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A Synopsis of Each New Testament Book

The following post is free for anyone who wants to look.  Most posts on the blog are only for members.  The good news is that it’s easy and inexpensive to join.  You get five posts a week, for less than 50 cents.   And every cent goes to charity helping those in need.  So why not join???

 

In my previous post I indicated that I will be doing a short thread that introduces the New Testament very broadly, with the goal of then combining all the posts into one long (4000-5000 word) post that can then be accessed by anyone doing an Internet search for a basic overview.  If you don’t recall: see https://ehrmanblog.org/what-is-the-new-testament-a-broad-overview/

This is my second post of the series.  In it, I give a very, very brief description of each book of the New Testament, the kind of thing you can say without taking another breath.  It seems like this might be useful for anyone who just wants to know what each book is and, very roughy, what it is about.

The other two posts in the thread will deal with how we got the canon of the New Tesatment, how it was transmitted by scribes, what it’s major teachings are, and… who knows.

But once that is all done, I will follow this particular part of the long post with a longer post or, probably two, that does the same thing as this one below, but providing descriptions of each of the NT books at about three times the length as here, so then someone can see *more* if they are so inclined, by clicking on the link we will be providing

I will then, once that is done, write an entire post on each book of the New Testament, again linked to the previous two posts.

I will be doing this over time on the blog, not all at once.  Just one or two of them a week.

For this one: Dates are sometimes relatively secure, others are guestimates.  In terms of my naming of authors:  Some books are anonymous but traditionally assigned to someone; others are written by unknown authors claiming to be someone else; others are actually written by people who claim to be who they were!

Let me know what you think about the larger project ideas, and specficially about what happens in this section below.  Enough information?  I’m loathe to make it longer, but I’m always open to opinions and suggestions!

 

 

*************************************************************

The New Testament: Book by Book

 

Matthew.

Written in 80-85 CE.  Author: anonymous; traditionally ascribed to Matthew, the tax collector disciple of Jesus.

An account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that stresses he is the Jewish messiah sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures.

 

Mark.

Written in 70 CE.  Author: anonymous; traditionally ascribed to Mark, the personal secretary of the apostle Peter.

The earliest record of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, which portrays him as the messiah no one expected or understood, who was sent to die for the sins of the world and be raised from the dead.

 

Luke.

Written in 80-85 CE.  Author: anonymous; traditionally ascribed to Luke, a traveling companion of Paul.

An account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that stresses he was the final prophet sent from God, destined to be rejected by his own people so salvation would go to gentiles.

 

John.

Written in 90-95 CE.  Author: anonymous; traditional ascribed to Jesus’ disciple John the Son of Zebedee.

An account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection focusing on his identity as a pre-existent divine being sent from above to bring eternal life to all who believe in him

 

Acts

Written in 85-90 CE.   Author: anonymous: same author as Gospel of Luke.

An account of the miraculous spread of the Christian church after Jesus’ resurrection, through the preaching and miracles of the apostles, especially Paul, who took the message to gentiles.

 

Romans

Written 60-64 CE.  Author: Paul.

Written to the Christian church of Rome to explain the essentials of Paul’s gospel message, that only the death of Jesus can bring salvation from sin, for both Jews and gentiles.

 

1 Corinthians

Written: mid 50s CE.  Author: Paul.

Written to the church in Corinth, in response to numerous problems experienced after Paul’s departure, including divisions in the church, sexual immorality, proper worship, and the reality of the future resurrection.

 

2 Corinthians

Written: mid 50s CE.  Author: Paul.

Follow-up letter to 1 Corinthians, which attacks “super-apostles” who claim precedence over Paul and explains that followers of Jesus in this age will experience hardship rather than glory.

 

Galatians

Written: late 50s CE.  Author: Paul.

Written with urgency to gentile churches throughout region of Galatia to attack those arguing that gentile Christians must adopt the ways of Judaism, especially circumcision.

 

Ephesians

Written: end of first century.  Author: unknown, in the name of Paul.

Letter to church of Ephesus, giving a plea for the unity provided by Christ and the free salvation he provides, to a church experiencing splits between Jewish and gentile factions.

 

Philippians

Written: late 50s CE.  Author: Paul.

Joyful letter thanking the church in Philippi for its moral and material support and urging church unity among members who should live for others in imitation of Christ.

 

Colossians

              Written: end of first century.  Author: unknown, in the name of Paul.

Letter urging Christians in Colossae not to worship spiritual powers other than Christ, who alone provides all that is needed for salvation and spiritual completion.

 

1 Thessalonians

Written: 49-50 CE.  Author: Paul.

Paul’s earliest letter.  A joyful recollection of his time with the church, stressing the imminent arrival of Christ from heaven and the salvation he will then bring, even to believers who had already died.

 

2 Thessalonians

Written: ca 70s CE?  Author: unknown, in the name of Paul.

Written in imitation of 1 Thessalonians, an appeal to Christians not to think the return of Christ is immediate.  The end is coming, but it will be preceded by clear signs.

 

1 Timothy

Written: end of first century.  Author: unknown, in the name of Paul.

Allegedly written to Paul’s young follower Timothy, pastor of church in Ephesus, giving instructions about how to organize and run his church.

 

2 Timothy

Written: end of first century.  Author: unknown, in the name of Paul.

By the same author as 1 Timothy and Titus, also addressed to Timothy, giving Paul’s final thoughts and instructions as he is preparing soon to die.

 

Titus

Written: end of first century.  Author: unknown, in the name of Paul.

By the same author as 1 and 2 Timothy.  Addressed to Paul’s follower Titus, pastor of church on Cyprus, giving instructions about how to organize and run his church.

 

Philemon

Written: late 50s CE.  Author: Paul.

Letter written to a wealthy Christian, Philemon, urging him to receive back and forgive his slave Onesimus, who had absconded with his property and fled to Paul for help.

 

Hebrews.

Written: end of first century.  Author: Anonymous; traditionally ascribed to Paul.

A plea to readers not to leave the Christian faith for Judaism, since Christ is superior to everything in the Hebrew Bible, which foreshadowed the salvation he would bring.

 

James.

Written: end of first century.  Author unknown, in the name of Jesus’ brother James.

A moral essay correcting Christians who believed that “faith alone” would save, by stressing the need to do “good works,” since faith without works “is dead.”

 

1 Peter

Written: end of first century.  Author unknown: in the name of Jesus’ disciple Peter.

A letter encouraging Christians experiencing suffering for their faith, emphasizing that Christ himself suffered, as would all those who strive to be his witnesses in the world.

 

2 Peter

Written: ca. 120 CE.  Author unknown: in the name of Jesus’ disciple Peter.

A letter explaining why the “imminent” return of Jesus had not yet happened, assuring its readers that a delay was necessary but all was going according to God’ plan.

 

1 John

Written: end of first century.  Author: anonymous; traditionally ascribed to to Jesus’ disciple John the Son of Zebedee.

An essay written to urge followers of Jesus to be fulling loving to one another and not to be led astray by a separatist faction that suggested Jesus was a phantasmal being and not fully human.

 

2 John

              Written: end of first century.  Author anonymous; same author as 1 John; traditionally ascribed to Jesus’ disciple John the Son of Zebedee.

Brief letter addressing a church leader’s community urging unity in love and the avoidance of false teaching.

 

3 John

Written: end of first century.  Author anonymous; same author as 1 John; traditionally ascribed to Jesus’ disciple John the Son of Zebedee.

Very brief letter addressing similar issues of 2 John in light of a specific problem, the reception of a visiting church leader who was rejected by some in the congregation.

 

Jude

Written: end of first century.  Author anonymous; in the name of Jude, the brother of Jesus.

Brief and vitriolic letter attacking false teachers who had infiltrated the Christian community, without indicating the nature of their teaching.

 

Revelation

              Written 90-95 CE.   Author: an unknown John; traditionally ascribed to Jesus’ disciple, John the Son of Zebedee.

A description of mysterious visions of the heavenly realm and the cataclysmic disasters to strike the earth before all God’s enemies are destroyed and a new utopian world arrives for the followers of Christ.

 

 

 


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Comments

  1. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  November 10, 2019

    Quote: But once that is all done, I will follow this particular part of the long post with a longer post or, probably two, that does the same thing as this one below, but providing descriptions of each of the NT books at about three times the length as here, so then someone can see *more* if they are so inclined, by clicking on the link we will be providing
    I will then, once that is done, write an entire post on each book of the New Testament, again linked to the previous two posts. I will be doing this over time on the blog, not all at once. Just one or two of them a week.

    It sounds like the ultimate product might be collated into an eBook and made available here to members of the blog (provided you don’t have an exclusivity agreement with a publisher).

    • Avatar
      Chrishuntley  November 10, 2019

      Thank you for your comment. I help Bart with some of his content planning and actually what we have in mind is creating a giant, Wikipedia-style page with the goal of attracting organic (free) Google traffic.

      • NulliusInVerba
        NulliusInVerba  November 11, 2019

        Thanks for your reply. A wiki sounds good.

  2. Barfo
    Barfo  November 10, 2019

    Thank you. This will be very useful. I suppose the Gospels are considered to be the oral traditions but the books in the name of Paul and Peter are to be considered by some as forgeries as per your book, Jesus, Interrupted. I can see most believers being offended by the notion that some of the NT books may be forgeries. Enter discussion at your own risk…LOL.

  3. Avatar
    robgrayson  November 10, 2019

    Fantastic summary.

    A question, if I may: you wrote of Philemon, “Written: end of first century. Author: Paul.” But isn’t Paul widely thought to have died somewhere in the mid-60s?

  4. Robert
    Robert  November 10, 2019

    “Philemon Written: end of first century.  Author: Paul.”

    Actually, you probably think Paul died in the mid-60s so this would have to have been written earlier than that.

  5. Avatar
    Stewiegriffin  November 10, 2019

    Thanks for all that you do Bart!! Quick question, how could Paul have written Philemon at the end of the first century? 🤔

  6. Avatar
    XanderKastan  November 10, 2019

    Is the date for Philemon right or a typo? Authentic letter of Paul written “end of first century”? Didn’t he die soon after writing Romans in the early 60’s?

  7. Avatar
    doug  November 10, 2019

    I like these summaries. One quibble: “Philemon Written: end of first century. Author: Paul.”

    Either Paul is not the author or he lived a very long time.

  8. Avatar
    Tempo1936  November 10, 2019

    The pastor today claimed the mixture of myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial weighed about seventy-five pounds (John 19:39) and was valued at about $125,000 in today’s dollars and was honoring Jesus for his sacrifice of dying.

    Is there historical basis for using such a large amount of “myrrh and aloes” in ancient burials. 75 lbs??

    Or was this outlandish claim a way for the authors to demonstrate That previously unknown believers would now make incredibly valuable sacrifices bc of the injustice of killing an innocent man.
    Of course the 75 lbs could have been just a scribal error.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2019

      No, it’s not an error, and yes, it was meant to be a ridiculous amount. Some scholars have used it to point out that Nicodemus really did think Jesus was dead (forever) and that the ambiruous portrayal of him in John probably is meant, at the end, to suggest he did not actually believe.

      • Avatar
        J.J.  November 11, 2019

        This matter brings a related matter to mind… just curious, Bart… Wettstein conjectured that ἕκαστον was the initial reading, not ἑκατόν… simple omission of a letter… so that the text initially read “bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a pound each”… seems much more reasonable, except there is no known manuscript evidence for such a reading… hence, a conjectural emendation. So are there any conjectural emendations that you think warrant serious consideration?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 12, 2019

          Yes, I’d say his emendation in this case was because he couldn’t figure out the text — which isn’t always the best grounding. It means making the text say what one wants it to. In terms of emendation, broadly speaking it means changes of the text not representd in the manuscripts. I think that John 21 was a later addition to the text; and that 1 Cor. 11:35-36 was not original, etc., even though there is no textual suppport.

      • Avatar
        Tempo1936  November 12, 2019

        Alternatively Nicodemus could have been a fictional character and the ridiculous amount used in Jesus’ burial was showing that Jews should now openly worship him w great honor.

        I agree that it appears Nicodemus doesn’t believe in a resurrection since he makes a big deal about the burial.

        The point seems to be the death of Jesus was a great sacrifice and we should honor that event.

        The entire book of John is an over the top drama Making one incredible claim and/or miracle after another w/o any attempt to provide historical evidence of most events. Greatest story ever written?

  9. Avatar
    seahawk41  November 10, 2019

    Picky point: You didn’t mean to say that Philemon was written by Paul near the end of the first century, did you? Wasn’t it more like 60 or so?

  10. Avatar
    robbeasley  November 10, 2019

    How are the dates of Mathew, Luke and revelations determined

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2019

      Very tricky, and a long story. Matthew and Luke almost certainly used mark, and so was later than that (and after it was in wide circulation); they also appear to know about the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. But they appear to be known by some church writers int he early 2nd century So almost certainly between, say 80-100 CE, and usually thought to be earlier than later.

  11. Avatar
    mdostal1  November 10, 2019

    Regarding Philemon, since Paul is thought to have died early 60’s BCE, should the written date still be “end of first century” or am I missing something?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2019

      Ugh. Sorry, yup, better change that one.

      • Avatar
        mdostal1  November 12, 2019

        Bart, the only reason I knew this was a mistake, was from the knowledge gained by reading your books and this blog. You are a great teacher!

  12. Avatar
    crt112@gmail.com  November 10, 2019

    I like the idea. In each book summary I would love to see examples of the key themes – so we can look them up and verify them ourselves 🙂

  13. Avatar
    dankoh  November 11, 2019

    Nice short summary. I suggest another post (or perhaps an addendum to the web post you’re planning) which lists all the books in chronological (or best guess) order, with just date, name, and (presumed) author. Include in that (intermixed by chronological order) the other books that didn’t make it in. That would also be a useful tool.

    I note that a couple of scholars (Aslan?) suggest that John may have been written as late as 110. I don’t subscribe to that, but do you think it possible?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2019

      Thanks. yeah, the problem is that some of them have comletely indeterminate dates…. Not sure how Aslan would have come up with that (as you probably know, he’s not an expert on the New Testament). It’s possible, but usually John is dated to the first century.

  14. Avatar
    timcfix  November 11, 2019

    Although there is little to comment when reading a class outline, I did notice one point of interest to me. In Gal 1:6-9, written 50 ce

    “6 + I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you* by [the] grace [of Christ] for a different gospel 7(not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 + But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach [to you] a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed!* 9As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!” New American Standard, Harpers.

    Everyone notices and points out that this is not in the original teaching of Paul, this fits into that category of, “ But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ”. If 1 Timothy, written first century ce, does not flow with Paul’s previous letters then I believe 1&2 Timothy and perhaps Titus, lonly pervert the Bible. A Christian or non-Christian does not have to move away from their doctrine to see these inconsistency in God’s word.
    I can understand how events can change because of oral traditions. Yet; 2000 years cannot be corrected over night, but addressing the problem as you have done has begun a change that needs to occur. Perhaps that change could take place in another 2000 years, or as it is written that God is willing to wait a 1000 generations. Since Mount Sinai 88 generation have past so we have some time.

  15. Avatar
    mikezamjara  November 11, 2019

    hi, could I suggest some kind of New testament material but ina more grpahical way, such as timelines, diagrams, or a paralel comparison bteween synoptic gospels to undesrtand info in a better way.

    I have a question: Do any of the books of the New testament quote any other new testament book beside the synoptic gospels? (although the synoptic not really quote each other) .

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2019

      There’s a question of whether 1 Timothy 5:18 is quoting a saying of Jesus in the Synoptics (“a workman is worthy of his hire”)

  16. Avatar
    Steve  November 11, 2019

    Dr Ehrman – With regards to the Epistles, how did the Roman postal system work?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2019

      Badly. If you knew someone going to a town, you’d ask him/her to carry your letter. (The Imperial administration did have a system for official correspondence, kind of like the pony express)

  17. John4
    John4  November 11, 2019

    “Let me know what you think about the larger project ideas, and specficially about what happens in this section below. ”

    An excellent post and a *superb* project, Bart. Thank you!

    Two suggestions:

    1) After you finish your contemplated New Testament program, I hope you’ll cover the same ground for the Old Testament.

    2) And after that, I hope you’ll let an editor shape it up into a small primer for print and kindle publication. Such a book would attract new members to the blog. And you could donate the book proceeds to charity as well.

    It looks to me, Bart, that with this glorious project the blog is moving to a new and even more exciting stage. Bless you in every way for your wonderful work! 🙂

  18. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  November 11, 2019

    Would it make any sense to re-arrange the NT chronologically – so beginning with 1 Thessalonians?
    If one reads all these books in the order they were written would we learn anything different?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 12, 2019

      Possibly. The problem is that it is almost impossible to know the chronology, in lots of places….

  19. Avatar
    Thespologian  November 11, 2019

    Could you elaborate?: Jesus hasn’t arrived yet, so let’s write a letter in the name of a significant acolyte, i.e., Peter, then pretend to have dug it up and tell everyone, “Hey, no wonder why Jesus isn’t back, it’s going to take longer than expected.” Who were the people in history, even secularists, that made attempts to bring to light that anonymous authors were “bandaiding” a failing system?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 12, 2019

      Not quite sure what you’re asking. This kind of literary forgery happened a lot in antiquity, Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian, and most of the time not even in religous contexts.

      • Avatar
        Thespologian  November 14, 2019

        I am curious if there are any accounts of people contesting these forgeries, particularly, documents that started popping up mysteriously, i.e., Peter 2. There must have been soem intellects out there in antiquity that determined writings were being forged to compensate for failed prophesy etc.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 15, 2019

          Yes, there was a lot of discussion of literary forgery in antiquity. Even some Christian scholars (including the one I wrote my dissertation on, Didymus the Blind) explicitly thought 2 Peter was a forgery.

  20. Avatar
    J.J.  November 11, 2019

    Curious about a couple of date items on this list.
    (1) Regarding Matthew and Mark. Obviously, date of Mark is largely based on Mark 13 and Jewish revolt. Matthew closely follows Mark 13 (definitely closer than Luke does)… big exception is the addition of much more material in Matthew (esp, chap 25). But have you ever wondered… what if we didn’t have Mark, and we used the same reasoning that we use to date Mark to figure out a date for Matthew (again, without having an extant copy of Mark)… I’ve often wondered if in this scenario, most scholars would then date Matthew to ca. 70 CE. And if we did, then what does that say about our reasoning for Mark? Or the nature of the composition of the gospels? Curious as to your thoughts on this.
    (2) Regarding Apocalypse of John. Much of the evidence for the dating Rev to ca. 90-95 CE is based on the same patristic sources arguing for John the Apostle as the author… which most modern critical scholars would not accept. If that’s true, wouldn’t Rev seem to fit better in the time period of Trajan when Pliny corresponded with him?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 12, 2019

      Interesting question, but hard to say. There are other indications that Matthew was written after people were getting very frustrated with the failure of Jesus to return (e.g., the five wise and five foolish maidens). 2. I’m not aware of any solid evidence that it might be that late, but I’m open to it.

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