In our last post, we began examining the New Testament with the first four-book collection, the gospels. Let’s finish with the last three major divisions in the New Testament: History, Letters, and Prophecy.
As the sole book of this genre, Acts contains some history of the early Christians and explains how the disciples preached Christ “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Comparing Luke 1:1-4 with Acts 1:1, we find Luke also authored this book, so it picks right up where the gospel of Luke left off. We learn how the Holy Spirit worked with men to spread the gospel to the whole world.
From Paul’s letter to the Romans to Jude’s twenty-five-verse letter, the letters (or epistles) comprise a series of personal writings to churches and individuals. Within the letters are some finer divisions. You can divide them into two groups: Paul’s letters (Romans through Philemon) and Other letters (Hebrews through Jude). You can further divide Paul’s letters into two groups: Letters to churches (Romans through 2 Thessalonians) and Letters to individuals (1 Timothy – Philemon).
Paul wrote four of the letters while in prison in Rome: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
Each letter is unique. Some deal with problems among brethren. Some deal with how to handle persecution. Some focus on the gospel message: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). There is something to learn about the Christian life in each one.
Remember as you read these letters that you’re reading someone else’s mail. Some of the letters seem to address questions which were posed to the author, but we don’t have a written copy of the questions! So we end up guessing sometimes as to what was the original intent of certain portions of the letters.
Hebrews is the only letter which does not have an author’s name attached. The early Christians almost unanimously regarded it as scripture, so we regard it as such.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood yet most compelling books is the last book Revelation. Written in apocalyptic language, it is highly symbolic. The apostle John wrote the book from the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9) addressed to the seven churches of Asia (1:4). Terrible events unfold in the story: bloodshed, plagues, horrific battles, and finally the Lamb of God crushes the dragon. The great picture of heavenly Jerusalem at the end may signify heaven or the kingdom of Christ both present and future. The admonition is “be faithful until death” (2:10) because God has great blessings in store “to him who overcomes” (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).
To summarize the books of the New Testament, it’s easy to remember five groupings, similar to the Old Testament: Gospels, History, Letters of Paul, Letters by Other Writers, and Prophecy. In this New Testament, we find the life and teachings of Jesus, snapshots of the Holy Spirit’s work in the early church, and the writings of Jesus’ chosen earthly representatives (apostles and prophets).