Helpful Hints for reading the New Testament

There is much that could be written about the New Testament. Rather than offer a long essay, we will offer short pieces of information which we hope you will find useful. For more information about particular books, please see our blog.

  • The New Testament was written over a period of time, a little less than 100 years.
  • There are four literary forms in the NT. There are four gospels, one historical book, 21 letters and one apocalypse. More information about each literary form will be posted as we read the different forms.
  • We do not have the original manuscripts. We do have about 500 Greek manuscripts (some partial, some complete), as well as early translations into various languages ( i.e. Syriac, Latin, and Coptic) and quotations from New Testament texts found in other early church works.
  • The books of the NT were written in Greek. The writers did not use classical Greek but rather what is called koine  or common Greek. This is the language that people used in their day to day living.
  • When the Scriptures are referred to in the New Testament, they mean what we could today call the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.
  • Many of the letters in the New Testament were written before the Gospels were written. There was an oral tradition of stories and sayings about Jesus that the early Christians knew.
  • The letters in the NT were written to the early church and to individuals. They were written to provide instruction and to correct problems. We do not have the letters or records of the conversations that prompted the writing of the letters of the NT. We only have one side of the conversation between the NT author and the letter’s recipient. Part of the work of Biblical scholars is to understand why the NT author felt the need to write to , say the Ephesians. What questions, concerns, instructions, problems were present that required the response of Paul or another of the letter writers must be considered as we read the letter.
  • The letters in the NT seem to be organized by author, Paul, Peter, or John and by length- longest to shortest.
  • Some times when we read the Bible, we can become frustrated or discouraged if we don’t understand all that we read- or if we can’t discover what application a text has for us today. Please don’t let that trouble you. Remember that even Biblical scholars don’t understand all that they read. And there is plenty of lively discussion among scholars about what particular texts mean. So while we want to encourage each other to read and understand, none of us will understand everything- and that’s all right.

1 thought on “Helpful Hints for reading the New Testament”

  1. Ruth E. Stubbs said:

    My first visit to the site–the 6th of Jan. I’m happy to see the reading schedule organized by weeks. That makes the project look doable. Thanks very much.

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