Matthew is the first of the four gospels of the New Testament. Largely narrative material, this first gospel serves as the connection between the Old and New Testaments, providing an understanding of how Jesus fulfilled all the various prophecies about his coming that are found in the Old Testament. Possibly written in the A. D. 70s, though some believe it could have been written ten to twenty years earlier, the gospel of Matthew covers the entire p of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, concluding with Jesus giving the disciples their mission of going out and spreading the word of God.
Geared primarily towards Jewish readers, the goal of the text was to provide them with irrefutable proof that the long-awaited Messiah had come to usher in the kingdom of God on Earth. Mark The second of the four gospels, the gospel of Mark is largely narrative and goes at a fast pace. Unlike the gospel of Matthew, which begins with the birth of Jesus and progresses through his life, Mark begins with John the Baptist prophesying about Jesus, followed by the baptism of Jesus by John. It progresses from this point on to the end of his life.
The focus of the text is on the many parables Jesus told and the miracles he performed during his period of ministry, which lasted a total of three years. The text was written by John Mark, son of a widow in Jerusalem whose home was most likely a meeting place for early Christians, who got his information from the disciple Peter. Written possibly as early as A. D. 50 and as late as A. D. 65, the text has a distinctly non-Jewish feel to it, and thus may have been written for Christians in Rome.
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Mark wrote it with the goal of offering encouragement to these Christians, who were suffering at the hands of the Romans, particularly the emperor. Mark, through his writings, presents Jesus as the suffering Messiah, as well as the Savior of the entire world, regardless of race or religion. Luke The third of the four gospels, the gospel of the Luke is largely narrative, and is the most elaborate in regards to the details of the life of Jesus. It begins with the prophecy regarding the birth of John the Baptist, progressing from that point on to the events surrounding the birth, life, and death of Jesus.
Luke has the widest range of information with regard to the parables, miracles, and teachings of Jesus. Some of the more familiar parables include the parable of the sower, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the prodigal son, and the parable of the ten talents. Some of the more familiar miracles include the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant, the feeding of the five thousand, the transformation of water into wine, the raising of Lazarus, and the raising of daughter of Jairus. Possibly written between A. D. 59 to 63, or maybe fifteen to twenty years later, the goal Luke had in writing this gospel was to put forth the message that the love of God is not just for Jews, but for everyone who believes in him. John The final of the four gospels, the gospel of John is largely narrative. It is believed that it was written sometime between A. D. 80 and 95. However, there are those who believe that it was written as early as the A. D. 50s and no later than A. D. 70. Like Mark, John begins his gospel with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, and progressing from this point on up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Written at a time when non-Jewish followers of Jesus were being bombarded with the Greek theory that Jesus was divine but not truly human, the purpose of this gospel being written was so that the people would believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God, and that he was the word made into flesh. One particular aspect that sets this gospel apart from the other three is the inclusion of several sermons Jesus gave during his three-year ministry, none of which are found in the other three gospels.
Acts Written by Luke around A. D. 63 to 70 to Theophilus, who may have been a particular person or a reference to the Christians in general, the book of Acts is largely historical narrative written in the form of a letter. Covering the period from Pentecost, as well as the early stages of the disciples going out and preaching the word of God, the text can be viewed as the sequel to the Gospels. Within it is an explanation by Luke regarding the incredible growth of the early Christian church, as well as a discussion regarding the source of conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians, both of whom would be brought together eventually through their mutual love of Christ.
One of the key events within the text is the martyrdom of the disciple Stephen, now known as Saint Stephen. He is one of many that Luke writes about who die for their belief in Christ. Romans The book of Romans is the first of thirteen letters, or epistles, written by the apostle Paul to various non-Jewish Christian communities, in which he offers them advice and expounds on the teachings of Christ. Written sometime in A. D. 57, and largely narrative conversation, it was geared to the mostly Gentile followers of Christ living in Rome.
His goal in writing this particular letter was three-fold. First, he wanted to introduce himself to the Christian community in Rome and garner their help in spreading the gospel. Second, he wanted to develop, expand, and defend the gospel message he was preaching. Finally, he wanted to encourage the Roman Christians to depend solely on God for their salvation. In this way, they would better realize and understand that they can become righteous and be transformed through believing in Christ. To that end, the main themes of the text are faith, grace, righteousness, and justification.
As a result, this text best serves those seeking spiritual renewal, and played a pivotal role in the development of the belief held by Martin Luther – that faith alone justifies – and thus in the Protestant Reformation, which forever changed Christianity. 1 Corinthians The second of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, Paul wrote this letter to the Christian community in Corinth around A. D. 54 to 55. Within two to three years after starting the Christian community in Corinth, Paul got word that there was a great deal of strife within the young church.
There were those who had become spiritually arrogant, which in turn led to problems such as sexual misconduct, mistreatment of fellow believers, abuse of spiritual gifts, and a general misconstruing of the basic teachings of Christ. Thus, Paul wrote this letter to help restore balance to the young Christian community, giving them simple and straightforward advice on what needed to be done to restore unity within their church. Thus, the text contains information concerning Christian living, relationships within the church, spiritual gifts, love, and the teachings of Christ – all of which are still relevant today.
The third of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, this was a follow-up letter written to the Corinthian Christian community around A. D. 55. Due to an uprising within the community, Paul felt obliged to write this letter to accomplish the following: the calming of various disagreements within the community, the restoration of unity within the community, and the reestablishment of Paul’s role as the leader of the community.
Various themes covered in the text include the following: how to handle dissension within the church, false teaching, church leadership, the plight of other Christian communities, and financial support of the church and the poor. Paul also discusses the hopes, fears, and assurances he has for the Corinthian church and their relationship with God. Galatians The fourth of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, the letter was written by Paul to the Christian community in Galatia, a Roman province in what is now central Turkey. Written around A. D. 48 to 53, just under 25 years after Jesus was on Earth, the letter was meant to denounce and correct the false teachings cropping up in the churches that Paul and his fellow disciple – Barnabas – had established. The letter was also written by Paul as a method of defending his integrity as an apostle of Christ, which had been questioned and attacked, and also to reassert the love he had for the Galatians. This text goes back to the basics of Christianity and its teachings, focusing on what the gospel is, how it is received, and how it can be applied to daily living.
Paul accomplishes through a variety of techniques, such as illustrations from his life and that of Abraham, to encourage the Galatians to return to the pure gospel and avoid the legalism that false teachers were pushing on them. Ephesians The fifth of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, it was written by Paul sometime during his imprisonment in Rome, around A. D. 60 to 62. The goal was to provide encouragement to the Christians of Ephesus to view themselves in a whole new way.
They had once been idol-worshipers, involving in pagan activities and adhering to foolish philosophies. Now, Paul wanted them to realize that they were people in Christ. The text provides insight into what God wants for his followers, stresses unity within the church and among its believers, and provides the usual practical advice with regard to Christian living. Philippians The sixth of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, it was written by Paul around A. D. 60 to 62, while Paul was under house arrest awaiting trial regarding an appeal to the Emperor Nero.
Philippi was the first place in European that Paul had begun a church, sometime around A. D. 50. He eventually moved on, but the people continued to express their devotion to him by offering aid to him whenever they could. Thus, when he was under house arrest, they sent him money to help with his living expenses. The letter was written to thank them for the help, as well as to warn them against false teachers and to urge them to be more unified. The text also contains one of the most prominent psalms of the Bible regarding praise to and for Jesus (2:5-11).
Finally, it contains practical advice to help one reshape his or her thinking according to the ways of God. Colossians The seventh of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, it was also written during the time Paul was under house arrest. Geared toward the small Christian community founded by Epaphras, one of Paul’s disciples, in the small city of Colosse, the goal of the letter was emphasize the supremacy of Christ, which was being challenged by the appearance of a new religious philosophy called Gnosticism.
This new philosophy was a mixture of Christian, Jewish and pagan beliefs that were beginning to take hold. Paul’s intention was to make it clear that the nature, identity, deity, and authority of Christ were unquestionable and unparalleled. Other aspects also touched on in the text include the various ways that one can develop and maintain attitudes and actions that honor Christ. 1 Thessalonians The eighth of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, this letter was written by Paul sometime around A. D. 50 to the Christian community in Thessalonica.
Founded during his second missionary journey, Paul had been forced to leave the community due to violence and opposition against him. When he later received news of how well the community was thriving, he wrote this letter to them to commend them on their success, but also to advise them to clear up any misunderstandings that existed. The text thus provides guidelines on how Christians can live a holy life even if surrounded by hostility to their religious beliefs. It also touches on the aspect of eternal life, offering clues about the end times and the return of Christ to the Earth.
The ninth of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, this second letter was written not too long after the first. Paul wrote it due to the impression he got that the Thessalonicans needed an extra dose of his advice with regard to their community. Several themes are touched upon in this letter: suffering, work, and the end times. This letter, in conjunction with the first one, provide for Christians then and now, a great deal of information with regard to what will happen in the end times.
It could be said to be a precursor to the book of Revelations, which goes into greater detail about the end times. Finally, the text reminds all Christians that, though our earthly life is terminal, we have the hope of living eternally with Christ. 1 Timothy The tenth of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, this letter is different in that it was geared toward on specific person rather than a whole community. Timothy was a protege of Paul’s, and was now the leader of a small Christian community that was going through difficult times.
Written shortly after Paul was released from jail sometime around A. D. 63 to 65, the letter offered Timothy specific guidelines on how to organize and run the church, as well as offered various practical solutions with regard to believers developing stronger relationships among themselves, as well as with their leaders and the world at large. Thus, the ultimate theme of the text is that a church requires unity in order to survive and prosper. 2 Timothy The eleventh of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, this second letter to Timothy was written around A. D. 66 to 67, when Paul was once again in a Roman prison. This time, however, it was clear he would die in that prison. As a result, many of the people who had supported him had now turned away from him. This letter, then, is considered to be one of the last written by Paul. In it, he demonstrates his concern not just for Timothy, but also for the Christian churches overall. He offers encouragement to the faithful, discusses various teachings of Christ and events that will occur in the last days of time, and ends with him giving Timothy his assignment – to spread the word of God – and closing remarks.
The twelfth of thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, it was written to Titus by Paul sometime between A. D. 63 to 65, during his travels following his first release from prison. Titus was a protege of Paul, and had helped him start, organize, and lead several churches throughout the eastern half of the Roman Empire. The letter contains advice for Titus, who was now a young leader of a troubled church on the island of Crete. In it, Paul tells Titus to refute and ignore all false teachers, to work for the unity of his church, and to find good leaders for the church.
It also provides guidelines for living a godly life, and emphasizes the power of faith with regarding to overcoming the problems of division and disharmony within the church. Finally, it puts forth the point that does who persevere in the face of difficulty will reap the benefits and rewards of their perseverance. Philemon The last of the thirteen letters offering advice and expounding on the teachings of Christ, it was written to Philemon by Paul between A. D. 60 and 62, while he was in prison. Philemon was a wealthy Christian who was part of the church at Colosse. One of his slaves – Onesimus – had run away from him.
This same slave had come in contact with Paul while both were in a Roman prison. While there, Onesimus became a follower of Christ. After this, Paul decided to send the young man back to his former master, along with this letter asking for Philemon to forgive Onesimus. The hope Paul had was that Philemon would become a living example of the grace that all Christians receive through Christ. Thus, the text provides a riveting tale of the cost of asking for and granting forgiveness. It also demonstrates how important it is for Christians to realize they are all equal and acceptable in the eyes of Christ.
Hebrews is the first of eight additional letters within the New Testament. Written between A. D. 60 and 70, the author is not identified. Possible suggestions could be Paul, Barnabas, Luke, or Apollos. The purpose of the letter was to warn the early Jewish believers in and followers of Christ, who were suffering continual persecution, against reverting back to their Old Testament way of life. Throughout the letter, the author uses vivid illustrations from the Old Testament to demonstrate what God had done through Christ.
There are strong emotional appeals to the Hebrews, the name initially used to refer to the Jews before they were called Israelites, to maintain the new covenant they had with Christ rather than revert back to the old one that had been made in the days of Noah, Abraham, and Jacob. These various connections and contrasts between the Old and New Testaments are meant to demonstrate the superiority of Christ and the new covenant made with him. Ultimately, the letter is meant to inspire all who read it to maintain their faith in Christ in all situations.
James is the second of eight additional letters within the New Testament. It is possible that this was the first book of the New Testament to have been written, sometime between A. D. 40 and 50. The letter was geared to the twelve tribes, and this could mean either the people of Israel that had now become followers of Christ or the church in a symbolic sense. It was meant to warn them against some of the habits they had developed which were undermining them: favoritism, slander, pride, the misuse of wealth, and impatience.
The ultimate goal of the letter was to demonstrate that, though one can believe in Christ, it is still possible to live the wrong way. However, it also shows that it is possible to turn belief in the right doctrine into right living. 1 Peter This first letter written by Peter is the third of eight additional letters within the New Testament. Composed sometime between A. D. 60 to 64, and geared to the Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the letter was meant to encourage the early Christians in the face of the continual persecution they were facing.
This persecution had scattered them, thus spreading their belief in Christ; however, some were beginning to feel abandoned by God. To understand why they would feel this way, the letter must be placed in its historical setting. When Christianity first emerged, the Roman government had allowed early Christians the same type of religious freedom they allowed the Jews. However, as tensions grew between Jewish and Christian beliefs, the tolerance for Christianity began decreasing. This decreased tolerance led to the Roman government’s persecution of Christians, including Peter, who endured imprisonment and beatings for his faith.
Thus, the goal of the letter is to demonstrate how faith is tested through suffering and can be strengthened by it. 2 Peter This second letter written by Peter is the fourth of eight additional letters within the New Testament. It was geared to the same people – Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor – and was written in Rome sometime between A. D. 64 and 68. This time, the purpose of the letter was to warn the people against false teachers that had begun to infiltrate various Christian communities.
In doing so, Peter hoped that the warning would prevent the Christians from being taken in by the false teachings, and instead remain true and faithful to the word of God. Several key themes can be found throughout the letter: the need and importance of developing a Christian character, the importance of holding on to the truth, warnings against false teachers and prophets, and advice on how to live a life that is based on the return of Christ to Earth. 1 John The first of a series of letters written by John, who also wrote one of the four gospels, it is the fifth of eight additional letters within the New Testament.
Written sometime in the A. D. 80s, when John was an old man, the letter was geared to a group of Christian communities near Ephesus. These communities were part of a springing up of Christian communities emerging after the first major wave of persecution Christians endured during the rule of the Roman Emperor Nero. Possibly the last surviving apostle, John wrote this to encourage these new Christian communities, and also as a sort of history and examination of the gains and losses of the early Christian church.
Some of the themes covered in the letter include the following: the fact that God is the light and his followers must walk in that light to maintain a bond with him; loving your fellow man as Christ taught; having faith in the Son of God – Christ; and avoidance of anything that attempts to refute the teachings of God. He concludes by restating that Christians are the children of God, and that through Christ, we have an understanding of who God is and of the promise of eternal life he offers to those who believe in him.
The second of a series of letters written by John, it is the sixth of eight additional letters within the New Testament. It was most likely written shortly after the first letter, and was most likely meant to accompany the first letter. His goal in writing it was to help renew the commitment the Christians made to follow Christ by further exposure of false teachings, and to also encourage them to remain faithful to God. Thus, many of the themes covered in the first letter are touched on within this short follow-up letter.
Also, it is something of a challenge to those who believe in God to make sure they are firm in their faith. 3 John The last of a series of letters written by John, it is the seventh of eight additional letters within the New Testament. It was most likely written shortly after the second letter. However, unlike the first two geared to Christian communities in general, this letter is written specifically to Gaius, a friend of John’s. The letter served to commend Gaius for his faithful support of legitimate teachers, while warning him against the actions of a strong-minded leader by the name of Diotrephes.
Again, many of the same themes touched on in the first letter are touched on in this letter. However, the primary focus is on walking in the light of God and living according to his teachings. Jude The last of eight additional letters, it was written by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus and full brother of James. Composed sometime around A. D. 65 or possibly earlier, Jude wrote it because he was concerned about the possibility of Christians being drawn to and taken in by the many false doctrines being put forth at the time.
Therefore, he urged beliefs to maintain and fight for the Christian faith. Although brief, the letter provides direct warnings against turning away from God, while also touching on the many promises a life lived in the word of God can offer. Revelation The final book of the New Testament, and of the Bible as a whole, this was most likely written by John sometime around A. D. 90 to 96. The book went to the seven Christian communities located in Asia Minor, to warn them against letting go of their faith in Christ.
It also reassured them of the ultimate victory of those who remain faithful over those who choose to live immorally. The text is considered to be apocalyptic narrative, due to its many prophecies. There is a great deal of imagery and symbolism, which are used to demonstrate how evil within the world will be replaced with the good and peacefulness of the kingdom of God. Thus, the ultimate message is that, ultimately, good will defeat evil, and the world will revert back to what it had been before Adam and Eve committed the first sin.
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