The New Testament: Overview and its Importance

The New Testament is one of the most world-changing and revolutionary sets of texts in history. Get inspired by their timeless lessons and the foundational truths within their pages.

What is the most influential book in history? Almost anyone would say that it is the Bible. And the most prominent part of the Bible is the New Testament.

The New Testament is the core library of books for Christianity. It covers the different stories of early Christianity. Here you witness Jesus’ life, ministry, and resurrection. After the Gospels, the apostles show how they spread the Good News from Jerusalem to the whole Roman Empire.

Within these narratives are the various spiritual truths that carry the spirit of the Church. It presents the covenant of salvation for humanity. It is more than history. The New Testament shows you how to live according to God’s Will.

What is the New Testament?

The New Testament fulfills the promise of salvation God stated in the Old Testament. It presents the Good News of the Kingdom of God through Jesus and His followers. Like the Old Testament, it covers history – the stories of the first Christians. And it is a moral guideline for Christians.

The New Testament books are not in chronological order. But you can find the nuances to the different historical events within those pages. The Gospels, except for the Gospel of St. John, tell the narrative of the life and acts of Jesus Christ. John writes about Jesus’ life in a metaphysical style. Succeeding books offer insights into the life and struggles of early Christian communities. 

Many may disparage the New Testament because it has less historical information than the Old Testament. But we need to realize that it was written for historical purposes. It was to witness the growth of faith through the Holy Spirit in the followers of Jesus. Here you get inspired by the way Jesus and his followers put their faith in God into action.

Importance of the New Testament in Christian Life

The New Testament is immeasurably relevant in the Christian life.  Within its twenty-seven books, it provides many vital roles in the Christian faith.

Shows the exemplary life of Jesus

The New Testament is all about Jesus. The Gospels showed how He lived, died, and rose. The Acts and the Epistles shared glimpses into how His message spread to all races. And the Revelation disclosed the way Jesus will return on the day of Judgement.

Here you see Jesus in all His complexity. He was a simple man from Galilee. Yet He preached the Word of God with keen understanding. He was a miracle worker. But He faced a lot of struggles from His own people.

Jesus lived only for 33 years in this world. But within these three decades, He exhorted people to return to God. He gave sermons and parables to open minds and heal hearts. 

Provides a guideline for morality

In all books of the New Testament, you read nuggets of wisdom on goodness. 

In the Gospels, Jesus regularly spoke about how one follows God’s Will. Even against the conventional teachings of the Jewish religion. He preached not about the Ten Commandments and the hundreds of religious rules. 

Rather He spoke of love. To Jesus, the standard of righteousness comes from loving God and one’s neighbor. You should not choose who to help, just help. Nor should you discriminate how you treat others based on the day of the week. Every day is a time to do good deeds for all.

Jesus Christ’s Apostles and the Apostle Paul exhorted the first Christian communities to live righteously. They stayed true to Jesus’ commandments on love. But also they advised Christians on how to love each other. They taught about how to keep faith in times of turmoil.

Among all things, the New Testament discusses how to interact with others. Through narratives and prose letters, you learn about how to be a good man, woman, leader, and couple.

Teaches about human relationships

Reading the New Testament is a thought-provoking activity. Here you learn the complexities of human relationships. 

It starts with the story of the Holy Family. You see how Jesus loves His mother Mary amidst His arduous journey. Then you witness the friendship and fellowship of Jesus and His disciples. Jesus gathers the most unlikely motley crew. The Gospels show how He interacted with His friends, followers, dissenters, and the Romans. He encountered many people with different worldviews so His life sets the example for human relationships.

The other books of the New Testament show how Christianity grew in communities. The Apostles also wrote to the churches they founded on how to treat one another. No one is above nor below another in the community. 

There are even instructions on different relationships. These include friendships, families, and marriages. Forgiving one another is also pivotal. As much as God is merciful, the New Testament teaches us to repent. And give those who hurt us opportunities to repent for their sins. Doing this is key to the peaceful world that the Kingdom of God calls for.

Shows us how to live meaningfully

Jesus himself taught us that man doesn’t live on bread alone. Nor should we be worried too much about life. Because God will provide for us as He does for animals and plants.

Unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament doesn’t show the riches of Jewish life. Rather, it discusses the beauty of simplicity. Jesus teaches through parables that are rooted in peasant life. He talks about farmers, mustard seeds, and pastoral ways.

In the New Testament, we realize that the most important things in life are not money, power, and privilege. Jesus and his disciples lived without the trappings of power. He showed that the most righteous person is not the most powerful. It is the one who lives with love for God and his neighbor.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles spread his message of peace and love. They also advised their communities to persevere amidst adversity. Together they found meaning in their suffering through faith. Even if the pagans persecuted them, the Christians found freedom in living with Christ in their hearts. They offered every action as a worthy sacrifice to the glory of God.

The most important role of the New Testament is to guide Christians to find meaning in their life. even when they feel helpless in their circumstances. 

When Was the New Testament Written?

Tradition states that the Pauline letters were the first books to circulate to the early Christians. This makes sense because the Apostle Paul and his disciples wrote those letters, starting from 50-51 AD. He sent those letters to console, exhort and instruct the different Christian communities he founded in his travels.

Other books of the New Testament come from the oral storytelling of the apostles to their followers. The Gospels did not arrive until after the first failed Jewish revolt in 70 AD. Mark wrote the first Gospel. He writes to the Christian generation that witnessed the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. He took the oral recollections of Jesus’ life from the Apostles.

Biblical scholars agree that the other Gospels come after Mark’s Gospels. Matthew’s Gospel is dated around 75 AD. Luke’s is traditionally around 80 AD. And John wrote his Gospel, letters, and the Book of Revelation around 85-200 AD.

Who Wrote the New Testament?

The authorship of the New Testament books is one of the most contested matters of all time. But Christians mostly concur that the apostles and their disciples wrote the books. 

Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels. The Apostle Paul wrote the letters to the different early churches. Then John wrote the Book of Revelation from a vision he received while in exile.

Matthew and John were some of the twelve apostles of Jesus. Mark and Luke were evangelists who wrote down the recollections of other Christian leaders in Jesus’ time.

For most biblical scholars, the undisputed letters of Paul are the Letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians, Romans, and Philemon. The rest of his epistles are believed to be dictated by Paul. But written by his scribes and disciples.

For the other epistles, scholars believe that these workers come from scribes and followers writing down the oral teaching of the apostles.

How Many Books are in the New Testament?

The New Testament books consist of 27 books. Four Gospels – by Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. 17 letters Paul wrote to his followers. 7 letters were written by the original Apostles. And 1 Apocalyptic Book that revealed the end of the world through John’s vision. Unlike the Old Testament, all Christian denominations agree on the New Testament books.

How Was the New Testament Canon Created?

During Jesus’ ministry, He taught through sermons and the Tanakh. This method of evangelization continued after His crucifixion. The first generations of Christians lived through the oral teachings of the Apostles. 

The first New Testament texts were Paul’s letters, written some two decades after Jesus died. The Gospel writers present the narratives of Jesus’ lives around forty to fifty years after the crucifixion. Most of these narratives come from the teachings circulated orally by the Apostles. 

There were many writings in the early Christian communities. But the Church Fathers agreed on canonical books that most Christians used. This started in the second century. 

In particular, Justin and Irenaeus used these chosen writings to address their congregations. In the fourth century, church leaders listed the New Testament books formally, using the rulings of the Church Councils. The canonical books were chosen because they were from the apostles. Either they wrote such works themselves. Or their disciples created them with apostolic teachings.

The early Church Fathers established the New Testament canon to combat heretic teachings. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria set the only 27 canonical books of the New Testament in the fourth century. He proclaimed this in a Passover Letter in 367 AD.

Types of New Testament Books

The New Testament Books are the recollections of Jesus’ life and the story of His first followers. It contains a variety of writing styles. These are historical narrative (the Gospels and the Acts), didactic (the Epistles), and apocalyptic (Revelation).

These books do not run chronologically. If you study the Bible, you will see the logical order of the New Testament. It starts with the Gospels that retell Jesus’ life and teachings. Then Luke shows the story of the propagation of Jesus’ message beyond Jerusalem. Afterward, you read the different letters sent by Paul and the other Apostles to different churches. The New Testament ends with the prophetic Book of Revelation wherein John receives a vision of future ends while living in exile.

Gospels

The Gospels retell the story of Jesus’ ministry. The Mark, Matthew, and Luke Gospels are “Synoptic”. They are written in very similar ways and tell the same events in Jesus’ life. The Gospel of John stands out for its philosophical style of telling Jesus’ ministry. It also reveals most of the theological concepts of Christianity such as the different miracles and symbolic sayings of Jesus.

Acts

Luke wrote the Book of Acts as a direct sequel to his Gospel. This book traces the movements of the apostles starting from Pentecost. It shows the way Christianity grew from a fringe Jewish sect to a full-fledged movement. Here you read about the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to the Gentiles. It ends at the arrival of Paul in Rome. 

Epistles

Pauline Epistles

Paul wrote to the different churches across the Roman Empire. He consoles and instructs the communities he founded. Most of these letters are named for the churches which received them. These epistles are the Letters to the Corinthians, Colossians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Romans, and Thessalonians. Paul also wrote letters to the church leaders and his prominent followers. These include the Letters to Timothy (his apprentice), Titus, and Philemon.

These letters are the surviving ones that the early Christians preserved until the church leaders collated the New Testament canon.

General Epistles

These letters were written to different churches by the original Apostles. The writers are Saints James (the brother of Jesus), Peter, John, and Jude.

Apocalyptic Literature

The New Testament ends with the Revelation of the end of the world. Here John tells about the dramatic visions Jesus gave him. This is the most graphically disturbing book of the New Testament. It discusses the events that will happen in the last days, including the Final Judgement and the Return of Jesus Christ.

The Historicity of the New Testament

The New Testament is not meant to be a biography. The Gospels and Epistles are not historical accounts. Rather, they are stories to show Jesus to their respective congregations. They mix preaching with storytelling in proclaiming the Good News.

The Gospels discuss Jesus’ life story but have different events. Critics may say that these contradictions show something wrong with the story. But biblical scholars concur that the early Christians, through apostolic teachings, were able to deduce the reality. The Scriptures provide them essential life lessons.

Also, we need to remember that there were no written records of Jesus’ life from His followers during His lifetime. Until 20 years after His death, His teachings and life story passed through oral tradition. So it’s natural for the stories to have variations in events and characterizations.

Further adding to the authenticity of the New Testament is the fact that Jesus existed. He is a historical figure, who was included in Roman and Jewish history. People may debate the details of His life but there is no doubt about His place in history. 

The references include both Roman, Greek, and Jewish historians. Josephus, who chronicled the Jewish revolts against the Romans, included Jesus’ life in Pontius Pilate’s rule of Israel. Other historians who spoke of this Jewish Messianic figure were Lucian, Mara ben Serapion, Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Thallus. 

Roman and Jewish history tells of Jesus as one of the “Messiahs” of Israel. He was revolutionary in His words, but not in inciting rebellious action. He had a brother named James. They knew that He had a ministry with disciples from Galilee and other places. He fought against the Jewish elite. He raged against how they ran the temple and spent the Jews’ tithes. But in the process, He challenged the balance of Roman rule and Jewish religion. Eventually, He received the punishment of crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. These events were around 26-36 AD. 

The Acts of the Apostles also hold rich historical evidence for the New Testament. Here you find many key characters and places in early Church history. These include Agrippa I and II, Annas, Bernice, Caiaphas, Claudius, Drusilla, Felix, Festus, Gamaliel, Gallio, James, and Sergius Paulus. All of these places and people have been confirmed through archaeological excavations. The description of each person and place is accurate, based on objective historical and archaeological research. 

The Epistles address early Christian communities, which each of these people’s histories attest to.

The most profound proof of the New Testament is DNA trace evidence. The tombs of the Apostles and Jesus Christ contain real DNA traces. The holy nails in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem have these. So you know that the New Testament personalities are real people. They lived, died, and proclaimed the Good News of Salvation.

Foundational Truths in the New Testament

The New Testament is the main resource for Christians. It contains many theological concepts that are the foundational truths of the Christian faith.

Holy Trinity

Foremost of the unique theological concepts in the New Testament is the Holy Trinity. The 

Divine God is mysterious in such that it is one yet three. There is one God. But Three Entities: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While disconcerting to nonbelievers, the Holy Trinity has been established well in the Bible. We know God as the Creator. Then He imbues His Spirit onto His prophets. And He gave Jesus, His only begotten Son, to save the world. 

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He told His disciples that the Holy Spirit will come. Indeed in the Acts of the Apostles, we witness the Holy Spirit descending in tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit emboldened the Apostles into proclaiming the Good News. They spoke in tongues of all peoples so many would listen to their preaching.

In the Epistles and the Book of Revelation, the Apostles wrote about the Holy Trinity. They told the early Christians about the mercy of the Father, the sacrificial love of the Son, and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Advent

The Gospels start with the birth of Jesus. As prophesied by Isaiah, He was born of a virgin woman. Mary accepted the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation of God becoming flesh in her womb. Joseph was first hesitant about Mary’s pregnancy. But after an angel visited him in his dream, he welcomed Mary into his home. This act placed Jesus into the House of David, which Joseph belonged to.

The virgin motherhood of Mary is one of the most incredible miracles in Christianity. It happened because Mary accepted God’s Will in her life. In the famous Marian song “Magnificat”, Mary sings of her joy of having new life breathed in her.

The advent story also discusses the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem. He was not born into nobility. But as a son of a peasant family. Mary even gave birth in a manger because there was no place for them in inns. Yet this simple setting was welcomed by the choir of angels. Shepherds visited the family. Then the Three Magi gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn baby who was to be the New King.

Resurrection

It is in the New Testament that we see people rising from the dead. We first witness it through Jesus calling Lazarus to live again after being buried for three days. Then this truth comes realized in Jesus Christ’s resurrection three days after his crucifixion. 

Jesus and his followers regularly preached about eternal life. They preached about how man must repent and follow Jesus. Whosoever will follow his commands will never die. Apostles even wrote to their followers about death and resurrection. They die from sin but rise again with Christ. 

Jesus as the Messiah

The Israelites in Jesus’ time rejected Him because their Messiah was a kingly figure. He looked for a fighter who will rally the Jews to fight the Romans. They expected political conquest.

But Jesus is the Messiah. He was different from other “Messiahs” of the Jewish population because He preached spiritual salvation. His words and deeds were powerful because He is God, the Word made flesh. 

The Jewish ruling elite and the Romans thought his ministry over with this crucifixion. But He rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He is the Messiah who saves humanity from sins. He redeemed all races through unconditional love.

Love as the Sacrifice of Self

Jesus preached about love. Here He doesn’t mean romantic love. He refers to the unconditional love of God and neighbor. He instills in us the principle of loving even the most different other. His teachings reiterate how God created man in His image and likeness. Hence, we ought to love all. 

This love is selfless, kind, and understanding. And a Christian can even deliver this love to the point of sacrifice. The sacrifice of self is something Jesus himself exemplifies. In loving, we must give our all in helping and caring for others.

Discipleship

The New Testament shows us many different examples of discipleship. Outside of Jesus’ circle, we have the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Sanhedrin. But Jesus fought against their worldliness. He especially found the disciples of these Jewish sects unrighteous due to their collusion with the Roman rulers.

Instead, He taught His disciples to be servant-leaders. He who must lead must serve others. He must be prepared to get his hands, doing God’s Will. And discipleship is not limited to men. Even women have and can be disciples. They can preach about the Good News in their own ways.

Human Sinfulness

Jesus expounds on the Old Testament notion that sin is a human choice. No matter what the circumstances, man can choose either to be evil or good. There is even an instance in the Gospels where He says that even the thought of doing evil is sinful in itself. 

Jesus and His followers emphasize the need to choose goodness, regardless of the circumstances. This principle is especially applicable in the time of the early Christians. The Apostles write to them to be faithful and resist negative influences amidst constant persecution.

In particular, Jesus teaches that whatever you project from your body can lead to sin. Your words, thoughts, and actions can be wicked. In this, He contrasts against the Jewish restrictions on food and drink. Food and drink are not unclean. But your actions and thoughts can be evil.

Forgiveness of Sins

Even in sin, there is redemption. But even we as individuals have the responsibility to forgive and redeem each other.  We need to acknowledge our sinfulness. Humble ourselves and ask God for forgiveness. We need to practice penance.

Aside from this, we need to look at other’s sinfulness. Not to judge them. But to care for them the way Jesus teaches us to. We shouldn’t judge anyone, but choose to forgive as much as possible. Correct them, admonish them for their wrongs. But always treat each other with compassion.

Heaven

The New Testament describes heaven in many ways. In the Gospels, Jesus tells His followers about the houses God will build for His people. He gives Peter the keys to heaven and the responsibility to lead the Church.

In the Epistles, the Apostles write their followers about how the Kingdom of God will reign evermore. They write this in conjunction with encouraging their followers to be faithful amid the struggles. And in Revelation, we read more about the structure of Heaven.

Faith Supported by Deeds for the Common Good

Faith without deeds is dead, the New Testament says. Jesus himself fought the Jewish elites in His time because they focused too much on regulations. But not on doing God’s work. He teaches us that goodness should not stop at prayerful words. He helped people in need. Cured the sick, expelled demons, and more wondrous deeds. Jesus Christ instructs us to do things for the love of God and neighbor.

Quite telling about the need for righteous action in faith is Jesus’ words to the apostles before His ascension. He told them, “Feed my lambs”. He reminds us that whatsoever we do to the least of our brethren, you do unto Him. He is in each one of us. So whatever good or evil we do to each other, you do it to Him. (Matthew 25:40)

In Summary

The New Testament is a set of books that influenced civilization for over two thousand years. Its influence goes beyond religious belief. It fostered artistic expression, political philosophy, human rights, and many more fields. 

It navigates the history of early Christians. Here you find moral guidelines on Christian living. You learn how to interact with others with love. You also realize what it means to live life meaningfully.

The New Testament contains the New Covenant of Salvation. Here Jesus tells us that He redeems the whole human race with His sacrificial love. He also offers a deeper spirituality beyond the pithy law-abiding regimen of Judaism. 

Read the New Testament to find what it means to be a Christian. Find the way to better relationships and fuller personal development.

Alex Shute
AUTHOR
Alex Shute
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow. In his free time, he enjoys perfecting pour-over coffee, smoking meats, and discovering new cycling routes around Southern California.