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Alternate Lecture for: NT 600 New Testament Survey

Alternate Lecture for:
NT 600 New Testament Survey

by Timothy Kenney, PhD
"Overview of the New Testament"


The New Testament recorded the oral tradition of the Life and Teachings of Jesus, His Passion, Death and Resurrection, and the formation of the early Christian community, the Church. Whereas the Old Testament literature represents God's Covenant with His people, the New Testament becomes the "New Covenant" between God and His people. It is generally acknowledged to have been written by numerous authors between A.D. 48 and 140.

Organization and Overview

The New Testament is comprised of 27 separate works:

- The four narratives of Jesus Christ's ministry, called "Gospels";
- A narrative of the Apostles' ministries, which is also a sequel to the third Gospel, written by Luke;
- Twenty-one early letters, commonly called "epistles" in Biblical context, which were written by various authors and consisted mostly of Christian counsel and instruction;
- An Apocalyptic prophecy, which is also technically the twenty-second epistle.

These works are organized as follows:

- The Gospels and Acts:

Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke, Gospel of John, and Acts of the Apostles.

- Pauline Epistles:

Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians,
II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews.

- The universal or catholic Epistles:

James, I Peter, II Peter, I John, II John, III John, and Jude.

- And Revelation:

Book of Revelation

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The Four Gospels

The Four Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, proclaim the "Good News" of the coming of Jesus Christ. Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, called the Synoptic Gospels as they parallel each other, record Jesus teaching in Parables. Each of the Synoptics is noteworthy on their own, such as the Gospel of Matthew, which contains the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. The Synoptic Gospels also record Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:1, Mark 13:1, Luke 21:5-6), occasioned by the Romans in 70 AD. The Gospel of St. John is an unique spiritual and theological work. All four Gospels present the Miracles of Christ Jesus, and the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord. There are three stages in the development of the Gospel narrative: the teachings of Jesus himself; the oral tradition of the Apostles, who handed down the teachings of Jesus to the early Christian community, the Church; and finally, the inspired written Word of Scripture.

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The Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles is the second Book written by St. Luke, and describes the explosive growth of Christianity following the Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Acts describes the growth of the early Christian community, the Church, from Jerusalem and Antioch to Asia Minor and Rome, focusing primarily on the activities of Peter and Paul.

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The Pauline Works

The Pauline body of work begins in the New Testament with the Letter to the Romans, which emphasizes God's righteousness that saves all who believe in Jesus Christ. The letter begins and ends with the ideal Christian response to our merciful Saviour, "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, 16:26). First Corinthians gives us an insight into the early Christian community, and includes the beautiful passage on love. Second Corinthians is personal in nature and reveals much about Paul's character. We are reminded that God's grace is sufficient for us. The Apostle to the Gentiles emphasizes the way to salvation is through Christ and the Cross in Galatians. Ephesians is the Pauline letter on the Church. Paul's first Christian community were the Philippians, and the letter shows his great love for the Gospel and his converts. Colossians continues the discussion of the relationship of Christ and his Church. The first writings to become part of the New Testament were First and Second Thessalonians, written in 51 AD. First and Second Timothy and Titus are the Pastoral Epistles. He breathes love and equality into the ancient and accepted institution of slavery in the Letter to Philemon. The Letter to the Hebrews is an outstanding treatise on the priesthood of Jesus, who perfected Revelation and redeemed mankind by his one Sacrifice, which established God's New Covenant. Of the 14 letters of the Pauline corpus, all but the Letter to the Hebrews begin with the name of Paul. St. Jerome attributed Hebrews to Paul, when he translated the Greek version of the New Testament into Latin in the Fourth Century.

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The Seven Letters

The seven catholic or universal Letters of James (1), Peter (2), John (3), and Jude (1) are so called because they are addressed to all the Churches, unlike the letters of Paul, which are addressed to a particular community (Romans, Corinthians, and so on). They were open letters that concerned themselves with different themes pertinent to Christians. The Letter of James emphasizes that faith without works is dead. First Peter shows us the mission of the early Church in the midst of a hostile society, and provides direction for Christian behavior in the world. Second Peter offers Peter's witness to the Transfiguration of Jesus, commentary on interpretation of Scripture, and speaks of the Parousia. First John expresses God's love and forgiveness in the face of the universality of sin, and asserts the humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Second John also serves as a warning against heresy in the early Church, while Third John is a valuable testimony to the fidelity of the early Christian communities. The Book of Jude gives encouragement to fidelity in the Christian faith and notes the moral implications of the Gospel message. The mysterious Book of Jude also describes a phenomenon noted in some anesthetic patients with near-death experiences: "They are like wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shameless deeds, wandering stars for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved forever" (Jude 1:13).

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The Apocalyptic Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation is the final Book of the New Testament, and is apocalyptic in nature. The Book of Revelation is at once frightening, as it speaks of the rise of the antichrist and the end of the age, dramatic as it describes the final battle of good and evil, and, above all, optimistic, as it points to the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil and the dawn of a new creation. Written by John, it has fascinated readers for centuries, as it prophesizes about the End Times, a time which may be drawing near.

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Old Testament References in the New Testament

The New Testament writers accorded to the Old Testament the value of Divine Revelation. They proclaimed this revelation found its fulfillment in the life, in the teaching, and above all, in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, source of forgiveness and of everlasting life. They frequently drew upon the Old Testament writings, primarily to confirm Jesus Christ as the Messiah, or to serve as a source for moral instruction, or for the interpretation of events. For example, when referring to Christ, Paul called Adam "a type of the one who is to come" (Romans 5:14). In Hebrews 12:24 the blood of Abel speaks to the "blood of Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant." Peter saw the flood during the times of Noah as a figure of baptism (1 Peter 3:20-21). In a direct quotation, the Gospel writer acknowledged the source, and directly quoted the Old Testament, as Matthew 1:22, after Jesus is born of the virgin Mary, quoted Isaiah 7:14 that prophesized the Messiah will be born of a virgin. An example of moral instruction would be Mark 10:2, when Jesus quoted Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in his instruction on marriage. Paul explained Christ's reception of Gentiles by referring to multiple sources such as Isaiah 11:1 in Romans 15:8-12. An allusion occurs when an obvious Old Testament source is woven in the text without acknowledging the source, such as Paul who refers to Genesis 3:15 in Romans 16:20, and John who refers to that "ancient serpent" of Genesis 3 in Revelation 12:12. And finally the source may be unknown, as Matthew 2:23, when he refers to the prophecy, "He shall be called a Nazarene." In addition, New Testament writings were considered Scripture as well in the beginnings of the Church (1 Timothy 5:18, 2 Peter 3:16).

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The Church Chose the Books of the New Testament as Inspired Word of God

The Tradition of the Church Fathers was important to the early Church, for they were the ones who had an important role in the process of the formation of the canon of the New Testament, as well in the interpretation of Scripture. Irenaeus of Lyons around 180 AD was among the first to propose a canon for the New Testament. Three Fathers of the Church - Athanasius of Alexandria in his Letter of 367, Jerome at Bethlehem in 384, and Augustine at the Synod of Hippo in 393 - agreed 27 Books were the inspired Word of God. The Canon of the New Testament was confirmed at the Synod of Carthage in 397 AD.

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