This study is designed to give the student an extensive view of the New Testament. In studying the geography of the world, we begin with a globe that shows us the various continents and oceans. Then we note how these continents are divided into countries, and the countries into provinces or states. If we reverse this method of study, we make it very difficult.
Many people try to study the Bible in this way. They try to study it intensively before they study it extensively. They want to get the meaning of a verse without knowing the teaching of the chapter. Or they seek to grasp the meaning of a chapter, not knowing its actual setting or teaching of the book in which it is found. Obviously this is not the best way to get to the true meaning of Scripture. Now, in light of these observations, a word of explanation: Our studies in the ensuing months will be aimed at the extensive method, rather than the intensive. We will seek to lay a foundation of knowledge upon which you can build accurately and intensively.
Let us look, first of all, at the composition of the New Testament. The twenty-seven books can be classified into three major groups:
The Gospels relate to the past, while Acts and the epistles relate to the present and then the Revelation relates to the future. Truths found in the Gospels are historically illustrated in Acts, doctrinally unfolded and applied in the Epistles, and symbolically presented in the Apocalypse (Revelation).
Chronological divisions are based on the literary characteristics of the books:
1. Historical Literature: Matthew through Acts (5 books)
2. Epistolary Literature: Romans through Jude (21 books)
3. Prophetical Literature: Revelation (1 book)
The literary divisions do not necessarily follow the chronological order, but they do reflect the logical order of God’s program. For instance, it is essential that we have an understanding of the Gospels and Acts to really appreciate the epistles and Revelation. The life of Christ and the facts relative to the origin and order of the Church are fundamental and foundational. The Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being “the chief cornerstone” (see Ephesians 2:20).
Below is a brief summary of the teaching of the books of the New Testament:
Matthew*: Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews
Mark*: Jesus, the Servant of the Lord
Luke*: Jesus as the Son of man
John*: Jesus as the Son of God
Acts: This is a continuation of Luke’s Gospel. It presents the risen Christ working through His apostles, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The main theme is the birth and expansion of the Church.
Pauline Epistles: These provide an interpretation of the person and work of Jesus Christ and apply His teachings to the lives of believers. Some of these epistles were written to churches to correct errors, while others were written to individuals.
The remaining epistles may be grouped under two headings:
Suffering Epistles: Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter. These epistles were written specifically in order to counteract suffering.
False Teaching Epistles: 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, and Jude. These epistles were written in order to counteract apostasy.
Apocalypse—the Book of Revelation: This book is truly a revelation and unveiling of Jesus Christ (see the very first verse). When you read this book, please keep this in mind. The majesty of Jesus Christ is brought before our wondering eyes
*The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke):
Why are these books called the synoptic gospels? It is as one has said, they “see together.” They are looking at the Lord Jesus Christ. It is obvious from their writing that they saw many of the same things, so they are called synoptic gospels, because they view the Lord together. These gospels have much in common. It would be impossible for me to show all that they have in common, for it is far too much to count. Instead, I would like to bring the differences to your attention tonight. One must be careful in generalizing. While each is considered truth, to a certain extent each book is unique and the differences should be noted.
Differences between the Synoptic Gospels:
Matthew presents Jesus Christ as King.
Mark presents Him as a servant.
Luke presents Him as the Son of Man.
There are just a few differences between the synoptic gospels and John’s gospels. It is very important that we get this.
1. The Synoptics give a presentation of the Lord Jesus. John gives the interpretation of the Lord Jesus.
2. The Synoptics show Christ outwardly - We see the King, the Servant, and the Son of Man. John’s gospels show Him inwardly. We really note who He is, where He came from, what He is going to do, and where He is going to return.
3. The Synoptics show Him as what He is. John shows us who He is.
4. The Synoptics show Him as the Lion-Ox-man of Ezekiel’s vision. [The Lion represents the lion of the Tribe of Judah in Matthew’s gospel, the ox represents Christ as Servant in Mark’s gospel, and the man represents Christ as the Son of Man in Luke’s gospel.] John shows Him as the eagle – the eagle flies and soars into the heaven.