Understanding the New Testament Bible Introduction Format and Structure

While the Holy Bible is the principal text read and studied by all Christians, few people really  understand much of its structure, aside from the fact that there is an Old Testament and a New Testament. Many young people might find it confusing as they set out on developing their faith and have questions, questions that might bring about doubt. Such as:

  • What is the difference between the Old and New Testament?
  • How and why was it structured the way it was?
  • Who decided what should be included and what shouldn't?
  • How was the New Testament assembled

We hope with a better understanding of this, will help those with questions have a clearer understanding of their faith. 

Old Testament vs. the New Testament

One of the first questions people wonder is what is the difference between the Old and New Testament. Simply put, the Old Testament is based on the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament is devoted to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. While it is commonly known that the Bible is the word of God, what should actually be included within it involved a great deal of discussion and debate. In fact, there is quite a bit of religious literature, including some gospels, that were intentionally excluded from the Bible after considerable debate by church fathers. So while the bible may be considered the word of God, it can also be viewed as a document assembled through extensive debate.

The Structure of the New Testament

The new testament consists of 27 books, broken down into: the Historical Books, the Pauline Epistles, and the General Epistles.

The Historical Books - the Historical Books of the New Testament are the four Gospels ( the Gospel According to Mathew, The Gospel According to Mark, The Gospel According to Luke, The Gospel According to John — and the Book of Acts.) These book/chapters together inform us of the story of Jesus and His Church. Essentially, they collectively offer a framework by which you can understand the rest of the New Testament, as they provide the foundation of Jesus’ ministry.

The Pauline Epistles - The word epistles simply means letters. Many are unaware that a large portion of the New Testament consists of 13 important letters that were written by the Apostle Paul approximately in the years 30 to 50 CE. Some of the letters were written to individuals, others to various early Christian church groups. Together, they form the historical basis of Christian principles upon with the entire Christian religion is founded. 

The Pauline Epistles to Churches include: 

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians

The Pauline Epistles to individuals​ include: 

  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon

The General Epistles - These epistles/letters were written to a different people and churches by several different authors. They like the Pauline Epistles provided instruction to those people, and they continue to offer instruction to Christians today. These are the books in the category of General Epistles:

  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation

How was the New Testament assembled

The New Testament is a collection of religious works written by early members of the Christian Church in Greek. However, not necessarily by the actual authors to whom they are attributed. You see, the opinion of most people is that most of the 27 books of the New Testament were written in the first century CE, although some were likely written as late as 150 CE. 

In fact, many believe that the Gospels, for example, may not have been written by the actual disciples, but instead by individuals who were transcribing the accounts of the original witnesses passed along by word of mouth. Since many scholars believe that the Gospels were actually written at least 35 to 65 years after Jesus' death, it is unlikely that the disciples themselves wrote the Gospels. Instead, they were more likely written by dedicated anonymous members of the early Church. 

The New Testament has evolved into its now current form over time, as various collections of writings were added to the official canon by group consensus (though not always unanimous consensus). This occurred during the first four centuries of the Christian Church.

The four Gospels we now find in the New Testament (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) are only four among many such gospels that exist, some of which were deliberately excluded. 

One of the more famous among the gospels that was decided not to be included in the New Testament is the Gospel of Thomas, which offers a different view of Jesus, and one that conflicts with the other gospels. The Gospel of Thomas has received much attention in recent years. 

Even some of the Epistles of Paul were disputed, with some letters omitted by early church founders and considerable debate regarding their authenticity of them even taking place. There are still discussions over whether Paul was actually the author of some of the letters that are included in today's New Testament. 

Finally, the Book of Revelation though popular today, was hotly disputed for many years. It wasn’t until about  400 CE that the Church reached a consensus on a New Testament that contains the same 27 books we now accept as being included and official.

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