Second Testament Summary
There are twenty–seven books that comprise the Second Testament. They were written over a period of approximately forty-five to fifty years during the first century. They were placed in the order which we find them–beginning with Matthew and ending with Revelation–over a period of many years. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, it was thought, was a natural bridge to Malachi, the last book of the Frist Testament. Revelation, the actual last book was written in the Bible, which speaks of things to come, was obviously placed last.
These twenty-seven books, however, were not written in the order in which we find them listed. The account which follows is a movement from the first book written in the Second Testament to the final book written. It is fair to say that there is some disagreement about the order. Whatever order they were written in is overshadowed by the fact that each remains God’s word to his family–breathed especially for them.
The books of the Second Testament were largely written to solve some specific problem which occurred during the foundational days of the early ecclesiae. They have often been called “problem literature,” not meaning that they were a problem, but that they were written to solve a problem or, in some cases, several problems. A more appropriate description could be “problem-solving literature.” They were the “How To” books of their day.
The story of the Second Testament period begins with the birth of Jesus. The story of the New Testament books begins with the first ecclesiae planting mission of Paul. Paul was converted into Christianity in the mid-’30s of the first century. Before his conversion, he was a fire-breathing adversary of the new Christian faith. He was so hot-blooded about being right that he endlessly imprisoned believers in Jesus. He was empowered by the political structure of the day to carry this task to Antioch. On the road, he collided with Jesus and his life was turned around. He spent nearly three years being grounded in his newfound faith. In the late ‘30s, Paul returned to Jerusalem for fifteen days and then returned to his home in Tarsus in Cilicia where he remained until Barnabas–some ten years later–found him when the ecclesiae in Antioch needed help. At the end of the ‘40s, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the ecclesiae at Antioch in Syria to take the message of Jesus to other parts of the world. Blessed by the ecclesiae and sent out by the Spirit, they left Antioch and traveled to Cyprus. During their movement across the island, Team Barnabas and Paul became Team Paul and Barnabas. The first convert was Sergius Paulus. Till this time Paul had been using his given name, Saul. After this conversion, he changed it to Paul.
From Cyprus, the team moved to the cities of Galatia and ministered. Paul’s message was “you can accept Jesus into your life by faith and have a true relationship with God.” This message was not fondly looked upon by the Jewish brothers within this new group which was now called Christians. After Paul’s return to Antioch, this group, often designated wrongly as Judaizers, (they were agitators) moved into Galatia to give the “rest of the story.” It was their opinion that you had to become a true Jew by accepting and practicing the Law to become a true Christian. Their equation message was “Law plus Jesus equals Christian.”
When Paul heard that this group had tried to undermine the message he had given and had been received by the ecclesiae he planted in Galatia, he fired off a response–the book of GALATIANS. This book is one of the more heated of Paul’s presentations. Lives were at stake. Untruth had to be attacked. The basic problem which Galatians was written to solve was how does a person become a Christian, by faith or by law? Did a person have to embrace the law to become a believer or was it as simple as receiving Jesus by faith? How do you become a Christian? Paul’s answer in Galatians is by faith and faith alone. If you believe that something needs to be added to your faith in order to be a Christian, that the real message you believe is Jesus plus, then Galatians will help you solve that problem.
The book of Galatians was written from Antioch approximately A.D. 49 (Acts 14.27-28). The writing of Galatians did not solve the question raised by the Judiazers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15.1). To answer this question a meeting of the ecclesiae leaders in Jerusalem took place (Acts 15). After the debate the council concluded that what Paul was teaching, the just shall live by faith, was correct and that the Judaizers among them were incorrect. The leader of the Jerusalem ecclesiae was James, the half-brother of Jesus. James felt that the message–the just ones live by faith–would certainly be misunderstood by the ecclesiae. Thus, the second of the Second Testament books came into existence. The book of JAMES, written by James, was directed toward the potential problem of Christians not doing any work for God. If their salvation was by faith–and it was–there might be a tendency to let down and coast through their Christian life. James saw this as a potential problem and wrote to correct it. He answers a different question than Paul. Paul’s question was “How do you know you are saved?” The answer: because of faith in Jesus. James’ question was, “How do others know that you are saved?” The answer: because of the works that you do in the name of Jesus. The book of JAMES does not allow Christianity to become stagnant. His message is clear: we work the works of Jesus because of what Jesus has done for us. We share his blessing because he has blessed us with his life.
The next two books were written were 1 and 2 THESSALONIANS. Some Biblical scholars believe that 1 THESSALONIANS was the first Second Testament book written. Paul left Jerusalem after the leadership’s discussion found in Acts 15. After many months of travel and ministry, he planted an ecclesia in Thessalonica. He stayed only a few weeks before having to leave town. After stopping in Athens for a short period, he went to Corinth. While he was planting the ecclesiae in Corinth, Timothy and Silas, whom he had sent back to Thessalonica, came to him with a report and some questions which needed to be answered.
FIRST THESSALONIANS was written to answer several questions about suffering and the second coming of Jesus. The ecclesiae had only had Paul’s presence for a few weeks and they were left with unanswered questions about their newfound faith.
Several weeks after Paul sent the answers to the first set of questions back to Thessalonica, he was presented with more questions about the second coming. SECOND THESSALONIANS was written to help solve the problem of understanding the second coming.
Paul evangelized Corinth during his second Ecclesiae Planting Mission (Acts 18.1–18). After leaving Corinth he concluded his trip by returning to Jerusalem. Leaving Jerusalem he returned to Ephesus where he stayed for about two years. Between the time he left Corinth and arrived in Ephesus, he received some disturbing news about the new ecclesiae at Corinth. Paul wrote a letter to respond to the news. This piece of correspondence is often called the lost letter in which he commanded disassociation from a professing Christian who continued to live an immoral lifestyle. An age-old problem was there in Corinth. The ecclesiae was in the world, but worse, the world was in the ecclesiae. Some scholars believe that 2 CORINTHIANS 6.14–7.1 is a fragment of the lost letter which was inserted into 2 Corinthians when Paul’s letters were collected and published. The passage in 1 Corinthians 5.9ff. seems to support this understanding.
While Paul was working with the Ephesian ecclesiae, he was visited by a group of slaves from the ecclesiae at Corinth (1 Cor. 1.10). They reported that there was a problem with division in the ecclesiae. FIRST CORINTHIANS 1-4 was written to help solve this problem. Before sending the letter back with his instruction, a trio of men (1 Cor. 16.7) arrived with a letter requesting other questions be answered by Paul. In addition to these questions, they brought a report that three other problems existed which were not addressed in the letter. Thus, 1 Corinthians was written to provide solutions for all these problems. They are:
- A specific case of immorality: 5
- Lawsuits between believers: 6.1–8
- Immorality in general: 6.9–20
- Marriage: 7
- Food: 8.1–11.1
- Conduct in public worship such as the veiling of women, the Lord’s Supper, and spiritual gifts (gracelets): 11.2–14.40
- Resurrection: 15
- A collection for the Jerusalem ecclesiae: 16.1–9
- Apollos: 16.12
After writing and sending 1 Corinthians, Paul made a quick but painful visit to Corinth reported in 2 Cor. 2.1, 12.14, 13.1. His efforts to straighten out the problems at Corinth personally were not successful.
Upon his return to Ephesus, he writes another letter to the ecclesiae at Corinth. (2 Cor. 2.3.ff). This next correspondence was written to tell the ecclesiae that his leading opponent in the ecclesiae should be disciplined by the ecclesiae. Some scholars believe that this letter is preserved in part at 2 Corinthians 10–13. The tone of these four chapters is direct. Upon completion of this letter, Paul left Ephesus and waited anxiously for Titus at Troas and finally in Macedonia. Titus arrives with the news that the ecclesiae had disciplined Paul’s opponent and that most of the Corinthians had submitted to Paul’s pastoral authority. Paul then writes another piece of correspondence 2 Corinthians 1–9, with the exception of 6.14–7.1. This letter is full of reconciliation talk and is much calmer in tone than chapters 10–13.
Paul then returned to Corinth and in the midst of a calm time in his ministry wrote what has been called the Magna Carta of Christianity—the book of ROMANS. The problem that Paul is trying to solve in Romans had to do with his reputation. Everywhere that Paul had traveled, there had been problems. He was now ready to begin new ecclesiae planting missions as far away as Spain and was going to make Rome his base. He had to calm the hearts of the leaders of the ecclesiae in Rome—an ecclesiae he had not started. To do this he writes them this letter which has four major emphases: How everyone had been a Slave To Sin. How everyone who had found Christ was now a Slave To God. For the Jewish believers, he spoke about the Salvation of Israel. Finally, he taught them about their Service To God.
Leaving Paul for a moment, we now turn to the first of the Gospels to be written—MARK. The Gospel of Mark has often been called the sermons of Peter as recorded by Mark. His book was written to the Roman ecclesiae with three themes: The Power of Jesus in face of the crucifixion; the Voluntary Death of Jesus also in light of the crucifixion; and finally, the Purpose of the death of Jesus. Mark’s book was the first evangelistic tract to be written. The main problem to be solved was how to witness to Romans whose birthright as the world’s ruler was power. Mark’s answer, Jesus was a powerful man who orchestrated his death so that slaves could be set free.
The next three books were written by Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. They are PHILEMON, COLOSSIANS, and EPHESIANS.
PHILEMON is the most personal of the letters of Paul. While in Rome a slave of a close friend of Paul’s was converted under Paul’s ministry. Onesimus served Paul while he was in prison, but there came a day when he needed to return to his owner and make amends for running away. The problem of slavery is addressed and its solution is good for most, if not all, social problems today. Paul had a perfect chance to preach about the evils of slavery. Instead, he challenged Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother. The point: The gospel of Jesus makes a difference in peoples’ lives, and the family of God operates on a different level than the family of the world.
COLOSSIANS was written to a city some ninety miles east of Ephesus. Apparently this ecclesiae which had been started during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus had slipped into a belief pattern about Jesus which was less than adequate. Some were believing that Jesus was not who Paul had claimed him to be. There are some Gnostic undercurrents within the book. It is noteworthy to understand that the Jehovah’s Witnesses use Colossians 1.15–19 to say that Jesus was a human being. In essence, Paul wrote this passage to prove the divine character of Jesus. They use the passage to say that Jesus was not God. Paul wrote it to the Colossians to demonstrate that Jesus was God.
EPHESIANS was written as a circular letter to all the ecclesiae which were started during Paul’s two-year ministry in Ephesus. The list includes the ecclesiae mentioned in Revelation 2–3. The form of the letter is typical. The first three chapters tell Paul’s audiences who they are in Christ. The last three explain how a believer is supposed to act in light of who he or she is in Christ. The letter deals with the self-image problem which every believer faces. It presents believers with the security of knowing who they are and how they are supposed to act. The first chapter lays a foundation by explaining that God the Father has a purpose for us—to bring us to himself. That purpose was accomplished by Jesus and applied by the Spirit to our lives.
Two books follow Ephesians in chronology. They are LUKE–ACTS. Actually in the Second Testament era, these two books circulated together. It was only later that the Gospel of John was planted firmly between them in their position in the Bible. To read one without the other is to only get half the picture which Luke is trying to present. Luke’s interest is to shatter the problem that the ministry of Jesus was only a local ministry to the Jewish race. In fact, Luke takes pains to include interests that the other Gospel writers do not present. Luke deals with the subjects of a social outcast; women, he mentions thirteen women not otherwise mentioned in the Gospels; children; the social life of Jesus; prayer; the universal love of God as demonstrated in the story of the Good Samaritan, Lazarus, and the rich man, and the prodigal son; and finally, the Holy Spirit. Luke has often been called the theologian of the Holy Spirit. His book begins by dealing with the meaning of being filled with the Spirit with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.
Acts, according to the first verses, is the continuing story of the acts of the Holy Spirit through the missionaries. The book takes the story of Jesus from its local setting to the capital of the known world, Rome (Acts 1.8). While it shares a history of the early ecclesiae, it is much more. It is the movement of the ecclesiae throughout the world as orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. It may also have served as a defense for Paul as he stood before Caesar solving the problem of who these radical people were who were turning the world “right side up.”
The book of PHILIPPIANS was the next book written. Paul had a small problem. He had received a gift from the ecclesiae. His name was Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus had become sick and Paul felt the need to return this gift and say thank you for the kindness the ecclesiae had shown him. Within Philippians, Paul shares the pattern of Jesus to be followed by his partisans. The pattern of self-giving was to be inherent in the daily life of the believer. It is full of joy and praise for the privilege of being a Christian.
The last three books from the hand of Paul were 1 TIMOTHY, TITUS, 2 TIMOTHY. While they appear in Scripture in a different order, the one above reflects the way they were written. The ecclesiae was at the end of the first generation. The first-generation leaders were dying or dead. Paul wrote these books to help Timothy and Titus understand their jobs in the ecclesiae they pastored. Paul tells Timothy, in the first book written to him, what the qualifications of leadership should be for a mature ecclesiae. That leadership should stand firm on the doctrine which had been delivered to them. Paul had warned the Ephesian leaders that there would be a time when men would try to lead the ecclesiae away from the foundation which had been set before them. Now he was putting it in writing. Stand firm in sound doctrine, i.e, healthy doctrine. In intimate terms, Paul shares what the heart of a pastor should be for the flock which God gives him.
TITUS was left on the island of Crete with the direction to bring the new ecclesiae there to maturity. Paul provides him with a list of qualifications for leaders, also. While some of the qualifications are the same, some differ. Here’s the main difference to keep in mind. The list in 1 Timothy was given for a mature ecclesiae, while the one in Titus was given for a new ecclesiae. Both are concerned with false teachers and standing firm in the doctrine which was delivered to the ecclesiae.
SECOND TIMOTHY was Paul’s last letter. In fact, he tells Timothy that he is ready to be sacrificed, that he fought a good fight, and had kept his faith through all ordeals. His life was near its end and he eagerly anticipated his homegoing. Paul tells his young protege that he is an emotional, faithful, and gifted person. He continues to tell him that the process of becoming in his life would include suffering. Paul shares with Timothy that his responsibility would include being a teacher who was single-minded, disciplined and hard-working; a servant who could be subjective and objective; and finally, a minister who could preach the word with confidence. The basic problem Paul was solving was that of visible heresy in the ecclesiae. The solution: Timothy’s understanding of who he was and what his responsibilities were.
FIRST PETER was written from Rome to encourage the Christians in Asia Minor who were being persecuted for their faith in Christ. These ecclesiae may have been started by Paul and were Gentile ecclesiae (1.14; 2.10). The problem Peter was trying to solve centered around the persecution and possible falling away from the faith of these believers. He tells them who they are in Christ (1.14) and, like Paul, how they should live holy lives in this present evil age.
SECOND PETER, also written to the believers in Rome in Asia Minor was Peter’s attempt to warn the ecclesiae about false teachers. The problem appears to stem around a teaching that denied that Jesus was not going to return because he had not yet returned (3.1-18). Peter tells the ecclesiae that God works on a different timetable than man does; that God’s waiting was because of his patience for those who needed to be saved; finally, that believers should live holy and godly lives until the Day comes.
MATTHEW’s Gospel was the training manual of the Second Testament ecclesiae. At the conclusion of his Gospel, he instructs the ecclesiae concerning his purpose. Jesus had commanded his disciples to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Mark’s Gospel was used primarily as the evangelization tool, while Matthew was used as the educational tool. There are five distinct teaching sections in Matthew. This is a subtle but obvious comparison with Jesus as the New Moses for the New Israel—the ecclesiae, and Moses and Israel of the Old Testament. The five teaching sections are:
- The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7)
- The Appointment of the Twelve (Matthew 10.1–11.1)
- The Parables Concerning The Kingdom Of God (Matthew 13.1–53)
- Life In The Kingdom Of God (Matthew 18.1-35)
- The Coming Of The Kingdom/The End Of This Present Age (Matthew 23–25)
These teaching sections were intended to train the new followers of Jesus about living in concert with Jesus in this present evil age.
HEBREWS was written to Jews who had become Christian and were looking back to Judaism with an eye to return. Origen, an early Church Father, once said that only God knows who wrote Hebrews. There is some belief that it may be the only book who was written by a woman who found its way into the Second Testament canon. The author’s main emphasis is to demonstrate that Jesus is the superior way. In the first few chapters, he or she instructs the audience that Jesus is superior to the prophets; angels; Moses and Joshua; and the priesthood. The author explains that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant. The author demonstrates that faith is the superior way. Hebrews may have first been an oral presentation of the Gospel and later written down. If this is true, we have a first-century sermon at our fingertips.
JUDE is one of the smaller and often overlooked books in the Second Testament. It appears that as the ecclesiae moved toward the second century and the first eyewitnesses were dying out, groups of false teachers began to make their way into the ecclesiae. Their goal was to move the followers of Jesus toward another belief system. Jude wrote to this problem. In the modern world, Jude would be thought of as tactless. He goes for the juggler’s vein on most occasions. He provides his audience with a warning about who these false teachers were. He reminds them of what they can do to keep from being tripped up by the false teaching.
JOHN’s Gospel was written by John at the close of the first century, possibly some sixty years after the ascension of Jesus. In short, it is a mature presentation of the claims of Jesus, written by the last of the living disciples. The beginning of the book is one of the most profound presentations of the gospel of Jesus that has ever been penned. John takes his reader from eternity (v. 1), to time (v. 3), to history (v. 6), to the incarnation (v. 14). He tells us that the Word (Jesus) is eternal, personal, and divine. There are three main sections to the book. The first is the Public Ministry of Jesus. For John, Jesus brought a new reality, new worship, a new birth, a new source of life. The second section is the Private Ministry of Jesus. He includes stories of washing his disciples’ feet; a teaching section which includes the believer’s relationship to him; the pattern of a believer’s life; and finally, a believer’s relationship to the world. John also shows Jesus as a praying man as he prays for himself, his disciples, and the ecclesiae to express unity. The third section is the Passion. It tells the story of the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
John 20.31 explains why he wrote the book. The NIV translation says that it was written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ. The footnote of this verse says, may continue to believe. There are two possible reasons stated, only one of them is correct. If the first is chosen, the book becomes an evangelistic tool to lead people to believe who Jesus is. The second choice makes it a written tool to help believers continue in their belief. It seems best when all the evidence is laid out, especially 1 John, that the reason for his writing in light of false teachers in the ecclesiae, was to help believers to continue their belief and not fall away.
FIRST, SECOND and THIRD JOHN are listed in such a way because of their length. It may be correct to understand that the order of writing was probably 3 John, 2 John, and, finally, 1 John. THIRD JOHN was a personal letter to an ecclesiae offering help in disciplining a member named Diotrephes. Diotrephes appears to have taken over and was excommunicating members himself. SECOND JOHN talked about the effects of false teachers in the ecclesiae while FIRST JOHN told the readers how they could test teachers to discover if they were delivering the truth or something false. While short, these letters deliver a powerful message about the ministry of the ecclesiae in discipline and in being equipped to discern truth from error.
REVELATION is the most misunderstood book in the Second Testament. It has been interpreted hundreds of ways. From those hundreds of interpretations have come four views into which all of the interpretations seem to fit. The first called “In That Time,” suggests that the book was written only for the first-century believer. When that century passed, the specifics of the book passed. The second, “All of History,” views the book as a cosmic calculator. If you can determine where you are in history now and find a passage that suggests that, then you can figure when Jesus will return. This one is most often used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Protestant Dispensationalist theologians. The third, “Above History,” sees the book as a cosmic conflict that is won by good. This stream of interpretation came out of WWII. The final way, “End of History,” suggests that the book displays the events which surround the close of history. Within this view there are two views: Dispensational theology basically says that the book shows the steps which lead to the Great Tribulation which the ecclesiae will escape, and Evangelical theology does not take the book with such rigidity.
It appears to me that the book of Revelation was written to bring comfort in a time of persecution to the first ecclesiae at the close of the first century. It is purposely written in code which explains the symbols throughout. The message then is the same as the message now. God will not lose one of his own to the enemy. We can take great comfort from knowing that God is ultimately in control regardless of what the circumstances appear to be to us.
These twenty-seven Second Testament books plus the thirty-nine books of the First Testament have been held by the ecclesiae since the close of the third century to be God’s written word to his ecclesiae. This stand is undisputed for the most part. The dispute which arises concerning Scripture is not what makes up Scripture, but how we should understand Scripture. It is my opinion that we must understand what God was saying to the first readers and in so doing we will come to discover what he is saying to us today.