After listening/reading this Lesson, you should be able to
a) Explain how the New Testament differs from the Old Testament. b) Justify study of the New Testament. c) Explain why the New Testament canon is regarded as reliable. d) Give reasons for upholding the integrity of the New Testament text. e) Discuss reasons for studying the New Testament.
The Bible has shaped the world in which we live. In the centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection, Christians sometimes died for refusing to hand over the Bible to hostile authorities so is it now many are persecuted for the sake of the Bible. But on the other hand, more copies of the Bible is printed and bought by people. This is because no one is free from its influence – The Bible consisting of both OT and NT has been instrumental in the rise and fall of nations, the life and death of civilizations
The Old Testament tells of God’s creation of the world, humankind’s fall into sin, and God’s saving work to undo sin’s consequences. It is divided into three parts: a) the Torah (the word means guidance, teaching, law. These were the five books of Moses.), b) the Prophets (These consisted of longer works like Isaiah, along with some very short ones like Joel and Obadiah., and c) the Writings (and consisted of historical writings, Psalms, Proverbs, and other works.).
The New Testament tells of the fulfillment of what the Old Testament promises. It is the “testament” of God’s saving work in the very lifetime of the biblical writers. It is the testament of God’s saving work in more recent times and announces the Savior (Messiah) whom the Old Testament awaits.
Some modern Bibles include a third section called the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. These were written after the last Old Testament prophet (Malachi, ca. 430 BC), mainly between about 200 BC and AD 100. Some contain valuable historical and religious information. But Protestants have historically maintained that these books lack the earmarks of divine authorship that distinguish the recognised Old and New Testament books. Jesus and the apostles did not quote them as Scripture.
Roman Catholics and some Eastern Orthodox churches recognize the writings listed below as Scripture. Protestants acknowledge their literary value and historical significance but do not view them as possessing spiritual authority.
Additions to Esther
Bel and the Dragon
Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of
Jesus Son of Sirach)
Epistle of Jeremiah
Prayer of Azariah
Prayer of Manasseh
Song of the Three Young
Wisdom of Solomon
The New Testament has affected the whole world and also your life. That is one good reason to study it. Let us consider some other reasons why studying the New Testament is worthwhile.
When you come to worship, we sing, hymns or songs like these: Our God is an awesome God. He reigns in heaven above With wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God. We cherish worship because through their message and emotional power, with the Holy Spirit’s help, they convey God’s presence. ( Acts 17:27 – He is not far from any one of us).
The New Testament is loved for the same reason. God is present in it and through it. The Bible’s words are God’s words. This means that the New Testament is worth studying because it is the Word of God.
In a world of social change, political stalemate, economic decline, moral confusion, and disasters both natural disasters (earthquakes, COVID 19) and human-made (nuclear reactor meltdowns or environmental), there is something firm to hold on to. There is light for the path ahead. There is a story of God’s saving work, in which we participate.
A second good reason to study the New Testament is that, although Scripture is of divine origin, it is also of personal significance. The direction that our whole life takes depends on whether we embrace or ignore, the Word of God. And though we may be young now and not think much about dying, the New Testament has weighty things to say about the end of our lives, too: “It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (Heb. 9:27 NRSV).
The New Testament answers important questions like: Who am I? Why am I alive? What is the meaning of life? Why is there so much evil and suffering? What will happen to Earth as it seemingly reels from one environmental crisis to the next? What is the destiny of the human race? What is my own destiny? Why do I do things that I know are wrong? Is there any way for my own life to be sorted out so that I can be part of building a better world?
For example, late one night a desperate prison guard about to take his own life blurted out, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). He found the answer he was looking for. It was not a simplistic answer. But it is powerful. It reaches down to the depths of our hearts.
To build a better tomorrow, we need to lay a foundation of better understanding of the New Testament than we currently possess. At issue here is cultural literacy. Along with the familiarity about the broad aspects of scientific knowledge, with the beliefs, social organization, and moral traits of a society, New Testament values are very much foundational for a holistic society.
The society is to be influenced New Testament teachings as love for others (rather than violence), truth telling (rather than desceit and theft), sexual purity and veneration of marriage (rather than sexual laxity and easy divorce), and self-sacrificial living (rather than destruction of the unborn and neglect of children in the interest of adult self-gratification). Study of the New Testament is sure to be an important part of a better tomorrow.
The New Testament consists of four books called Gospels, one book (Acts) that sketches the rise and spread of the early church, twenty-one letters, and one book of prophecy. What makes these twenty-seven documents so unique?
a. An Authoritative Collection of Scripture like OT
There was widespread agreement among Jewish authorities that in certain writings God had revealed his will to his people and indeed to the whole world – the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. These writings became the standard for faith and life among a people who loved and feared their God. They became a canon, an authoritative collection of documents.
The community Jesus founded, the church, recognized the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament, as the basis of its very existence. But just as Jesus himself fulfills the Old Testament, the community he founded gave rise to more than two dozen writings that stand alongside the Old Testament in importance and authority. These writings, written by close followers of Jesus, later came to be called the New Testament. In other words, the Old Testament canon served as a precedent for the New Testament canon.
b. The New Testament as Inspired Writing
Jesus promised that, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12–14) Two things should be noted about Jesus’s statements.
First is that after Jesus’s departure, the Holy Spirit would teach the disciples and remind them of what Jesus had told them. On that basis, they would testify to Christ. The Spirit would assist them by guiding them “into all the truth” and telling them “what is yet to come.” These words establish a unique link between Jesus and a select group of his earliest followers. Through them he chose to disclose information about himself to subsequent generations. We can surmise that it was Christ’s intention that his story and commands be preserved in the witness, and eventually writings, of these closest followers.
Second, we should note that Jesus’s words point to what theologians call inspiration. The Holy Spirit worked together with the minds and hearts of Jesus’s followers to produce trustworthy understanding, recollections, and ultimately writings. The combination of divine and human elements is sometimes called concursus, the complementary interworking of God and the human writers in the composition of the Bible. All this points to a second major reason why we honor the New Testament writings, or the canon. It is inspired by God. In this sense Paul’s statement applies to the New and the Old Testaments alike: “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Recognition of the Canon in the Church A third reason we recognize the importance of the New Testament writings lies in the preeminent role they gradually assumed in the ancient church. In the second through ninth centuries AD, numerous writings arose that claimed to be written by Jesus’s apostolic followers but was not included in the NT canon but it did not possess the criteria the Church put in place. It comprised a standard by which all other writings were judged. a) it possessed the marks of apostolic authorship (i.e., written by Jesus’s handpicked followers, the apostles, or their close aides). b) They bore evidence of their first-century origin. (Few noncanonical writings were written nearly so early. Only a few can even be dated to the second century and perhaps none with certainty to the first.) c) They also contained the apostolic message of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
The twenty-seven New Testament writings are the ones that earned the recognition of early Christians as having been inspired by God and given to the church “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16 NRSV).
The ancient church did not force the canon on unsuspecting members. “In the most basic sense neither individuals nor councils created the canon; instead they came to perceive and acknowledge the self-a apostles authenticating quality of these writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church.”
All of the New Testament documents were passed down through the centuries in manuscript form. Our modern translations are made by scholars who consult these manuscripts and produce, say, English versions from them. If the New Testament writings were passed along for over a thousand years with one copy being made from another, can we be certain that our English translations reflect what Paul or Peter or Luke originally wrote in Greek?
Wealth of Evidence: The New Testament is by far the best-attested writing of antiquity. Close to six thousand manuscripts containing at least a fragment of the New Testament have been cataloged. The earliest of these are written on papyrus, a paper made from reeds. Over three hundred others are called uncials; this means they record the New Testament in capital letters, usually on some kind of leather surface. The largest group consists of minuscules. These display a kind of cursive writing that developed in Byzantium around the ninth century. Finally, there are lectionaries, books used in church worship that include portions of Scripture. They too are important witnesses to the New Testament text as it was passed down through the centuries.
Brief Time Lapse: Another reason for confidence in our knowledge of what Matthew, Paul, and other writers originally wrote is the brief time span between the date when the documents were written and the date of the earliest copies we possess. It is not uncommon for a gap of a thousand years or more to separate an ancient work and the earliest known copy of it. Things are different in the case of the New Testament, where “several papyrus manuscripts . . . are extant which were copied within a century or so after the composition of the original documents.”22 A papyrus fragment of John’s Gospel found in Egypt is commonly dated to AD 125. This is barely one generation later than the AD 90s, when many scholars think that Gospel was first written.
Versions and Fathers: Still another ground for optimism about our knowledge of the original text of the New Testament comes from the widespread distribution of it from a very early date – the ancient versions. As the gospel spread to non-Greek-speaking lands, the New Testament was translated into languages such as Syriac, Latin, and Coptic. More than eight thousand manuscripts exist in Latin alone! These versions are generally less important for our knowledge of the ancient Greek text than the Greek manuscripts themselves are. The New Testament was faithfully rendered as it passed from scribe to scribe and even language to language. Transmission was not perfect, but it was more than reliable enough for us to be in very little doubt about what the New Testament authors first wrote.
The writings of the early church fathers: They are yet another important witness to the shape of the earliest Greek text. Dozens of church leaders such as Clement of Rome (AD 95), Justin Martyr (AD 150), Irenaeus (AD 170), and Origen (AD 250) quoted the New Testament in writings that are still extant. We may conclude, then, that there are no grounds for doubting our knowledge of what the original manuscripts of the various New Testament writings contained.
If it is inspired by God and its text is reasonably secure, then why is it necessary to expend energy pondering what it says; learning ancient names and dates; summarizing various New Testament teachings; exploring different writings and their contents? Is there really any need to study what it says?
a. To Avoid Misinterpretation The New Testament is a book with religious content, read by humans who are religious or spiritual by nature. This can be a wonderful combination: the reader has a religious thirst; the New Testament satisfies it. What could be wrong with that? The answer is “Plenty.” We all stand in danger of seeing in the Bible only those things that our prior experiences or convictions dispose us to see. They already have their minds made up about their religious commitments— and therefore about the New Testament too. They will perhaps read it for additional strengthening of what they already think. While it is good (and inevitable) that we approach any book, including the Bible, with convictions, it is dangerous for those convictions to function as censors of the text’s message to us. Careful study can help us to avoid misinterpretation and see what God really has to say, rather than stick to what we already think.
b. To Avoid Misguided Reliance on ‘Anointing’ Although we should not minimize our dependence on God’s Spirit to understand Scripture correctly, it is a mistake to substitute spiritual influence alone for the substantive means of grace that God has given in the form of Scripture. Without solid understanding of God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, how can we be sure that the spiritual influence we sense is truly from God? The primary standard for making that determination must in the end be Scripture!
Based on the Gospels we can see that Jesus had learned, mastered, and was submissive to Scripture. Jesus’s disciples were likewise serious students of Scripture—despite the benefit of personal instruction at Jesus’s feet. Paul had extensive formal training in rabbinic interpretation and continued to develop his understanding of the Old Testament following conversion. But the Spirit actualized the fruits of their prayer and study; he did not replace it. If study of Scripture was central to their lives, it probably should be to ours as well.
c. To Enable Historical-Theological Interpretation The Scripture is ultimately divine in character. But it comes to us in earthly dress and through human agents. Understanding of the earthly and human components (history) is essential to realizing its theological meaning. These components include elements of geography, political and cultural history (Israelite, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, etc.), literature, and various languages. Informed interpretation of the New Testament may involve modern fields of study as varied as archaeology, the social sciences, economics, linguistics, astronomy, and many others.
All of this suggests that study of the New Testament is necessary for the kind of interpretation of it that is most basic and responsible in the long run. Admittedly, other kinds of interpretation are possible. A devotional interpretation may read the New Testament with little regard for historical considerations, seeking instead a word of encouragement or mystical guidance. A literary interpretation may examine how formal features like plot and structure help us understand a book’s message. A political interpretation may look for injustices that the Bible appears to sanction or for insights about good government that it may contain. But basic to all such interpretations is understanding of the Bible that most clearly approximates the purpose for which God inspired it. Devotional, literary, political, and other interests are valuable in their place, but they are secondary to (because they are dependent on) the divine will and activity that created Scripture to begin with. Historical- theological interpretation—brings out the Bible’s redemptive message to people then as a means of receiving and sharing its message now—is perhaps the most elementary and taxing yet ultimately fruitful way to approach the New Testament that we can attempt.
Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 6th ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003.
Evans, Craig A. Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.
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