Here is a lesson and notes on The Structure of the New Testament (51 minutes).

1. Process

  • The NT is a library more than it is a single book.
  • The library contains multiple literary genres, and each has its own rules for proper understanding. (More on this in AIM NT Interpretation.)
  • Copies were made by hand (manuscripts), dictated to amanuenses (singular: amanuensis). Later these manuscripts were further copied and shared.
  • The NT came together gradually.
    • Earliest manuscripts separate
    • Gospels circulating as a unit in 2nd century.
    • Paul's letters too were collected and circulated together no later than the 2nd century.
    • Codices (codex = book form) have survived from the early 4th century.
  • The phrase "New Testament" first appeared around the end of the 2nd century.
  • Ambiguity: testament = covenant; testament = book.
  • The process took at least a century. After all, the 27 NT documents were written by many persons in multiple cities through the course of several decades.

2. Parts

  • Gospel: 4 genuine documents
  • Acts: 1 genuine document
  • Letter: 21  genuine documents (about 30 in all, including smaller letters within other works)
  • Apocalypse: 1 genuine document
  • Spurious documents normally date no earlier than to the late 2nd century.

3. Percentages

  • Luke-Acts: 26%. The only Gentile writer of the NT.
  • Pauline literature: 26%
  • The other 3 gospels: 31%
  • The other documents: 17%
  • The NT and the OT
    • The NT is about 1/4 of your Bible.
    • This suggests that the OT is foundational and essential to NT understanding.

4. Apostolicity

  • Apostolic (Acts 2:42).
  • Christocentric.
  • Did not contradict his or his apostles' teaching.
  • Usually associated the apostles but authorship or personal relationship. The 2nd century traditions to this effect are strong.

5. Authorship

  • Anonymous documents: 9 (Hebrews, 1-3 John, Acts, and the gospels)
  • Author specified: 18.

6. Dating

  • Not chronological.
  • Letters generally precede the gospels. (Note: the following dates are provisional.)
    • For reference: Jesus' ministry lasted 29-33 AD, and the earliest strata of the NT documents date to within a couple of years from 33 AD (like 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
    • Earliest documents (40s-50s)
      • James, perhaps as early as 45 AD
      • Galatians, 48 AD
      • 1-2 Thessalonians, 50 AD
      • 1 Corinthians, 51 AD
      • 2 Corinthians, 53 AD
      • Romans, 56 AD
    • Middle documents (60s)
      • 4 prison epistles, 60 AD
      • 1 Timothy, 63 AD
      • 1-2 Peter, 64 AD
      • Titus, 65 AD
      • Jude, 66 AD
      • Mark, 65 AD
      • 2 Timothy, 68 AD
      • Hebrews, 68 AD
      • Key date: 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed the Temple and effectively brought an end to the current form of Judaism.
    • Later documents
      • Matthew, 70s
      • Luke-Acts, 80s. (Some scholars locate Luke-Acts in the 60s.)
      • John and 1-3 John, 90 AD. (A few scholars also locate John in the 40s or 50s.)
      • Revelation, 95 AD. (A few scholars place Revelation in the reign of Vespasian, 69-79 AD.)
      • Relatively early Patristic quotes (e.g. 1 Clement, 96 AD, and Ignatius, 107 AD) suggest that all NT documents were penned in the 1st century. By the way, through quotations of the NT c.100-300 AD, the entire NT can be reconstructed apart from a few verses! We can trust that the scriptures have been copied accurately.

Further study and reading