Books of the Bible

New Testament

Matthew Mark Luke John
Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy
Titus Philemon Hebrews James
1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John
3 John Jude Revelation  

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Matthew

Origin-It is commonly accepted that Matthew, a Galilean Jew also called Levi, is the author of this gospel. He worked as a tax-gatherer (sometimes called 'publican') for the Romans, and was therefore hated by most fellow Jews. But Jesus called him to be a disciple, and the book is written from the perspective of a disciple. Matthew's purpose in writing the book was to show how Jesus fulfills the Davidic covenant of kingship and the Abraham convenant of promise as seen in Genesis 15:18. Christ is the King sprung from David as the prophets had predicted. Matthew wrote in early Hebrew called Aramaic, but the earliest surviving copies of this book are in Greek. This book was written between 40 and 80 A.D., although the exact date is in dispute.

Overview-The book records Jesus' genealogy, birth in Bethlehem, ministry, and predictions of His second coming in power and glory. Three main themes from the book are:

-The manifestation of the Christ to Israel and the subsequent rejecting by the Jews.

-The sacrifice and resurrection.

-The risen Lord in ministry.

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Mark

Origin-It is believed by many, that Mark served as Peter's interpreter while Peter was imprisoned in Rome. He recorded Peter's recollections of the life, words, and actions of Jesus. Peter spoke Aramaic (old Hebrew), but Mark wrote down the words in Greek because it was more universally spoken. It was probably written about 70 A.D., and is the earliest of the three synoptic gospels. Although Peter probably provided most of the main facts, Mark additionally drew on oral gospels which had long been repeated since the earliest times of Christianity. This oral gospel is mentioned by Paul (also a companion of Mark) in his letter to the Corinthians and included many of the acts and teachings of Jesus. Mark's gospel appears to have been used in part as the source from much of Matthew and Luke.

Overview-Mark emphasizes Jesus as a man of action and power. Mark does not give the same level of detail around Jesus' teachings as the other gospels do. The style of the book is simple and straightforward. The words are presented plainly and without explanation allowing the real intensity to show through, and adding to it's historical authenticity. Mark is a short book comprised of 16 brief chapters. Some commentators have wondered if perhaps the ending of Mark is missing, as the last chapter appears to abruptly end right at the time of the resurrection (16:8). The verses added after this were probably added by a later editor.

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Luke

Origin-This is the third of the synoptic gospels and was written by 'the beloved physician' as the apostle Paul referred to him. Only in Luke are found the 'Magnificat', the story of the birth of John the Baptist, the Christmas story of the shepherds, the parables of the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep, and the prodigal son. Luke was a physician and a well educated man. He was familiar with the Eastern Mediterranean area and appears to have traveled with Paul from Troas to Philippi before 52 A.D. and then later after 58 A.D. Tradition has it that he came from the city of Antioch. This gospel must have been written around 90 A.D. since some of it's content appears to be based on Mark. Luke writes in a Greek of high quality as is evident here and in the book of Acts for which he is also author. The books of Luke and Acts together comprise about a quarter of the New Testament. Luke writes a 'religious history' - that is, it is a biography, but also a proclamation - a theology of history.

Overview-Apparently, Luke felt a need to unify the varied and scattered accounts of Jesus' life and teachings that were present at this time. Luke's work contains notes of social, humanitarian, and historical interest, and is sometimes called the 'social gospel'. In fact much of our specific knowledge of Christianity comes from this gospel and the book of Acts. His book is apparently well planned in that it has a preface, dedication, and accounts of sources.

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John

Origin-The fourth gospel, authored by John the Apostle ("the disciple whom Jesus loved"), tells us who Jesus was, what He is, and what He can mean to those who love Him. Produced about 110 A.D., it is attested to by Irenaeus as having been hand received from Polycarp who directly interfaced with John. This gospel has powerfully influenced Christians across the centuries. The gospel encourages an ever-deepening search for meaning. Jesus is not related as simply the Jewish messiah (as in the synoptic gospels), but as the Messiah to the whole world, it's Light and Saviour. John is also a mystic, in that Christ is experienced internally as part of the heart, mind and soul. This gospel searches into the mystery of Christianity. John was a son of Zebedee and the brother of James. A fisherman by trade, he was called the Beloved Disciple. At the time of the crucifixion, Jesus committed His mother to John's care. Tradition says he was banished to the island of Patmos after being a bishop at Ephesus for many years. He also is considered the author of the Letters of John and the book of Revelation. John probably dictated this gospel at an old age.

Overview-This gospel is arranged not in chronological order, but more in the order of increasing signs of who Jesus was, what He testifies to, and what this means to us. This gospel contains more than the other gospels about the stories of Lazarus, Nicodemus, Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. It also contains more detail about Andrew, Philip and Thomas. The purpose of the book is clearly stated: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name". Clement of Alexandria considered this gospel to be a 'spiritual gospel' and not synoptic or biographic in nature. Instead of history, John gives us theological interpretation.

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Acts

Origin-Written by the author of the gospel of Luke, this book continues where the gospel left off. Probably written around 90 A.D. after Luke realized that Christianity was a force spreading throughout the world. Luke had received material from Paul while Paul was in prison in Palestine and had travelled with Paul in Asia Minor.

Overview-Acts is the account of what Jesus' disciples did after His resurrection. It tells about the early Christian church, missionaries, councils, the conversion of Paul, and contains important discourses by Peter. Acts teaches that the church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The stories told in acts are filled with the drama of shipwrecks, riots, arrests, deaths, murders, tortures, escapes and martyrdoms. But the Holy Spirit is always present making possible for salvation. Paul eventually takes the lead and carries the gospel to the Gentiles. Acts is the foundation of the church.

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Romans

Origin-This letter to the church in Rome by Paul is perhaps consider his most important writing. It has influenced Christian thought perhaps more than any other epistle. At this time ( about 58 A.D.), Paul is in Corinth, and is planning a trip or campaign West of Rome, and wishes to introduce himself and obtain support from this journey west. He has finished his work in the East, and is on his way through Jerusalem to deliver the financial contribution he raised from the Gentile converts.

Overview-Paul stresses the universality of mankind's sin, but that God saves all through faith in Jesus Christ. He discusses Israel's significant place in God's plan of salvation, and discusses the conduct of Christians. Rome apparently had a well established church at this time, and Paul takes time to add some detail to the theology he has been preaching.

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1 Corinthians

Origin-Written somewhere between 57 A.D. and 90 A.D., Paul answers numerous questions sent to him from the Christians in Corinth. Paul apparently had heard of the moral laxity of the church at Corinth, while he was in Ephesus about 55 A.D., via a delegation from the church to him. Paul sent Timothy to follow the letter and address some of the developments and abuses of the church in Corinth. Corinth was a major Roman colony, with many ships going in and out of it's port. So it was fairly properous and had many transients moving through the city which at that time probably had a population of about 600,000. Paul was likely the first missionary to Corinth, although he does mention Apollos as a later missionary also. Paul later revisits Corinth again, and subsequently writes a second letter - 2 Corinthians.

Overview-The unity of the church is threatened by dissensions. Groups seem to be meeting apart and have separated rather than maintain a single congregation. He is opposed to schisms, and requests they stay together whether they follow the teachings of Paul, Apollos, or Peter.

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2 Corinthians

Origin-Written somewhere between 57 A.D. and 90 A.D., Paul resumes his correspondence with the church at Corinth. It appears Paul now considers the situation an Corinth in crisis, and this letter has often been called 'severe' in apparent response to the crisis. Some commentators believe that chapters 10-13 of this letter are actually a subsection of a original letter written to Corinth by Paul before I Corinthians, making this perhaps the third letter to that church. It is apparent that Paul hopes to make another trip to Corinth again in the future.

Overview-see 1 Corinthians

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Galatians

Origin-Written by Paul to the various churches in the province of Galatia which he founded on a missionary tour (Acts 13-14 and 15-18). The exact date of the writing is not certain and could be anywhere from 48 to 62 A.D.. The problem is to which churches in Galatia was he writing? Some say these churches were Lystra, Antioch, Derbe, and Iconium, but Paul made several missionary journies to this area, so it could be others.

Overview-The letter reflects troubles between various groups. Some were called Judaizers, pulled authoritative support from Peter and the apostles, believed in the law, circumcision, and works. Paul had established though that these activities were of lesser importance as Christians were liberated from these practices. What is required is faith in Jesus, repentance, trust in God, and a life of freedom. Therefore all people are included and can seek 'the Way'.

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Ephesians

Origin-The letter states that it is from Paul, writing from prison, however some commentators are not convinced due to it's difference in style, different use of words (such as 'church'), and theological differences from other Pauline letters. Due to these controversies, the date of the authorship of this letter is not clear, although it was probably written before 95 A.D., perhaps as early as 62 A.D.. If it wasn't written by Paul himself, it was certainly written by a Jewish Christian who was a devoted admirer of Paul.

Overview-The book does not have the form of a letter in the strict sense, since it does not address any local issues or problems, or a particular groups of Christians. It may have been a compilation of Pauline texts designed to introduce Pauline theology, and as such was circulated to a number of churches for teaching.

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Philippians

Origin-It is not clear exactly when Paul wrote Philippians, but it is widely viewed that it was near the end of his life perhaps from Rome as a prisoner. Paul was in prison in Rome for about two years (Acts 28:16, 30-31) around 60-62 A.D.. If it was written before that, then it could be perhaps as early as 54 A.D. from Ephesus.

Overview-This book has three sections, which although clearly written by Paul, seem to be disjointed from each other. It may be that the letter was dictated at three different times which would account for the differences in tone, or it may be an accumulation of two or three letters by Paul all to Philippi. It is not clear, but there is an abrupt change between 3:1 and 3:2. Either the first letter then continues at 4:20, or another letter is then started.

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Colossians

Origin-Colossians was written by Paul at around the same time as Philemon, either from Rome shortly before Paul's death (59-62 A.D.), or perhaps abit earlier from Ephesus (54-56 A.D.). A few commentators cast some doubt on the authorship of Paul to this letter, or perhaps state that it was modified later due to non-Pauline theological statements it contains. The reason Paul wrote this letter is due at least in part, to his concern about a runaway slave named Onesimus. Additionally, Paul is concerned various false teachers in Colossae.

Overview-Even though Paul had never been to Colossae, he was knowledgeable of the church there. Some of the pagans who in Platonic fashion worshipped angelic beings in various heirarchies considered Christ to be just another one. This brings upon Paul's wrath and he preaches against the false teachers.

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1 Thessalonians

Origin-1 Thessalonians was perhaps the first book written in the New Testament. It was written close to 51 A.D. by Paul from Corinth. The account of Paul's initial visit to Thessalonica is in Acts 17:1-9. A new church was founded there of mixed population and included various prominent Macedonian women. Apparently from this letter, Paul sent Timothy from Athens back to the city to stabilize this congregation. Later after Timothy's report, Paul wrote this letter.

Overview-The letter is fairly simple in structure, and contains essentially two sections. The first is on Paul's previous works at Thessolonica and the second section is on present issues that concern this church. A very important passage in this letter concerns the 'second coming' of Christ. This discussion of the end times (eschatology) demonstrates the very early church's concepts of the future.

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2 Thessalonians

Origin-The traditional view of the origin of this book, is that shortly after Paul wrote I Thes., reports reached him that two particular problems (the end of history, and idle Christians), had become even worse. Paul therefore addresses these two problems. However there are differences between the eschatology, doctrines, and the relation of Paul to the readers casting some doubt on who the original author was, or if the letter was later modified by another author. The letter may have been written in Paul's name, a common practice of the time, perhaps by Silas. The exact time and place of the writing of this letter are unknown, but it can be assumed that it was written between 75 A.D. and 90 A.D..

Overview-see 1 Thessalonians

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1 Timothy

Origin-'Pastor to Pastor' - That's what this letter, as well as II Timothy and Titus are. Letters from Paul to church leaders on issues of the day. These letters were from Paul to church leaders addressing problems such as how to deal with heresies, conduct befitting church leaders, and doctrinal issues. Heresies began to appear in some of the early churches such as Gnosticism and Docetism. Paul warns against these teaches, and requests that all adhere to the true faith. If this letter was not entirely written by Paul, certainly many passages were although it may have been compiled and edited later. Written probably around 63 A.D. to 67 A.D., Paul was probably in prison or just recently released from a Roman prison and in Macedonia.

Overview-The purpose of the letter was clearly to address various issues developing in these early churches. They are written to the pastors of the churches, likely presented by the pastors to the church body also. They were also written to encourage the churches during times of oppression and martyrdom.

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2 Timothy

Origin-This letter, like I Timothy is a 'Pastor to Pastor' letter. These letters were from Paul to church leaders addressing problems such as how to deal with heresies, conduct befitting church leaders, and doctrinal issues. Written probably around 63 A.D. to 67 A.D., Paul was probably in prison or just recently released from a Roman prison and has heard of continued problems that he must address.

Overview-Paul writes to Timothy, his beloved spiritual child about being God's workmen and preparing for the last days. Apparently one of the problems was that some Christians were thinking so much about the second coming and it being near, that they were neglecting care of the church. Paul discusses church organization and efficiency.

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Titus

Origin-This letter, like I and II Timothy is a 'Pastor to Pastor' letter. These letters were from Paul to church leaders addressing problems such as how to deal with heresies, conduct befitting church leaders, and doctrinal issues. Written probably around 63 A.D. to 67 A.D., Paul was probably in prison or just recently released from a Roman prison and has heard of continued problems that he must address.

Overview-Paul salutes Titus (a Greek) who is in charge of the church at Crete. He then talk about various problems in the church there. The natives of Crete have a bad reputation, and so sound teaching is important to promote sensible behavior amoung followers of 'The Way'.

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Philemon

Origin-Written personally by Paul about a runaway slave he probably met in prison. The letter is written directly to Philemon, but also to the church at Colossae - perhaps at the same time as Colossians. The letter was probably written from Ephesus about 55 A.D. (about the same time as Corinthians).

Overview-Philemon's slave Onesimus had been a slave in Laodicea and had robbed and run away from his master only to be found by Paul and be converted. The penalty for a runaway slave was death by Roman law, so Paul recommends Onesimus to the church at Colossae as well as to Philemon. This is clearly a personal letter of Paul's, which makes it somewhat unique. It contains lessons of righteousness, brotherhood, and love.

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Hebrews

Origin-The author of Hebrews is not known, as the date and place of origin are also uncertain. Some very old traditions attribute the book to Paul, but it is unlikely that he wrote it as it differs greatly in style and more importantly in theological language from his other works. Even very early Christians such as Origen did not accept the Pauline authorship. The earliest reference to Hebrews is in a letter from Clement of Rome, dated about 96 A.D., so the letter was written before that time period. Much can be determined however, about the author from the book itself. For example, he was well versed in Greek, apparently read the Old Testament in Greek (as he quotes from the Greek version of the time), and was knowledgeable of current trends in opinions and philosophies such as those of Philo and Greek thought.

Overview-The book was probably written to Jewish Christians, who under persecution, may have been considering abandoning their new faith and returning to the synagogue. Or perhaps it was to a group of Jewish believers that still held strongly to some of the synagogue ways. The author seeks to strengthen and reawaken these believers in the truth. These Christians were likely second generation Christians, and therefore may have not been as strong and as clear on the truth. An interesting thing to note about this book, is that the author uses quotes from the Old Testament as though they were direct quotations from God himself. His perspective as a believer and that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament gives him this ability. Secondly, the author exhibits some Platonic ways of viewing the spiritual world versus the natural world.

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James

Origin-The author of this book identifies himself as James. But no other clues are clearly given as to who this particular James was. The traditional view is that this was the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church. This James was in contact with Paul and might have written to correct a false view of Paul's teachings on faith and works. Many scholars however doubt that this James originally authored this book as it is. The letter does not seem to have been known until the close of the 2nd century, and the author does not speak as if he had a close relationship with Jesus. The author futher uses excellent Greek and draws from Hellenistic and Jewish sources for authority and teachings as opposed to Jesus alone. Therefore these scholars consider the book of James to be a compilation of teachings sent out to the churches under the name of James or from the patriarchal authority of the church at Jerusalem. Based on these assumptions, the letter may have been written around 100 - 125 A.D..

Overview-The book, which is really more of a sermon than a letter, is written to all Christians, not just one locale or church as many of the other New Testament letters are. It was written to the Christians who claim to believe, but do not act like it, who blame God for their temptations, and left strife go unchecked. The teachings presented here are moralistic instructions gathered from Jesus teachings, but also from Jewish and Greek traditions. This book was not in the early canons of the New Testament. The first to include it was Origen at the close of the second century. But the book is very popular due to it down-to-earth teachings, and there is much to learn from it. The book should not be considered as profound theology, but rather moral exhortations for Christian living.

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1 Peter

Origin-The book says that it is from Peter the apostle. Some scholars however, do not accept this as fact, but think that perhaps it was dictated by Peter and Sylvanus to a scribe, due to it's excellent use of Greek. But it also refers to various persecutions, which depending upon interpretation, may not have taken place until after Peter's death in 64 A.D.. Therefore perhaps it was written from the church at Rome (Peter's church) in Peter's name, much as James may have been written from the church at Jerusalem in James name. If the letter is truly from Peter, then it cannot have been written beyond 64 A.D.. However if the persecutions described refer to Trajan's rule, then the date would be closer to 111 A.D.. Either way, the letter is a favorite of the church, and deals with issues the Christians of Asia Minor were facing.

Overview-The letter provides encouragement while enduring persecution, reminds the readers of the return of Christ, and provides some liturgical instruction. References are made to the practice of baptism and Holy Communion. It also contains hymns of encouragement. Finally it contains instructions on Christian conduct and theology.

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2 Peter

Origin-This letter, like I Peter, bears the name of the apostle. But most scholars (even from early times) believe that it was written in the name of Peter, a frequent practice of the time, perhaps from the church in Rome. Based on the letter's use of verses from Jude, and heresies mentioned, it was probably written around 125 to 150 A.D.. It may have been the last book written that made it into the New Testament.

Overview-This letter addresses various 'twists' that have developed in the Christian community. The author stresses sticking to the orthodox faith of the apostles, moral excellence, and the rejection of false teachings which were leading to false conduct.

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1 John

Origin-It is widely accepted that the author of the letter (or more like sermon), is the same as the author of the fourth gospel. In fact some scholars believe that this book was written to go with the gospel either as an introduction or an epilogue. The book has many similarities to the gospel. I John may have been written from Ephesus about 110 A.D. around the same time as the gospel was written. It is mentioned by Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna in a letter to the church and Philippi around 117 A.D..

Overview-The purpose of the book, which was likely given as a sermon (since it contains no Opening or Closing as letters usually do), was to address certain heresies (like Docetism) and strengthen Christians in spirit. Using a mixture of rationalism and mysticism, John emphasizes key words and phrases which spiral in on key concepts such as light versus darkness, truth versus lies, etc..

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2 John

Origin-Since 2 John so closely addresses issues raised in I John, it is clear that this letter is written by the same author. The Greek word used in the letter for 'elder' literally means 'old man', and John certainly was elderly by this time. But elder here means a person in authority, a senior member of the group. It is from this position that John addresses another congregation from the one he oversees. The 'elect lady and her children' John refers to are another church in the province of Asia.

Overview-John returns to his themes of truth and love to base his warnings to this other church. Churches at this time usually met in private homes, and wandering prophets and teachers would frequently come by a local church and take at times take advantage of the church's hospitality. John warns of these deceivers and false teachers.

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3 John

Origin-This book is a personal letter from John, not an exchange between churches as 2 John is. It is written to someone named Gaius, who we know nothing more about. The letter is brief because John hopes soon to see him face-to-face.

Overview-Again as in 2 John, hospitality is the issue. But in this case a church leader, named Diotrephes have not shown adequate hospitality to a friend of John named Demetrius. Diotrephes may be overly protective of the local church trying to keep out false teachings and has therefore rejected all teachers. John urges hospitality as a primary virtue of Christian love.

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Jude

Origin-The author identifies himself as Jude, the brother of James (the brother of Jesus). Hence the author claims to be a lesser known brother of Jesus. But many scholars feel this letter was written in the 2nd century due to the expressions and heresies it discusses. It may have been written in the name of Jude, perhaps to strengthen it's claim to the apostolic tradition. Many quotations from this book are used in II Peter.

Overview-The book was apparently written during a crisis to defend the Christian faith against false teachers and persons corrupting it by false doctrine and practices, in particular Gnostic heresies and perhaps the Marcosians. He accuses them of immorality, and that God will destroy them as He did in the Old Testament. Jude exhorts his readers to return to their true faith.

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Revelation

Origin-The author of this large book refers to himself four times in the text as John. Most agree, even from early times that this was the apostle, the son of Zebedee. He says that he is writing from the island of Patmos which is off the coast of Asia Minor, and was known to have been a Roman penal colony. John may have been imprisoned there for his missionary activities in Asia Minor. Because the book was accepted as written by John about 90 A.D., it was admitted into the New Testament canon readily.

Overview-This book is one of the most stirring of the books in the Bible, next of course to the gospels, in that it has had many influences on the language and literature of the western world. It is a call to love God, but also an appeal to the coming destruction and woe for the ungodly. The target may have been Rome and the Roman empire, called the beast and the Whore of Babylon in the book. There are many other interpretations of the book. The ultimate message of the book however can be said to be woe to Babylon and glory to the Faithful, who will see the Millennium and sit with God and the Son at the love feast in heaven. The book is written as a revelation or an apocalypse which God gave to John. Throughout the Bible, there are prophesies of the future and even of the end times (eschatology) such as in Daniel. These books are filled with imagery and symbols, which were clearer for the original readers than they are for us today. But the book was written to be read to all the churches, and is worthy of reading and trying to understand today.

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