History of the New Testament

It seems in any faith based site like this one, this topic is a must. The Bible has been greatly misunderstood over the centuries and there are a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around. We will attempt to give you a good overview of the New Testament, its history and a description of the books contained in it.

The New Testament introduces the teachings and person/personality of Jesus Christ, and also chronicles a lot of events that happened at the time. The books were assembled during the council of Hippo in the year 393 and Carthage in 397 in North Africa. The canon was ratified by Pope Innocent in 405. The Old Testament canon was also ratified by these councils.

There is, and always will be, some debate as to exactly when these 27 books were written. Many scholars date all of the books as being written before 70 AD, but others have dated some of them as late as 115 AD or even later. It is unlikely we will ever know the exact date these letters were written. An author named Tertullian wrote a book called Against Marcion in 208 AD and he mentions both the Old and New Testaments in his book, concepts that were not formalized into precise books until almost 2 centuries later.

Even if the New Testament books were written as early as 70 AD, it is unlikely they were written by the authors they are attributed to. At the time there was very little written, and most stories and historical events were passed down by word of mouth. The events of Jesus were no exception. The books and letters were most likely penned by contemporaries of the Apostles who had heard the stories many, many times. Some might have even been there as young children to witness some of the events.

The New Testament can be viewed as four different groupings; the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation. We will examine each.

Each of the four Gospels describe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, though the book of Mark ends with the empty tomb and does not have an account of the resurrection or subsequent appearances. The Gospels were attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Matthew was one of the original Apostles. The book offers a genealogy of Jesus and covers events from His birth to the resurrection.

Mark was an evangelist whose book begins with the teachings of John the Baptist and ends with the resurrection.

Luke was not one of the twelve Apostles but is known to have been a physician and was to have traveled with the Apostle Paul. His book begins with the childhood of John the Baptist and Jesus, and ends with the resurrection and subsequent appearance of .

John was one of the original Apostles and his book is a list of seven miracles Jesus performed and ends with the resurrection ans subsequent appearance of Jesus.

Next is the book of Acts which basically chronicles the ministries of Peter and Paul after Christ’s death and resurrection. It is believed the same author wrote the Gospel of Luke based on writing styles, phraseology, and other evidence.

Then we have the Epistles. It is believed that these were mostly written by the name ascribed to them. For example the letters from Paul were actually written by Paul, or at least Paul oversaw their writing. Pauls letters were directed at one of three things;

  1. Romans is the longest and is a thorough directive on how to live and conduct ones life as a Christian. The difference between Romans and the next eight are that he had not been to Rome yet, so this was a summary of everything he had learned in his ministry up to that point.
  2. Eight of them were directed to churches he had started that were starting to have issues.
  3. The last four were directed at individuals he had traveled with or gotten to know and love (two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon)

The next Epistle is Hebrews. This was directed toward the Jewish people and argues that Jesus is the anointed one who was predicted in some of the Old Testament scriptures. The book discusses the superiority of the messages and lessons Jesus taught to the Mosaic-based leanings of traditional Jewish people. It was originally ascribed to Paul, but there are a lot of differences between this book and Paul’s other writings, so most scholars do not believe it was written by Paul.

The next set of Epistles exist in the form of letters written to the church as a whole by such authors as James, Peter(2), John(3) (the same John who wrote the Gospel of John), and Jude. These are instructional letters to the church. Authorship is not certain about a few of them, but scholars mostly believe they were penned by these people.

Finally we have the Book of Revelation, the final book in the New Testament. It has also been called the Apocalypse of John. It is commonly attributed to the Apostle John and was written on the island of Patmos, where John was imprisoned. It is here that the revelation was received. It is thought this was written either around 68 AD or somewhere between 80 and 96 AD. There is no way to be sure. Revelation begins with letters to seven churches in Asia Minor, then becomes an apocalypse, or revealing, of mysteries and prophesy. This style of writing was very popular in ancient Christian and Jewish circles.

There are at least 20,000 original ancient manuscripts that this book was assembled from. There are hundreds or thousands of each letter and book the Bible was produced from, some entirely legible and others damaged but partly legible. These have been painstakingly compared to see if there are deviations in writings attributed to an individual author. There are not. By way of comparison, there are a total of seven copies of Socrates’ writings.

In ancient times, lacking anything close to modern technology, every single copy of the Bible had to be hand-written. This process was taken very seriously, as from early on it was known that this was an opportunity to wind up with lots of disjoint copies. Every copy was proof-read to search for discrepancies, errors, or deliberate changes. There has never been a book so closely scrutinized as the Bible, not even close.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave in the West Bank in 1946, there was concern they would refute Biblical texts that had been in existence for centuries. These scrolls represented the remnants of large original manuscripts that had been damaged or destroyed by natural or human causes. However there were a number of well preserved intact manuscripts that had survived unscathed. Fewer than a dozen, but still some. Researchers spent a lot of time over the next decade combing through nearby caves and have assembled 960 manuscripts from 11 caves. Other items found in the caves, including coins, date back to 135 BCE. These are the second oldest manuscripts found, and represent by far the most usable material.