The Literature of the New Testament
John 16:13 “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.”
John 14:26 “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
This study brings us to the threshold of the New Testament scriptures.
From the first promise of a Saviour (Genesis 3:15) through all of the types and prophecies of the Old Testament a new era had been depicted. The fullness of the time, spoken of by Paul (Galatians 4:4) was about to dawn.
Yet this bright new day dawned after the most intense period of spiritual darkness in the history of Israel. For 400 years there were no prophets, the period of inspiration had ceased. Judaism slumped into an apostasy characterised by formal religion. Demon possessions were commonplace across Judea and Galilee, indicating that God had removed some of his restraints from Satan, on account of the sins of His people.
The people, however, who walked in darkness were about to see a great and a wonderful light, a sunbeam of hope which would in time shine in every corner of the world.
1: The Purpose of the New Testament
The word “Testament”, used in the Greek Scriptures usually means “Covenant”.
Therefore the Bible consists of two sections. The Old the New Covenants. The Old Covenant was made with Moses, as the mediator, for Israel as she became a Kingdom of Priests (Exodus 19:6).
The New Covenant, however, was made with Christ (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24). This New Covenant was made with Christ on behalf of God’s elect people from every nation on earth.
The New Testament is the story of Christ’s ministry, his sacrifice and resurrection, the establishment of the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel among the Gentile peoples. The Church would be described by Paul as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) because it incorporated Jew and Gentile in one body. The climax of this New Testament period will be the gathering of all peoples around the throne of God (Revelation 5:9).
2: The Preparation for the New Testament
Although God had been silent for 400 years, in that he had not added to the voice of Old Testament inspiration, He was not inactive. Through those centuries Heprovidentially paved the path for the New Testament Church.
400 years before Christ Philip of Macedon conquered Greece. His son Alexander was the master of an empire that extended to the border of India. While Alexander’s empire was not permanent in that it was divided into four identities after his death he left behind a lasting legacy. The Greek language and Greek culture had become a common denominator in all the lands which Alexander conquered. The Greek language particularly, as a truly international language, provided the world with a suitable vehicle by which the New Testament could be disseminated.
100 years before Christ’s birth the Roman Empire had been consolidated as the dominant power throughout all of the Mediterranean. The Romans brought their world to a state of lasting and enduring peace. Roman law provided a legislative framework which provided all the provinces with order. The Romans developed an extensive and successful communication network enabling travel and commerce throughout the empire. Being pragmatists at heart the Romans recognised the dominance of Greek language and culture in the east of their empire and did nothing to change it. All of these factors created a world that was ripe for the establishment of a truly international spiritual body, the Christian Church.
3: The Power in the New Testament
There are, as we know, 27 books in the New Testament.
How did the Church arrive at a place where she recognised that these books were genuine revelations from God? This is a question of authority. How do we know that that these 27 books carry the power of God’s approval?
The answer really lies in the words of Christ in the upper room. Our Lord promised that the Holy Spirit would inspire and prompt the apostles (John 16:13, John 14:26). Therefore the Church was obliged to collect and preserve the writings of these apostles who were gifted with the spirit of inspiration. All of the New Testament books are therefore apostolic. Paul was the apostle who was not a disciple, born out of due season (1 Corinthians 15:8). While Luke and Mark were not apostles their writings were apostolic in that they were written under the influence of Peter and Paul.
It is truly significant that the list of 27 books was not officially recognised at a Church Council meeting or anything of the sort. The churches slowly accepted the writings of the apostles as they became available and preserved them for posterity;
“If we ask how long it was before a complete list of 27 books was recognised by most of the churches, the answer is: perhaps a little over a 100 years. But if we ask how soon it was before the canonical books were recognised by their recipients as authoritative, the answer is immediately” (Brian Edwards in “Why 27?”).
Various early church leaders such as Clement of Rome (96AD), Ignatius of Antioch (115AD), Polycarp of Smyrna (115AD) and Justin Martyr of Rome (165 AD) claimed authority for their doctrines and practices from the writings of books included within the same New Testament that we use today.
The Church, however, saw the New Testament only within the context of the Old Testament canon. The apostles added to the body of inspiration which God had already given. The Hebrew Scriptures were “the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2) and the prophets and apostles were inspired by the same Spirit (1 Peter 1:10-12).
While we do not possess today the autographs, the actual writings of the apostles, there is considerable proof that we possess the books which God has preserved. No other ancient book has so many ancient manuscripts as the Greek New Testament. For the most part these manuscripts corroborate each other with the differences in readings being minor. The God who inspired his word had preserved his word also. Therefore we know that we possess the genuine Holy Ghost inspired New Testament.
4: The Partitioning of the New Testament
We can partition the New Testament into four major sections:
A: Historical; Matthew to Acts –The historic basis of Christianity
B: Epistles; Romans to Jude – Christian doctrines and practices.
C: Prophetic; Revelation – God’s purposes throughout history.
5: The Polluting of the New Testament
All that God accomplishes the devil will pollute and counterfeit. Therefore it should be no surprise to us that the credibility of the New Testament has come under sustained and growing assault.
A The Validity of the Greek Text
The Traditional Text, which encompasses 80-90% of the Greek manuscripts, was used without question since the scriptures were translated in English by Tyndale. In more modern times other manuscripts have been employed by bible translators which have more variant readings, hence the necessity for footnotes in these versions. These footnotes question the authority of scripture because they employ manuscripts which were rejected by the early church and were therefore disused. This is the strongest argument for remaining faithful to the Traditional Text, which underlies the Authorised Version
B The Validity of 27 Books
Within two centuries of Christ’s death numerous books were circulating which claimed apostolic authority. Many of these documents spawned from a cult known as Gnosticism which strived after secret, even mystical knowledge. One of their books was the Gospel of Judas which, when it was discovered in 2006, National Geographic Magazine claimed could provoke a crisis in faith. Christians have nothing to fear.. A book, obviously rejected by the early church and which lay hidden for 1800 years cannot claim to be apostolic. This book and others like it belong to literature known as the “pseudepigrapha” or false writing. Paul in his lifetime warned the churches against fraudulent documents which claimed apostolic sanction (2nd Thessalonians 2:2).
In 1945 a body of documents was discovered in Egypt that have become known as the Nag Hammadi Library (after the village where they were uncovered). These contain pieces of literature with such eye catching titles as “The Gospel of Truth”, The Gospel of Thomas”, The Gospel of Philip” and “The Gospel of Mary”. Dan Brown in “The Davinci Code” made use of these writings in his blasphemous attempt to undermine the purity of Christ and the credibility of the New Testament. The most wicked outcome of this library has been the suggestion that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. Actually while Mary is elevated above her New Testament status this library of works does not specifically state that they were married. What is important from our perspective, however, is that that these works are clear forgeries in that they are dated at least 100 years after the apostles, while it is freely accepted that the 27 books of the New Testament canon originated in the first century.
In many respects the New Testament has been and will be under attack from the enemy of truth. We must be vigilant and hold onto high and lofty views of Holy Scripture as that which is inspired and preserved by God for the edification of His Church.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2nd Timothy 3:16).