Monday, April 20, 2009

Acts and it's place in the New Testament

The Bible is a collection of books. These books are divided into two main sections, called the Old Testament and the New Testament. The books are of many different types: there are books of history, although they are not necessarily written in the same style of today’s history works; there is also poetry, advice, prophecy (predicting and warning about future events); allegorical tales and letters. The New Testament is made up of 27 books written originally in Greek, most of which are actually letters.

The first four books of the New Testament, named after their authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are called Gospels. They give biographical accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection from four different perspectives. Two of the writers, Matthew (also called Levi) and John, were among the twelve apostles that Jesus chose and taught during the time of his ministry. The other two, Mark (also called John Mark) and Luke, were active in the early Christian church and worked closely with Peter and Paul. We will read about John, Mark and Luke in Acts.

Acts, the fifth book of the New Testament, is the book we will be studying for the next fifteen weeks or so. It gives a historical account of the activities of the earliest Christians as they began to travel throughout the world, telling people the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the peace with God that comes from trusting and believing in Him.

The remainder of the New Testament, except the last book, is a collection of letters (also called epistles) written by the earliest followers of Jesus to teach and encourage each other in their Christian faith. The letters of Paul come first, not in the order they were written but in order from longest to shortest. The letters to churches were written to the Romans, two letters to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians and two letters to the Thessalonians. Paul also wrote letters to individual people, two to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon. We will read about many of these churches and people in Acts as well.

One of the letters, addressed to the Hebrews, is of unknown authorship. The other letters are named after their senders, rather than their recipients: they are the two letters of Peter (one of the disciples), one by James (Jesus’ brother, who became leader of the church in Jerusalem), the three letters of John (who wrote the fourth gospel) and finally the letter of Jude (another brother of Jesus). The writers of these letters are also written about in Acts.

The disciple John also wrote the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, recounting a vision from Jesus.

The books of the New Testament, other than Revelation, which relates to the future, cover events from roughly 6BC to AD60. They were written between AD50 and AD90. They were collected together by the leaders of Christian churches and the authoritative canon (official list of NT books) was being defined from AD180.

The books of the Bible were originally written by hand on scrolls of parchment paper. By the 2nd century AD, the scrolls were being replaced with the “codex”, an early form of book with pages folded and sewn at one side. Chapter divisions were added to the Bible about a thousand years later. After the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 1450s, verse numbers were added. Titles were added at the same time as these forms were being introduced to other literature. Hence, my great-grandmother’s Bible has a brief summary at the beginning of each chapter in italics, while my Bible has headings added in a bold font throughout the text.

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