An Introduction to the New Testament
New Testament Survey, Lesson 1 of 13
We are beginning a journey through the most important book in the world. This book is the New Testament. Without it, God’s revelation to man would not be complete. The New Testament tells of the coming of the Son of God to save man from sin. It reveals the birth, life, miracles, and teachings of Jesus. The New Testament tells of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead. It also tells of Jesus’ ascension to Heaven and His promise to return. The New Testament records the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church. It tells of the growth and spread of the church throughout the world. The New Testament contains inspired letters to help churches deal with problems and to instruct Christians how to live. It ends with a book of encouragement and prophecy.
The New Testament was written during the age of miracles. Its words came from God through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit inspired eight men to write the message He revealed. Four of them, Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul, were apostles. The others, Mark, Luke, James and Jude, were evangelists.
All the Bible is inspired by God. Paul said: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The word for “inspiration” is the Greek word “theopneustos.” It means “God breathed.”
The words used by the writers of the New Testament were chosen by the Holy Spirit from their vocabularies. Thus the books written by each one show his style and personality while accurately revealing the message of God. Paul said: But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).
The books of the New Testament were written in the first century. They were widely circulated among the churches as individual books. Paul told the church at Colossae: And when this epistle hath been read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye also read the epistle from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16).
At first, the New Testament books may have been written on scrolls. These were rolls of animal skin or papyrus (paper made from reeds). It was impossible to combine them into a book in this form. Later, they were written in the form of books like we have today. This made it possible to collect all the books of the New Testament together into one book. This was done in the fourth century.
The New Testament books were first written in Greek, the language of the common people in the first century. We do not have the original books written by the inspired men. We have copies of them. There are more than five thousand manuscripts of these books. Some were made as early as the second century. No other book of ancient times has as many manuscripts still in existence. There are no manuscripts of any other ancient book that goes back as close to the time of writing.
In addition to the manuscripts, translations of the New Testament were made in the first three centuries. There are also the writings of the “church fathers.” These were Christians who wrote in defense of the faith. Some wrote as early as the first and second centuries. The New Testament can be largely reproduced from their writings.
To understand the New Testament, it is helpful to know the history of the times when it was written. The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, foretold that in the days of the Roman kings, God would set up His kingdom on the earth (Daniel 2:44). When Jesus was born, Rome ruled much of the world including the Jews. The Roman Empire made it possible for the Gospel to spread rapidly. One could travel easier and safer than ever before. The Romans built great roads to connect all parts of the empire. They put an end to the pirates on the Mediterranean Sea and made travel by ship safer. One did not need a passport to go from one country to another. A Roman citizen could claim Rome’s protection when needed.
The Greek language made possible the rapid spread of the Gospel. Rome conquered the kingdoms which had arisen from the old empire of Alexander the Great. The Greek they spoke soon became the common language of the Roman Empire. It was used in writing, business, and schools. The Old Testament had even been translated into Greek. This translation, the Septuagint, was used by Jesus and His apostles as well as the early Christians.
The scattering of the Jews made possible the rapid spread of the Gospel. Many Jews remained in foreign lands where they had been taken as captives. Others went to various parts of the Roman Empire to conduct business. Wherever ten male Jews were found, they built a synagogue. Here they met on the sabbath to study the Old Testament, pray, sing praises, and give an offering for the poor. Many Gentiles came to believe in God as a result of the teaching in the synagogues. First century preachers found a ready audience for the Gospel in the synagogues.
Paul wrote: But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Galatians 4:4, 5). Conditions in the first century were right for God’s Son to come to the earth!
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