Overview: The events recorded in the section of the Bible we refer to as the New Testament (NT) were recorded during the last years of the global kingdom known as the Roman Empire. The writings of the NT must be considered in light of the people, government, laws, religions, cities and politics of the Day. No one should think to pick up the diary of Anne Frank and expect to see Nazi Germany marching outside their door. Without an understanding of who the letters of the Bible were written to and the perspective of the ancient Jewish people of those days, no one should expect to pick up the Bible and think that the Roman army is a threat to us or that only the Jews are God’s chosen people. Without context no one should think to understand all that the NT has to offer. But in context much can be known about God’s will for all mankind. Remember, the Bible was not written to us but we can be assured it was written for us.
To briefly rehearse what has been said about the division of the NT: there are four sections. The gospels deal with the life and teachings of the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua or as we have translated His name, Jesus. Four men wrote from their knowledge of the man who claimed to be the King of the Jews. At least two were eyewitnesses to his ministry; Matthew who was listed among the Apostles and John (most likely the man Lazarus). Luke also recorded what he had learned from those who knew Jesus personally. Mark may have been related to Peter or was certainly a son in the faith (1 Peter 5:13). Likely, Mark was John Mark; a cousin to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and companion of Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary tour of the ancient world (Acts 13:1-3).
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles is a history of the growth of the kingdom of God as it spread from Jerusalem and to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8). The gospel is preached. Many repent. All who are saved from sin and the judgment that was about to come upon the world were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins – a tradition that continues among the churches of God to this day.
Writings of the Apostles
The letters or “Epistles” were letters written by Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and James. The letters were written to specific, poorly organized congregations who held strongly to the strong belief that Jesus Christ was soon to return to gather them to his spiritual dwelling. Some letters were to be circulated among the churches of Christ (Colossians 4:16). Contained in these documents were the beliefs, habits, traditions and way of living for those who had committed themselves to the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles.
We find no legal mandates in the NT as are found in the OT. The only laws mentioned is the law of faith (Romans 3:27-28), the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Romans 8:2-4), the law of love, the law of freedom (James 1:22-26) and the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-3). The NT is recognized as a legal will. That will makes all who believe in Jesus’ act of redemption – free from legal demands. The law of faith nullifies legal perfection as a requirement before God. Instead, Christ becomes the legal perfection that God required in order to reconcile the human race to himself. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ states that Christ is the end of legal demands for all those who have faith in God’s grace. The law of love says that love will do no wrong to a neighbor. Love therefore fulfills what the law demanded (Romans 13:10). The law of Christ says bear the burdens of your fellow man. From these “laws” followers of Jesus discover they are free from sin, death, condemnation to live, love and learn of the grace of God.
Those who would bind the teachings of the NT as legal requirements crush the Spirit of Christ who was sent to make all people free from fear and shame. Forgiveness from sin is never realized. Joy is never known by such disciples. This is not to say that the NT should not be respected and searched for teachings on how to live in love with both God and fellow man. These are the traditions handed down by the Apostles. The writers of the NT do not convey the idea that church meetings, pulpit preachers, church buildings, incense, holy water and singing to one another are “requirements to be a good Christian”. Living holy lives and striving to do good to all men, especially of those in the faith, are the intent of the NT teachings. Resisting the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life and relying on the grace of God to secure faith, hope and love in this life is the message of the Apostles’ teaching. Singing, church meetings and sharing our means with each other became the traditions of the early disciples of Christ. The goal is to achieve love that issues from a pure heart (1 Timothy 1:4-6).
Finally, the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ was written as a historic summary of the end of the Mosaic age and the destruction of death, Hades and satanic powers that held humanity captive to that ancient life. The destruction of God’s enemies and the establishment of the kingdom of heaven here on earth are documented in this most strange book. Strange because the literal history of that period is cloaked in metaphors, hyperbole and rich Jewish symbolism making the Revelation a fascinating and fantastic vision of both the wretchedness of human condition and the love and power of a God who destroys the shackles of sin, freeing humanity to approach him with a clear conscious.
A brief overview of each of the NT books will be presented in lesson 5.