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New Testament

The New Testament is the name given to the part of the Christian Bible that was written after the birth of Jesus Christ. The term new testament means a new covenant and was originally used by early Christians to describe their relationship with God (see 2 Cor. 3:6-15; Heb. 9:15-20) and later to designate a particular collection of 27 books.

Table of contents

Books of the New Testament The 27 books of the New Testament were written by various authors at various times and places. Unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament was written in a narrow span of time, over the course of no more than a century. The following is a list of the New Testament books, followed by the author traditionally associated with that book.

The Gospels

The Gospels focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

History

The history of the early Christian church after the death of Christ is related here.

Epistles

The epistles contain various letters written either to individuals or early Christian congregations. Many of these epistles expound on important theological points and give insight into the developing Christian church.

Pauline Epistles

The Pauline Epistles (or Corpus Paulinum) constitute those epistles attributed to Paul. Their names are based on their destinations.

General Epistles

The General or Catholic Epistles are those written to the church at large. They are named after their traditional author. In medieval times, they were often collected, not with the Pauline epistles, but with Acts to form the Praxapostolos.

Prophecy

  • Revelation -- John "the Divine." Traditionally identified with the Apostle

Language The original text of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek and widely translated into other languages, most notably Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. However, many of the church fathers claimed that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, and some fathers contended that Paul wrote the Hebrews in Hebrew, which was translated into Greek by Luke. Neither view holds much support among modern scholars, since the Greek of Matthew and especially Hebrews is considered much too good to be a translation.

Authorship The New Testament was written by many different people. The traditional belief is that all the books were written by the apostles or their followers (e.g. Mark and Luke). Except for Hebrews, no serious question about the authorship of any of the books as listed above was raised prior to the 18th century.

Among the early Church fathers, there was controversy about the authorship of Hebrews, since it is the only anonymous epistle. Tertullian suggested that the author was Barnabas, but the prevailing view was that it was written by Paul and translated by Luke. Origen in the midst of this controversy proclaimed that "God only knows" who the author really was.

Date of Composition According to tradition, the earliest of the books were the letters of Paul, and the last books to be written are those attributed to John who lived to a very old age, around the year 100. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 185, stated that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written while Peter and Paul where preaching in Rome, which would be in the 60s, and Luke was written some time later. This dating continues to be supported by Evangelical scholars.

Other modern, critical scholars generally follow this outline, except for the epistles that they consider to be pseudepigraphical[?] (i.e. those thought not to be written by their traditional authors). For the Gospels, though, they tend to date Mark no earlier than 68, and Matthew some time between 70-85. Luke is usually placed in the 80-95 time frame. The earliest of the books of the New Testament was 1 Thessalonians, an epistle of Paul, written probably 51, or possibly Galatians in 49 according to one of two theories of its writing. Of the pseudepigraphical epistles, critical scholars tend to place them somewhere between 70 and 150, with 2 Peter usually being the latest.

However, John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (1976), proposed that all of the New Testament was completed before 70, the year the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed. Robinson argued that, because the destruction of the temple was prophesied by Jesus Christ in Matt. 24:15-21 and Luke 23:28-31, the authors of these and other New Testament books would not have failed to point out the fulfillment of this prophecy. Robinson's position is popular among some Evangelicals.

In the 1830s, German scholars of the Tübingen school dated the books as late as the third century, but the discovery of New Testament manuscripts dating as far back as 125 has called such late dating into question. Additionally, a letter to the church at Corinth in the name of Clement of Rome in 95, quotes from 10 of the 27 books of the New Testament, and a letter to the church at Philippi in the name of Polycarp in 120 quotes from 16 books.

The Canonization of the New Testatment In the first three centuries of the Christian Church, there was no firmly established New Testament canon that was universally recognized. The first attempt at compiling a canon was made by Marcion, but this was rejected when Marcion was branded a heretic by the church. His canon included only ten of the thirteen Pauline Epistles[?], and a version of the Gospel of Luke which had been altered. Around 200 the Muratorian Canon[?] was published. This was very similar to the modern canon, but also included the Wisdom of Solomon[?] (now part of the Apocrypha) and the Revelation of Peter[?], which was dropped when it was discovered that it was not actually written by Simon Peter, the apostle. The New Testament canon as it is now was first listed by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367, in a letter written to his churches in Egypt. That canon gained wider and wider recognition until it was accepted by all at the Third Council of Carthage in 397. Even this council did not settle the matter, however. Certain books continued to be questioned, especially James and Revelation[?]. Even as late as the 16th century, theologian and reformer Martin Luther rejected the Epistle of James.

Views on New Testament Authority All Christian groups esteeem the New Testament, but they differ in their understanding of the nature, extent, and relevance of that authority. Views of the authoritativeness of the New Testament are often bound up with the concept of inspiration, which relates to the role of God in the formation of the New Testament. Generally, the greater role of God in one's doctrine of inspiration, the more one affirms the Bible's infallibility, inerrancy, and authorititativeness.

One cause for confusion is that these terms are difficult to define, because many people use them with very different meanings or use them interchangeably. This article will use the terms in the following manner:

  • Infallibility relates to the correctness of the Bible in matters of doctrine.
  • Inerrancy relates to the correctness of the Bible in factual assertions (including historical and scientific assertions).
  • Authoritativeness relates to the correctness of the Bible in questions of practice and morality.

All of these concepts depend for their meaning on the supposition that the text of Bible has been properly interpreted, with consideration for the intention of the text, whether literal history, allegory or poetry, etc. Especially the doctrine of inerrancy is variously understood according to the weight given by the interpretor to scientific investigations of the world. A brief outline of these views in different Christian denominations follows.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

For Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, it is the Church itself that is infallible, rather than the Bible alone, because they view the Bible as the product of the Church. Accordingly, they place much emphasis on Tradition, which constitutes the collective teachings of the Church over the centuries including the historic interpretation of the Bible and its traditional liturgical usage.

The Roman Catholic view is expressed more clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):

§ 83: As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.
§ 107: The inspired books teach the truth. Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.

Protestantism

Following the doctrine of sola scriptura, Protestants believe that their traditions of faith, practice and interpretations carry forward what the scriptures teach - so that tradition is not a source of authority in itself. Their traditions supposedly derive authority from the Bible, and therefore they are continuously open to re-evaluation. This openness to revision of doctrine has extended in some Protestant traditions even to the re-evaluation of the doctrine of Scripture upon which the Reformation was founded: so that the belief is open to question, that the Bible is infallible in doctrine, inerrant in historical and other factual statements, and that it has uniquely divine authority. However, the kinds of adjustment made by modern Protestants to their doctrine of Scripture, vary widely .

Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestantism

On the conservative side of the spectrum, fundamentalists and evangelicals believe that the Scriptures are both human and divine in origin - human in their manner of composition, but divine in that their source is God, the Holy Spirit, who governed the writers of Scripture in such a way that they recorded nothing at all contrary to the truth, even in the very words they chose. Fundamentalists accept the enduring authoritativeness and unquestionability of a pre-scientific interpretation of the Bible, especially concerning such issues as the ordination of women, abortion, and homosexuality; whereas increasingly, evangelicals - while they overwhelmingly tend to oppose such things - are willing to consider that what the Biblical authors wrote even on subjects such as these may have been intentionally "culturally conditioned", and possibly subject to change along with cultural norms and scientific advancements. Fundamentalists may be described as "conservatives", whereas evangelicals might be better characterized as more flexibly "traditional", on these and other issues.

Both, fundamentalists and evangelicals profess belief in the inerrancy of the Bible; but the stronger emphasis on literal interpretation by fundamentalists has led to the rejection of many scientific theories such as evolution. Evangelicals, on the other hand, tend to avoid interpretations of the Bible that would necessarily conflict with generally accepted, scientific assertions of fact - not in such a way as to impute error to the authors, but rather entertaining various theories of literary intent, which might give credibility to human progress in knowledge of the world while still affirming the divine source of the Scriptures. While separation from the world and its influences is the primary message of the New Testament for fundamentalists, evangelicals vigorously pursue engagement in the culture with the goal of permeating society with the message of personal salvation through Christ.

The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy[1] (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt) (1978) is an influential statement, articulating evangelical views on this issue. Paragraph 4 of its summary states: Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

Mainline and Liberal Protestantism

Mainline Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church USA, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America[?], do not teach the doctrine of inerrancy as set forth in the Chicago Statement. All of these churches have doctrinal statements asserting the authority of scripture, but officially interpret these statements in such a way as to allow for a very broad spectrum of teaching, from evangelicalism to skepticism. It is not an impediment to ordination in these denominations, to teach that the Scriptures contain errors, or that the authors reflect a relatively benighted ethical perspective which, however appropriate it may have seemed in the authors' time, moderns would be very wrong to blindly follow. For example, ordination of women is universally accepted in the mainline churches, abortion is condemned as a grievous social tragedy but not always a personal sin or a crime against an unborn person, and homosexuality is increasingly perceived as a genetic propensity or morally neutral preference which should be neither encouraged nor condemned. The most contentious of these issues among these churches at the present time, is the degree to which ordination of gay men and lesbians should be accepted.

Officials of the Presbyterian Church USA report that: We acknowledge the role of scriptural authority in the Presbyterian Church, but Presbyterians generally do not believe in biblical inerrancy. Presbyterians do not insist that every detail of chronology or sequence or pre-scientific description in scripture be true in literal form. Our confessions do teach biblical infallibility. Infallibility affirms the entire truthfulness of scripture without depending on every exact detail.

Those who are more liberal view the Bible as the work of fallible humans who wrote from their limited experience, not unusual except for the insight which they have gained through their inspired struggle to know God in the midst of a troubled world. Therefore, they tend not to affirm such doctrines as inerrancy (which ironically, leads them to read certain passages far more literally than most evangelicals, so that the text is interpreted in a way that necessarily conflicts with a modern, scientific view of the world). These churches also tend to retain the social activism of their Evangelical forebears of the 19th century, placing particular emphasis on those teachings of Scripture which counsel compassion for the poor and concern for justice. The message of personal salvation is, generally speaking, derivative of the good that comes to oneself and the world through following the New Testament's Golden Rule and admonition to love others without hypocrisy or prejudice. Toward these ends, the "spirit" of the New Testament, more than the letter, is infallible and authoritative. As such, belief in the errancy of the words of Scripture is practically as religiously important to Protestant liberalism, as inerrancy is to its evangelical and fundamentalist counterpart.

External links and references


see: the Canon of Scripture, books of the Bible, Old Testament



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