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An Introduction to the Bible

New Testament

New Testament Themes
The Gospels
More on the Gospels
Acts of the Apostles
Letters of Paul
Letters: Peter, John, Other


Walk through the New Testament

A brief overview of the New Testament


What is the structure of the New Testament?

The New Testament consists of 26 books, which can be broken down into a number of different categories – such as the Gospels and the Letters.

The Gospels 

The Acts  of the Apostles

The Letters - of Paul 

                      of Peter

                      of John

Other letters

The Book of Revelation

New Testament Themes

What Themes run through the New Testament ?

There are many themes which run through the New Testament, too many to mention here but here are a few:-

  • Discipleship and Service
  • Love
  • Salvation
  • The body of Christ
  • Gifts of the Spirit
  • Church discipline and doctrine
  • God’s Grace
  • Cross and Resurrection

Many of the themes are linked to people, places and actions. Reading the New Testament stories helps us understand God’s love for us through Jesus.

The Gospels

The first four books of the New Testament are collectively known as the Gospels. They are best understood as four ‘portraits’ of Jesus, seen from many different angles and drawing on various sources. Each Gospel has its own distinctive character, which need to be appreciated. 

The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of John

The English word ‘gospel’ comes from an Old English word ‘godspel’, meaning ‘good news’, used to translate the Greek word ‘evangelion’ .It refers to the events focussed on Jesus, which are seen as being ‘good news for the world’. The Gospel writers were not biographers, or historians, but it mattered to each of them to put across what Jesus’ ministry was all about. Therefore, each person who reads or hears the Gospels can interpret them in their own personal way. 


Matthew’s gospel is perhaps the most Jewish of the gospels, showing a particular interest in the relation of Jesus to the Jewish nation and people, its laws and institutions. Matthew regards Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies that is being a direct descendant of David. Mathew also states how Jesus does not come to ‘abolish the Old Testament law or prophets, but to bring them to their proper fulfilment’ (Matthew 5: 1-17). It is not clear when Matthew was written but most probably in the 70’s AD.


Mark’s Gospel is regarded as the first of the gospels to be written down, possibly early AD 60’s. The gospel is thought to have been written in Rome and drawing extensively on the memories of Peter. This is a very dramatic gospel with a sense of urgency, focussing on the deeds of Jesus, rather than his teachings.

It is widely thought that Mark’s gospel was available as a ‘source’ to both Matthew and Luke as many of the parables and stories written in Mark are in the other two gospels.


Luke’s Gospel is actually part of a two -part work, the second being the Acts of the Apostles. Taken together they constitute the largest piece of writing on the New Testament. Luke’s Gospel is clearly written with the interests and needs of the non- Jewish readers in mind, with special concern given to the poor, oppressed and needy. Many stories include women, healing miracles, with an emphasis on hospitality and reconciliation. It is believed that Luke may have been a Gentile with a medical background, therefore aware of injustices in society. It is not clear when Luke’s gospel was written, but scholars believe it was at a  similar time to Matthew, AD 70s.


John’s gospel differs significantly from the other three, and it is sometimes referred to as the fourth gospel. It has many distinctive features, not found in the other three e.g -the seven ‘I am’ sayings, and how women recognises Jesus ministry in preference to the disciples. John’s Gospel was written a lot later that the other three Gospel, most probably to an early Christian community. The writer of John’s Gospel is a mystery, although it is indicates that the author was’ the disciple whom Jesus loved’. Tradition has identified it as being John, although the text does not make it clear. It was probably written about 120 AD.

More on the Gospels

Synoptic problem

The first three gospels include a lot of material in common. This same material, is sometimes presented in slightly different variations or situations. Mark’s Gospel itself, seems to have been a source used by Matthew and Luke (90% of the contents of Mark’s gospel is included in Matthew and 53% can be found in Luke). The overlap between the first three gospels is reflected in the name that is sometimes given to them : the ‘synoptic gospels’  from the Greek word ‘Synopsis’ or ‘summary’ .

‘Q’ - Source

Material common to both Matthew and Luke, yet not found in Mark, is generally considered to come from another source. This section of source material is generally referred to as ‘Q’, and there is no evidence that Q was a Gospel in itself. How Matthew and Luke seemed to have access to the source known as Q, is unsure, nevertheless it is generally assumed that Q did exist, yet has never been found. 

Acts of the Apostles

Luke’s account in Acts, describes the rapid expansion of Christianity and the early Christian Church. It starts with the disciples in Jerusalem, followed by a vivid account of Paul’s, conversion experiences, and missionary tales as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Letters of Paul

The largest collection of letters within the New Testament is written by  Paul. He wrote copious letters to Churches and people, some encouraging, others extolling discipline and doctrine. The dating of Paul’s letters is difficult but they are believed to be the earliest source of evidence dating from 45 AD. Scholars are unsure which letters are genuinely written by Paul, as he may have had a scribe at some point. However Romans, Corinthians 1and 2 and Philippians are generally believed to be his work.   




1 Corinthians


1 Thessalonians

2 Corinthians  


2 Thessalonians

Letters: Peter, John, Other

The Letters of Peter

Peter’s letters addresses the issue of persecution within the Christian church.  

1 Peter

2 Peter 

The Letters of John

All three letters are similar in content and style, and may have been of use to travelling evangelists. They address doctrine and understanding of Jesus humanity and Christ’s divinity.    

1 John 

2 John

3 John

Other Letters

Each letter is different; they are sometimes called the pastoral letters. as they are mainly about encouragement, conduct of Christians ,and the life of the early Church

1 Timothy



2 Timothy




This book is ‘apocalyptic’ in nature and takes the form of visions and symbolism. The clear purpose to encourage persecuted Christians, was that evil will be overthrown, and a new heaven and earth will reign.

Read about the Old Testament

Rev Ruth Dillon

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