Introduction to New Testament Part 3: As a Whole

Christ in the New Testament

The New Testament is focused on Jesus Christ as Savior and LORD with the overall objective of drawing people to salvation in Christ. The culmination of the NT is in eternity with Christ’s endless reign over God’s people. Every page of the NT relates to Christ. He is the primary subject even of the Old Testament, but not with the same exclusiveness or in the same way as in the NT. In the OT, He is the Christ of prophecy. In the NT, He is the Christ of history. In the OT. He is the great hope. In the NT, the great reality. anticipated in the OT, He is present in the NT. He is latent in the OT but manifest in the NT.

New Testament As A Whole

Scripture is the written form of God’s Self-revelation given through human authors by supernatural inspiration. God providentially guards His revelation, controlling it from beginning to its final form. The 27 books of the New Testament include memoirs and letters forming a literary archway into saving truth, the true knowledge of Christ and His work on behalf of sinners. Neither the NT books nor the contents of any book follow a rigid chronological order. The aim of the NT is presenting Christ and His salvation, Christ and His Gospel. The 27 books of the NT divide into 4 groups.

  1. The Gospels and Acts: The 1st group of books is Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Acts of the Apostles. These 5 are the historical books of the NT. They are foundational to all that follows. Each is in the form of a memoir or historical account written from personal knowledge or knowledge from other eyewitness sources. 
  1. Letters to the Christian Churches: Next comes a group of 9 letters inspired by the Holy Spirit and written to Christian assemblies by the Apostle Paul. They give instruction on Christian doctrine and practical applications of that doctrine. The 9 letters are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. 
  1. Pastoral Letters to Individuals: Next is a group of 4 letters also written by Paul but addressed to individuals not to churches. The first 3 are written to 2 of Paul’s sons in the faith who have become pastors. There are 2 to Timothy followed by 1 to Titus. The 4th is to Philemon, a Christian at Colosse, who was the leader of a church in his home.
  1.  Letters to Hebrew Christian: Finally there are 9 letters to Hebrew Christians written using terms and references from their Jewish background. The 1st, called “Hebrews,” was written as a general document to Hebrew Christians. 
    1. The next, “James,” was written to the 12 tribes in the Dispersion. 
    2. Then there are 2 letters by the Apostle Peter. The 1st is addressed to elect exiles of the dispersion, and the 2nd to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with his. 
    3. These are followed by the Apostle John’s 3 letters. The 1st has no addressee, but his short 2nd and 3rd letters are addressed to Jewish individuals. 
    4. Next comes the letter from Jude, brother of James, which is addressed to those who are called. 
    5. The last letter is an unconventional letter we call “Revelation.” Although this epistle was written to Christians by John, it was dictated to him by the risen Christ. Its form is Apocalyptic. The fact that it is a message in letter form is seen in the 1st verse. “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1). 
    6. All 9 letters (as revealed by statements and references in each letter) though Christian, were written from a Jewish standpoint, to Jewish Christians, and display a Jewish “atmosphere.”

Progression in the NT

The Gospels and Acts taken together lay a solid foundation of historical fact. Progress from history to instruction in doctrine and practice is found in the letters. First in those to Christian Churches and Hebrew Christians. The Pastoral letters form a bridge between those to Christian Churches and those to Hebrew Christians. A high point of gospel truth occurs in 1 Tim. 3:16, Paul says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up into glory.” 

Interrelationship of the Letters to Churches and Those to Hebrew Christian

When compared, it is seen that each set begins with a doctrinal treatise. Romans begins Letters to Christian Churches. Hebrews begins Letters to Hebrew Christians. Both great doctrinal treatises. Both sets end with an unveiling of Christ’s return. The 2 Thessalonian letters end the Letters to Christian Churches. Revelation ends the Letters to Hebrew Christians.

  • Romans 1:16 declares the gospel to be the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Perfect obedience to the Law was the only way to righteousness known to the Jews. Paul says Jesus changed that. Rm. 3:21-22a: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” “Hebrews” shows that the new way to salvation is better in every way than the requirement of complete obedience to the Law.
  • The Thessalonian letters show Christ’s 2nd coming with emphasis on its relation to the church. Revelation presents Christ’s 2nd coming with emphasis on its relationship to Israel and the nations.

The NT’s Orderly Unfolding in Understanding “Doctrine and Practice”

Salvation is described in the NT as a God-designed step-by-step process. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all deal with the life and ministry of Christ. Yet each Gospel unfolds in its own distinct manner, not as parts of one consecutive narrative. Many parts of the 1st 3 Gospels deal with the same topics, but with noticeable distinctions. Acts focuses on the developing church’s history.

  • The 1st Gospel, Matthew, begins with a genealogy of Jesus starting with Abraham. The Gospel ends with the Great Commission. 
  • The 2nd Gospel, Mark, begins, not where Matthew leaves off, but with the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel ends with Jesus’ ascension.
  • The 3rd Gospel, Luke, begins with the birth of John the Baptist. It ends after Jesus’ ascension with the disciples back in Jerusalem spending time in the temple blessing God. 
  • Each Gospel writer’s style is different.

Style and Order

Each author has a different style and way of presenting the material.

  • Matthew collects Jesus’ sayings in purposeful arrangements with little or no concern for chronological order. His 1st collection of Jesus’ sayings is the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. His 1st collection of Jesus’ “doings” are the miracles in chapters 8-9. The 1st miracle Matthew reports is not the 1st one Jesus performed. On the other hand, the 1st miracle John reports is the one performed first in time at Cana of Galilee. 
  • Likewise with the letters. Their order in the NT is not determined by the date they were written. The first 2 written were 1 and 2 Thessalonians, yet they appear last in the letters to the churches. Romans was written near the last but appears first in that group. 
  • Similar disregard for chronological order prevails in the letters to Hebrew Christians. 
  • The order in which the NT books are presented is an order displaying consistent progression in revelational truth. 

Other Comments on the 1st 3 Gospels

Matthew begins the NT showing the links between the Gospel and the Hebrew Scriptures. He shows the NT events to be fulfillments of predictions of the OT. Matthew adapts his narrative for a Jewish background. Matthew (Levi, the son of Alphaeus) was himself a Jew. Likewise, in His flesh, Jesus was a Jew.

  • On the other hand, Mark (John Marcus) was half Jew and half Gentile. John is a Hebrew name, Marcus is Greek. Mark worked closely with Peter as Luke worked with Paul. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t follow Matthew’s focus on fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. He focuses on Jesus’ authority. Jesus is presented as God’s action-filled, wonder-Worker with power over both visible and invisible realms. This approach is more appealing to Gentiles than to Jews. 
  • Mark’s presentation of Christ did appeal to Gentiles, but it was Luke, a Gentile, who maximized the Gospel appeal to the Gentiles. He presents Christ as “the Son of Man.” 
  • The Gentile, Luke, wrote in Greek style. The other 3 evangelists, though writing in Greek, followed traditional Hebrew form. 
  • Luke prefaces his Gospel with a Greek-style dedication to a Gentile convert. He brings out Jesus’ humanity without regard for national distinctions. 
  • The progression from Matthew (a Jew), to Mark, (a Jew-Gentile), to Luke (a Gentile), parallels the 3 stages of evangelistic expansion cited in Acts. John’s Gospel is in a separate category we will consider next.

Comments on John’s Gospel

Things concerning Jesus’ divine nature as the eternal Son which are inferred in the 1st 3 Gospels are completed and made manifest in John’s Gospel. Jesus is the Savior of the world. He is One with the Father, the Creator. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9 “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”) Jesus not only teaches truth, He is “the Truth.” He imparts life because “He is the Life.” (Jn. 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

  • The first 3 Gospels provide truth about the physical Jesus. John provides understanding of Jesus’ divine spiritual nature. The first 3 Gospels stress outer facts, human aspects, public discourses, and the Galilean ministry. John stresses inner facts, divine aspects, private discourse, and the important, but shorter, Judean ministry.
  • Matthew wrote primarily for Jews, Mark for Romans, Luke for Greeks, John for the Church. One way this truth can be seen is through each one’s selection of which of Jesus’ miracles to present 1st. Matthew, writing for the Jews, chose healing a leper. To the Jews, leprosy was the most loathsome and dreaded disease. 
  • Mark, writing for the Romans, chose the demonstration of Jesus’ authority in healing a man with an unclean spirit. Authority was very important to the Romans.
  • Luke, writing for Gentiles, chose casting out a demon. Demonology was of great interest to the Greeks, leprosy of little interest. Throwing out demons demonstrated laudable power.
  • John, writing for the church, chose conversion of water into wine, the ordinary into a special wine. Jesus is the source of power for the conversion of a sinner to a believer.

Comments on Acts

Acts was written by Luke and dedicated to the same Gentile convert as was his Gospel. Acts shows the Apostles receiving power from the promised Holy Spirit. They use that power to tackle the mission Christ assigned to them of carrying the good news to all people. In the ascension as Acts begins, we see the completion of the external facts of our Lord’s earthly life, death, and resurrection. Acts presents both the initial meaning of these profound truths to the Jews and their fuller meaning to the developing Church.

The Letters

The letters focus both doctrinally and practically on the meaning and significance of “following Christ.” They often deal with problems that arose in the developing churches. Three words from Paul point to the meaning of the Christian life, at least from its human side. Those words are “faith,” “hope,” and “love.” “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). The 3 principal writers of the New Testament are Paul, Peter, and John. Paul is the apostle of faith, Peter of hope, and John of love. Their writings appear in the NT an obviously spiritually correct order.

  • In the Letters to Christian Churches, the 1st 4 emphasize the “Cross;” the next 3 emphasize the “Church;” the last 2 the “Lords’ 2nd coming.”  
  • In the Letters to Hebrew Christians, the 1st 2 stress “faith” and “works.” The next 2 stress “hope” and “growth.” 
  • John’s 3 letters emphasize “love.” 
  • Jude emphasizes “contending.” 
  • Finally, Revelation speaks of “overcoming” and “inheriting.” 

Conclusion

The way the New Testament documents are organized, and the different perspectives of each author are fascinating. Divine revelation of truth and human apprehension of that truth are interwoven. The progressive teaching nature of the documents is remarkable, given the different human authors with their individual purposes in writing, as well as the different ways the authors express the truths they are dealing with.

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