Sorting the New Testament–a different approach

The New Testament is traditionally described as containing four types of books. These are the four Gospels, one book of history, twenty-one epistles, and one apocalypse. This description is useful because it recognizes the different kinds of literature in the New Testament and because it lists the books in the order they are arranged.

A second approach to the New Testament also describes four types of books, but this description includes one Gospel in each set. The four sets are Hebraic, Petrine, Pauline, and Johannine. The point is not that the New Testament contains different or competing theologies. All the books of the New Testament proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the Son of God, fully human, and the Savior of sinful humanity. However, this approach recognizes diversity in the authorship of New Testament books and in the intended audiences of the writers.

The Hebraic books are the Gospel of Matthew, the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Letter of James. These three books are written with a Jewish audience in mind. They assume literacy in the Old Testament and familiarity with first century Jewish customs. (Other New Testament writers explain customs that these three books simply state.) The word “faith” is not often used in the Hebraic books; instead, James speaks of “wisdom” when he talks about faith and uses “faith” to talk about the content of the faith (the list of things that are believed) rather than the actual relationship of faith.

The Petrine books are the Gospel of Mark, the two epistles of Peter, and the letter from Jude. Peter was a fisherman who was trained by Jesus to be an apostle. The Gospel of Matthew is relatively terse and dry (after all, Matthew was a tax collector–a numbers person), but Mark’s accounts are lively and vivid. Early Church historians say that Mark wrote what he heard Peter preach, so the language of the book is that of Peter. Jude, brother of James (and therefore brother of Jesus), traveled with Peter. His short book is a summary of the second epistle of Peter.

The Pauline books are the thirteen epistles bearing Paul’s name and the two books by Luke: his Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles. While Paul’s readers included both Jews and Gentiles, the books of Luke definitely have a Gentile readership in mind. Luke is the only Gospel writer who provides a sequel, describing how Jesus and his Spirit worked in the Church during the first generation of Christians. Paul wrote nine letters to seven different congregations–a fact that Augustine of Hippo found fitting, given the number seven often signals completeness, and also given that John’s book of Revelation also is addressed to seven congregations. In addition, Paul wrote four letters to three different individuals. The letters to Timothy and Titus are written in a different style from Paul’s other epistles, leading some Bible interpreters to think they had a different author. Paul’s different style in those letters is caused, not by a different author, but by a different audience with different concerns.

The Johannine books were written by John the Apostle. They are the Gospel of John, the three epistles of John, and the book of Revelation. John, like Peter, was a fisherman trained to be an apostle. John lived longer than Peter and probably wrote these books toward the end of his career, when he had been a leader of the Church for many years. He writes like a pastor. The Gospel and epistles use a very basic vocabulary and grammar, whereas the book of Revelation is written in a far different style. Again, this probably does not indicate a different author, but rather a different subject, a different approach, and a different situation (since John wrote Revelation while imprisoned on the island of Patmos).

This approach to the New Testament helps to clarify some apparent contradictions among the writers. It also provides additional context for each book. Recognizing connections between the Gospels and the epistles may grant a reader of the New Testament new understanding of what it contains.

Tomorrow I will address the so-called Synoptic Problem. J.

6 thoughts on “Sorting the New Testament–a different approach

  1. This is a valuable instruction into the unique complexities involved in the compilation of scripture. I commend your proclamation. Every true biblical scholar should be equipped with a prayerful appreciation of these facts.

    You may be interested in “a different approach” to examining the history surrounding the writing of the book of Revelation. I’ve posted two Articles on my site specifically focused on the topic ; actual dates of John’s writings. Keep up the mission, and may God continue to bless your efforts!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your essays are very thorough, Biblically defended, and well researched. I will continue to ponder your conclusions. We agree on a great many things. Not surprising that we differ on a few. I do not accept the thought that Jesus appeared to any of the twelve apostles after his ascension in the first century (aside from John’s vision on Patmos). Jesus warned them not to believe anyone who claimed a private secret coming, and he said that his parousia would be like lightning flashing from east to west (Matthew 24:23-28). But when did Jesus come into his Kingdom? Was it not on the cross? “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
      Modern people nearly always use “generation” to talk about a group of people born around the same time. It has other meanings, especially in Biblical Greek. Each nation could be considered a generation, including the Jewish nation. Jesus may have meant that Jews would remain on the earth until his parousia. Even more likely, he may have been calling the Church a generation and promising its survival until the End.
      By the way,for the record, my understanding of the book of Revelation is that which you labeled Progressive Parallels. J.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your proclamation is valid, I fully agree – “I do not accept the thought that Jesus appeared to any of the twelve apostles after his ascension in the first century (aside from John’s vision on Patmos). Jesus warned them not to believe anyone who claimed a private secret coming, and he said that his parousia would be like lightning flashing from east to west (Matthew 24:23-28)”. Peter had a similar ‘visitation’ when told not to call anything sanctified by God ‘unclean”. Paul too saw such ‘flash’ of light, temporarily blinding him.

        Al I intend , as stated many times throughout my blog, is to display possible insights into scripture interpretation led by the Holy Spirit as each reader seeks HIS guidance and confirmation. I do not purposely preach nor profess specific information as doctrine. Progressive Parallels interpretation definitely allows for wide latitude of possibilities, which is good as far as having an open mind disciplined by true objectivity, but tends to become a bit dangerous when measured against systematic theology and strict scientific approaches.
        As I alluded to in the Article, I prefer to accept the soundest parts of all, not ‘putting all my eggs in one basket.. Peace! — and thanks for your input.

        Liked by 2 people

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