05 September 2019

Summaries of the New Testament’s books.

Did the summaries of the Old Testament’s books, so it’s time I summarized the New Testament’s books too.


The gospels, I should point out, aren’t Jesus-biographies. They only focus on his ministry: Proclaiming God’s kingdom has come, and he’s its king; teaching us how we’re to live in his kingdom, starting now; and his death and resurrection.

Because people think of gospels as Jesus-biographies, they regularly miss the fact Acts is also a gospel: It likewise proclaims God’s kingdom has come, with Jesus its king; how we’re to live, with examples from the apostles’ behavior; and the aftermath of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Acts was written as a sequel to Luke, and arguably they oughta be read together as one giant two-part book. Still, people’s confusion means a lot of New Testament booklists have Acts in its own standalone category of “history.”

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO MATTHEW. A gospel of Christ Jesus, written particularly for a Jewish audience. Hence all its Old Testament quotes, Jesus’s commentary on the Law, and other things first-century Jews would consider relevant; gentiles not so much. (A popular theory is it was originally written in Aramaic and translated to Greek, but we’ve no proof.)

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO MARK. Probably the first gospel written, and one of the sources for Matthew and Luke. It’s short and to the point.

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO LUKE. With Acts, a gospel that more resembles ancient Greco-Roman histories, particularly in Luke’s attempt to determine the dates of things, and quote multiple sources. (Including, likely, Jesus’s mom.) Luke tried to include all the reliable Jesus stories he could track down, making it the longest gospel.

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO JOHN. And John apparently filled in all the blanks in Luke, giving a firsthand account from one of Jesus’s first students about some of the things Jesus taught and did.

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. After Jesus was raptured, how his new church got its start. Its first persecutions, first council, the origin of Paul of Tarsus, and how it was spread across the Roman Empire.

Paul’s epistles.

The rest of the New Testament consists of letters the apostles wrote to be read aloud in various churches, or wrote to one another. The New Testament bunches them together by author, and orders them by size, which is why all the short letters are in the back… except for Revelation, which was so unique Christians have historically put it last, largely because it contains End Times stuff and gives the bible a happy ending.

Paul wrote a lot, so he goes first, and usually gets his own category.

LETTER TO THE ROMANS. How Christ Jesus restores humanity’s relationship with God, how the Holy Spirit makes us God’s children, how this salvation glorifies God, and how to live in response to this good news.

LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS. Deals with various practical issues Corinth was struggling with: Leadership, sinners, marriage and divorce, meat and idolatry, holy communion, the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gifts, the abuse and proper use of tongues, and resurrection.

SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS. (We don’t know which letter to Corinth Paul wrote first. Possibly 1 Corinthians.) Paul’s reassurance his corrections didn’t undermine his relationship with that church; his ministry and legitimacy as an apostle; and how they might give to the Jerusalem church.

LETTER TO THE GALATIANS. Rebuking a false, karma-based “gospel,” by showing our righteousness comes through faith not works. That done, explaining how fruitful Christians oughta behave. Plus a bit of Paul’s backstory.

LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS. God’s plan to save the world, and how he incorporates both Jews and gentiles in this plan, and changes our identity to his children. And now that we’re thus changed, how we’re to live.

LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS. Despite the persecution and pressure Philippi was under, rejoice!—Christ Jesus came to save us, be our example, be our glory, and grant us strength.

LETTER TO THE COLOSSIANS. Who we are in Christ: He’s our Master and God, and as such should direct our thoughts and the way we live.

LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS. Paul’s praise for how they stood firm in Christ Jesus, and Timothy’s glowing report of them. How they should continue to love others, and look forward to and prepare for Jesus’s second coming.

SECOND LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS. Encouragement to keep standing firm; to ignore false teachers who claimed Jesus had already returned; to stick to truth and good works.

The next books are often called pastoral epistles because Paul wrote them directly to the leaders of three churches: Timothy of Ephesus, Titus of Crete, and Philemon of Colosse. They’re useful in that they directly deal with leadership issues… well, except for Philemon, which is more about forgiveness.

LETTER TO TIMOTHY. The importance of sound doctrinal teaching, the types of people to put in charge, the things a church oughta focus upon.

SECOND LETTER TO TIMOTHY. Probably Paul’s final letter, so essentially his last words to Timothy: Guard, uphold, fight, and suffer for the gospel. Pursue godliness and sound teaching. Preach the word.

LETTER TO TITUS. Titus’s churches needed structure, so he was advised to put sensible people in leadership, and encourage goodness.

LETTER TO PHILEMON. Philemon’s slave Onesimus had run away, encountered Paul, became Christian… and now Paul was sending him back, and encouraging Philemon to be merciful to his new brother in Christ.

Catholic epistles.

These are the letters written by all the apostles other than Paul. Sometimes they’re called “general epistles” to avoid that word “Catholic.” (Seriously, people need to get over their anti-Roman Catholic hangups.) They’re called Catholic because they’re not particularly addressed to an individual church, but really Christendom as a whole.

HEBREWS. Possibly a sermon rather than a letter. We don’t know who wrote it (though most Christians assume, for no good reason, it’s Paul).

Christ Jesus is greater than everyone. Greater than angels, Moses, Joshua, Aaron and the head priests; he’s the anchor of our faith, so hold tight to him fast. (Don‘t abandon your salvation!)

JAMES. Jesus’s brother James offers wise advice on following God: Hold to God despite temptation, don’t play favorites, faith without works isn’t authentic faith, control your tongue, submit to God.

PETER. Simon Peter addresses suffering, and how we gotta live through it, same as Jesus did. Despite suffering, be holy, be excellent to one another, pursue God’s will, be humble, stand firm.

SECOND LETTER OF PETER. There are true prophets and teachers, and fake ones; follow the real ones! Stick to what they teach and what you’ve been taught. Watch out.

JOHN. Or 1 John, to distinguish it from the gospel. Various heretic religions were cropping up, and claiming all sorts of weird ideas about Jesus, so John—who’d met Jesus and studied under him personally—wanted to remind folks of real Christianity, which they should know already: God is light, truth, and love; so God’s kids believe in Jesus, keep God’s commands, and love one another.

SECOND LETTER OF JOHN. Basically the same ideas as 1 John, but shorter.

THIRD LETTER OF JOHN. To John’s student Gaius, reminding him to do the right thing.

JUDE. Jesus’s brother Jude, same as John, addresses some of the new heretic ideas being spread: People who permit sin, rebel against leadership, and think Jesus isn’t returning.

REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST. John’s fourth letter, addressed to seven churches, consisting of apocalyptic visions of what precedes and follows Jesus’s second coming. (The second coming only happens once, but it takes place multiple times in Revelation, ’cause John’s visions aren’t in chronological order—as we can tell by the fact Jesus gets born in chapter 12. So ignore those sloppy scholars who treat it like a timeline.)

Biblical literacy.