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Saturday, October 23, 2021

New Testament Summary

The author introduces the purpose and approach to writing the Book: An Introduction to the New Testament. The writer points out that the meaning of 'introduction' (Isagogics (from the Greek εἰσαγωγή) ) appears to have changed over time. Monk Adriannus (around 440) and Cassiodorus (around 570) used the word as interpreting the scripture from a collection of archaeological, geographical and historical items. The author focused on the 'investigation of the origin, composition, history and significance of the Bible as a whole or of its separate books'. Thus, the introduction investigates from a human perspective, the origin, composition, history and purpose of the Bible and their divine canonical and inspirational aspects.

Starting with the Gospels in General, the meaning of the title was explained to mean ‘the good news itself’. Clarified that all four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have been recognized by the early church, the unique nature of the Gospels and the relation of the Gospel of John to the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The fourfold face of the Gospel was expressed that it was important that the Gospel be presented in a fourfold fashion to meet the needs of four categories of people: the Jews, Romans, Greeks and Christians in future ages. Matthew in writing to the Jews presented Jesus as the Mighty King from the house of David; to the Romans, Mark presented Christ as the great Worker who conquered sin and evil; Luke while writing to the Greeks presented Christ as the perfect man who was also the universal Savior. John on the other hand while writing to those who were already saved but needed a deeper understanding of the character of Jesus, presented the divine nature of Christ and how God was glorified in his works. He explained the nature of Inspiration of the Gospels, comparing it with the nature of inspiration on the prophets of the Old Testament, identifying the differences and the canonical significance of the Gospels.

The Gospel of Matthew presents the coming of the Messiah, the open declaration of the Messiah’s kingdom, unique and open declaration of Messiahship, the Messiah’s priestly sacrifice and the victory of Messiah the Savior and King. The rather impersonal account contains a natural Jewish composition containing in the genealogy 'three groups of generations of fourteen each', seven beatitudes, seven requests in the Lord's Prayer, seven parables and seven woes on the Scribes and Pharisees. The narration is different from that of the other Synoptics, containing narrations not contained in the others: the Sermon on the Mount', instructions to the apostles, the Kingdom parables, the Church narrative, and the eschatological narrative of the final judgement. Further, some unique aspects are worthy of note. The Gospel has a Jewish focus more than the other Synoptics, with a message of restoration of the Jews, establishment of the Messiah and his Kingdom and restoring the throne of David. It also quotes extensively from the old testament, with 40 quotes (Mark contains 21 and Luke has 22).

Mark’s Gospel assigning to Jesus the person of a ‘Mighty Worker’ describes the coming, frictions, assertions, sacrifice and victory over death of a Mighty Worker. The Gospel is very descriptive and brings out details not expressed in other Gospels. These include the Christ's look of anger on the hypocrites, described in details the healing after the transfiguration, taking of little children in Jesus's arms, Jesus looking at the young ruler, loved him etc. It also expresses the mightiness of Christ by pointing to His mighty works and contains comparatively little of Jesus's teachings. References to the Old Testament prophecies are not prominent in Mark's Gospel. Many words that center on the Jews contained in Matthew are not found in Mark and several Jewish customs and Aramaic words are explained in this Gospel more than in Matthew. Further, Mark's writing and expressive style is also livelier than Matthew's. Mark's Gospel was written to Rome and the Romans. Jerome mentioned "the request of the brethren at Rome". Gregory Nazianzen stated that “Mark wrote his Gospel for the Italians.”. The fact that several Jewish customs and Aramaeic words are explained indicates it was not written to the Jews. Further, Roman approaches were used such as the Roman way of divorce, the Roman quadrans as an expression of monetary value, the assumed knowledge of Pilate etc. Iraneaus states that Mark wrote the Gospel after the death of Peter and Paul, although there were other dissenting voices such as Clement of Alexandria and Jerome who state that the Gospel was written before the death of Peter and it was published and distributed under the authority of Peter. The statement of Iranaeus is generally regarded as most reliable. Mark’s gospel was written between 67 and 70 A.D.

Luke’s Gospel referring to Jesus as the ‘Divine Man’ expresses the coming of the Divine Man, the work of the Divine Man for the Jewish World and Gentiles, the sacrifice of the Divine Man for all Mankind and the Divine Man as savior of all the Nations. Luke clearly wrote this Gospel to Theophilus, who was referred to as "most excellent Theophilus". It has been alluded to that it was written to not only this Greek Gentile Theophilus but also generally to Gentile readers to let them know 'the certainty of the things' on which they had previously been instructed. Therefore, the writer desired to make known the entire Gospel proofs by fully presenting right from the start a methodical account of everything that happened. These include the sayings of the Lord in their original context, more than the other Synoptics, thereby establishing certainty and supporting the reality of his statements with not only the names of the main characters in his Gospel history but also those connected with those accounts, the places and contextual timings. He also sought to present Christ in a way very acceptable to Greeks as a perfect man who was not only sympathetic, but was also a companion of the poor and afflicted; He was equally the Savior of the world seeking all those who were lost.

Eusebius stated that Clement of Alexandria received a tradition that "the Gospels containing the genealogies were written first". Theophylact was of the opinion that Luke's account was written fifteen years after the ascension of Christ. Euthymius agrees with this statement and Eutichius stated that Luke authored this Gospel in Nero's time. These positions imply the Gospel was written between 54 A.D. and 68 A.D. A lot of scholars believe it was written between 58 and 63 A.D. because: (i) It agrees with tradition, (ii) it explains why Luke was silent on the destruction of Jerusalem, and (iii) it aligns with how Acts was dated in 63 A.D. and why Luke did not say anything about Paul's death.

Tradition inclines towards Achaia and Boeotia as the place where this Gospel was written though some more recent guesses are 'Rome, Caesarea, Asia Minor, Ephesus and Corinth.

Luke's preface implies that he used both oral tradition and written sources. The written source is believed to be the Gospel of Mark, either in its existing for or an earlier rendition - 'the apostolic source Q or some διήγησις containing this' which may account for the source of the items with which this Gospel is aligned with Matthew and Mark. A third unknown source would account for the nativity story and the last journey to Jerusalem. Conclusively, (i) He must have gathered lots of information about oral tradition and from eye witnesses having been a companion of Paul for many years some of which period was in Palestine. (ii) During this His time in Palestine, he must have come across several Gospel facts. (iii) Luke most likely did not read the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, any semblance is most likely due to the Holy Spirit who inspired all the writers. Backed by tradition, even though the writer mentions his name, the early Church fathers are unanimous in ascribing authorship to Luke. Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianze, Jerome e.a. agree with the stance of Irenaeus when he stated that “Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him.”

The Gospel of John expresses the Advent and incarnation of the Word. The incarnate Word the only life of the world, The incarnate Word, the Life and Light in conflict with spiritual darkness, the incarnate Word saving the Life of the world through His sacrificial death, the incarnate Word risen from the dead, the Savior and Lord of all believers. Some things are worthy of note. Firstly, the Divinity of Christ is accentuated in the Gospel of John compared to the Synoptics. John starts out in the opening statement that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Himself proclaims His Divinity right from the start and the miracles lend credence to His Divine power: the nobleman's son was healed 'from a distance', the man by the pool of Bethesda had been sick for 'thirty-eight years'; the blind man that was healed 'had been born blind'; and Lazarus had 'lain in the grave four days'. Secondly, the teaching of Christ is pronounced in this Gospel and is different from that of the Synoptics: The person of the Messiah was the central theme of the long discourses here and not the Kingdom of God. Thirdly, the location of events are different in John's Gospel compared to the Synoptics. While the Synoptics narrate Christ's ministry in Galilee with Christ in Jerusalem only in the last week of His life, John's Gospel, Christ's work in Judea, especially in Jerusalem is the central focus. Fourthly, John's Gospel more clearly indicate the places and times the narrated events occurred, much more than the Synoptics. Places mentioned include Bethany, Bethesda, Cana, Jerusalem, Capernaum, Sychar, etc. The times of day were also recorded such as: 'A day later Christ called Phillip and Nathanael; 'on the third day, there was a marriage in Cana; at the seventh hour the nobleman's son was healed etc. Lastly, the writing style in John's Gospel is also different from the other three. It hardly contains any downright Hebraisms and its style resembles the Old Testament style of writing more than any other New Testament writing.

The Acts of Apostles set forth the establishment of the Church from Jerusalem and Antioch. The book was clearly written to Theophilus and possibly to a wider group of Greek readers to give them certainty of the things which they have been instructed regarding the things that Jesus began both to do and to teach through His Apostles. He expressed the advance of Christianity from Jerusalem, 'the center of Jewish Theocracy, to Rome, the political center of the world, thereby fulfilling Acts 1:8; and with Paul in Rome, the author felt his work was done. The book was most probably written in 63 A.D. in Rome.

The author discussed the Epistles in general, noting that Paul wrote thirteen (fourteen if Hebrews is included) of the Epistles in the New Testament.

The Epistle to the Romans contain both a doctrinal and practical aspect. The Epistle is systematic in composition, while focused on a single theme, also embodied guidance on practical applications. At its core, stated that God has provided a way of Salvation for both Jews and Gentiles to be justified by faith and not by works of the law. The style of writing is 'characterized by remarkable energy and vivacity'.

The first Epistle to the Corinthians condemns factions in the Church, the necessity of Church discipline, answered questions from the Church, explained the resurrection and concluded with admonition to give to the poor saints in Jerusalem and greetings. The Apostle comprehensively discussed several subjects, starting with the report he heard and went on to provide guidance about marriages, the unmarried, church discipline, Christian liberty and the resurrection from the dead. He also provided guidance for social relations for a Church emerging from idolatry and heathen practices to faith in a wicked city with enticing temptations. The author uses the Greek of a Hellenistic Jew in his discourse.

The second Epistle to the Corinthians reviewed Paul’s relations with the Corinthians, mention of the collection for the Christians in Jerusalem and Paul’s vindication of his Apostleship.  The Apostle having reflected on the contents of his first Epistle to his spiritual children had no rest in the spirit and was glad when he got tidings from Titus on how the Corinthians’ were faring, after understanding that they were saddened by his letter and had changed their ways. The second letter had a two-fold purpose to firstly, thank the Corinthians for how they received his previous letter and let them know that he was glad when they changed their ways and were filled with godly sorrow. Secondly, he felt it proper to defend his apostleship against the insinuations and accusations of the Judaeistic adversaries. The Epistle was written in Macedonia in the summer of A.D. 57.

In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul defends his Apostleship, the doctrine of justification and provided practical exhortations.

The Epistle to the Ephesians contains a doctrinal part on the unity of the Church and a practical part encouraging conversations worthy of the calling and unity of the readers.

The Epistle to the Philippians expresses Paul’s condition, encouragement to imitate Christ, Paul’s effort on behalf of the Philippians, warnings against Judaeism and Antinomian Error and final encouragements and greetings.

The other Epistles, pastoral, general Epistles were also analyzed similar to the above approaches.

 

Interpretation

Written primarily for his students, following as much as possible guidance from Dr. Kuyper in the Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, tearing both the human and divine sides of scriptures.

The author defined his scope of review in the introduction, to provide clarity on areas of coverage. It was defined as: the 'investigation of the origin, composition, history and significance of the Bible as a whole or of its separate books'. This approach was followed throughout the book for each of the New Testament writings and also general categories such as: The Gospels in General; The Epistles in General; The Epistles of Paul and The Pastoral Epistles. Each of them was investigated with regards to the areas mentioned above.  Under origin, the author considered the contextual and situational events about the writer and the audience that gave rise to the writing of the book or Epistle. He reviewed the Characteristics of the writing in terms of Jewish or Greek, Hellenistic leaning, references to the Old Testament, reliance on other books, arrangement, style of writing and focus of writing. For example in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the main characteristics were:

(i). The Epistle is notable for its apocalyptic contents as Paul reveals the return of Christ will be preceded with the revelation of the man on sin, the anti-Christ, the son of perdition, an instrument of Satan.

(ii). The Epistle shows a personal and practical nature of the Apostle with expressions of gratitude for their faith, endurance and encourages them like a father on proper behavior.

(iii). The writing style is simple and direct.

The history and significance of each book was considered. For example in the General Epistle of James, the following was observed:

The canonicity of this Epistle was initially in great doubt. It was not cited or contained in many of the early writings, such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian. It is omitted from the Muratorian Fragment. Some very uncertain allusions of it are thought to exist in the Clement of Rome, Hemas and Irenaeus. Eusebius mentioned that 'Clement commented on this Epistle, just as he did on the other general Epistles. Eusebius considers it to be part of the Antilegomena. Origen was the first to quote it and it is contained in the Peshito. Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianze recognized it and it was ratified by the third council of Carthage on A.D. 397.

The Epistle expresses the importance of having a vital faith that produces fruits of righteousness. Living the Christian life is what saves, not just the profession of Christ. Christians should focus on the perfect law and live thereby, overcoming temptations, being patient when going through trials, live in peace while avoiding envying and strife, show love, pray for one another and when going through challenges remember that the Lord is coming back soon.

The author considered the questions and positions of the critics, without allowing it to overshadow the sacred truth concerning the authenticity of the scriptures.

 

Conclusion

The Gospels are closely aligned with the Old Testament writings, explaining clearly the early aspects of the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to Christ.

The Gospel of Matthew serves as an important link between the Old and New Testaments as the Old Testament was about and was written to the Jews, the first book of the New Testament was also written to the Jews, putting forth the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies as fulfilled in the coming of the promised Messiah, 'the great divine King', whom the Church in all dispensations must submit to in awesome adoration.

Mark’s Gospel shows Christ with divine power, demolishing the works of the devil, and overcoming sin and death. It uniquely demonstrates the power of Christ in delivering those who are bound by the devil or suffering the harmful consequences of sin. Mark states the powerful Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Jesus) is coming with power which provides comfort to the church in all dispensations that our future can be entrusted to a mighty Conqueror who is able to save to the end.

Luke's Gospel presents Christ as one of the humans, 'the Seed of the woman' in coming to save not only Israel but also the Gentiles. He is presented as though perfect, was a friend of the poor, came to bring the sinners to himself and the Father with open arms, was friendly and helpful to the Samaritans, declaring that the blessings of the Gospel is universal. Its legacy is that whoever fears God and walks in righteousness will be accepted by God and Jesus our High Priest was also tempted and went through the things we are going through and will go through, albeit, He was without sin.

John’s Gospel teaches us that the promised Son of Man is the Son of God, expressed as the Word of God who became human as flesh like us. He came to do the will of the Father and returned to the glory he had before to send the Holy Spirit to be with His Church forever. Our relationship with Him will determine our eternal destiny.

Each book of the New Testament has its own unique purpose, exhortation, warning and encouragement similar to the gospel accounts above.

This culminates in the final book of the New Testament: Revelation, also known as the apocalypse because of its prophetic nature. It is a book of comfort and encouragement for the militant Church in its battles in this antagonistic world and against the kingdom of darkness. It redirects the believer from current struggles, pain and persecutions to the glorious future of joy.

Several references were made to the Old Testament in the New Testament, the New being a continuation and fulfilment of the Old. The New Testament is also historically supported by eye witness accounts and testimonies of acceptance by the early Church father's names and places where the events being attested to took place. These provide historical unshakeable evidence on which the statements of our faith is rooted and is based on. Further, the inspiration by the Holy Spirit in different individuals also allowed then to write congruent accounts for the Church in all ages.

The author also traced the response of the writers to questions being raised among the believers to assure present day believers that it is okay to have questions and have the questions answered by spiritual fathers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit based on inspired scripture. The suffering of believers was highlighted to assure current day believers that our momentary suffering will yield an enduring eternal weight of glory if we do not faint or give up.

The book has provided solid historical basis for the accounts in the New Testament, supported by witnesses, the stance of the early church, the early church fathers, and notable historians like Josephus to provide assurance of the authenticity of what Christians believe in. It is fact based. Not only were the events recorded and authenticated, these accounts were also inspired to provide a basis for relying on these records. The inspiration enabled the presentation of the accounts in a relatable manner for the Church of all ages, so we can say of Christ, together with Thomas “My Lord and my God”.