospel was designed for Jews, Luke’s portrait of Jesus would appeal to Gentiles. Unlike the other synoptists, Luke addresses his book to an individual, Theophilus, who appears to have been a Gentile of considerable standing. Although the dedication is so specific, there can be no doubt that Luke intended his gospel for a wide audience. Theophilus was more than a man to whom the gospel was dedicated. He prob. stood as representative of all those who were desirous of knowing more fully about the events of the life of Jesus. Luke, moreover, makes his purpose clear in the prologue, where he states that he intends to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among them. Since he also claims to have gone to much trouble to find his data from eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, it may fairly be deduced that he intended to write history. It was to be history with a theological purpose, in order that Theophilus and others might know the certainty of the things in which they already had been instructed. This clearly defined purpose must be the guiding principle in assessing the specific contribution that Luke’s gospel makes to the total knowledge of the life and work of Jesus.

Luke’s story is fuller than the other synoptics. His birth narratives are more extensive and his conclusion refers to the Ascension, which the other two omit. Many incidents concerning Jesus and a considerable amount of His teaching are preserved only in this gospel. The universal aspect of the work of Jesus is emphasized more. Hints of this broadening outlook are given in the birth narratives. The angelic announcement (Luke 2:10) was for all people, not simply for the Jewish nation. In Simeon’s song (2:32), Jesus is said to be a light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of Israel. In the citation from Isaiah which is applied to John the Baptist, Luke carries the quotation further than the other synoptics, concluding with the statement that all flesh would see God’s salvation (3:6). In the concluding commission of the risen Christ, Luke, like Matthew, makes clear that Jesus intended His Gospel to be preached among all nations (24:47), and the continuation in the Book of Acts shows the beginning of the fulfillment of this command. Moreover, in the gospel itself Luke shows Jesus’ concern for Samaritans as much as for Jews, which illustrates one aspect of His universal approach.

In addition, Luke shows the Lord’s special interest in people. In the parables of Jesus, recorded only by Luke, most find their center of interest in people rather than things. Luke has particular concern to record Jesus’ compassion for social outcasts. The characteristic story of Zacchaeus entertaining Jesus after restitution of goods to those he had wronged illustrates this aspect. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee praying vividly shows where the Lord’s sympathies lay. There is more about His interest in the social position of women in this gospel than in the others, a fact which may be illustrated not only in the number of instances in which women are mentioned in the narratives, but also in the characters appearing in the parables. The same may be said of His concern for children, which is clearly brought out in this gospel. It is, moreover, significant that in the Magnificat Mary points out that it is the hungry who are filled, and the rich who are sent away empty (Luke 1:53); and Luke records several instances which show the Lord’s interest in the underdog.

In the light of these facts it might be supposed that Luke’s main purpose was to portray Jesus as a humanitarian figure who had come to inspire a similar humanitarian approach in man. But this would be a one-sided picture, for Luke, like the other synoptists, has devoted considerable attention to the Passion stories, and his purpose appears to be to show that the Christ who was crucified was the Christ of infinite compassion and human tenderness. Luke does not obscure the fact that Jesus resolutely set His face toward Jerusalem (9:51). Although some of the Lord’s most gracious acts and words are recorded by Luke after this statement of His set purpose, that purpose was kept in mind throughout. When Jesus hung upon the cross, He uttered a deeply moving cry of dereliction, but Luke does not record this. His account of the Passion may in some respects be described as less tragic than that of the other gospels, but this does not mean that he had any less estimate of its redemptive significance, which is clearly brought out in Luke’s continuation volume, the Book of Acts. The gospel presents what may be called the most human and sensitive account of the doings, teachings, and Passion of Jesus. In spite of the fact that there is much parallel material between the three synoptics, Luke’s picture of Jesus complements their portraits and vindicates the conviction of the Christian Church that all three gospels are essential for a full portrayal of the Lord.
 

John.

The marked difference between this gospel and the other three has raised problems concerning its contribution to one’s knowledge of Jesus. For a long time during the history of criticism the historicity of John was disputed. The problem cannot be discussed here, but it should be noted that there is an increasing preparedness to ascribe some elements of historicity to this gospel. An ancient statement by Clement of Alexandria focuses on the problem, for he considered that the other gospels present the corporeal facts, while John presents a spiritual gospel. There is no need to suppose that he thought of John as any less factual, but rather that he understood John’s aim to bring out the spiritual significance of the facts.

Several considerations support this conclusion. When John records miracles, he calls them signs, which reveals his understanding of their purpose to testify to Jesus. Most of the miracles are used as occasions for the recording of discourses based upon them. Thus, the feeding of the five thousand leads into the Bread discourse (John 6), the healing of the blind man into a discussion on the veracity of Jesus’ claims (ch. 9), the raising of Lazarus into statements about resurrection (ch. 11). The first part of the book has been called, with some aptness, the book of signs. The discourses in this portion are of a different kind from those of the synoptics. Here one sees Jesus in frequent dialogue with Jews, sometimes hostile, at other times seriously inquiring as in the case of Nicodemus. The incident with the Samaritan woman shows the breadth of Jesus’ spiritual appeal.

In this gospel the message of Jesus is presented in more abstract forms than in the synoptics, and there is an absence of parables, although there is some parabolic type of material. The teaching is full of metaphorical allusions which show a close relationship to the parabolic form, and there are two allegories—the Shepherd and the sheep, and the Vine. Generally, however, the Johannine teaching material is presented from a different point of view. The great “I am” statements of Jesus bring this into focus. These were selfrevelations of the part that He had come to fulfill. The Bread from heaven, the Light of the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life illustrate His personal assertions.

John provides mankind with knowledge of the Judean ministry of Jesus, which is lacking in the synoptic gospels. Most of the action in his gospel is centered on Jerusalem, which also supplements what is only indirectly hinted at in the synoptics. The portrait of Jesus is therefore seen in a different light. He is introduced as the eternal Logos or Word, without reference to the historical events of His birth. John is content with the bare statement that the Word became flesh. As the story moves on, increasing attention is given to the fact that the “hour” approaches, and this hour is the hour of the crucifixion, which is at the same time the hour of glorification. The Incarnation was the prelude for the fulfilling of a set purpose.
 


Jesus’ teaching about His own death is more specific in this gospel than in any other. The statement of John the Baptist that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the saying about the good shepherd laying down His life for the sheep (10:14ff.), and the comparison of Jesus’ death to a kernel of wheat which must die to produce fruit (12:24) are the clearest indications that the meaning of the cross was not left to conjecture. The cry from the cross, “It is finished” (19:30), shows the completion of a task which had been foreshadowed in the past and perfectly worked out in Jesus’ life and death. It cannot be too greatly stressed that John’s gospel brings out meanings which are no more than implicit in the synoptic gospels.
 

The Acts of the Apostles.

There is an obvious link between the gospels and the Acts, not only because Acts is a continuation of Luke, but also because all of the gospels presuppose some such continuance. Moreover, one of the most striking features about the early chs. of Acts is the evident belief that Jesus is still active among His people. The healing work of Peter and John (Acts 3) is performed in the name of Jesus, and there are other instances of an appeal to His name. Another even more striking feature is the dominance of the work of the Holy Spirit. The book has not inappropriately been called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. The beginning of the evangelistic work of the Church is marked by the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Luke is careful to show the indispensable part played by the Spirit in all the developing phases of the Church. Not only is this true of the Jewish mission but also of the Gentile mission. It was by the Spirit that Barnabas and Paul were separated for such work, and by the Spirit that the apostle to the Gentiles was constantly being led, as on the occasion of the second missionary journey when the Spirit forbade Paul’s entry into Bithynia. The plan of Acts corresponds roughly to the statement in Acts 1:8, where the risen Lord commands His disciples to witness in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and in the uttermost part of the earth. The first section of the book shows the development of the Church in the three areas named and the latter part shows the further development as far as the center of the Rom. empire. The history is necessarily selective, but it was undoubtedly part of the aim of the book to describe how Paul’s missionary witness culminated in Rome. In this connection it should be noted that Luke is careful to absolve the various Rom. officials, to whom he refers, from the guilt of hostility to the Church and to Paul. He finds the hostility to be due to Jewish schemes and intrigues.

In this book are preserved several sermons or statements of the Christian message which are invaluable for showing the methods and the content of early preaching. There is no developed theological system. The main burden is testimony to the meaning and achievement of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. This emphasis in the primitive preaching helps to explain the predominant proportion of space given in all the gospels to the Passion and Resurrection narratives. The Christ of the gospels is now seen as the center of the Christian proclamation. Acts lends no support to any view of Christianity which does not place the cross at the core of its message. The primitive church was not built on a new code of ethics, not even on the ethical teaching of Jesus. It was essentially a redeemed community, as the Book of Acts makes clear.

At the same time, the book furnishes some useful information about the life of the primitive communities, although what insights are given need to be supplemented by the epistles of Paul. One of the major contributions which the book makes is the account of the gathering of the apostles, elders and members of the Church at Jerusalem, to discuss the question of circumcision in relation to Paul’s work. This provides a glimpse of early Christian procedure. It also forms a close point of contact with the epistles of Paul, since he was implicated in this important issue.

Acts is therefore the link between the gospels and epistles. While much can be deduced about the apostle from his self-revelation in his epistles, it is the Book of Acts which provides the background against which the epistles must be studied.
 

The epistles of Paul.

For the purpose of drawing out the major emphases in each epistle it is necessary to explain which epistles are being included. All the epistles which claim to be written by Paul will be considered in this context (i.e. thirteen epistles). The present writer does not consider that there are adequate grounds for disputing the true Pauline character of any of these. The epistle to the Hebrews will be considered separately. Although some changes of emphasis may be traced within the collection of Paul’s letters, yet there is found a remarkable unity of theological outlook.
 

Romans.

This is the most theological of all Paul’s epistles. The predominant theme is righteousness and the method of attaining it. The apostle shows that all men, whether Gentile or Jew, have the same basic need for justification, and no one is exempt from that need. Justification can be secured only through faith in Christ, for God has provided Him as a propitiation for man’s sins (Rom 3:26). God’s provision is a direct linkup with the death of Christ in the gospels. This epistle proceeds to show that Abraham illustrates the faith principle, and since Abraham preceded the law, justification could not depend upon allegiance to the law. Various principles of the life of faith are then enunciated, e.g., grace does not mean that sin can abound, the realization that in the inner struggle it is Christ alone who can give the victory, and that in the Christian life there is an imperative need for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Romans 1-8 is a closely reasoned entity. This is followed by a discussion of the problem of Israel and its relation to the Gentiles within the context of the Christian Church. The connection with the foregoing part of the epistle is not at once apparent, yet the Jewish-Gentile issue essentially concerned the problem of righteousness. The real question was: How could a God who had rejected Israel be righteous? Paul maintains that Israel will be restored to its rightful place, but on different grounds from the popular expectation. It could take place only according to the mercy and inscrutable wisdom of God (Rom 11:33ff.). The epistle concludes with practical exhortations which show the outworking of righteousness in the believer. This is typical of the way in which Paul links doctrine with practice.
 

The Corinthian epistles.

Paul had somewhat checkered relationships with the Corinthian Christians, and his two epistles to them reflect a number of practical difficulties which had arisen. These epistles provide a valuable insight into Paul’s methods of dealing with such problems, and supply a pattern which has proved indispensable in the subsequent history of the Church. Probably the church at Corinth was not typical in Paul’s own time, but his enunciation of principles has proved to be timeless.

In the first epistle Paul deals with a variety of issues. He devotes most space to the factions which had arisen and which he deplores. He next proceeds to condemn the condoning of a case of incest and Christians appealing to heathen law courts to settle disputes. Following this he discusses marriage relationships, meat offered to idols, the behavior of women during Christian worship, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection from the dead. No one thread runs through this letter. What binds it into a unity is the urgency of the need to understand the Christian principles which must determine the approach to a variety of practical issues, many of which arose from the pagan background of the church members. The letter contains little theology, but the ethical principles are fully consonant with the theology expressed in such an epistle as Romans. The exquisite hymn of love in ch. thirteen is based on a higher than human love, the love of God, which figures prominently in the Roman epistle.

The second letter presents many problems to the exegete. It is the most difficult of all Paul’s epistles. Its occasion is connected with his personal relationship with the Corinthians. Matters had come to a head and a group had arisen within the church which was violently opposed to Paul. The epistle is in response to a report from Titus, who was able to assure the apostle that the condition of the church was not as serious as it had previously been. The apostle still found it necessary to take to task a portion of the church in the closing chs. (10-13), in which he strongly defends his own position, but the rest of the epistle breathes the spirit of relief. Paul has much to say about the nature of the Christian ministry in a discussion which has become basic for the Christian Church as a whole. Moreover, he includes a discussion on the Corinthians’ obligation to contribute to the collection scheme for the poverty-stricken believers in Judea, which illustrates the intensely practical and social concern of the great apostle.
 

Galatians.

This epistle has special historical importance because of the light it throws on the problem of circumcision in the primitive Church. Jewish Christians tended to regard circumcision as an essential part of salvation, and since that was so it was necessary for Gentiles also to be circumcised. Some ardent advocates of this point of view had attempted to persuade the Gentiles to follow their line, and Paul’s letter is designed to combat this approach, which he does along two lines. He first establishes the validity of his apostleship, since the Jewish party were denying this. The more important part of the rebuttal is the doctrinal section, in which he emphatically denies that works of the law have anything to do with justification, which is entirely a matter of faith. The argument is similar to that in the Roman epistle. In both, Paul appeals to the position of Abraham, which weighed heavily with him. One interesting feature in Galatians is the use of allegory, which he does not use much elsewhere (cf. Gal 4:21ff.). As in Romans, so here, the epistle closes with practical exhortations, the highlights of which are the appeal to the readers to show forth the fruit of the Spirit (5:22), and his own determination to boast only in the cross (6:14).
 

Ephesians.

This epistle with Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon are known as the Prison Epistles, for in all of them Paul reveals that he is a prisoner. In the first part of the epistle Paul dwells on the mystery of God’s dealings with men and introduces a high view of Christ. He stresses that Christianity is a matter of faith and not works. He sees the Jewish-Gentile problem resolved in the death of Christ. The latter part of the epistle is devoted to Christian behavior, and once again the close relation between doctrine and practice is noticeably maintained.
 

Philippians.

The major note in this epistle is Christian joy. The most notable portion is the Christological passage (Phil 2:5ff.), where Paul speaks of the condescension of Christ. Theology is used as a basis for an exhortation to the Christians to have the same mind as Christ. The letter reveals much of Paul’s affection for the readers and of theirs for him.

Colossians.

There is much similarity between Colossians and Ephesians, but the former is tied to a specific situation, for Paul deals with a heresy. In answer to it he stresses the positive pre-eminence of Christ. He maintains that Christ’s reconciliation extends to the material creation, which shows Paul’s view of the world as essentially Christocentric. The ethical section runs closely parallel to Ephesians.
 

The Thessalonian epistles.

These were almost certainly the earliest of Paul’s letters. In both he is mainly concerned with eschatology. There were problems concerning believers who had already died; the Christians wondered what their part would be at the Second Coming of Christ. There were others who thought the coming of the Lord to be so imminent that they ceased to work. The first epistle deals specifically with the first problem, and the second introduces strong caution about the second situation. Both epistles are notable for their practical teaching.
 

The Pastorals.

This group comprises 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These epistles show Paul’s concern for orderly arrangement within the Church. He mentions the qualifications necessary for office bearers and gives advice about the treatment of false teachers who were active in the churches of Ephesus and Crete. Second Timothy is of special interest as Paul’s last epistle.
 

Philemon.

 

Although brief, this is an exquisite example of Christian tact, as Paul is seen pleading for the restoration of the runaway slave Onesimus. While the apostle does not explicity condemn slavery, his approach was destined ultimately to overthrow it.

 

 

 

Other NT epistles

 

 

Hebrews.

The background of this epistle is the priestly system of the OT, and Christ is portrayed against this background. Aaron’s order had failed because both priests and offerings were imperfect. Since Christ, both in His person and His offering, was perfect, the old order has ceased to have relevance. Such an exposition would have special interest for Jews, but was also valuable in enabling the Gentiles to understand the Christian approach to the OT. This epistle provides valuable instruction of the lines along which a Christian interpretation of the OT should proceed. The readers appear to have been on the point of apostatizing, and so the writer presents something of the glory of the Christian position.
 

James.

This deals almost wholly with practical issues, such as temptation, prayer, control of the tongue and wealth. It is remarkable for the lack of doctrinal content, which seems to be assumed. The best-known passage is the section on faith and works (James 2:14ff.), which often has erroneously been supposed to conflict with Paul. But James is concerned that faith should work, and Paul that faith should not depend on works of the law (i.e. a legal system).
 

The Petrine epistles.

The first of these was written against a background of persecution and its purpose is to encourage the readers. The basis of encouragement is the example of Christ, esp. His sufferings. There is a combination of the theological and practical significance of the cross. There is also a strong influence of the OT, particularly in allusions to the Exodus. The epistle is of special value for suffering Christian communities in any age.

In the second letter the main burden is the activity of certain false teachers whose policies lead to moral deterioration. Peter gives an outline of the nature of the false teaching, and then stresses the Holy Spirit’s part in the production of true prophecy (2 Peter 1:20, 21). At the close of the epistle attention is given to the problem of the delay of the Second Coming of Christ, at which some were scoffing. There are solemn words about the coming day of the Lord.
 

The Johannine epistles.

All three of these epistles dwell on the theme of truth, which reflects a background of controversy and error. From 1 and 2 John it seems certain that the error was Docetism, which distinguished between the heavenly Christ and the human Jesus. John’s answer is twofold—a right relationship with God in Christ and a life dominated by love. There are many antitheses. Light is contrasted with darkness, truth with error, the life of faith with the world. Sin comes into sharp focus and the efficacy of Christ’s offering in dealing with it. Second John cautions against the entertainment of false teachers, and 3 John criticizes a church for refusing to entertain the messengers of God.
 

Jude.

This brief letter, warning against false teachers of a similar type as those referred to in 2 Peter, is significant for its ending, which exalts the love and keeping power of God.
 

The Book of Revelation.

This book has given rise to numerous interpretations, over which there has been much dispute. All would acknowledge, however, that the overall theme is Christ’s ultimate victory over the powers of evil. Whether its symbolism is to be interpreted historically or prophetically, the message of encouragement to hard-pressed believers remains unaffected. It is a vision directed to seven churches of Asia, but it has an abiding message in focusing attention on the victorious consummation of the Christian era. The slain Lamb has become the enthroned Lamb. Without this book the NT would have been incomplete.

This survey of the separate books has shown a wide variety of facets, but they form a unity. There is one Christian message, although it comes through many channels.
 

The authority of the NT

It is impossible here to discuss the nature of religious authority. All that will be attempted is to give some reasons why the NT has come to be authoritative in the life and ministry of the Church. First, it must be recognized that the NT is the only authoritative source which can demonstrate the historical basis of Christianity. Differing opinions exist among different schools of criticism as to the authority of the books for this purpose. Where the authenticity of any of the books is challenged, its value as a historical source immediately becomes suspect. But orthodox Christianity has never doubted that the NT provides a reliable guide to the historical development of the Christian Church.

It is, however, preeminently in the field of doctrine and conduct that its authority lies. The Apostle Paul writes in such a way as to command his readers, and the authority of his approach has been recognized within the Christian Church. His doctrine accordingly has been invested with authority. It is because the apostle knows himself to be led of the Spirit of God that he can write so authoritatively. The tone of the epistles of the other NT writers is equally commanding. It is in the gospels, however, that this note of authority is less conspicuous in the writers, because of the different character of the writings. Whereas in the epistles men speak authoritatively under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the gospels the authority rests directly on the authority of Jesus Himself. What He says and does carries with it its own authority, which is nothing short of the authority of God Himself. He speaks and acts in harmony with the will of the Father.

The question arises why the NT books alone of all the lit. in the Early Church came to be regarded as authoritative. The answer is linked with the study of canonicity, which is discussed in the article on the nodetitle. Yet, some comment must be made here on the manner in which authority came to be attributed to the twenty-seven books comprising the NT. As mentioned in the opening section of this article, both the Lord and the apostles accepted the authority of the OT. Where the testimony of the OT supported a statement or illustrated an event, it added a dimension which could not be ignored. It was the firm conviction of Christ and the apostles that the OT Scriptures could not be broken. It was the Word of God, and therefore the voice of God. Men had been borne along by the Holy Spirit to write it. Its commands were accepted without question as the commands of God. But did the same apply to the NT?

It may be assumed that the authority which belonged to the OT would become transferred to the NT, as soon as the teaching of Jesus and His apostles was recognized as a logical sequence to the teaching of the OT. It is this conviction of the essential continuity between the old order and the new that paved the way for an extension of authority to those books which bore witness to that continuity. With this in mind, it is not difficult to see how the accounts of the ministry and teaching of Jesus would at once have become authoritative. Why, then, were four such accounts chosen?

It is essential to note that none of the gospels had an authority imposed upon it from without. Each possessed an inherent authority which was recognized by the earliest recipients. Further, it was recognized that the apostles had not only been appointed by the Lord, but also had been promised by Him the special guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), and their words therefore became invested with special authority. The Apostle Paul repeatedly claimed to be on an equal footing with the Jerusalem apostles by his claim to the apostolic office, and it must be supposed that the Christian churches as a whole came to recognize that authority. His epistles were clearly so regarded when 2 Peter 3:15, 16 was written.

The main problem rests with the remaining books. With the exception of 1 Peter and 1 John there was some delay in their universal acceptance. During the earliest period there is little evidence of the attitude toward the other minor epistles. They are not the kind of letters that would be much quoted, and since all the earliest evidence consists of patristic quotations, it is difficult to know what these authors thought of the books which they did not quote. In some cases there is evidence that doubts existed, but there is no knowledge of the basis of these doubts. The Book of Revelation was more highly esteemed in the E than in the W, but the hesitation over its acceptance may have been due to difficulties of interpretation. When eventually all the books were equally acknowledged, it was not through any ecclesiastical pronouncement, but through the long usage and esteem of the Christian Church as a whole. The books were acknowledged as an authoritative unity.
 

Bibliography

A. Nairne, The Faith of the NT (1920); H. N. Bate, A Guide to the Epistles of St. Paul (1926); F. F. Bruce, Are the NT Documents Reliable? (1943); A. M. Hunter, The Unity of the NT (1946); W. G. Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels (1948); F. V. Filson, The NT Against its Environment (1950); R. M. Grant, An Introduction to NT Thought (1950); J. L. Price, Interpreting the NT (1961); M. C. Tenney, NT Survey, A Historical and Analytical Survey, 2nd ed. (1961); W. C. van Unnik, The New Testament (1962); R. M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the NT (1963); F. V. Filson, A NT History (1964); E. F. Harrison, NT Introduction (1964); B. M. Metzger, The NT, its Background, Growth, and Content (1965); P. Feine—J. Behm—W. G. Kümmel, Introduction to the NT (1966); G. W. Barker, W. L. Lane, J. R. Michols, The New Testament Speaks (1969); D. Guthrie, NT Introduction (1 vol., 1970); R. H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (1970).
 

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Bible; nodetitle; CRITICISM.
 

Additional Material

CHRONOLOGY, NEW TESTAMENT. The science of determining the dates of the NT books and the historical events mentioned in them. The subject is beset with serious difficulty because sufficient data are often lacking and the computations must be based on ancient documents that did not record historical events under precise calendar dates as modern historical records do. Neither sacred nor secular historians of that time were accustomed to record history under exact dates; they felt that all demands were satisfied when some specific event was related to a well-known period, as the reign of a noted ruler or the time of some famous contemporary. Luke’s method of dating the beginning of the ministry of nodetitle (Luke.3.1-Luke.3.2) is typical of the historian’s method of that day. Further, the use of different local chronologies and different ways of computing years often leave the results tentative. NT chronology naturally falls into two parts: the life of Christ and the apostolic age.

I. Life of Christ. The erection of a chronology of the life of Christ turns around three points: his birth, baptism, and crucifixion. Luke’s statement of the age of Jesus at his baptism (Luke.3.23) links the first two, while the problem of the length of the ministry links the second and third.

The Christian era, now used almost exclusively in the Western world for civil chronology, was introduced at Rome by Abbot Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century. It is now generally agreed that the beginning of the era should have been fixed at least four years later. According to the Gospels, Jesus was born some time before the death of Herod the Great. Josephus, the Jewish historian who was born a.d. 37, affirms (Antiq. 17.6.4) that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon, which is astronomically fixed at March 12-13, 4 b.c. His death occurred shortly before Passover, which that year fell on April 4. His death in 4 b.c. is also confirmed from the known commencement of the rule of his three sons in that year. The age of Jesus at Herod’s death is not certain. The “two years” for the age of the children killed at Bethlehem (Matt.2.16) offers no sure indication, since Herod would allow a liberal margin for safety; also, part of a year might be counted as a year. It does show that Jesus was born at least some months before Herod’s death. Christ’s presentation in the temple after he was forty days old (Lev.12.1-Lev.12.8; Luke.2.22-Luke.2.24) makes it certain that the wise men came at least six weeks after his birth. The time spent in Egypt is uncertain, but it may have been several months. Thus, the birth of Jesus should be placed in the latter part of the year 5 b.c.

Luke’s statement (Luke.2.1-Luke.2.2) that Jesus was born in connection with the “first census” when “Quirinius was governor of Syria” was once fiercely assailed as erroneous, since Quirinius was known to be governor in connection with the census of a.d. 6. But it is now known that he was also connected with the Syrian government at some previous time (see Quirinius). Papyrus evidence shows that Augustus inaugurated a periodic census every fourteen years, from 8 b.c. onward. Herod’s war with the king of Arabia and his troubles with Augustus, as well as the problem of the method of taking the census among the Jews, may have delayed the actual census in Palestine for several years, bringing it down to the year 5 b.c.

Luke gives the age of Jesus at his baptism as “about thirty years” (Luke.3.23). Although the statement of age is not specific, it naturally implies that his age was just about thirty, a few months under or over. Born in the latter part of 5 b.c., his baptism then occurred near the close of a.d. 26 or the beginning of 27. The forty-day period of the temptation, plus the events recorded in John.1.19-John.2.12 seem to require that the baptism occurred at least three months before the first Passover of his public ministry (John.2.13-John.2.22). Since Herod began the reconstruction of the temple in 20 b.c., the “forty and six years” mentioned by the Jews during this Passover, using the inclusive Jewish count, again brings us to a.d. 27 for this first Passover.

Apparently John began his ministry some six months before the baptism of Jesus, Scripture dating that beginning as “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke.3.1). Augustus died in August of a.d. 14, but fifteen years added to that would be two years too late for our previous dates. Since Tiberius had been reigning jointly with Augustus in the provinces for two years before his death, it seems only natural that Luke would follow the provincial point of view and count the fifteen years from the time of Tiberius’ actual assumption of authority in the provinces. Thus counted, the date is in harmony with our other dates. The ministry of John, begun about six months before the baptism of Jesus, commenced about the middle of a.d. 26.

The time of the Crucifixion will be determined by the length of the ministry of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel seems to require at least two years: the plucking of the ears of grain (April-June) marks a first spring, the feeding of the five thousand when the grass was fresh green (March-April) was a second, and the Passover of the Crucifixion becomes the third. John’s Gospel explicitly mentions three Passovers (John.2.23; John.6.4; John.11.55). If the feast of John.5.1 is also a Passover, as seems probable, a view having the traditional backing of Irenaeus, then the length of the ministry of Jesus was a full three years and a little over. This places the Crucifixion at the Passover of a.d. 30.

II. Apostolic Age. Due to the uncertainties connected with the limited data for an apostolic chronology, authorities have arrived at varied dates. The Book of Acts with its many notes of time, mostly indefinite, offers but few points for the establishment of even relatively fixed dates. Even Paul’s apparently precise chronological notes in Gal.1.18 and Gal.2.1 leave us in doubt as to whether “after three years” and “fourteen years later” are to be regarded as consecutive or as both counting from his conversion.

The death of Herod Agrippa I (Acts.12.23) and the proconsulship of Gallio (Acts.18.12) are important for the chronology of the period. The death of Herod Agrippa I, one of the fixed dates of the NT, is known to have taken place in a.d. 44. It establishes the year of Peter’s arrest and miraculous escape from prison. The proconsulship of Gallio is also strongly relied on for an apostolic chronology. A fragmentary inscription found at Delphi associates his proconsulship with the twenty-sixth acclamation of Claudius as Imperator. This would place his proconsulship between May 51 and 52, or May 52 and 53. The latter date is more probable since Gallio would assume office in May and not in midsummer as some advocates of the earlier date assumed. Since apparently Paul had already been at Corinth a year and a half when Gallio arrived, his ministry at Corinth began in the latter part of 50. Efforts to determine the time of the accession of Festus as governor, under whom Paul was sent to Rome, have not resulted in agreement. From the inconclusive data, advocates have argued for a date as early as 55 and as late as 60 or 61. The balance of the arguments seem to point to 60 or perhaps 59. If the latter, the suggested dates should be adjusted accordingly.

III. Chronological Table.. The dates for many NT events must remain tentative, but as indicated by Luke (Luke.3.1-Luke.3.2), they have a definite correlation with secular history (as shown in the accompanying diagram). The following chronological table is regarded as approximately correct.

Birth of Jesus 5 b.c.

Baptism of Jesus late a.d. 26 or early 27

First Passover of ministry 27

Crucifixion of Jesus 30

Conversion of Saul 34 or 35

Death of Herod Agrippa I 44

Letter of James before 50 First missionary journey 48-49

Jerusalem conference 49 or 50

Second missionary journey begun spring 50

Paul at Corinth 50-52

1 and 2 Thessalonians from Corinth 51

Galatians from Corinth (?) early 52

Arrival of Gallio as proconsul May 52

Third missionary journey begun 54

Paul at Ephesus 54-57

1 Corinthians from Ephesus spring 57

2 Corinthians from Macedonia fall 57

Romans from Corinth winter 57-58

Paul's arrest at Jerusalem Pentecost 58

Imprisonment at Caesarea 58-60

On island of Malta winter 60-61

Arrival at Rome spring 61

Roman imprisonment 61-63

Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians summer 62

Philippians spring 63

Paul's release and further work 63-65

1 Timothy and Titus 63

Hebrews 64

Synoptic Gospels and Acts before 67 1 and 2 Peter from Rome 64-65

Peter's death at Rome 65

Paul's second Roman imprisonment 66

2 Timothy 66

Death at Rome late 66 or early 67

Jude 67-68

Writings of John before 100

Death of John 98-100

Bibliography: George Ogg, The Chronology of the Public Ministry of Jesus, 1940, and The Chronology of the Life of Paul, 1968; J. Finegan , Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 1964; A. J. J. Gunther, Paul, Messenger and Exile: A Study in the Chronology of His Life and Letters, 1972.——DEH

 

 

Texts and Versions

TEXTS AND VERSIONS (NEW TESTAMENT). The Bible, and especially the NT, occupies a unique place in the literature of ancient times, and part of that uniqueness is the history of its transmission through the centuries. No other ancient writing approaches it in the number of copies made of it from the time it was written until the age of printing; its existing MSS approach the date of its origin far more closely than do the MSS of almost any other piece of ancient literature; and the NT (with the OT) stands virtually alone in the literature of antiquity as a work that was translated into other languages. In the beginning, of course, there was no “nodetitle” as a single volume. The individual books were written over a period of years and afterward were gradually brought together (see Canonicity).

1. The Greek manuscripts. What did a book of the NT look like when it was first written? Its language was Greek. There doubtless were both written and oral records, probably both in Aramaic and in Greek, that lay behind the Gospels. Proof is lacking, however, that any of the NT books as such were originally written in Aramaic.

An original copy of a NT book was probably written on papyrus sheets, either folded into a codex, which is the modern book form, or possibly on a papyrus roll. It was long thought that the earliest copies of the NT books were written in roll form, since this was the regular form for both the OT and for other literary writings of the period. However, even the very oldest NT papyrus MSS or fragments that are now known are in the codex form, not the roll. Although the codex form was used for notes, rough drafts of an author’s work, etc., the early Christians were pioneers in using the codex form for literary purposes—i.e., for copies of books of the NT and perhaps for the originals of some of the NT books. The codex was far better suited for ready reference to passages and was generally easier to use than the roll.

The style of the Greek letters in the original of a NT book may have been one of two in common use. Literary works of the period were written in “uncial” or “majuscule” letters, rounded capitals, the letters not connected to each other. A “cursive” or “minuscule” hand, in which the letters were connected, somewhat as in English longhand writing, was used for personal letters, business receipts, and other nonliterary materials. The Greek MSS were written with no separation between words. This was not merely in order to save space, because the size of the letters in many MSS indicates that space was not necessarily an important consideration. It was simply an accepted custom. Latin MSS similarly do not separate words, but Hebrew MSS do. The originals of Paul’s letters may therefore have been written in the cursive hand as being simply private correspondence; the Gospels would probably have been originally written in uncial letters. Of course, when Paul’s letters began to be copied and recopied, they would be thought of as public writings and would doubtless soon be copied in uncial letters. All of the earliest known MSS of the NT are written in uncial letters.

The first three centuries are the period of the use of papyrus as a writing material. Sheets were made from thin strips of the papyrus reed, which grew along the Nile and in a very few other places in the Mediterranean world. The strips were laid side by side, with a second layer placed on top at right angles to the first layer. Pounded together and dried in the sun, these sheets made very serviceable material for writing with a reed pen. In a roll, the side that normally received the writing was the side on which the strips were horizontal. In the codex form, both sides would be used, but the “verso,” where the strips were vertical, would give the writer more difficulty than the “recto.”

At the beginning of the fourth century a.d., a notable change occurred in the production of NT MSS, when vellum or parchment began to displace papyrus as a writing material. The use of tanned skins for a writing material had long been known and was commonly used for the Hebrew OT. Vellum and parchment, however, are skins that have been treated with lime and made into a thin material having a smooth, firm writing surface. The term “vellum” was applied to the finer skins of calf, kid, or lamb; and “parchment” (from Pergamene, a city prominent in its manufacture) was applied to ordinary skins; but the two terms are now used synonymously. A few papyrus MSS of the NT from the fifth and sixth centuries are known; but apparently papyrus was quickly displaced by the far more durable parchment, and the fourth century may be called the beginning of the parchment period of NT MSS, a period lasting until the introduction of paper as a writing material in the fourteenth century. In the ninth century a.d. another significant change occurred, with the development of the cursive style of handwriting into a literary hand called “minuscule.” By the end of the tenth century the uncial hand had been completely displaced by the minuscule, which remained the regular style of writing until the invention of printing.

In addition to the MSS containing a continuous NT text, many MSS of lectionaries from these centuries have survived. These are MSS that contain NT passages organized for reading on particular days.

We may summarize as follows: From the first to the fourth centuries a.d., NT MSS were written in uncial letters on papyrus; from the fourth to the tenth, in uncial letters on vellum; from the tenth to the fourteenth, in minuscule letters on vellum; from the fourteenth to the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, in minuscule letters on paper. Almost 70 papyrus MSS and fragments are known, about 250 uncial MSS, 2,500 cursive MSS, and 1,600 lectionaries. Papyri are designated by “P” and a superscript number (e.g., P66). Uncials are designated by capital letters of the English and Greek alphabets plus א (the Hebrew letter Aleph) so far as these letters permit; but all uncials are also designated by a number with a zero prefixed (e.g., 047). Cursives are designated by a number only (e.g., 565), and lectionaries by a number with a lower-case letter l prefixed and sometimes italicized (e.g., l299).

2. Variant readings. While these developments in writing were taking place, there were other developments concerning the text of these MSS. Since copies were made individually by hand, mistakes and changes inevitably occurred—omissions, additions, changes of words, word order, and spelling—usually unintentionally made, but sometimes intentionally to clarify, explain, or to avoid a doctrinal misunderstanding. In the MSS now known there are thousands of these “variants.” The vast majority, however, make no difference in meaning; and the application of accepted principles of textual criticism makes it possible to determine the original form of the text for all practical purposes, though not to verbal perfection. No fundamental Christian doctrine is left in doubt by any textual variant.

These variants, moreover, tended to group themselves into companies. A MS tended to contain the errors of the MS from which it was copied. As MSS were carried to various cities and lands, and as copies were made from MSS at hand, the MSS of a given region would tend to contain a similar group of variants, and these would be somewhat different from the variants of MSS in another region. Scholars recognize at least three of these “text-types,” as they are called, from the fifth century a.d. and earlier: “Alexandrian,” “Caesarean,” and “Western”—names that are only partially significant geographically. After the official recognition of Christianity in the fourth century a.d., with more opportunity to compare MSS, these “local texts” were gradually displaced by a type of text that tended to smooth out rough constructions, harmonize parallel passages, and make for ease of understanding. This text-type, known as “Byzantine,” was dominant by the eighth century. It remained the accepted text, becoming known as the “Textus Receptus” after the invention of printing, and was the principal text behind the King James Version. It was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that textual scholarship switched to the other text-types.

3. Patristic quotations. If every MS of the NT itself were destroyed, the NT could virtually be reconstructed from another significant source: the thousands of quotations of NT passages in the writings of the ancient church fathers, principally in Greek, Latin, and Syriac. These quotations must be consulted with care, as they were often given from memory or simply as a scriptural allusion and hence not verbally exact. Yet many are textually reliable; and these are valuable, because readings quoted by a particular church father can usually be assumed to have been current during that man’s lifetime and in the region of his activity.

4. Ancient versions. In the case of most ancient writings, when the MSS in the original language of the work have been consulted, the limits of the field have been reached. The Bible, especially the NT, is therefore virtually unique in ancient literature in this respect, for not only was it translated into other languages in the earliest centuries of its history, but these translations are sufficiently accurate to be of help in textual criticism in determining the original text of the NT. Of course, no original MSS of these ancient translations remain, and the copies that are known must first be examined to determine the original text of the translation. However, certain types of Greek variants would not be reflected in certain versions (e.g., the presence or absence of a definite article in Greek would not normally be reflected in Latin, as Latin has no definite article); but in many respects the versions are useful, not least in helping to show the regions in which certain textual readings were current.

The NT must have been translated into Latin, the official language of the nodetitle, very shortly after the books were written and certainly before the second century a.d. had passed. The forty or so extant MSS of this Old Latin differ extensively among themselves, and it is not clear whether they represent one or several translations. As a result of these variations, in 382 Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome to undertake a revision of the Latin Bible. In the NT Jerome worked cautiously, making changes only where he felt they were absolutely necessary. This revision, the Latin Vulgate, became the official Bible of the Western church and remains the official Roman Catholic Bible. Probably eight thousand MSS are in existence.

Syriac, a dialect related to Aramaic, which was spoken in lands around Palestine, likewise received the NT during the second century a.d. The first such translation seems to have been either the original or a translation of a Greek original of a continuous Gospel account known as the Diatessaron (meaning “through the four”), constructed by combining elements from all four Gospels. It was composed about 160 by Tatian and seems to have been the Syriac Gospel in common use for over a century. There was also made, however, perhaps in the second century, a translation of the four Gospels, known as the Old Syriac, which is now known in two MSS, the Sinaitic and the Curetonian.

The Syriac that is still the standard version is the Peshitta (meaning “simple”), translated in the fifth century a.d., perhaps by Rabbula, bishop of Edessa. Some 250 MSS are known, none of which contains 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, or Revelation. The Peshitta was revised in 508 by authority of Philoxenus, bishop of Mabbog. It is thought by some that this Philoxenian version still exists in or is related to the current Syriac text of the four books named above, which were not in the original Peshitta but are now printed in the Syriac NT. The Philoxenian was in turn revised in 616 by Thomas of Harkel. The Harklean Syriac is such an extremely literal translation from the Greek that it even violates Syriac idiom at times to follow the Greek. It is likewise characterized by numerous marginal alternative readings, often in Greek. About fifty MSS of this version are known.

The Palestinian Syriac version was made about the sixth century. It exists in fragmentary MSS, including some lectionary material. The so-called Karkaphensian Syriac, which has sometimes been named as a version, is in fact only a collection of Scripture passages accompanied by notes on spelling and pronunciation.

Likewise significant in textual criticism are the two principal versions of Egypt. The earlier of these is the Sahidic, the dialect of southern Egypt, which probably received its NT in the third century a.d. It exists in numerous but fragmentary MSS. The Bohairic, the dialect of Alexandria and the Nile Delta, was more literary and later displaced the other dialects to become the current Coptic. About one hundred MSS of the Bohairic NT are known. There are fragments of versions in three other Egyptian dialects: Fayumic, Middle Egyptian, and Akhmimic. The Gothic version, translated very accurately from the Greek by the Gothic Bishop Ulfilas, dates from the fourth century a.d. and is the earliest version representing the Byzantine text-type. The Armenian version originated about a.d. 400, the work of Mesrop and Sahak, using an alphabet created by Mesrop. The version was probably made from Syriac. A revision was made a century or two later. Many MSS of the Armenian version are known, but only one is earlier than the tenth century. Christianity became established in Georgia in the fourth century a.d., and the Georgian version of the NT probably was in existence before the middle of the fifth century, apparently translated from Armenian. A thorough revision, based on Greek MSS, was made about the eleventh century. The Ethiopic version originated about a.d. 600, perhaps translated from Syriac rather than Greek. About one hundred MSS are extant, but the earliest is from the thirteenth century. The NT was translated into Arabic by about the seventh century. Several translations were made at various periods from the Syriac, Greek, Coptic, and Latin.

The Persian exists in two versions, the earlier made from the Peshitta and the later one from the Greek. They are later than the Arabic, but the exact date is unknown.

The Slavonic version originated in the ninth century a.d., the work of Cyril and Methodius, who translated from Greek into the Macedo-Bulgarian dialect, using an alphabet created by Cyril. This version is only partially extant. Other translations were made from time to time, but they have virtually no significance for textual study and are more appropriately dealt with under the subject of Bible translations.

See Bible, English Versions.

Bibliography: W. H. P. Hatch, The Principal Uncial Manuscripts of the New Testament, 1939; C. C. Torrey, Documents of the Primitive Church, 1941; B. J. Roberts, The Old Testament Text and Versions, 1951; E. Wuerthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 1957; H. G. G. Herklots, How Our Bible Came to Us, 1954; F. G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, rev. 1958; F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, rev. 1963; B. M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 1964; J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1964; S. Jellicoe, The Septuagint and Modern Study, 1968; P. Walters, The Text of the Septuagint, 1973.——JHG