Have you ever felt guilty about not reading the Bible more often? Does it seem that Christian friends, other people in your small group, or people at church know more than you? You are not alone.
In the 1960s, a teacher at Newton High School in Massachusetts quizzed college-bound high-school juniors and seniors before beginning a “Bible as Literature” class. The following answers resulted:
- The four horsemen appeared “on the Acropolis.”
- The New Testament Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, “Luther,” and John.
- Eve was created “from an apple.”
- Moses baptized Jesus.
- And “Golgotha was the name of the giant who slew the apostle, David.”
If you are a new or younger Christian, don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know the answers to Bible questions like this. Most people in America are unfamiliar with the Bible. But it doesn’t have to stay that way for us.
What I Bring With Me
American culture’s illiteracy with Bible knowledge means that young adults only receive wrong-headed ways to deal with their problems. And as a result, most new Christians bring unnecessary baggage into the Christian faith that has not been adequately dealt with, including:
- Dysfunctional families
- Struggles with addiction (porn, alcohol, drugs)
- Distorted body image
- Intimacy issues
- Fears (of unemployment, student debts, increasing violence, racial inequities, climate change, etc.)
If you feel any of these things, you’re not alone.
How can the Church help? By becoming a sanctuary of welcoming and caring members that courageously address issues with love and transparency. And tackling real problems with useful answers from the most reliable source of proven and timeless advice: the Bible.
The Focus of the Bible is Jesus
Scripture provides everything we need to live contented and godly lives (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But trying to figure out where to begin can feel intimidating.
The Bible is a library of 66 books written by forty authors over 1,500 years. The Bible has two major divisions the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). And while Jesus is the focus of the whole Bible (Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39; Heb. 10:7), it is most useful for the new Christian to concentrate on the NT. The NT is where we see Christ, doctrine, and practical application most clearly revealed.
Where Did We Get the NT?
The New Testament has 27 books written by nine eyewitness or their close companions (Luke and Mark):
- These were written from 20-60 years after Christ’s resurrection (AD 30-33). The brief period between Christ’s resurrection and writing is significant. There was not enough time for legends about Jesus to occur when eyewitnesses were still alive!
- All of the writers were Jews, except for the Greek physician Luke (author of Luke and Acts). He was a companion of Paul.
- Greek was the original language of all the NT books.
What About the Order?
- The first five historical narrative books (the four Gospels and Acts) tell of the life and ministry of Jesus and the early church’s growth.
- Then come 21 letters or “epistles” (13 by Paul and 8 General Epistles). The epistles provide personal messages, practical application of doctrines, and encouragement to live godly lives.
- Finally, Revelation uses graphic imagery in an apocalyptic genre to relate Christ’s return and end times.
Here is that structure with all the books listed:
- Historical-Narrative Books:
- Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
- Letters (Epistles):
- Paul’s Letters (Romans, 1& 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon)
- General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude)
The Gospels: Jesus from 4 Different Angles
The first four books are called the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The Gospels present Christ in history. They are written by two of Christ’s disciples (Matthew and John) and two close companions of the disciple’s Peter (Mark) and Paul (Luke). The Gospels describe Jesus’:
- Virgin conception
- Sinless life
- Multiple miracles
- Sacrificial death on the cross
- Resurrection on the third day following his burial
The first three Gospels are called “Synoptic” Gospels (seeing with the “same eye” or similar view). They have content and order that resemble each other in many ways. The fourth Gospel, John, takes a somewhat different approach from the first three, although all four are consistent with each other.
Each Gospel was written for a particular readership:
- Matthew (written between AD 50-55) presents Jesus as King to the Jews.
- Mark (written ca. AD 55-60 to a Roman audience) shows Christ as a Servant.
- The Greek physician Luke (reporting to the Greeks around AD 60) portrays our Lord as fully human (although also divine).
- John’s Gospel (written during the intense persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian in AD 81-96) presents Jesus as God to the whole world.
Acts: A Sequel
Luke wrote the Book of Acts (ca. AD 61-62) as the sequel to his Gospel. Acts tell how the apostles spread early Christianity during its first thirty years of church growth (AD 30-33 to AD 62).
Acts begins with Jesus going back to heaven. And then the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the apostles and their ministry in Jerusalem.
- Peter is prominently featured in the first part.
- Whereas the final portion focuses on the Apostle Paul’s conversion and ministry of preaching and planting churches throughout the Mediterranean.
Epistles: Letters Across the World
Following Acts, there are twenty-one epistles or letters that interpret and apply the Gospel. All of these letters were meant to be read publicly, copied, and circulated among the churches.
In general, the epistles explain doctrines and give practical advice. They also address spiritual growth, specific church problems, church discipline, church growth, proper Christian behavior, and pastoral concerns.
The first 13 epistles were written by Paul. Although they discuss various topics in each letter, these Pauline Epistles focus on:
- Salvation (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians)
- The Church (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon)
- Last things (1 & 2 Thessalonians)
- Advice to pastors (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus)
The next eight epistles are called the General Epistles (Hebrews through Jude). They were authored by Jesus’ half-brothers James and Jude (Matt. 13:55; Acts 1:14), two disciples (Peter and John), and an anonymous writer (Hebrews).
- Hebrews presents Jesus as the High Priest to the Jews.
- James provides practical instructions on applying doctrinal truths.
- 1 & 2 Peter provides comfort and encouragement for persecuted Christians while warning against false teachers
- 1, 2, & 3 John were written to encourage fellowship with God and other believers. John writes his greatest joy was to see his disciples faithful to God’s word (3 John 1:4). He emphasizes Christ’s humanity as a guard against false teaching (called Docetism) infiltrating the church.
- Jude encourages believers to remain steadfast and mature in their faith and avoid false teachers.
Revelation: The End
The book of Revelation or “The Revelation of John” (note: singular, not plural) belongs to a particular apocalyptic genre. Revelation uses visions and symbolic language like Daniel’s OT book to portray the ultimate triumph of Christ.
Revelation is a “coded” message meant to comfort persecuted believers encouraging them to remain faithful. The overall message is clear. Christ will come again and defeat Satan and the evil forces that oppress God’s children. He will restore all things and make an eternal home for his followers.
No NT books were written after the death of the apostles. This means that the canon (or complete authoritative collection) of the New Testament is closed.
Let’s Do This!
Hopefully, this brief introduction has encouraged you to start reading the Bible daily. Finding practical help with life’s many challenges is essential. But even the most valuable changes we see in our habits or lifestyle pale in comparison to becoming more intimate with Christ himself.
The biggest takeaway from reading the New Testament is that Christ loves you so much that he willingly sacrificed himself for you (Mark 10:45). The New Testament continually reminds us that we are God’s beloved children when we trust and follow Jesus. As John wrote toward the end of the New Testament, let’s “[s]ee what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
Getz, G. (1986) Standing Firm When You’d Rather Retreat: Based on 1 Thessalonians. Ventura CA: Gospel Light Publications. p. 73