Outline of the New Testament Books
The New Testament includes twenty-seven books written by nine different authors, unless Paul wrote Hebrews, then only eight, over about fifty years. The “New Testament” is the name given to the second half of the English Bible which literally means the “New Covenant” or KAINE DIATHEKE in the Greek, Luke 22:20.
The New Testament describes the new arrangement of God with men through Christ on the basis of the new covenant, cf. Ex 24:1-8; with Luke 22:14-20; 2 Cor 3:6-11. The old covenant revealed the holiness of God in the righteous standard of the law and promised a coming Redeemer; the new covenant shows the holiness of God in His righteous Son and contains writings that reveal the content of the new covenant.
The Message of the New Testament Centers on:
- The Person who gave Himself for the remission of sins, Mat 26:28.
- The people (the church) who have received His salvation. The central theme of the New Testament is salvation and is broken down into four parts.
The Arrangement of the Books of the New Testament
These books fall naturally into four divisions:
- The four Gospels which introduce the Savior by describing the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
- The book of Acts describes the acts of the Apostles as they spread the good news about His salvation through the Mediterranean world of the first century A.D. It is the history of the beginning of the church and the spread of Christianity throughout the Greco-Roman world.
- The twenty-one letters, Romans through Jude, that give details of the blessings of that salvation. The apostle Paul, the great missionary and theologian of the early church, wrote thirteen or fourteen of these letters. They teach Christian doctrine both in a formal way, as in Romans, and in application to life situations, as in 1 Corinthians and Philemon.
- Revelation previews the culmination of salvation describing the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ and His people in the future.
They also fall into three divisions: History, (Matthew to Acts); Letters, (Romans to Jude); and Prophecy, (Revelation).
Chronological Order of the Writing of the Books:
Though Bible scholars differ on the exact date when the books of the New Testament were written, the order of the writing of the books was approximately as follows:
The Collection of the Books:
After they were written, the individual books were not immediately gathered together into the 27 books of the canon. Some books like Paul’s letters and the Gospels were preserved at first by the churches or people to whom they were sent and gradually all 27 books were collected and formally acknowledged by the church as a whole. This process took about 350 years and these 27 were ultimately certified During the Third Council of Carthage in A.D. 397 as being the canon of Scriptures.
The Historical Books:
The word “gospel” means, “good news.” The first four books are called as such because they record the good news that a way of salvation has been opened to all mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mark 1:1; 1 Cor 15:3-4.
- Matthew – Jesus is presented as the Son of David, emphasizing His Kingship, written for the Jews. Cf. Isa 11:1; Mat 1:1.
- Mark – Jesus is presented as the Son of Man, emphasizing His Servant hood, written for the Romans. Cf. Zech 3:8; Mark 8:38.
- Luke – Jesus is presented as the Son of Adam, emphasizing Him as the Son of Man, written for the pagan Gentiles. Cf. Zech 6:12-13; Luke 3:38.
- John – Jesus is presented as the Son of God, emphasizing His Deity, written for Christians. Cf. Isa 4:2; 7:14; John 3:16.
The first three Gospels are call “synoptic gospels” because of the great overlap and parity in content. John’s gospel, written after the other three, was intended to fill in some of the missing information and events from the other three Gospels.
Comparison of the Four Gospels:
The Gospel of Matthew
Date: 50s or 60s
Author: Matthew who was one of the twelve apostles, was surnamed Levi, Mark 2:14. He was a Jewish tax-gatherer for the Roman government, Mat 9:9.
Content: The theme of the book is Christ the King and was written to Jews to answer their questions about Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be their Messiah. In this gospel, Jesus is often spoken of as the Son of David and the One-who fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah; and the kingdom of heaven is the subject of much of His recorded teaching. Matthew is also characterized by its inclusion of people outside of Judaism. Important sections in Matthew include: the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5-7), with the Beatitudes (Mat 5:3-12), and the Lord’s template prayer (Mat 6:9-13), the parables of the kingdom (Mat 13), and the Olivet discourse concerning future events (Mat 24-25), and the outline reflects that theme.
The Gospel of Mark
Date: 50s or possibly the 60s.
Author: John Mark was not an apostle. He was the son of a Mary, a woman of wealth and position in Jerusalem, Acts 12:12. He was a cousin of Barnabas, Col 4:10 and a close friend and possibly a convert of the apostle Peter, 1 Peter 5:13. It is generally agreed that Mark received much of the information in his gospel from Peter. With Peter’s apostolic authority behind the gospel, there was never any challenge to its inclusion in the canon of Scripture. Mark also had the rare privilege of accompanying Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey but failed to stay with them through the entire trip. It was an argument between Paul and Barnabas over the inclusion of Mark on a subsequent trip that led to their split.
Content: The theme of the book is Christ the Servant. Mark wrote for the Gentiles in general and specifically for the Romans, as a result he left out several of the accounts of Jesus that were only important to Jews, like the genealogy, Sermon on the Mount, etc. His gospel emphasizes what Jesus did rather than what He said. It is a book of action, the word EUTHUS, “at once” or “immediately,” is used more than 40 times. The key verse is Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many,” which divides the gospel into two major divisions: the service of the Servant, Mark 1:1-10:52 and the sacrifice of the Servant, Mark 11:1-16:20.
The Gospel of Luke
Date: 60, possibly in Caesarea during Paul’s two-year imprisonment there, Acts 24:27.
Author: Luke, the “beloved physician”, Col 4:14; was a close friend and companion of Paul. He was probably the only Gentile author of any part of the New Testament. We know nothing about his early life or conversion except that he was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus Christ, Luke 1:2. Though a physician by profession, he was primarily an evangelist, writing this gospel and the book of Acts and accompanying Paul in missionary work. He was with Paul at the time of the apostle’s martyrdom, 2 Tim 4:11; but of his later life we have no certain facts. In his prologue, Luke states that his own work was stimulated by the work of others, Luke 1:1; that he consulted eyewitnesses, Luke 1:2, and that he sifted and arranged the information, Luke 1:3; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to instruct Theophilus in the historical reliability of the faith, Luke 1:4.
Content: This is a carefully researched and documented writing. The theme of Luke’s gospel is Christ, the Son of Man, that tell of those events that demonstrated Christ’s humanity. It is slanted toward all Gentiles. This is a gospel of the compassionate Son of Man offering salvation to the whole world Luke 19:10.
The Gospel of John
Author: The writer is identified in the book only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, John 21:20, 24. John the apostle was the son of Zebedee and Salome and was the younger brother of James. He was a Galilean who apparently came from a fairly well-to-do home, Mark 15:40-41. John’s real character was such that he was known as a “Son of Thunder”, Mark 3:17. He played a leading role in the work of the early church in Jerusalem, Acts 3:1; 8:14; Gal 2:9. Later he went to Ephesus and for an unknown reason was exiled to the island of Patmos, Rev 1:9.
Content: John’s statement of purpose for this Gospel is clearly noted in, John 20:30-31. It is different in structure and style from the synoptic gospels; it contains no parables, only seven miracles, five of which are not recorded elsewhere, and many personal interviews. He emphasizes the physical actuality of Jesus’ hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, and death as a defense against the Gnostic denial of Jesus’ true human nature.
This is the most theological of the Four Gospels. It deals with the nature and person of Christ and the meaning of faith in Him. John’s presentation of Christ as the Divine Son of God is seen in the titles given Him in the book: “the Word was God”, John 1:1; “the Lamb of God”, John 1:29, “the Messiah”, John 1:41, etc. His deity is also asserted in the series of “I am…” claims, John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5. In other “I am” statements, Christ made implicit and explicit claims to be the I AM-Yahweh of the Old Testament, John 4:24, 26; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19. These are the strongest claims to deity that Jesus could have made.
This gospel is sometimes called The Book of the Seven Signs, since the author chose seven sign-miracles to reveal the person and mission of Jesus:
- The turning of water into wine, John 2:1-11.
- The cure of the nobleman’s son, John 4:46-54.
- The cure of the paralytic, John 5:1-18.
- The feeding of the multitude, John 6:6-13.
- The walking on the water, John 6:16-21.
- The giving of sight to the blind, John 9:1-7.
- The raising of Lazarus, John 11:1-45.
Other important themes in the book include the Holy Spirit, John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-14, Satan and the world, John 8:44; 12:31; 17:15; the Word, John 1:1-14, and the new birth, John 3:1-12.
The Book of Acts
Author: That the author of Acts was a companion of Paul is clear from the passages in the book in which “we” and “us” are used, Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16. Col 4:14 and Philemon 24 point to Luke the physician as its author. Luke answered the Macedonian call with Paul, was in charge of the work at Philippi for about six years, and later was with Paul in Rome during the time of Paul’s house arrest. It was probably during this last period that the book was written.
Content: In the first 12 chapters the important figures are Peter, Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, and James. From Acts 13 to the end, the dominant person is Paul. Acts gives us the record of the spread of Christianity from the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost to Paul’s arrival in Rome to preach the gospel in the world’s capital. It is the record of the continuation of those things that Jesus began while on earth and that He continued as the risen Head of the Church and the One who sent the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:2; 2:33. The book is sometimes called The Acts of the Holy Spirit.
It covers 30 years during the transition of the church from primarily Jewish believers to include Gentile believers. Doctrines that are later developed in the epistles appear in seed form in Acts, i.e., the Spirit, Acts 1:8; the kingdom, Acts 3:21; 15:16; elders, Acts 11:30; Gentile salvation, Acts 15:14, etc. The book emphasizes the practice of doctrine more than the statement of doctrine. It also provides us principles for missionary work, and reveals patterns for church life. Archaeological discoveries confirm in a remarkable way the historical accuracy of Luke’s writing.
We now begin the second portion of the New Testament called the “Letters” or the Epistles.
The writers of the Epistles included Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John as we will see. These letters were typically written to a specific church in a geographic location or to a person, and later were circulated to the other churches. To give us a reference as to the location of the recipients of these letters, see the map of the early Church and Paul’s Missionary Journeys.
The Letters of Paul:
There are three categories of Paul’s letter:
- General Epistles written to a church, including: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
- Prison Epistles written to churches or a person while under Roman confinement, including: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
- Pastoral Epistles written to young pastors established by Paul, including: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
Content: The theme of the epistle is the righteousness of God, Rom 1:16-17. Written from Corinth, where Paul was completing the collection for the poor in Jerusalem, this letter was sent to a group of people Paul had not met before. This writing was more formal than Paul’s other letters and it delineated the doctrine of Justification by Faith (and its ramifications) in a systematic way. A number of basic Christian doctrines are discussed, for example: natural revelation, Rom 1:19-20; the universality of sin, Rom 3:9-20; justification, Rom 3:24; propitiation, Rom 3:25; faith, Rom 4; original sin, Rom 5:12; union with Christ, Rom 6; the election and rejection of Israel, Rom 9-11; spiritual gifts, Rom 12:3-8; and respect for government, Rom 13:1-7.
Content: Paul first preached the gospel in Corinth on his second missionary journey, A.D. 50. While living and working with Aquila and Priscilla, he preached in the synagogue until opposition forced him to move next door, to the house of Titius Justus. The Jews accused him before the Roman governor Gallio, but the charge was dismissed, and Paul remained 18 months in the city, Acts 18:1-17; 1 Cor 2:3. After leaving, Paul wrote the church a letter, which has been lost, 1 Cor 5:9, but disturbing news about the believers and questions they asked Paul in a letter they sent to him, 1 Cor 7:1, lead to the writing of 1 Corinthians. It was written from Ephesus, 1 Cor 16:8, and addressed various problems including: divisions in the church, 1 Cor 1:11; immorality, 1 Cor 5; 1 Cor 6:9 -20; and question concerning marriage, food, worship, and the resurrection. Strange beliefs and practices of many varieties characterized this church. At the same time, the city of Corinth was noted for everything sinful. Therefore, this letter being practical in nature deals with spiritual and moral problems and various questions. It is also a casebook of pastoral theology. Important emphases include: the judgment seat of Christ, 1 Cor. 3:11-15; the temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor 6:19-20; the glory of God, 1 Cor 10:31; the Lord’s Supper, 1 Cor 11:23-34; love, 1 Cor 13; the exercise of gifts, 1 Cor 12-14; and resurrection, 1 Cor 15.
Content: After writing 1 Corinthians, Paul found it necessary to make a hurried, painful visit to Corinth, since the problems that occasioned the first letter had not been resolved, 2 Cor 2:1; 2 Cor 12:14; 2 Cor 13:1-2. Following this visit, he wrote the church a severe and sorrowful letter, to which he refers in 2 Cor 2:4 but which has been lost to us. Titus delivered that letter. Afterward Titus met Paul in Macedonia and related the good news that the church finally had repented of their rebelliousness against Paul. From Macedonia Paul wrote 2 Corinthians and followed it up with his final recorded visit to the church, Acts 20:1-4. Therefore, what we call 1st Corinthians is actually 2nd Corinthians, and what we call 2nd Corinthians is actually 4th Corinthians, or the fourth letter he wrote to them.
The purpose of this letter was threefold:
- To express joy at the favorable response of the church to Paul’s ministry, 2 Cor 1-7.
- To remind the believers of their commitment to the offering for the Christians in Judea, 2 Cor 8-9.
- To defend Paul’s apostolic authority, 2 Cor 10-13.
The letter also contains many personal and autobiographical glimpses into Paul’s life, 2 Cor 4:8-18; 2 Cor 11:22-33, and the longest discussion of giving in the New Testament is in 2 Cor 8 & 2 Cor 9. Important verses include; 2 Cor 5:10, 20-21; 2 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 8:9; 2 Cor 10:5; 2 Cor 11:14; 2 Cor 12:9; 2 Cor 13:14.
Date: 49, some say 55.
Content: The theme, justification by faith, is defended, explained, and applied. Other significant subjects include; Paul’s three years in Arabia, Gal 1:17;, his correcting Peter, Gal 2:11;, the law as a tutor, Gal 3:24;, and the fruit of the Spirit, Gal 5:22-23. Another major emphasis was how can men (sinful by nature) come to God (holy by nature)? Paul’s answer: There is only one way. Accept the salvation God’s grace makes available through Christ’s death and resurrection. Forget about merit-salvation through obedience to the Law of Moses.
Certain Jewish Christians, the Judaizers, were teaching that works are necessary for salvation and that Paul’s gospel was not correct, and that he was not a genuine apostle. Paul’s answer was to teach the Doctrine of Justification by Faith plus nothing, and of sanctification by the Holy Spirit, not the Mosaic Law. He forcefully negated all theologies that teach salvation by faith plus human efforts.
Continuing with the Epistle’s of Paul, we have our second category of writings called “The Prison Epistles” since they all were written during Paul’s Roman imprisonment, Eph 3:1; Phil 1:7; Col 4:10; Philemon 9. They includes: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. During Paul first imprisonment in Rome, he was kept in or near the barracks of the Praetorian Guard, or in rental quarters at his own expense for two years, Acts 28:30, during which time these epistles were written.
Content: This letter is what is called an Encyclical letter, meaning it was a circular letter, a doctrinal treatise in the form of a letter to the churches in Asia Minor. The absence of controversy in this epistle tells us it does not deal with problems of a particular church or churches but speaks to all. It was likely sent first to Ephesus by Tychicus, Eph 6:21-2; Col 4:7-8, and is probably the same letter that is called “my letter… from Laodicea” in Col 4:16.
Paul visited Ephesus in his 2nd missionary journey and on his 3rd stayed there for 3-years. After Paul, Timothy had charge of the church for a time, 1 Tim 1:3, and later the apostle John made the city his headquarters. The city was a commercial, political, and religious center, and the great temple of Artemis (Diana) was there. The great theme of this letter is God’s eternal purpose to establish and complete His body, the church of Christ. In developing this, Paul discusses:
- Predestination, Eph 1:3-14.
- Christ’s headship over the body, Eph 1:22-23; Eph 4:15-16.
- The church as the building and temple of God, Eph 2:21-22.
- The mystery of Christ, Eph 3:1-21.
- Spiritual gifts, Eph 4:7-16.
- The church as the bride of Christ, Eph 5:22-32.
Content: The Church at Philippi was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey; this was the first church to be established by him in Europe, Acts 16. It was a small city established by King Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. Philippians is first off, a thank-you letter for the gift the Philippians sent to Paul during his Roman imprisonment, in which they sent Epaphroditus to deliver. Epaphroditus became almost fatally ill while with Paul, Phil 2:27, and on his recovery, Paul sent him back with this letter.
It is the most personal letter Paul written to a church. Though somewhat obscured by his gentleness in this letter, some of the problems in the church are seen beneath the surface. These included: rivalries and personal ambition, Phil 2:3-4; 4:2; the teaching of the Judaizers, Phil 3:1-3; perfectionism, Phil 3:12-14; and the influence of antinomian libertines, Phil 3:18-19. One of the most important doctrinal passages in the New Testament is Phil 2:5-8, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
There Paul presents the doctrine of Kenosis regarding Christ’s incarnation, which is the self-humbling of Christ where He voluntarily did not use His deified powers to solve His problems, and instead relied upon the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that He lost or emptied Himself of those powers, because He was still God keeping the universe in its order, yet He did not use them under His own self will, but only under the direction of God the Father. Another important verse includes Phil 4:6-7 on prayer. Other favorite verses include; Phil. 1:21, 23b; 3:10, 20; 4:8, 13. And finally, a significant autobiographical sketch appears in Phil 3:4-14.
Content: Like Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon, Colossians was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. Colossae was an ancient but declining commercial center. The gospel may have been taken there during Paul’s ministry at Ephesus, Acts19:10, though it was Epaphras who played the major role in the evangelism and growth of the Colossians. Paul was not personally acquainted with the believers there, Col 2:1, but Epaphras either visited Paul in prison or was imprisoned with him, Philemon 23, and reported on conditions in this church. Tychicus was apparently the bearer of the letter, Eph 6:21; Col 4:7.
The theme is the supremacy and all-sufficiency of Christ. Important subjects include Christ’s person and work, Col 1:15-23, heresy, Col 2:8-23, and believers’ union with Christ, Col 3:1-4. The heresy he addressed was the fusing of Jewish legalism, Greek philosophy, and Oriental mysticism. Specifically, he teaches against the dietary, Sabbath and circumcision rites observances, Col 2:11, 16, the worship of angels, Col 2:18, and the practice of asceticism, which stemmed from the Greek belief that the body was inherently evil, Col 2:21-23. In combating this heresy, Paul emphasizes the cosmic significance of Christ as Lord of creation and Head of the Church. Any teaching, practice, or intermediary that detracts from the uniqueness and centrality of Christ is against the faith.
Content: Paul, Silas, and Timothy first went to the Macedonian port city of Thessalonica on the second missionary journey, Acts 17:1-14. This was the second place the gospel was preached in Europe. Being there only three Sabbaths, Acts 17:2, they were chased out of the city by the officials egged on by the Jews, Paul sent Timothy back, 1 Thes 3:1-2, 5, to check on them, which he did and reported back to Paul, 1 Thes 3:6. That prompted Paul to write this letter.
This is a letter from a relieved and grateful pastor to his growing flock. The key passages in this letter are eschatological; that is, related to events of the last days, such as the rapture of the church, 1 Thes 4:13-18, and the Day of the Lord, 1 Thes 5:1-11. In addition, he:
- Expressed his thankfulness.
- Defended himself against a campaign to slander his ministry, which asserted that it was done only for profit, 1 Thes 2:9-10.
- Encouraged the new converts to stand not only against persecution but also against the pressure to revert to their former pagan standards, 1 Thes 3:2-3; 4:1-12.
- Answered the question about what happens to Christians who die before the return of the Lord, 1 Thes 4:13-18.
- Discussed some problems in their church life that needed to be dealt with, 1 Thes 5:12-13, 19-20.
Content: Not long after the first letter, this letter was sent by Paul to meet a new situation. Someone in Thessalonica had misunderstood, or misrepresented, 2 Thes 2:2, Paul’s teaching concerning the coming of the Day of the Lord, 1 Thes 5:1-11. Some thought that its judgments had already begun; yet they understood Paul to have taught that they would be exempt from those judgments. The practical ramification of this doctrinal confusion was that some, thinking the end of the world was at hand, had stopped working and were creating an embarrassing situation, 2 Thes 3:6, 11. Paul corrects the teaching and reprimands the idlers. Another major teaching was on the man of sin / antichrist, 2 Thes 2:1-12. Cf. Dan 9:27; Mat 24:15; Rev 11:7; 13:1-10.
The next section of Paul’s writings is the “Pastoral Epistles.” These are letters written to young Pastor-Teachers that Paul had established. They give instructions on pastoring a church, qualification for ministers, church conduct and encouraging these young men to continue in their office. Paul anticipated being released, Philem 22, from his 1st imprisonment, and following his release he made several trips, wrote 1 Timothy and Titus, was rearrested, wrote 2 Timothy, and was martyred.
Content: Timothy, the son of a Greek Gentile father and a devout Jewish mother named Eunice, was intimately associated with Paul from the time of the second missionary journey on, 2 Tim 1:5; Acts 16:1-3. When Paul wrote 1 Timothy, probably from Macedonia, 1 Tim 1:3, he was on his way to Nicopolis, Titus 3:12, but Timothy had been left in charge of the work in Ephesus and Asia Minor. Though Paul desired to visit Timothy, 1 Tim 3:14; 4:13, this letter in the meantime, would guide Timothy in the conduct of his pastoral responsibilities. In relation to Timothy personally, the theme is fighting “the good fight”, 1 Tim 1:18. In relation to the church corporately, the theme is behaving in the house of God, 1 Tim 3:15. Important subjects include the law, 1 Tim 1:7-11; prayer, 1 Tim 2:1-8; appearance and activity of women, 1 Tim 2:9-15; qualifications for bishops or elders and for deacons, 1 Tim. 3:1-13; the last days, 1 Tim 4:1-3; care of widows, 1 Tim 5:3-16; and use of money, 1 Tim 6:6-19.
Content: When Paul wrote this letter he was imprisoned and his death was near, 2 Tim 1:8, 16; 4:6-8. Knowing this, he wrote this intensely personal letter. The theme may be taken from, 2 Tim 2:3, “a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Important subjects mentioned include the apostasy of the last days, 2 Tim 3:1-9; cf. 1 Tim 4:1-3; the inspiration of the Scriptures, 2 Tim 3:16, and the crown of righteousness, 2 Tim 4:8.
Content: After writing 1 Timothy, Paul visited Crete and left Titus there to supervise those churches, and went to Nicopolis in Achaia (southern Greece, Titus 3:12). Either from Macedonia or Nicopolis, he wrote this letter to encourage Titus. Titus was a Gentile by birth, Gal 2:3, and was converted through the ministry of Paul, Titus 1:4. He accompanied Paul to Jerusalem at the time of the apostolic council, Acts 15:2 through Gal 2:1-3. He was Paul’s emissary to the church at Corinth during the third missionary journey, 2 Cor 7:6-7; 2 Cor 8:6, 16. He and two others took the letter we call 2 Corinthians to Corinth and urged the Corinthians to make good their promise to give to the poor in Jerusalem. Artemas or Tychicus probably relieved Titus in Crete so he could join Paul in Nicopolis, Titus 3:12, from where Paul sent him to Dalmatia, the former Yugoslavia, 2 Tim 4:10. Tradition says he returned to Crete and died there.
Important topics discussed in the letter include qualifications for elders, Titus 1:5-9; instructions to various age groups, Titus 2:1-8; relationship to government, Titus 3:1-2; and the relation of regeneration to human works and to the Spirit, Titus 3:5.
Next is another like Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians of the Prison Epistles written by Paul. Yet, this one was a personal letter.
Content: This is the most personal of all Paul’s letters. Only one chapter, this letter was written to Philemon, who was from the Colossian church, about one of his slaves Onesimus. Onesimus was one of the millions of slaves in the Roman Empire. He had stolen from his master, Philemon and had run away. Eventually, he made his way to Rome, where he crossed the path of the apostle Paul, who led him to faith in Christ, Philemon 10. Now Onesimus was faced with doing His Christian duty toward his master by returning to him. Since death would normally have been his punishment, Paul wrote this wonderful letter of intercession on Onesimus’s behalf.
Being not the only slave owner in Colosse, this letter gave guidelines for other Christian masters in their relationships to their slave-brothers. Paul did not deny the rights of Philemon over his slave, but he asked Philemon to relate the principle of Christian brotherhood to the situation with Onesimus, Philemon 16. At the same time, Paul offered to pay personally whatever Onesimus owed. This letter is not an attack against slavery as such, but a suggestion as to how Christian masters and slaves could live their faith within that system. It is possible that Philemon did free Onesimus and send him back to Paul, Philemon 14. It has also been suggested that Onesimus became a minister and later bishop of the church at Ephesus, (Ignatius, To the Ephesians,1).
Author: Uncertain, probably Paul.
Content: Primarily written to Hebrews to prove the person of Christ, the theme of the book is the superiority of Christ and thus of Christianity. The words “better,” “perfect,” and “heavenly” appear frequently. The outline shows how the theme is developed by proving that Christ is superior both in His person and His priesthood. Favorite passages include, Heb 2:3 (so great a salvation), Heb 4:12, (the living Word of God), Heb 4:16, (the throne of grace), Heb 7:25, (the intercession of Christ), Heb 11:1, (the description of faith), Heb11:4-40, (the heroes of faith), Heb 12:1-2, (the Christian race), and Heb 13:20-21, (a great benediction).
We now turn to the non-Pauline Epistles written by James, Peter, John and Jude. Except for 2 and 3 John, these were not written to one church or person, and were called the “general” or “universal” Epistles.
The Letter of James
Content: James the half-brother of Jesus who became the recognized leader of the Jerusalem church, Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18, wrote the book concerning the practical aspects of Christian conduct; it tells how faith works in everyday life. James’ purpose was to provide concrete ethical instruction. Compared to Paul, James shows much less interest in formal theology, though the letter is not without theological statements, James 1:12; 2:1, 10-12, 19; 3:9; 5:7-9, 12, 14. Many subjects are discussed in this book, making it like a series of brief sayings arranged in the form of a letter. While there is little formal structure to the book, its many instructions explain how to be doers of the Word, James 1:22. In the 108 verses of the epistle, there are references or allusions from 22 books of the Old Testament and at least 15 allusions to the teachings of Christ as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount. Among the key subjects discussed are faith and works, James 2:14-26; the use of the tongue, James 3:1-12, and prayer for the sick, James 5:13-16.
The Letters of Peter:
Content: This book was written by the Apostle Peter from “Babylon”, 1 Peter 5:13, a symbolic name for Rome much used by writers who wished to avoid trouble with the Roman authorities. Peter was in Rome during the last decade of his life and wrote this epistle about A.D. 63, just before the outbreak of Nero’s persecution in A.D. 64. Peter was martyred about 67. This letter is addressed to “aliens, scattered” or, literally, the “sojourners of the dispersion”, 1 Peter 1:1. These were Christians who, like Israel of old, were scattered throughout the world, though the readers of this epistle were predominantly Gentile yet many had Jewish background, 1 Peter 1:14; 2:9-10; 4:3-4. Peter himself states the theme of the letter in, 1 Peter 5:12, “the true grace of God” in the life of a believer.
He writes about suffering and trial, 1 Peter 4:12, not because of the empire-wide ban on Christianity, since that came later. The sufferings referred to are those that often come to Christians as they live faithfully in a pagan and hostile society. Persecution took the forms of slander, riots, local police action, and social ostracism. In such, he encourages them to rejoice and live above such reproach.
Content: Written just before his martyrdom in A.D. 67 and most likely from Rome, this letter is a reminder, 2 Peter 1:12; 3:1, of the truth of Christianity as opposed to the heresies of false teachers. Important passages include those concerning the Transfiguration, 2 Peter 1:16-18; the inspiration of Scripture, 2 Peter 1:21, and the certainty of the second coming of Christ, 2 Peter 3:4-10.
The Letters of John:
Content: Written by the Apostle John, (much like Ephesians), it was written to Christians all over Asia Minor. This letter shows John’s obvious affection for his “little children” and concern for their spiritual welfare. The heresy of Gnosticism had begun to make inroads among churches in John’s day. Among its teachings were:
- Knowledge is superior to virtue.
- The nonliteral sense of Scripture is correct and can be understood only by a select few.
- Evil in the world precludes God’s being the only Creator.
- The Incarnation is incredible because deity cannot unite itself with anything material such as a body, Docetism (a sect of Gnosticism).
- There is no resurrection of the flesh.
The ethical standards of many Gnostics were low, so John emphasized the reality of the Incarnation and the high ethical standard of the earthly life of Christ. The book is filled with contrasts—light and darkness, 1 John 1:6-7; 2:8-11; love of world and love of God, 1 John 2:15-17; children of God and children of the devil, 1 John 3:4-10; the Spirit of God and the spirit of Antichrist, 1 John 4:1-3; love and hate, 1 John 4:7-12, 16-21. An important passage is 1 John 1:7-2:1 regarding the confession of sins for the believer as the means for fellowship with God and man, including the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Content: Being only one chapter, the main teaching of 2 John is walking in Christ’s commandments.
Content: Also only one chapter, this is a very personal letter, addressed to Gaius, which focuses on an ecclesiastical problem regarding traveling teachers. Gaius had given them hospitality, whereas Diotrephes, a self-assertive leader in one of the churches, had refused to receive them. John exhibits his apostolic authority in his rebuke of Diotrephes, 3 John 10. Demetrius, who himself may have been a traveling teacher, probably delivered the letter to Gaius.
The Letter of Jude
Content: Jude identifies himself as the brother of James, Jude 1, the leader of the Jerusalem church, Acts 15, and the half-brother of the Lord Jesus. Jude is listed among Christ’s half-brothers in Mat 13:55 & Mark 6:3. Although, by his own statement, he intended to write a treatise on salvation, pressing circumstances required him to deal instead with the false teachers, Jude 3. Therefore, this letter was written to defend the apostolic faith against false teachings that were arising in the churches. Alarming advances were being made by an incipient form of Gnosticism, (not ascetic, like that attacked by Paul in Colossians), but antinomian. The Gnostics viewed everything material as evil and everything spiritual as good. They therefore cultivated their “spiritual” lives and allowed their flesh to do anything it liked, with the result that they were guilty of all kinds of lawlessness.
In Jude 14 & Jude 15, He quotes the pseudepigraphal apocalypse of 1 Enoch and in Jude 9 alludes to a reference in another pseudepigraphal book, The Assumption of Moses. This does not mean that he considered these books to be inspired as the canonical Scriptures were. Paul quoted from heathen poets without implying their inspiration, Acts 17:28; 1 Cor 15:33; Titus 1:12. Condemning the heretics in no uncertain terms, Jude exhorts his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith”, Jude 3.
The Prophetical Book:
That concludes the Epistles, and now we turn to the only book dedicated to prophecy in the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, even though the first three chapters are small letters to the “Seven Churches.”
Content: It was written by the Apostle John, while in exile on the Island of Patmos, during a period under the evil Roman emperor Domitian, (A.D. 81-96), when Christians were threatened by Rome to recant their faith and accept the cult of emperor worship.
It is the revelation of Jesus Christ, as He is the center of the entire book, Rev 1:1. It speaks of His risen glory Rev 1, as He directs His churches on earth, Rev 2-3. He is the slain and risen Lamb to whom all worship is directed, Rev 4-5. The judgments of the coming seven-year period of tribulation on earth are the display of the wrath of the Lamb, Rev 6-19, and the return of Christ to this earth is described in Rev 19:11-21. The Marriage of Christ to His bride the church is noted in Rev 19. The Millennial reign of Christ is described in, Rev 20, along with the Great White Throne Judgment of Unbelievers who are cast into the Lake of Fire. It ends with the creation of the new heavens and new earth in, Rev 21-22.
The Outline of the Book is indicated in, Rev 1:19.
The things that John had seen include:
- The vision of the risen Christ in Rev 1.
- “The things which are” is described in the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Rev 2-3.
- “The things which shall take place after these things” are the prophecies of Rev 4-22.
Interpretation of the Book:
There are four principal viewpoints concerning the interpretation of this book:
- The Preterist, which views the prophecies of the book as having been fulfilled in the early history of the church.
- The Historical, which understands the book as portraying a panorama of the history of the church from the days of John to the end of time.
- The Idealist, which considers the book a pictorial unfolding of great principles in constant conflict, without reference to actual events.
- The Futurist, which views most of the book, Rev 4-22, as prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
The futurist is the viewpoint we take, based on the principle of interpreting the text plainly and Dispensationally. The book is a revelation, or apocalypse, Rev 1:1, and as such is expected to be understood. Much of it is frighteningly clear. Some symbols are explained, Rev 1:20; 17:1, 15, others are not. It is always important to notice carefully the words “like” and “as”, Rev 6:1; 9:7, because they indicate a comparison, and not identification.