New Testament

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The New Testament focuses on the life of Jesus and the early development of Christianity. Originally written in Greek, it is comprised of the Gospels, the Acts and sayings of Christ, the Epistles and the letters of Paul and the Apostles. It contains 27 books and 260 chapters. Most of it was written down in late A.D. 1st century and early 2nd century.The authoritative New Testament was not canonized until the 4th century.

In 1862, Dr. Thomas Hartwell announced that the New Testament contained 7,959 Verses, 181,253 words and 838,380 letters. There are 4,800 different words in the New Testament. In comparison, Hugo used 38,000 different words; Shakespeare 24,000; Homer 8,500. The Old Testament has 5,800 different words.

In A.D. 367, Athanasis of Alexandria was the first to list the 27 books of the New Testament. The oldest Greek manuscript containing New Testament scripture, the Codex Sinaitcus, was written in the A.D. 4th century, and ends with Barnabas and The Shepherd, which are generally not include in modern versions of the Bible. See Above

Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Contents of the New Testament

The New Testament begins with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which tell of of Jesus’s and what he did and said. These are followed by the Acts of the Apostles, a history of the missionary efforts of the apostles, Jesus’ closest disciples. After this are the Pauline epistles (those written by Saint Paul), clarifying and expanding on religious doctrines deduced from Jesus’s teachings. After this are the general epistles. In all, thirteen of the epistles have been attributed to Paul, and these account for about one-third of the New Testament. The final book of the New Testament is Revelation, which addresses some of the mysteries of the heavenly world and describes the Second Coming of Christ. [Source:]

According to the BBC: “The New Testament has 27 books, written between about 50 and 100 AD, and falling naturally into two sections: the Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John); and the Letters (or epistles) - written by various Christian leaders to provide guidance for the earliest church communities. [Source: John Drane, July 12, 2011 BBC |::|]

“The first three Gospels are effectively different editions of the same materials, and for that reason are known as the 'synoptic gospels'. The writer of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of how Christianity spread from being a small group of Jewish believers in the time of Jesus to becoming a worldwide faith in less than a generation. |The New Testament concludes with the book of Revelation, which begins with a series of letters to seven churches in the area of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), but then offers a visionary presentation of the meaning of all things, from creation to the end of the world. |::|

Early History of the New Testament

Gospel of Peter, one the rejected Gospels
The New Testament is not organized chronologically either in terms of when the different parts were written or in terms of when the events take place. The odlest parts — the seven epistles, or letters by Paul — were written between approximately A.D. 50 and 60. Much of the rest of the New Testament was written in the succeeding fifty to one hundred years. [Source:]

In the early days of the Christian Church the Bible was the Old Testament. What is now regarded as the New Testament were simply chronicles of the life of Christ and various observations, insights and inquiries. Sometimes these writing were use in services, with each church using different ones. Over time early Christian scholars’such as Marcion (A.D. 159), Eusebius of Caesarea (4th century) and St. Augustine — codified, edited, threw out and organized writings that came after Christ’s death into what became the New Testament.

Scholars weeded through a huge number of texts and carefully selected the text that became the New Testament. Some scholars attributes only 20 percent of the sayings and deeds ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament are actually to have been made by him.

St. Irenaeus, a 2nd century bishop from Lyon, is regarded by some as the first great theologian. He affirmed the authority of the four Gospels and dismissed other texts as heretical, calling some “evil exegesis,” and eliminated them from the Christian canon because many threatened to undermine basic doctrines. The religious scholar Elaine Pagels that by doing this he provided “the basic architecture of what would become the Orthodox Christian faith.”

In the year A.D. 180, St. Irenaeus released a summary of many of the texts he rejected in a treatise called “Against Heresies”. His interpretation of the texts were often quite prejudicial. Versions of the text discovered were often quite different from the summaries in the St. Irenaeus treatise. St. Irenaeus was particularly harsh on Gnostic texts because many of his followers had been lured away by a Gnostic preacher.


The Gospels are the most important part of the News Testament. Based on oral traditions, they are four accounts of Jesus’s life and teaching written by four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospels differ in some details but are the same on essentials. For example all the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection but each tells it in a different way with a different viewpoint and a different message.

In his book “What the Gospels Meant”, the writer and thinker Gary Wills wrote the Gospels are “a mediation on the meaning of Jesus in the light of sacred history as recorded in sacred writings.” Gospels means "Good News," and is derived from the Old English "godspell." The good news was the coming Christ and his offer of salvation. The earliest New Testament writings are the letters of Paul written between A.D. 50 and 62.

Few old examples of the Gospels exist in part because of the massive destruction of Christian materials ordered by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in A.D. 303. A rare example of a pre-Diocletian manuscript was found at the Fayyum oasis in Egypt. The earliest Christian Bibles, all in Greek, date to 4th and 5th century. Most are from fragments kept at St. Catharine’s in the Sinai or were found elsewhere in Egypt.

Letters and Paul

According to the BBC: “Letters were the natural way for itinerant church leaders to communicate with their converts, and the earliest ones were written before the Gospels. With some exceptions (Romans, Hebrews), they were not meant to be formal presentations of Christian belief, but offered advice to people who were working out how to express their commitment to Jesus in ways that would be relevant to the many different cultural contexts in which they found themselves throughout the Roman empire. Reading them can be like listening to one half of a conversation, as the writers give answers to questions sent to them either verbally or in writing. Paul was the most prolific writer of such letters, though he was not the only one. [Source: John Drane, July 12, 2011 BBC |::|]

The Epistles (Letters) of Paul, including Thessalonians and Corinthians, are the earliest known Christian documents. The earliest were written around A.D. 50. They were written before the Gospels and make up a considerable part of the New Testament. These letters were written over the years to his friends and to churches. The Book of Acts describes the early history of the Christian Church and Paul’s life and works. “Carrying the 'good news' of Jesus Christ to non-Jews, Paul's letters to his fledgling congregations reveal their internal tension and conflict.”

Durer's Paul

The following are texts in the New Testament related to Paul and the Pauline Churches
Missionary Activity: Acts of the Apostles [
Failure in Athens, Acts 17:16-34:
Success in Corinth, Acts 18:1-11
Foolishness of Faith, I Corinthians 1:17-2:8
Resurrection of Christ and the Saints, I Corinthians 15:1-55
Faith and Law, Romans 1:13-17, Galatians 3:15-29
Predestination, Romans 8:18-31, 9:14-22
Body and Spirit, Romans 7:22-8:17
Radical Equality, Galatians 3:27-29
Love, I Corinthians 13:1-13
Men and Women
Undisputed Letters:

I Corinthians
II Corinthians
Disputed Letters:
II Thessalonians
Post-Pauline Epistles:
I Timothy
II Timothy
2ND Darrell J. Doughty: Pauline Paradigms and Pauline Authenticity JHC 1 (Fall 1994), 95-128. [At Drew] [Source:]

P52 from John: the Oldest New Testament Fragment

P52 — a fragment of the Gospel of John (a.k.a. John Rylands P457) — is the oldest known manuscript fragment of the New Testament. Written in Greek on a 3.5- inch- long and 2.5-inch wide piece of papyrus, it consists of seven lines on each side written between A.D. 125 and –150. P52 was discovered in Egypt in 1920 by Bernard P. Grenfell and is currently located in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. [Source:]



Translation: Therefore Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." The Judeans said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death." This was to fulfill the word which Jesus had spoken to show by what death he would die. Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, "Are you the king of the Judeans?" [Source: translation by K. C. Hanson]


Translation: Therefore Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into society: to witness to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Judeans again, and he told them, "I find no crime in him." [Source: translation by K. C. Hanson]

Scientists Discover “Hidden Chapter” of the Bible in a Vatican Palimpsest

In 2023, a scientist announced that he discovered a lost fragment of a manuscript representing one of the earliest translations of the Gospels — one of only four examples of an Old Syriac translation — using ultraviolet photography. The scientist, medievalist Grigory Kessel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, found the hidden chapter underneath three layers of text — dubbed a double palimpsest and described his findings in the journal New Testament Studies, [Source: Tim Newcomb, Popular Mechanics, April 11, 2023]

The Old Syriac text contains part of Matthew 12:1. Kessel speculated that someone copied the verse onto the parchment during the sixth century. Based on the language, Kessel estimates that the original may have been produced in the third century. Tim Newcomb wrote in Popular Mechanics: The new find represents one of the earliest translations of the Gospels. The long-hidden chapter was originally translated as part of what are known as the Old Syriac translations on parchment that was reused, mostly erasing the original translation of the Biblical New Testament.The Kessel find is a double palimpsest because the parchment was then used a third time.

"Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the Gospels," Kessel says in a news release. One resides in London's British Library and the other was a palimpsest discovery at St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai. In what is known as the "Sinai Palimpsests Project," a third manuscript was recently unearthed. Kessel's find marks the fourth, a translation from the 3rd century text likely copied in the 6th century. The parchment was housed in the Vatican Library.

This gospel, which has traditionally been attributed to the apostle Matthew, was likely written sometime in the second half of the first century. So the newly discovered text is probably about 200 years younger than the bulk of the gospel. The passage on in the Bible reads: "at that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat." However, the recently discovered Old Syriac text says the disciples "began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them." Kessel told Live Science that he is aware of only one other Gospel copy, written in Old Latin, that claimed the disciples rubbed grain in their hands. It's not clear if rubbing the grain had any religious significance. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, April 15, 2023]

"Kessel has made a great discovery thanks to his profound knowledge of old Syriac texts and script characteristics," Rapp, said. While fragments of New Testament text date back to the original writings from the 3rd century, the oldest known surviving complete manuscript of the New Testament is the Greek Codex Sinaiticus, dated to the 6th century. Syriac translations can date from before the 6th century, but are mostly found in palimpsests, preserved in the erased layers of parchment. "This discovery proves," Rapp says, "how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts."

Additional Books in the Ancient New Testament

Glenn Davis wrote: The history of the compilation of the canon of the early New Testament “spans the first four centuries of Christianity, and was a long continuous process. It was not only a task of collecting, but also of sifting and rejecting. It was not the result of a deliberate decree by an individual or a council near the beginning of the Christian era. The collection of New Testament books took place gradually over many years by the pressure of various kinds of circumstances and influences, some external and others internal to the life of congregations. Different factors operated at different times and in different places. Some of the influences were constant, others were periodic; some were local, and others were operative where the Church had been planted. [Source:, |:|]

Early Lists of the Books of the New Testament: Catalogue inserted in codex Claromontanus” 1) The Canon of Cyril of Jerusalem; 2) The Cheltenham Canon; 3) The Canon approved by the Synod of Laodicea; 4) The Canon approved by the 'Apostolic Canons'; 5) The Canon of Gregory of Nazianus; 6) The Canon of Amphilochius of Iconium; 7) The Canon approved by the third Synod of Carthage; 8) The Decretum Gelasianum; 9) Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books; 10) The Stichometery of Nicephorus. |:|

Early Lists of the Books of the New Testament: from Metzger and Schneemelcher: 1) Catalogue inserted in codex Claromontanus (4th century?); 2) The Canon of Cyril of Jerusalem (~350 CE); 3) The Cheltenham Canon (~360 CE); 4) The Canon approved by the Synod of Laodicea (~363 CE ?); 5) The Canon approved by the 'Apostolic Canons' (~385 CE); 6) The canon of Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 CE); 7) The canon of Amphilochius of Iconium (died after 394 CE); 8) The Canon approved by the Third Synod of Carthage (~397 CE); 9) The Decretum Gelasianum (6th century); 10) Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books (7th century); 11) The Stichometry of Nicephorus (9th century ?). |:|

Myth of Origins, Non-Canon Heretics and Gnostics

Gnostic text, the Apocalypse of Peter

Karen King at Harvard Divinity School is a critic of what she calls the “master story” of Christianity: a narrative that casts the New Testament as divine revelation that passed through Jesus in “an unbroken chain” to the apostles and their successors—church fathers, ministers, priests and bishops who carried its truths into the present day. Owen Jarus wrote in Live Science: According to this “myth of origins,” as she has called it, followers of Jesus who accepted the New Testament canon—chiefly the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written roughly between A.D. 65 and A.D. 95, or at least 35 years after Jesus’ death—were true Christians. Followers inspired by noncanonical gospels were heretics hornswoggled by the devil. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, October 5, 2015 /~/]

“Until the last century, virtually everything scholars knew about these other gospels came from broadsides against them by early Church leaders. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, France, pilloried them in A.D. 180 as “an abyss of madness and of blasphemy”—a “wicked art” practiced by people bent on “adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.” A challenge to Christianity’s master story surfaced in December 1945, when an Arab farmer digging near the town of Nag Hammadi, in Upper Egypt, stumbled on a cache of manuscripts. Inside a meter-tall clay jar containing 13 leatherbound papyrus codices were 52 texts that didn’t make it into the canon, including the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip and the Secret Revelation of John. /~/

Debate Over the Veracity of New Testament Scriptures

In the book “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” (2005), Bart Ehrman argues that the “facts” about Jesus in modern Bibles are based on centuries of copies and recopies that may be so different from the original texts that is difficult to figure out what the original texts actually said. Robert Draper wrote in National Geographic: “In person, the goateed evangelical turned atheist is even-tempered if subversively caustic. Over coffee near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he’s a professor of religious studies, Ehrman recites a host of scriptural passages that he views with scholarly suspicion. The last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark, he says, were likely tacked on many years after the fact, as was the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, foreshadowing Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. [Source: Robert Draper, National Geographic, December, 2018]

“Many of Ehrman’s assertions are debatable), but some scholars agree that Christian scribes deliberately corrupted certain passages over time. The question is one of degree. “Broadly, I support what Ehrman is saying about this,” says Peter Head, an Oxford scholar who studies Greek New Testament manuscripts. “But the manuscripts suggest a controlled fluidity. Variants emerge, but you can sort of figure out when and why. Now, it’s in the earlier period that we don’t have enough data. That’s the problem.”

“The “earlier period” that Head refers to begins with the birth of Christianity in the first century A.D. and concludes in the early fourth century. And while it’s true that more than 5,500 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been found, close to 95 percent of those copies come from the ninth to the 16th centuries. Only about 125 date back to the second or third centuries, and none to the first.

“None of these figures rattle Ehrman’s sparring partner Daniel Baird Wallace, a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, , who considers Ehrman a friend and refers to him by his first name. “Bart likes to point out that we don’t have any autographs, only copies,” Wallace says. “But the fact is, we don’t have the autographs of any Greco-Roman literature, except possibly one fragment from one classical author.” Wallace acknowledges that the thousands of New Testament manuscripts contain myriad differences owing to scribes’ errors, but he argues that because scholars have such a wealth of texts to study and compare, they’ve been able to identify those errors and largely recover the original wording. He also points out that an important measure of the trustworthiness of any historical document is its nearness in time to the events it purports to record. “On average the earliest surviving copies of Greco-Roman literature are half a millennium removed from the time of composition,” he says. “But in the case of the New Testament, the earliest copies are only a few decades after the fact. That’s a huge difference.” Still, the lack of Christian writings from the first century would seem to be a point in Ehrman’s column.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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