As you read through the Bible you’ll find that there are some definite differences between the Old and New Testaments. One difference is that while the Old Testament books were written over a period of hundreds of years, the New Testament books were written during a period of only about 50 years during the first century.
Another difference is found in the languages used to write the two Testaments. While the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and a little Aramaic, a then-common language), the New Testament was written entirely in Greek. However, the Greek used in writing the New Testament wasn’t the “classical” Greek found among the poets and writers of that time. The New Testament was written in koine Greek (the common language of that day) which made it available to anyone who knew the language and wanted access to God’s Word.
However, there is at least one similarity between the Old and New Testaments. Like the Old Testament, the books of the New Testament can also be divided in many different ways. Over the years the New Testament books have traditionally been split up along these lines…
The Gospels consist of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the first four books of the New Testament. The word “gospel” means “good news” and these books detail the good news of Jesus’ life, ministry, and the sacrifice that He made on our behalf.
Now people sometimes wonder why there are four gospels instead of just one. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to simply make one biography of Jesus’ life and put everything in it? Well to answer that question, it’s been said that the four gospel writers can be compared to four guys taking notes at a lecture. Each one will hear the same exact lecture but each will record it in a slightly different way.
For example, one note-taker might take notes in a way that would help explain the lecture to other students who were not familiar with the lecturer or the course. This would be characteristic of Matthew who wrote his gospel mainly for the benefit of a Jewish audience. Another might take shorter notes while concentrating on general subjects and defining unfamiliar terms. This kind of approach would be a feature of Mark’s gospel.
Someone else might take very detailed notes, making sure to list things like times, dates, places and events. This type of note-taking would be distinctive of Luke’s gospel. A fourth person might jot down what the lecturer said along with it’s meaning and application. This would be a feature of John’s gospel which often tells us not only what Jesus said, but also what He meant.
When you take the four gospels together, you find that you get a really good representation of Jesus’ ministry because each writer presents different aspects of His life and teachings.
The Historical Book
While the Gospels are sometimes included in this category, the main historical book in the New Testament is the book of Acts. Acts provides us with an ongoing account of the church from it’s very beginnings up until about the early ’60’s AD. The book of Acts was written by Luke and was originally the 2nd part of a two-part volume that included his gospel (see Acts 1:1).
The book of Acts can be separated into two distinct sections. The first section covers chapters 1 through 12 and the second section covers chapters 13 through 28. In the first section we read of Jesus’ ascension to heaven followed by the move of God’s Holy Spirit found in chapter 2. From there, we go on to see how God worked through men like Peter, Philip, Barnabas, and Stephen (the first person who ever died for believing in Jesus) to build and establish His church.
In the second section of Acts, God’s ministry through Paul the Apostle takes center stage. From approximately 46 AD to 62 AD, Paul traveled throughout the known world preaching the gospel and setting up churches. Paul made four major missionary trips during this time that you can read about in the book of Acts. Some passages in this section are written using terms like “we” and “us” which indicates that Luke personally lived out the history that he was writing of in the book of Acts.
The book of Acts gives us a good historical record of early Christianity. It helps us understand what God’s church should be like and demonstrates God’s ability to work in every situation.
The Epistles (or “letters”) make up the third major section of the New Testament. Like some portions of the Old Testament, the Epistles can also be subdivided into smaller sections. 13 of the 21 Epistles were written by the Apostle Paul and thus are called the Pauline Epistles. The letters written by Paul are Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
The remaining eight epistles were written by others (the writer of the book of Hebrews remains uncertain, although many believe that it was written by Paul). Among these eight remaining books are seven (James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John and Jude) that are called the General Epistles because they were generally written to be shared among many Christians and not just one specific local church.
The Epistles are extremely valuable because they answer questions that are still being asked by people today. They deal with such diverse subjects as sexuality, government, ethics, gossip, the end of the world, and much, much more.
The Prophetic Book
Like the Historical section of the New Testament, the Prophetic section also has one entry: the book of Revelation. Revelation was written by a man named John who is believed to be the same person who wrote the Gospel bearing that name. The Greek word for revelation means “an unveiling” and that definition perfectly describes the book of Revelation. In it, God reveals things about the future that no one could know without His help. Some of the events described in the book of Revelation are certainly scary, but they shouldn’t really be scary to the people of God. If you’re someone who is on Jesus’ side, then you have nothing to fear from the terrible events described in this book.
The good news is that Revelation also tells us that evil will eventually be overthrown and God’s people will spend eternity together with Him in a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1). This should encourage every believer to join with John in repeating the Bible’s very last words:
“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)