The New Testament (Greek: Καινὴ Διαθήκη), sometimes called the Greek Testament or Greek Scriptures, and sometimes also New Covenant which is the literal translation of the Greek, is the name given to the final portion of the Christian Bible. The original texts were written by various authors after c. 45 AD and before c. 140 AD. Its books were gradually collected into a single volume over a period of several centuries. The New Testament is a central element of Christianity, and has played a major role in shaping modern Western culture.
Books of the New Testament
The New Testament (see also, Biblical canon) are twenty-seven separate works: they consist of the four narratives of Jesus Christ's ministry, called "Gospels"; a narrative of the Apostles' ministries, which is also a sequel to the third Gospel; twenty-one early letters, commonly called "epistles" in Biblical context, which were written by various authors and consisted mostly of Christian counsel and instruction; and an Apocalyptic prophecy, which is also technically the twenty-second epistle.
Each of the Gospels narrates the ministry of Jesus Christ. The traditional author is listed after each entry. Modern scholarship differs on precisely by whom, when, or in what original form the various gospels were written.
- The Gospel of Matthew, traditionally the Apostle Matthew, son of Alphaeus.
- The Gospel of Mark, traditionally Mark, who wrote down the recollections of the Apostle Simon Peter.
- The Gospel of Luke, traditionally Luke, a companion of Paul of Tarsus.
- The Gospel of John, traditionally the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.
See also: synoptic problem
The book of Acts, also occasionally termed Acts of the Apostles or Acts of the Holy Spirit, is a narrative of the Apostles' ministry after Christ's death, which is also a sequel to the third Gospel. Examining style, phraseology, and other evidence, modern scholarship generally concludes that Acts and Luke have the same author.
- Acts, traditionally Luke.
The Pauline Epistles (or Corpus Paulinum) constitute those epistles traditionally attributed to Paul, though his authorship of some is disputed, and in one case (Hebrews) nearly universally rejected (see section on authorship below). They consist mostly of moral counsel and behavioral instruction, though they do include other elements as well. Paul appears to have dictated his epistles to scribes, and some specifically mention his habit of appending a salutation in his own handwriting. These are marked with an * below.
- Epistle to the Romans*
- First Epistle to the Corinthians*
- Second Epistle to the Corinthians
- Epistle to the Galatians
- Epistle to the Ephesians
- Epistle to the Philippians
- Epistle to the Colossians*
- First Epistle to the Thessalonians
- Second Epistle to the Thessalonians*
- First Epistle to Timothy
- Second Epistle to Timothy
- Epistle to Titus
- Epistle to Philemon*
- Epistle to the Hebrews
- See main article: General Epistles
The General or Catholic Epistles are those written to the church at large (Catholic in this sense simply means universal).
- Epistle of James, traditionally by James, brother of Jesus and Jude Thomas.
- First Epistle of Peter, traditionally by the Apostle Simon, called Peter.
- Second Epistle of Peter, traditionally by the Apostle Simon, called Peter.
- First Epistle of John, traditionally by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.
- Second Epistle of John, traditionally by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.
- Third Epistle of John, traditionally by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee.
- Epistle of Jude, traditionally by Jude Thomas, brother of Jesus and James.
The final book of the New Testament has had one of the most profound impacts on Christian theology of the whole work.
- Revelation, traditionally by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee (for a discussion of authorship criticism see John of Patmos).
It is worth noting Revelation is sometimes called The Apocalypse of John.
See also: Bible prophecy
New Testament Apocrypha
In ancient times there were dozens—perhaps hundreds—of Christian writings claiming Apostolic authorship, or for some other reason considered authoritative by ancient churches, but which were not ultimately included in the 27-book New Testament canon. These works are considered "apocryphal", and are therefore referred to as the New Testament Apocrypha. It includes not only writing favourable to the position of the orthodoxy, but also a large amount of Gnostic writing, and spurious prophecy and general fantasy. These apocryphal works are nevertheless important insofar as they provide an ancient context and setting for the composition of the canonical books. Below are some examples of early apocryphal works (please note this short list is by no means exhaustive):
- Didache, anonymous instructional text; written c. AD 50–120. This was considered canonical by early churches within mainstream Christianity for hundreds of years, but was ultimately rejected from the biblical canon, with the exception of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and instead added to the Apostolic Fathers collection.
- Gospel of Thomas - collection of Jesus' sayings allegedly recorded by Didymos Judas Thomas; written by an unknown author c. AD 130–170. This was accepted by Gnostics, and never considered authoritative by mainstream Christianity. Arguments have been made that it is the earliest extant Gospel (for example see Jesus Seminar) but mainstream scholarship is generally in disagreement with that hypothesis.
- Epistle of Barnabas - anonymous letter of counsel to an unknown audience; written c. AD 80–120. This was considered canonical by early churches within mainstream Christianity for hundreds of years, but was ultimately rejected.
- Greek Gospel of the Egyptians, mostly lost anonymous Gospel narrative; written c. AD 80–150. This author recalls it to have been accepted in early eastern churches, but it was ultimately rejected by mainstream Christianity.
- 1 Clement, letter of counsel probably composed by Clement, Bishop of Rome, and addressed to the church in Corinth; written c. AD 95–96. This was considered canonical by early churches within mainstream Christianity for hundreds of years, but was ultimately rejected. It is also one of extremely few Apocryphal works accepted by modern scholarship to have been written by the traditional author. See also Clementine literature.
- Apocalypse of Peter, mostly lost anonymous prophecy concerning the end times; written c. AD 100–150. This was considered canonical by early churches within mainstream Christianity for hundreds of years, but was ultimately rejected.
- The Shepherd of Hermas, anonymous Christian text with a broad range of content, including prophecy, direct instruction and parables; written c. AD 100–160. This was considered canonical by early churches within mainstream Christianity for hundreds of years, but was ultimately rejected.
- Gospel of Judas, anonymous gospel narrative attributed to Judas Iscariot; written c. AD 130–170. This was a Gnostic work, never considered authoritative by mainstream Christianity.
- Infancy Gospel of James, a Gnostic text allegedly by James the Just, written by an unknown author c.140-170. It may be the earliest surviving document attesting the veneration of Mary and claiming her continuing virginity.
- Epistle to the Laodiceans, a pseudepigraphical collection of sayings borrowed from accepted Pauline epistles, it was never considered authoritative by mainstream Christianity; it survives in some Vulgate manuscripts (such as Codex Fuldensis).
The canonization of the New Testament
- Main article: Biblical canon
The process of canonization was complex and lengthy. It was characterized by a compilation of books that Christians found inspiring in worship and teaching, relevant to the historical situations in which they lived, and consonant with the Old Testament.
Contrary to popular misconception, the New Testament canon was not summarily decided in large, bureaucratic Church council meetings, but rather developed very slowly over many centuries. This is not to say that formal councils and declarations were not involved, however. Some of these include the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism (by vote: 24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain), the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for Greek Orthodoxy.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Canon of the New Testament: "The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council [Council of Trent]."
In the first three centuries of the Christian Church, Early Christianity, there seems to have been no New Testament canon that was universally recognized.
One of the earliest attempts at solidifying a canon was made by Marcion, c. 140 AD, who accepted only a modified version of Luke (Gospel of Marcion) and ten of Paul's letters, while rejecting the Old Testament entirely. His unorthodox canon was rejected by a majority of Christians, as was he and his theology, Marcionism. Adolf Harnack in Origin of the New Testament (1914) argued that the orthodox Church at this time was largely an Old Testament Church (one that "follows the Testament of the Creator-God") without a New Testament canon and that it gradually formulated its New Testament canon in response to the challenge posed by Marcion.
The Muratorian fragment, dated at between 170 (based on an internal reference to Pope Pius I and arguments put forth by Bruce Metzger) and as late as the end of the 4th century (according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary), provides the earliest known New Testament canon attributed to mainstream (that is, not Marcionite) Christianity. It is similar, but not identical, to the modern New Testament canon.
The oldest clear endorsement of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John being the only legitimate gospels was written c. 180 C.E. It was a claim made by Bishop Irenaeus in his polemic Against the Heresies, for example III.XI.8: "It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh."
At least, then, the books considered to be authoritative included the four gospels and many of the letters of Paul. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (all 2nd century) held the letters of Paul to be on par with the Hebrew Scriptures as being divinely inspired, yet others rejected him. Other books were held in high esteem but were gradually relegated to the status of New Testament Apocrypha.
Eusebius, c. 300, gave a detailed list of New Testament writings in his Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapter XXV:
- "1... First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles... the epistles of Paul... the epistle of John... the epistle of Peter... After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings."
- "3 Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected [Kirsopp Lake translation: "not genuine"] writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews... And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books."
- "6... such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles... they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious."
Revelation is counted as both accepted (Kirsopp Lake translation: "Recognized") and disputed, which has caused some confusion over what exactly Eusebius meant by doing so. From other writings of the Church Fathers, we know that it was disputed with several canon lists rejecting its canonicity. EH 3.3.5 adds further detail on Paul: "Paul's fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul." EH 4.29.6 mentions the Diatessaron: "But their original founder, Tatian, formed a certain combination and collection of the Gospels, I know not how, to which he gave the title Diatessaron, and which is still in the hands of some. But they say that he ventured to paraphrase certain words of the apostle [Paul], in order to improve their style."
The New Testament canon as it is now was first listed by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367, in a letter written to his churches in Egypt, Festal Letter 39. Also cited is the Council of Rome, but not without controversy. That canon gained wider and wider recognition until it was accepted at the Third Council of Carthage in 397. Even this council did not settle the matter, however. Certain books continued to be questioned, especially James and Revelation. Even as late as the 16th century, theologian and reformer Martin Luther questioned (but in the end did not reject) the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. Even today, German-language Luther Bibles are printed with these four books at the end of the canon, rather than their traditional order for other Christians. Due to the fact that some of the recognized Books of the Holy Scripture were having their canonicity questioned by Protestants in the 16th century, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the traditional canon (that is for Catholics the canon of the Council of Rome) of the Scripture as a dogma of the Catholic Church.