Notes on Session 2 – Introduction to the New Testament

Introduction to the New Testament (Thurs 29th October 2020)


The New Testament – the book of the Christian Community

Why “New” and Why “Testament”?

TESTAMENT in the Bible = Covenant (not a book but an act binding two parties together)

  • God’s covenant-making act that binds people to God and to each other in community
  • It is unilateral – comes from God as gift (not negotiated between equal contracting parties)

NEW = fulfils the past in Biblical language (Not a more positive term than “old”)

New: (all pointing towards fulfilment of God’s plan for creation)

Isaiah 43:19

  • See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
    I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 65:17

  • See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
    The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

Ezekiel 11:19

  • I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.



Early Christians interpreted the event of Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfilment of God’s purpose for the world, the renewal of the covenant.

Remember Covenant in the OT? Jesus is the New Covenant (Testament)


We use the term now to refer to “a collection of documents that bear authentic witness to the meaning of the Christ event, God’s eschatological renewal of the covenant with Israel”.  (The People’s New Testament Commentary – Boring and Craddock)


The title “New Testament” for Christian Scripture began to be used in the late 2nd century as the church began to select those documents that bore authentic witness to God’s acts through Christ.  These formed the Christian Bible only in combination with the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament).


New Testament v Old Testament?

  • For the Christian church these two collections of writings can never be separated from each other or interpreted independently of each other.
  • The Old Testament has always been interpreted in the light of the Christ event (Passion, death and resurrection of Christ)
  • The New Testament has always been interpreted in the context of and in continuity with the Old Testament.
  • The OT writers expected the fulfilment of the promises God had made to them (but did not know what that would be)
  • The NT writers while valuing Old Testament as revelation, saw Jesus to be the fulfillment of that revelation.


Some Facts about the New Testament Books:

  • Not the product of a few brilliant individual writers – but the faith statements of the Christian community
  • A product of a selection process – much more literature produced than included in NT. (At least 63 documents circulated as “Gospels” in the early church) Were selected and used by the early churches themselves
  • Some books began to emerge as accepted by late 2nd century – some took longer. Was an informal unofficial process.
  • Some documents were deemed to be authentic testimony and were preserved and read in worship
  • Later bishops and Councils confirmed this.


New Testament Translation

  • Originally written in common Greek (koine) (Not like modern Greek! Translation is complicated!
  • 17th century Church of England had a reliable translation of the Bible made into then–contemporary English (Shakespeare English!)
  • The “Authorized Version” or “King James” version – became “the Bible” for English speaking Protestants (even for many today)
  • Currently at least 140 English translations and versions of the New Testament are available

Suggested Translations

NJB – New Jerusalem Bible (1985) – Roman Catholicism – used at Mass.  New Revised Version produced recently (2020)

NSV – New Revised Standard Version (1989)- American mainstream Protestantism

NAB – New American Bible (1986)  – American Roman Catholic

NIV – New International Version ((1973)  – North American Evangelical scholars

Go to to get access to different translations

Fr. Kieran O’Mahony’s website (Bible+Spirituality) has recommendations.


The Books of The New Testament

All 27 books written after the death of Jesus.

First four Gospels (Matthew, Mark Luke and John) tell an independent account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Four Gospels give evidence that Jesus is the Christ (the anointed of God), the one predicted in the Old Testament times. Shows how prophecy was fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus

Fifth Book – Acts, written by Luke tells the story of the first 30 years of Christianity

Books 6-26 – Are letters written by apostles and prophets in the church to various churches and individuals (including the letters of St. Paul). Instruction on Christian living found her.

Book 27 Revelation. A prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Jewish Nation in 70 A.D. at the hand of the Roman Empire.


The Four Gospels

A Gospel is a historical document, a literary composition and a theological affirmation


Reflects the historical events on which the Christian faith is based (Jesus, Pilate, Herod, Peter, Paul etc all real people who lived at a particular time and place)

Also reflects and addresses the historical situation in which it was written i.e. the historical setting of the church in and for which that Gospel was written)


Author had to structure it, what to include, what to omit, how to best communicate his message


None wrote just to report history. All wanted to interpret the meaning of God’s act in Christ and express it in ways that could be understood in the writer’s own time. Their work is “Christological” – the understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ, Christ’s relation to God and to human beings.

They write for faith – in the light of the Resurrected Jesus


Mark – Overview

Traditionally assigned to “Mark” the companion to Paul and Peter.  Also the “John Mark” of Acts.

Written for Gentile Christians – the book presupposes that the readers are unfamiliar with Jewish customs

Traditionally located in Rome around 64AD (but could have been Syria)

First Gospel written – Used by both Matthew and Luke

Theme: Sets forth the saving act of God by telling the Story of Jesus


Matthew – Overview

Traditionally assigned to an eyewitness Matthew the apostle.

Writer is a Christian teacher with a Jewish background. Written for a Christian community with a Jewish background – who has originally remained within Judaism before becoming isolated within the synagogue community

A community experiencing lots of change. Traditionally located in Syria around 70/80 AD

Used all of Mark’s Gospel, another source known as “Q” and another sources only used by him.

Concerned to show that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures.


Luke – Overview

Traditionally assigned to companion of Paul,  “the beloved Physician”. Sophisticated author who wrote excellent Greek – literary level superior to the other Gospels. Writer is a Christian Gentile

Written for those who have already been instructed about the church and its message but who need a deeper and more accurate understanding. Traditionally written around 80/90 – not known where

Used much of Mark’s Gospel, another source known as “Q” and another sources known only to him.

Concerned to bear witness to the truth of the Christian faith for all.


John – Overview

Traditionally assigned to the John the “Beloved Disciple”

Represents the Johannine school, a group of theological teachers and interpreters within the Johannine community (at Ephesus). There are also the three Letters of John.

Very different to the Synoptic gospels – more theological underlining the divinity of Jesus

Early readers were members of the Jewish synagogue who had been excluded after they became Christian believers. The Community also included Gentiles

Gospel reflects the situation of a Christian community at a time when the parting of the ways between Jews and Christians had become painful.