What is the New Testament?
The New Testament tells about Jesus and how to know him. It encourages, corrects, and inspires believers.
Doug Britton, MFT
The New Testament – Introduction and history
After Jesus rose from the dead, some of his followers wrote letters, a history, and four “gospels.” You can see by the following verse that some were shared between the early churches.
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16)
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Eventually these writings were gathered together to make the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. In the following centuries, various groups of church leaders met to “canonize,” that is, to confirm, that the twenty-seven books were from God. The councils also determined that no other writings should be included. The most important canonization was by the Council of Carthage in AD 397.
The New Testament – Brief overview
The New Testament tells us about Jesus’ life, how to be born again, how to grow closer to God, how to conduct ourselves in church, and how to love others. It also warns us to live godly lives, explains important doctrinal issues, and gives prophecies of future events.
Although we should read the Old Testament, we should put special emphasis on the New Testament since it was written to Christians, encouraging them and giving them instructions for the new type of relationship they had with God.
Make it personal
1. How many books are in the New Testament?
2. Have you read the New Testament, either all of it or part of it? If so, what did you learn? Was it helpful?
Brief description of the books in the New Testament
The first four books
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are known as the four gospels. Each one gives an account of Jesus’ life and teachings from a different perspective.
Luke, the author of “Luke,” explained his motivation to give an accurate account of Jesus’ life. (Notice that although God used Luke to write the gospel, he had Luke use his investigative abilities.)
With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4)
The gospels introduce us to the sacrifice Jesus made so that we could be “born again” and have an intimate relationship with God. When Jesus took our sins upon himself, he radically changed the relationship between us and God.
Make it personal
3. Have you read any (or all) of these four gospels? If so, which one(s)?
4. What is one thing you read that impacted you personally?
The next book
Acts describes some of the history of the early church, with a special emphasis on the activities of Peter and Paul. It also shows how the Holy Spirit moved within the early church and directed people at key times.
Make it personal
5. Have you read Acts? If so, talk about one event in it that inspires you to make a difference in this world for God.
6. What are some ways the Holy Spirit was active in Acts?
The following twenty-one books
The next books are letters written by Paul and others to help Christians know God’s holiness, love, and power; to correct false doctrines; and to instruct, encourage, correct, and inspire their audiences.
Some were named after the authors, and some were named after the group of people to whom they were written. For example, Ephesians is a letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus.
The letters were originally sent to specific recipients, and then some were passed around before being gathered together into the Bible.
Make it personal
7. Which of these books have you read?
8. What are some ways they have spoken to your heart or impacted your life?
The last book
Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, is also a letter. Like the other letters, it instructs, encourages, corrects, and inspires its readers. It also describes a vision given to the apostle John of heaven and end-time events, often using figurative language.
Does the New Testament apply to us?
The first four books in the New Testament quote many things Jesus said, and almost all of them directly apply to us. A few things he said to individual people (for example, the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22) are not absolute commandments to everyone, although they illustrate important principles that we need to pray about.
It’s good to remember that Jesus often taught using stories, figures of speech, and parables. At these times, such as when he said to pluck out your eye if it offends you (Mark 9:47), he was emphasizing an important point (the importance of dealing with sin), not saying to literally to pluck out your eye.
The letters in the New Testament were written to Christians, and they apply directly to us. As in the gospels, some of the passages contain instructions or answers that apply to specific situations (for example, Paul’s request for his cloak in 2 Timothy 4:13), but even in these unique situations we can learn something.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
What do you think?
9. Why did God prompt his followers to write the New Testament?
10. What would have happened to believers without the letters and eventually the New Testament?
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitudes in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)
1. Why was the New Testament written?
2. Who wrote the most letters in the New Testament? How many did he write?
3. Would you agree that although we should read the Old Testament, we should put special attention on the New Testament? Why or why not?
4. Read Colossians 3:16. What does it mean to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”?
5. When we read words clearly written to specific individuals (such as the Ephesians), can we learn from them? Why or why not?
6. What are the names of the four gospels?
7. What do the four gospels have in common?
8. What would have happened to believers without the letters and eventually the New Testament?
9. How often do you read the New Testament?
a. Do you think you should read it more often? If your answer is “yes,” when would be the easiest time for you to read?
b. Say a brief prayer asking God to help you put this into practice.
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About Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.