Just as I discussed in my post on the Old Testament, every person who wants to study the Bible should begin with a basic understanding of the Bible. This begins with understanding the basic organization and placement of the books of the Bible. First familiarize yourself with the Old Testament. Now you have a good grasp on the Old Testament, you are ready to begin familiarizing yourself with the New Testament. There are 27 books in the New Testament and 39 in the Old. (Remember this memory device: 3 X 9 [39 books in the Old] = 27 [27 books in the New])
Even though there are less books in the New Testament than the Old, there is one more division books in the New Testament. This grouping is essentially the same in all of the English translations of the Bible. The division of books in the New Testament is as follows: Gospels, Acts/History, Pauline epistles (written by Paul), General epistles, and Prophecy.
These are the first four books of the New Testament and probably the most familiar to people. They bear the name of the human authors. All four describe the life, birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is the center of God’s plan of redemption, also known as the gospel. In its purest form gospel means “good news.”
These books tell the good news of Jesus Christ. However, even though these books tell the same story the human authors tell the story from different perspectives. They are like four men standing on each corner of a major intersection who witness a multi-car crash. The basics of their witness testimony are the same and they saw the same crash. But each one saw it from a different place, a different angle and with a different background. Each of the four gospels present Jesus in a unique light.
Matthew Jesus is the King of the Jews who was rejected by His own countrymen.
Mark Jesus is the Servant of God who ministers to people’s needs.
Luke Jesus is the Son of man who is the Savior of all.
John Jesus is the Son of God in whom we should believe for eternal life.
There is some discrepancy whether the official title of this book is, “The Acts of the Apostles” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” It is considered as “Part B” of the Gospel of Luke since both share the same author and both are addressed to a man of antiquity named Theophilus (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1). Some group the book of Acts with the Gospels and call all five books “History.”
I prefer to consider it as a unique book of its own genre because it describes the history of the early church as the gospel spread throughout the known world. The book can be divided into three parts:
Acts 1-7: The church witnesses to Jewish people in and around the city of Jerusalem.
Acts 8-12: The church witnesses to Samaritans in and around the provinces of Judea and Samaria.
Acts 13-28: The church witnesses to Gentiles throughout the known world.
They are also known as the epistles of Paul. Paul was converted to Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1ff) and God used him to author two-thirds of the content of the New Testament.
Paul introduces himself as the human author of every one of these letter-epistles usually within the first few verses of the first chapter.
These letters of Paul can be sub-divided into those written to churches (Romans-2 Thessalonians) and those written to people (1 Timothy-Philemon). Paul wrote these letters during all three of his missionary journeys and both times he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel. These letters can be divided based on when they were written as well.
Letter-Epistles to churches
Romans The theology of salvation explained in intricate detail from start to finish.
1 Corinthians The church is to address internal divisions so that the gospel can go forth.
2 Corinthians The relationship between suffering and the power of God as seen in the ministry of the Apostle Paul.
Galatians The heart of the gospel, faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, is to be defended and protected.
Ephesians Christ unites people from all nations to Himself and one another in the church.
Philippians Joy and encouragement mark those who know and serve Jesus Christ together.
Colossians Christ is Lord of all of creation, including things seen and unseen.
1 Thessalonians Be ready for the return of Jesus when He will resurrect the just and condemn the unjust.
2 Thessalonians A healthy church understands what it means to be faithful to the Lord as it awaits His return.
Letter-Epistles to people
1 Timothy The gospel will produce evidence in the lives of church leaders who must then maintain order in the church.
2 Timothy Church leaders should persevere in gospel work despite difficulties.
Titus The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be used to correct false teaching and to produce correct living.
Philemon The gospel of Jesus Christ can change people and restore relationships.
The General Epistles have also been called the Catholic Epistles. The term Catholic (not “Roman Catholic”) is used in the sense of general or universal to distinguish them from the Pauline Epistles which are addressed to churches or persons. They speak either to no specific audience (Hebrews, 2 Peter, 1 John, Jude) or to an audience whose exact identity is broad (James, 1 Peter) or vague (2, 3, John). They include what some call the Johnnie Epistles (1, 2, 3 John) and the Petrine Epistles (1, 2 Peter).
Hebrews Christ is greater than all things, therefore keep holding onto Him by faith.
James Be a doer of the word of God by producing good works.
1 Peter Persevere by faith while suffering persecution because you already possess the promises of God.
2 Peter The grace of God in Christ transforms and enables you to live right in the face of opposition.
1 John Get back to the basics of the Christian life: correct beliefs, correct living and correct commitment.
2 John Live in the love of God in accordance with the truth of Jesus.
3 John Work together in love as you confront difficult people in the church.
Jude The church must contend for the Christian faith once for all delivered to the saints while resisting false teachers.
The book of Revelation identifies itself as both apocalyptic literature (“revelation,” 1:1) and prophesy (1:3). “Apocalyptic” and “apocalypse” are derived from the Greek word apokalypsis, which means “reveal, unveil.”
The technical name of the book of Revelation is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”
It stands in a class of its own containing horrific imagery that includes plagues, battles and meteorological disturbances . Yet the book ends with a resounding note of hope as the Savior of the world returns to subdue all of His enemies and usher His followers into the New Jerusalem where they will live forever.
Revelation God’s final plan for the ages will be accomplished through His Son Jesus Christ.
Think about this…
Anyone can learn these simple groupings of Bible books along with their themes. A little memory work learning these things will put you on the fast track to studying the Bible. As you prepare to familiarize yourself with the New Testament, think about these questions:
- How many books are in the New Testament?
- How many divisions of books are there in the New Testament?
- How does each gospel uniquely portray Jesus?
- Who wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament?
- What’s the difference between the Pauline epistles and the General epistles?