New Testament

New Testament

New Testament, the distinctively Christian portion of the Bible, consisting of 27 books of varying lengths dating from the earliest Christian period. The seven epistles whose authorship by St. Paul is undisputed were written c.A.D. 50-A.D. 60; most of the remaining books were written in the era A.D. 70-100, often incorporating earlier traditions. All were written in the koiné idiom of the Greek language.

The works are, in the conventional order: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles, a history of apostolic missionary activity; 21 letters written in apostolic times, called epistles, named for their addressee (or, in the case of the last seven, for their putative author)—Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, First and Second Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, First and Second Timothy, Titus (these 13 comprising the Pauline corpus, although Paul's authorship of the last six is disputed), Hebrews, James, First and Second Peter, First, Second, and Third John, and Jude; and finally Revelation, or the Apocalypse. Most present problems of date, composition, or authorship. All reflect the needs of the community addressed, as well as their religious convictions and cultural heritage. Consequently, they reflect a diversity of viewpoints while agreeing that Jesus' death and resurrection marks the decisive intervention of God in human affairs.

The 27 books of the New Testament represent only a portion of early Christian literature (see patristic literature). There are other gospels, epistles, narratives, and apocalypses among the Pseudepigrapha and in the Nag Hammadi corpus. The selection of books considered canonical, i.e., authoritative, evolved over the first four centuries of the Christian era. The first canon was compiled by the heretic Marcion in the mid-2d cent. Marcion accepted only the letters of Paul (though not Titus or First and Second Timothy) and a truncated version of the Gospel of St. Luke. The earliest extant orthodox list is the Muratorian canon (c.190 or possibly later), which contains most of the books finally accepted as canonical. There was, however, dispute for some time over seven books (Hebrews, James, Second Peter, Second and Third John, Jude, and Revelation) eventually included in the canon, and over others (including the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, First Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas (see Barnabas, Saint, and the Didache). The present New Testament canon appears for the first time in the Festal Letter of St. Athanasius (367). The criterion was that works written by an apostle or by a colleague of one could be trusted to preserve the authentic apostolic witness to Jesus. The traditional view has been that a canonical work must also be divinely inspired. All major Christian traditions use the same New Testament.

See studies by H. Koester (1982); L. T. Johnston (1986); D. E. Aune (1987); E. J. Epp and G. W. MacRae (1989); R. A. Spivey and D. M. Smith (1989); J. D. G. Dunn (1990); R. Price (1996); R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).

The New Testament (Greek: Καινὴ Διαθήκη, Kainē Diathēkē) is the name given to the second major division of the Christian Bible, the first such division being the much longer Hebrew Bible (also called by Jews Tanakh), known to Christians as the Old Testament. The New Testament is sometimes called the Greek Testament or Greek Scriptures, or the New Covenant – which is the literal translation of the original Greek. The original texts were written in Koine Greek by various authors after c. AD 45 and before c. AD 140. Its 27 books were gradually collected into a single volume over a period of several centuries. The New Testament is a central element of Christianity, and has played a major role in shaping modern Western culture. Although certain Christian sects differ as to which works are included in the New Testament, the vast majority of denominations have settled on the same twenty-seven book canon: it consists of the four narratives of Jesus Christ's ministry, called "Gospels"; a narrative of the Apostles' ministries in the early church, which is also a sequel to the third Gospel; twenty-one early letters, commonly called "epistles" in Biblical context, written by various authors and consisting mostly of Christian counsel and instruction; and an Apocalyptic prophecy, which is technically the twenty-second epistle. Although the traditional timeline of composition may have been taken into account by the shapers of the current New Testament format, it is not, nor was it meant to be, in strictly chronological order. Though Jesus speaks Aramaic in it, the New Testament (including the Gospels) was written in Greek because that was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire.


Each of the Gospels narrates the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The traditional author is listed after each entry. Modern scholarship differs on precisely by whom, when, or in what original form the various gospels were written.

The first three are commonly classified as the Synoptic Gospels. They contain very similar accounts of events in Jesus' life. The Gospel of John stands apart for its unique records of several miracles and sayings of Jesus, not found elsewhere.


The book of Acts, also termed Acts of the Apostles or Acts of the Holy Spirit, is a narrative of the Apostles' ministry after Christ's death and subsequent resurrection, which is also a sequel to the third Gospel. Examining style, phraseology, and other evidence, modern scholarship generally concludes that Acts and Luke share the same author.

  • Acts, traditionally Luke.

Pauline epistles

The Pauline epistles (or Corpus Paulinum) constitute those epistles traditionally attributed to Paul. However the authorship of a number of the other epistles is sometimes disputed (see section on authorship below, and Authorship of the Pauline epistles).

General or Catholic epistles

See main article: General epistles
Includes those Epistles written to the church at large (Catholic in this sense simply means universal).


The final book of the New Testament is the Book of Revelation. The authorship is attributed either to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee or to John of Patmos. For a discussion of authorship see Authorship of the Johannine works.

Revelation is sometimes called The Apocalypse of John. It is also not read or used during church services by the Orthodox church.

See also: Apocalyptic literature, Bible prophecy


The New Testament books are ordered differently in different Church Traditions. For example most Protestant Bibles follow the Roman Catholic order, but the Lutheran order is different. Outside the Western European Catholic/Protestant world there are different orders in the Slavonic, Syriac and Ethiopian Bibles.


In ancient times there were dozens of Christian writings claiming Apostolic authorship, or for some other reason considered to have authority by some ancient churches, but which were not ultimately included in the 27-book New Testament canon. These works are considered "apocryphal", and are therefore referred to as the New Testament Apocrypha. It includes many writings unfavourable to the position of the orthodoxy, such as Gnostic writing. These apocryphal works are nevertheless important insofar as they provide an ancient context and setting for the composition of the canonical books. They also can help establish linguistic conventions common in the canonical texts. Examples of early apocryphal works are the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Epistle to the Laodiceans.


The common languages spoken by both Jews and Gentiles in the holy land at the time of Jesus were Aramaic, Koine Greek, and to a limited extent a colloquial dialect of Mishnaic Hebrew. However, the original text of the New Testament was most likely written in Koine Greek, the vernacular dialect in 1st century Roman provinces of the Eastern Mediterranean, and has since been widely translated into other languages, most notably, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. However, some of the Church Fathers seem to imply that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and there is another contention that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote in Hebrew, which was translated into Greek by Luke. Neither view holds much support among contemporary scholars, who argue that the literary facets of Matthew and Hebrews suggest that they were composed directly in Greek, rather than being translated.

A very small minority of scholars consider the Aramaic version of the New Testament to be the original and believe the Greek is a translation (see Aramaic primacy).


Some believe the English term New Testament ultimately comes from the Hebrew language. New Testament is taken from the Latin Novum Testamentum first coined by Tertullian. Some believe this in turn is a translation of the earlier Koine Greek Καινή Διαθήκη (pronounced in postclassical Greek as Keni Dhiathiki). This Greek term is found in the original Greek language of the New Testament, though commonly translated as new covenant, and found even earlier in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that is called the Septuagint. At Jeremiah 31:31, the Septuagint translated this term into Greek from the original Hebrew ברית חדשה (berit chadashah). The Hebrew term is usually also translated into English as new covenant.

As a result, some claim the term was first used by Early Christians to refer to the new covenant that was the basis for their relationship with God. About two centuries later at the time of Tertullian and Lactantius, the phrase was being used to designate a particular collection of books that some believed embodied this new covenant.

Tertullian, in the 2nd century, is the first currently known to use the terms novum testamentum/new testament and vetus testamentum/old testament. For example, in Against Marcion book 3 , chapter 14, he wrote:

This may be understood to be the Divine Word, who is doubly edged with the two testaments of the law and the gospel
And in book 4 , chapter 6, he wrote:
For it is certain that the whole aim at which he has strenuously laboured even in the drawing up of his Antitheses, centres in this, that he may establish a diversity between the Old and the New Testaments, so that his own Christ may be separate from the Creator, as belonging to this rival god, and as alien from the law and the prophets.
Lactantius, also in Latin, in the 3rd century, in his Divine Institutes, book 4, chapter 20 , wrote:
But all Scripture is divided into two Testaments. That which preceded the advent and passion of Christ—that is, the law and the prophets—is called the Old; but those things which were written after His resurrection are named the New Testament. The Jews make use of the Old, we of the New: but yet they are not discordant, for the New is the fulfilling of the Old, and in both there is the same testator, even Christ, who, having suffered death for us, made us heirs of His everlasting kingdom, the people of the Jews being deprived and disinherited. As the prophet Jeremiah testifies when he speaks such things: [Jer 31:31–32] "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new testament to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not according to the testament which I made to their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they continued not in my testament, and I disregarded them, saith the Lord." ... For that which He said above, that He would make a new testament to the house of Judah, shows that the old testament which was given by Moses was not perfect; but that which was to be given by Christ would be complete.
The Vulgate translation, in the 5th century, used testamentum in 2nd Corinthians 3 :
(6) Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter but in the spirit. For the letter killeth: but the spirit quickeneth. (Douay-Rheims)
(14) But their senses were made dull. For, until this present day, the selfsame veil, in the reading of the old testament, remaineth not taken away (because in Christ it is made void). (Douay-Rheims)
However, the more modern NRSV translates these verses from the Koine Greek as such:
(6) Who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(14) But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.
Thus, it is common to translate using either of two English terms, testament and covenant, even though they are not synonymous.


The New Testament is a collection of works, and as such was written by multiple authors. The traditional view--that is, according to most orthodox Christians--is that all the books were written by Apostles (e.g. Matthew and Paul) or disciples working under their direction (e.g. Mark and Luke). However, in modern times, with the rise of rigorous historical inquiry and textual criticism, these traditional ascriptions have been rejected by some. While the traditional authors have been listed above, the modern critical view is discussed herein.

Seven of the epistles of Paul are generally accepted by most modern scholars as authentic; these undisputed letters include Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon. Raymond E. Brown has this to say about Colossians: "At the present moment about 60 percent of critical scholarship holds that Paul did not write the letter" (An Introduction, p. 610; cited by Liberal scholars usually question Pauline authorship for any other epistle, although there are conservative Christian scholars who accept the traditional ascriptions. However, almost no current mainstream scholars, Christian or otherwise, hold that Paul wrote Hebrews. In fact, questions about the authorship of Hebrews go back at least to the 3rd century ecclesiastical writer Caius, who attributed only thirteen epistles to Paul (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 6.20.3ff.). A small minority of scholars hypothesize Hebrews may have been written by one of Paul's close associates, such as Barnabas, Silas, or Luke, given that the themes therein seemed to them as largely Pauline.

The authorship of all non-Pauline books have been disputed in recent times. Ascriptions are largely polarized between Christian and non-Christian experts, making any sort of scholarly consensus all but impossible. Even majority views are unclear.

The Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, unlike the other New Testament works, have a unique interrelationship. The dominant view among non-theologian scholars is the Two-Source Hypothesis. This hypothesis proposes that both Matthew and Luke drew significantly upon the Gospel of Mark and another common source, known as the "Q Source" (Q is derived from Quelle, the German word for "source"). However, the nature and even existence of Q is speculative, and scholars have proposed variants on the hypothesis which redefine or exclude it. Most pro-Q scholars believe that it was a single written document, while a few contest that "Q" was actually a number of documents or oral traditions. If it was a documentary source, no information about its author or authors can be obtained from the resources currently available. The traditional view supposes that Matthew was written first, and Mark and Luke drew from it and the second chronological work; and some scholars have attempted to use their modern methods to confirm the idea. An even smaller group of scholars espouse Lukan priority.

Modern scholars are skeptical about authorship claims for noncanonical books, such as the Nag Hammadi corpus discovered in Egypt in 1945. This corpus of fifty-two Coptic books, dated to about 350–400, includes gospels in the names of Thomas, Philip, James, John, and many others. Like almost all ancient works, they represent copies rather than original texts. None of the original texts has been discovered, and scholars argue about the dating of the originals. Suggested dates vary from as early as 50 to as late as the late second century for the gnostics. (See Gospel of Thomas and New Testament Apocrypha.)

To summarize, the only books for which there are solid authorship consensuses among modern critical scholars are the Pauline epistiles mentioned above, which are universally regarded as authentic, and Hebrews, which is nearly always rejected. The remaining nineteen books remain in dispute, some holding to the traditional view, and others regarding them as anonymous or pseudonymic.

Date of composition

According to tradition, the earliest of the books were the letters of Paul, and the last books to be written are those attributed to John, who is traditionally said to have lived to a very old age, perhaps dying as late as 100, although this is often disputed. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 185, stated that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome, which would be in the 60s, and Luke was written some time later.

Most secular scholars agree on the dating of the majority of the New Testament, except for the epistles and books that they consider to be pseudepigraphical (i.e., those thought not to be written by their traditional authors). For the Gospels they tend to date Mark no earlier than 65 and no later than 75. Matthew is dated between 70 and 85. Luke is usually placed within 80 to 95. However various scholars disagree with this as Luke indicates in the book of Acts that he has already written the Gospel of Luke prior to writing the introduction to Acts. Acts is written in a journal form indicating that it may have been written during Paul's journeys which it documents. That would put Acts as early as the 60's and the Gospel of Luke earlier than that. This then could push back Mark into the late 50's if one believes that Mark is the source of some of Luke's material. Early church fathers seem to support parts of that. For instance Irenaeus claims "Luke recorded the teachings of Paul, after the deaths of Peter and Paul. He wrote after the Hebrew Matthew, at around the same time as Mark, and before John." Clement though claims: "Luke was written before Mark and John and at the same time as Matthew. " When taken with Clement's writing on Mark, this means that Peter and Paul were alive at the time that Luke was written. The earliest of the books of the New Testament was First Thessalonians, an epistle of Paul, written probably in 51, or possibly Galatians in 49 according to one of two theories of its writing. Of the pseudepigraphical epistles, Christian scholars tend to place them somewhere between 70 and 150, with Second Peter usually being the latest.

In the 1830s German scholars of the Tübingen school dated the books as late as the third century, but the discovery of some New Testament manuscripts and fragments, not including some of the later writings, dating as far back as 125 (notably Papyrus 52) has called such late dating into question. Additionally, a letter to the church at Corinth in the name of Clement of Rome in 95 quotes from 10 of the 27 books of the New Testament, and a letter to the church at Philippi in the name of Polycarp in 120 quotes from 16 books. Therefore, some of the books of the New Testament were at least in a first-draft stage, though there is negligible evidence in these quotes or among biblical manuscripts for the existence of different early drafts. Other books were probably not completed until later, if we assume they must have been quoted by Clement or Polycarp. There are many minor discrepancies between manuscripts (largely spelling or grammatical differences).


The process of canonization was complex and lengthy. It was characterized by a compilation of books that the apostolic tradition considered authoritative in worship and teaching, relevant to the historical situations in which they lived, and consonant with the Old Testament.

Contrary to popular misconception, the New Testament canon was not summarily decided in large, bureaucratic Church council meetings, but rather developed over many centuries.

Thus, McDonald states:

Although a number of Christians have thought that church councils determined what books were to be included in the biblical canons, a more accurate reflection of the matter is that the councils recognized or acknowledged those books that had already obtained prominence from usage among the various early Christian communities.

Similarly, from Patzia:

It appears that the books that finally were canonized are those that enjoyed a special status and were utilized both frequently and universally by the church.

However, this is not to say that no councils touched the issue of the canon. Some of these include the Council of Trent (also called the Tridentine Council) of 1546 for Roman Catholicism (by vote: 24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain), the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for Eastern Orthodoxy. Although these councils did include statements about the canon, they were only reaffirming the existing canon which was reached by mutual agreement over many centuries--they were just making it official.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Canon of the New Testament: "The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council."

In the first three centuries of the Christian Church, Early Christianity, there seems not to have been a New Testament canon that was complete and universally recognized.

One of the earliest attempts at solidifying a canon was made by Marcion, c. 140 AD, who accepted only a modified version of Luke (Gospel of Marcion) and ten of Paul's letters, while rejecting the Old Testament entirely. His unorthodox canon was rejected by a majority of Christians, as was he and his theology, Marcionism. Adolf Harnack in Origin of the New Testament (1914) argued that the orthodox Church at this time was largely an Old Testament Church (one that "follows the Testament of the Creator-God") without a New Testament canon and that it gradually formulated its New Testament canon in response to the challenge posed by Marcion.

The Muratorian fragment, dated at between 170 (based on an internal reference to Pope Pius I and arguments put forth by Bruce Metzger) and as late as the end of the 4th century (according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary), provides the earliest known New Testament canon attributed to mainstream (that is, not Marcionite) Christianity. It is similar, but not identical, to the modern New Testament canon.

The oldest clear endorsement of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John being the only legitimate gospels was written c. 180 AD It was a claim made by Bishop Irenaeus in his polemic Against the Heresies, for example III.XI.8: "It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh."

At least, then, the books considered to be authoritative included the four gospels and many of the letters of Paul. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (all 2nd century) held the letters of Paul to be on par with the Hebrew Scriptures as being divinely inspired, yet others rejected him. Other books were held in high esteem but were gradually relegated to the status of New Testament Apocrypha.

Eusebius, c. 300, gave a detailed list of New Testament writings in his Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapter XXV:

"1... First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles... the epistles of Paul... the epistle of John... the epistle of Peter... After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. These then belong among the accepted writings."

"3 Among the disputed writings [Antilegomena], which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected [Kirsopp Lake translation: "not genuine"] writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews... And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books."

"6... such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or of any others besides them, and the Acts of Andrew and John and the other apostles... they clearly show themselves to be the fictions of heretics. Wherefore they are not to be placed even among the rejected writings, but are all of them to be cast aside as absurd and impious."

Revelation is counted as both accepted (Kirsopp Lake translation: "Recognized") and disputed, which has caused some confusion over what exactly Eusebius meant by doing so. From other writings of the Church Fathers, we know that it was disputed with several canon lists rejecting its canonicity. EH 3.3.5 adds further detail on Paul: "Paul's fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul." EH 4.29.6 mentions the Diatessaron: "But their original founder, Tatian, formed a certain combination and collection of the Gospels, I know not how, to which he gave the title Diatessaron, and which is still in the hands of some. But they say that he ventured to paraphrase certain words of the apostle [Paul], in order to improve their style.

The New Testament canon as it is now was first listed by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367, in a letter written to his churches in Egypt, Festal Letter 39 Also cited is the Council of Rome, but not without controversy. That canon gained wider and wider recognition until it was accepted at the Third Council of Carthage in 397. Even this council did not settle the matter, however. Certain books continued to be questioned, especially James and Revelation. Even as late as the 16th century, theologian and reformer Martin Luther questioned (but in the end did not reject) the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. Even today, German-language Luther Bibles are printed with these four books at the end of the canon, rather than their traditional order for other Christians. Due to the fact that some of the recognized Books of the Holy Scripture were having their canonicity questioned by Protestants in the 16th century, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the traditional canon (that is for Catholics the canon of the Council of Rome) of the Scripture as a dogma of the Catholic Church.

Early manuscripts

The early New Testament manuscripts can be classified into certain major families or types of text. A "text-type" is the name given to a family of texts with a common ancestor. It must be noted that many early manuscripts can be composed of several different text-types. For example, Codex Washingtonianus consists of only the four gospels, and yet, different parts are written in different text-types. Four distinctive New Testament text-types have been defined:

The Alexandrian text-type is usually considered the best and most faithful at preserving the original; it is usually brief and austere. The main examples are the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and Bodmer Papyri.

The Western text-type has a fondness for paraphrase and is generally the longest. Most significant is the Western version of Acts, which is 10% longer. The main examples are the Codex Bezae, Codex Claromontanus, Codex Washingtonianus, Old Latin versions (prior to the Vulgate), and quotes by Marcion, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian.

The Caesarean text-type is a mixture of Western and Alexandrian types and is found in the Chester Beatty Papyri, in Codex Koridethi, and is quoted by Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem and Armenians.

The Byzantine text-type is the textform that is contained in a majority of the extant manuscripts and thus is often called the "Majority Text." The origin of this text is debated among scholars. Some scholars, observing that few Byzantine readings exist among early uncial manuscript witnesses, contend that the text formed late and contains conflated readings. Other scholars look to the shear number of consistent witnesses to the Byzantine textform, and the existence of readings which parallel the Byzantine textform in very early translations, as evidence that the Byzantine textform is probably the closest text to that originally penned by the New Testament authors. The Byzantine textform can be found in the Gospels of Codex Alexandrinus, later uncial texts and most minuscule texts. A variant of the Byzantine text, called the Textus Receptus, is the basis of Erasmus's printed Greek New Testament of 1516, which became the basis of the 1611 King James Version of the English New Testament.

Most modern English versions of the New Testament are based on critical reconstructions of the Greek text, such as the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament or Nestle-Alands' Novum Testamentum Graece, which have a pronounced Alexandrian character.

Early Versions

The first translations (usually called "versions") of the New Testament were made in the end of 2nd century into Syriac, Latin, and Coptic languages. These three versions were made directly from Greek, before a revision of Greek text, and they are always cited in modern critical apparatus.

Syriac Versions

Syriac was spoken in Syria, and Mesopotamia, and with dialect i Palestine, where it was known as Aramaic. Several Syriac translations were made and have come to us. It is possible some translations were lost.

Tatian, the Syrian, about A.D. 170, prepared Diatessaron, a harmony of the four Gospels which he made in Rome. After his return to Syria he translated it into Syriac. Probably it was the first translation part of New Testament from Greek into other language.

Since the 19th century there has been evidence supporting the existence of an Older Syriac version published at about the same time as the Diatessaron, or even a little earlier (Curetonianus, Syrus Sinaiticus from 5th or 4th century). They contain text of the four Gospels. The text of Acts and the Pauline Epistles has not survived to our time. We know only citations made by Eastern fathers. Old Syriac version is a representative of the Western text-type. The Peshitta version was prepared in the beginning of the 5th century. It contains only 22 books (2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were not translated).

Philoxenian, probably was produced in 508 for Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabung.

Latin Versions

The Gospels were translated into Latin during the last quarter of the second century in North Africa (Afra). There were not many later European Latin translations (Itala), while the African Latin manuscripts are not numerous (Itala about 80 mss.). The Old Latin versions support the Western type of text.

Because of ununiformed text Old Latin versions, interpolations, and corruption Jerome prepared another translation - Vulgate. In fact it was only a revision of Itala, and only the Gospels were revised precisely. We have 8,000 copies of Vulgate.

In the order of the versions Latin version usually stands at the beginning in the apparatus.

Coptic Versions

The Coptic language was used in several dialects: Bohairic (northern dialect), Fayyumic, Sahidic (southern dialect), Akhmimic, and others. First translation was made in end of 2d century into Sahidic dialect (copsa). This translation was a representative of Alexandrian text-type.

Bofairic translation was made a little later, because Greek language was more influenced in a North, than in a South. Probably it was made in the beginning of 3th century. It was very literally translation, a lot of Greek words, and even some grammar forms (f.e. syntactic construction μεν — δε) were incorporated to this translation. For this reason, bohairic translation is more helpful in reconstruction early Greek text, than any other ancient translation.

Versions in other languages

After A.D. 300 were made other translations into Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Gothic, Old Curch Slavonic, and other languages (Arabian, Nubian, Persian, Soghdian). Armenian, Georgian, and Ethiopic are often cited in critical apparatus, but Gothic, and Slavonic are cited very rarely.


Over the years, there have been a number of possible additions to the original text, such as:

In addition, there are a large number of variant readings, see Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1994) for details.


All Christian groups respect the New Testament, but they differ in their understanding of the nature, extent, and relevance of its authority. Views of the authoritativeness of the New Testament often depend on the concept of inspiration, which relates to the role of God in the formation of the New Testament. Generally, the greater the role of God in one's doctrine of inspiration, the more one accepts the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy and/or authoritativeness of the Bible. One possible source of confusion is that these terms are difficult to define, because many people use them interchangeably or with very different meanings. This article will use the terms in the following manner:

  • Infallibility relates to the absolute correctness of the Bible in matters of doctrine.
  • Inerrancy relates to the absolute correctness of the Bible in factual assertions (including historical and scientific assertions).
  • Authoritativeness relates to the correctness of the Bible in questions of practice in morality.

Christian scholars such as Professor Peter Stoner see the Bible having compelling and detailed fulfilled Bible prophecy and argue for the Bible's inspiration. This is argued to show that the Bible is authoritative, since it is argued that only God knows the future. A common objection in the West regarding this matter is that the burden of proof is on miracles, which, by Occam's Razor, should only be considered when all ordinary explanations fail. C. S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Christians who engage in Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible. On the other hand, in the West those who do not believe in miracles often use the arguments of David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, or the arguments of Deism.

All of these concepts depend for their meaning on the supposition that the text of Bible has been properly interpreted, with consideration for the intention of the text, whether literal history, allegory or poetry, etc. Especially the doctrine of inerrancy is variously understood according to the weight given by the interpreter to scientific investigations of the world.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

For the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, there are two strands of revelation, the Bible, and the (rest of the) Apostolic Tradition. Both of them are interpreted by the teachings of the Church. In Catholic terminology the Teaching Office is called the Magisterium; in Orthodox terminology the authentic interpretation of scripture and tradition is limited, in the final analysis, to the Canon Law of the Ecumenical councils. Both sources of revelation are considered necessary for proper understanding of the tenets of the faith. The Roman Catholic view is expressed clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
§ 83: As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.
§ 107: The inspired books teach the truth. Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.


Following the doctrine of sola scriptura, Protestants believe that their traditions of faith, practice and interpretations carry forward what the scriptures teach, and so tradition is not a source of authority in itself. Their traditions derive authority from the Bible, and are therefore always open to reevaluation. This openness to doctrinal revision has extended in Liberal Protestant traditions even to the reevaluation of the doctrine of Scripture upon which the Reformation was founded, and members of these traditions may even question whether the Bible is infallible in doctrine, inerrant in historical and other factual statements, and whether it has uniquely divine authority. However, the adjustments made by modern Protestants to their doctrine of Scripture vary widely.

American Evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism

Certain American conservatives, fundamentalists and evangelicals believe that the Scriptures are both human and divine in origin: human in their manner of composition, but divine in that their source is God, the Holy Spirit, who governed the writers of scripture in such a way that they recorded nothing at all contrary to the truth. Fundamentalists accept the enduring authority and impugnity of a prescientific interpretation of the Bible. In the United States this particularly applies to issues such as the ordination of women, abortion, and homosexuality. However, although American evangelicals are overwhelmingly opposed to such things, other evangelicals are increasingly willing to consider that the views of the biblical authors may have been culturally conditioned, and they may even argue that there is room for change along with cultural norms and scientific advancements. Both fundamentalists and evangelicals profess belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. In the US the fundamentalists' stronger emphasis on literal interpretation has led to the rejection of evolution, which contradicts the doctrine of Creationism.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, tend to avoid interpretations of the Bible that would directly contradict generally accepted scientific assertions of fact. They do not impute error to biblical authors, but rather entertain various theories of literary intent which might give credibility to human progress in knowledge of the world, while still accepting the divine inspiration of the scriptures.

Within the US, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) is an influential statement, articulating evangelical views on this issue. Paragraph four of its summary states: "Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives."

Critics of such a position point out that there are many statements that Jesus makes in the Gospels or that Paul makes in his epistles, even to the point of making them commands, which are not taken as commands by most advocates of Biblical inerrancy. Examples of this are Jesus' command to the disciples to sell all they have and give the money to the poor so as to gain treasure in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10:21), or Paul's calls to imitate him in celibacy (1 Cor 7:8). Other sections of the Bible, such as the second half of John chapter six, where Jesus commands that the disciples eat his flesh and drink his blood, are interpreted by most adherents of Biblical Inerrancy as symbolic language rather than literally, as might be expected from the statements of the doctrine. Supporters of Biblical Inerrancy generally argue that these passages are intended to be symbolic, and that their symbolic nature can be seen directly in the text, thus preserving the doctrine.

American Mainline and liberal Protestantism

Mainline American Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, The Episcopal Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, do not teach the doctrine of inerrancy as set forth in the Chicago Statement. All of these churches have more ancient doctrinal statements asserting the authority of scripture, but may interpret these statements in such a way as to allow for a very broad range of teaching—from evangelicalism to skepticism. It is not an impediment to ordination in these denominations to teach that the Scriptures contain errors, or that the authors follow a more or less unenlightened ethics that, however appropriate it may have seemed in the authors' time, moderns would be very wrong to follow blindly. For example, ordination of women is universally accepted in the mainline churches, abortion is condemned as a grievous social tragedy but not always a personal sin or a crime against an unborn person, and homosexuality is increasingly regarded as a genetic propensity or morally neutral preference that should be neither encouraged nor condemned. In North America, the most contentious of these issues among these churches at the present time is how far the ordination of gay men and lesbians should be accepted.

Officials of the Presbyterian Church USA report: "We acknowledge the role of scriptural authority in the Presbyterian Church, but Presbyterians generally do not believe in biblical inerrancy. Presbyterians do not insist that every detail of chronology or sequence or prescientific description in scripture be true in literal form. Our confessions do teach biblical infallibility. Infallibility affirms the entire truthfulness of scripture without depending on every exact detail."

Those who hold a more liberal view of the Bible as a human witness to the glory of God, the work of fallible humans who wrote from a limited experience unusual only for the insight they have gained through their inspired struggle to know God in the midst of a troubled world. Therefore, they tend not to accept such doctrines as inerrancy. These churches also tend to retain the social activism of their Evangelical forebears of the 19th century, placing particular emphasis on those teachings of Scripture that teach compassion for the poor and concern for social justice. The message of personal salvation is, generally speaking, of the good that comes to oneself and the world through following the New Testament's Golden Rule admonition to love others without hypocrisy or prejudice. Toward these ends, the "spirit" of the New Testament, more than the letter, is infallible and authoritative.

There are some movements that believe the Bible contains the teachings of Jesus but who reject the churches that were formed following its publication. These people believe all individuals can communicate directly with God and therefore do not need guidance or doctrines from a church. These people are known as Christian anarchists.

Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism generally holds the same view of New Testament authority as evangelical Protestants.

See also


Further reading

  • A.H. McNeile, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament, second edition revised New Testament Introduction, D. Guthrie, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester 1976.
  • Raymond E. Brown: An Introduction to the New Testament (ISBN 0-385-24767-2)
  • Interpreting the New Testament. An Introduction to the Principles and Methods of N.T. Exegesis, H. Conzelmann and A. Lindemann, translated by S.S. Schatzmann, Hendrickson Publishers. Peabody 1988.
  • Burton L. Mack: Who Wrote the New Testament?, Harper, 1996
  • Bruce J. Malina: Windows on the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea. Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville (Kentucky) 1993
  • Bruce J. Malina: The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. 3rd edition, Westminster John Knox Press Louisville (Kentucky) 2001
  • Bruce J. Malina: Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John Augsburg Fortress Publishers: Minneapolis 1998
  • Bruce J. Malina: Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels Augsburg Fortress Publishers: Minneapolis 2003
  • Randel McCraw Helms: Who Wrote the Gospels?
  • Detlev Dormeyer: The New Testament among the Writings of Antiquity (English translation), Sheffield 1998
  • H.C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids 1976.
  • Ekkehard Stegemann and Wolfgang Stegemann: The Jesus Movement: A Social History of Its First Century. Augsburg Fortress Publishers: Minneapolis 1999
  • Wolfgang Stegemann: The Gospel and the Poor. Fortress Press. Minneapolis 1984 (ISBN-10: 0800617835 - ISBN-13: 978-0800617837)
  • Theodor Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, English translation, Edinburgh, 1910.

External links

Source text of New Testament


General references

Development and authorship

some that didn't make it into the Bible

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