How is the New Testament Organized?

My friend Jay stretched out on his bed in his prison cell, opened the New Testament a kind old man had given him, and began to read. He had nothing else to do. 

After he finished the Gospel of Matthew, he flipped the page to the Gospel of Mark. 

Wait a minute. I just read these stories.

After reading Mark, he flipped the page to the Gospel of Luke. 

A couple chapters in, Jay sighed and shook his head. Again with the same stories?

When he reached the end of Luke, he turned the page and began the Gospel of John. If I read the same stories . . .

Even if you’re a newer student of the Bible, you probably know what happened next. Like Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Gospel of John is all about Christ and His birth, death, and resurrection.

If Jay had known that the New Testament is organized by its main literary genre—like the Old Testament—the repetition of the Gospels wouldn’t have surprised him. He might also have appreciated knowing that the next sections flow into the birth of the church, the foundational doctrines (or teachings) of Christianity, and the prophecy of Christ’s glorious return. 

The New Testament books walk us by the hand from recognizing our need for Jesus in the Gospels to His people reigning with Him in His eternal kingdom in Revelation.

The 5 Divisions of the New Testament

1. The Gospels 
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

The word “gospel” means good news, but the four Gospels tell more than good news. They tell the best news—the news that Jesus Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection, came to save all who will repent and believe in Him. 

Each of the Gospels tells the story of Christ (as my friend Jay noticed), but they tell it from a different vantage point and address different audiences. We’ll explore their key differences in a future article. 

(By the way, if you see the word “gospel” capitalized, it’s usually referring to one of the four books, or Gospels, which proclaim the gospel message.)

2. History 
Acts

In many Bibles, the full title of the book of Acts is The Acts of the Apostles. Many scholars believe a more accurate title would be The Acts of the Holy Spirit. God established and built His church by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the apostles.

3. The Pauline Epistles 
Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

The Pauline epistles are the thirteen letters written by none other than the apostle Paul. Each letter addresses a specific church or individual, the problems they experienced, and the biblical truths that overcome the challenges. Paul’s letters helped establish Christians in the faith and served greatly in forming the essential doctrines of Christianity. 

4. The General Epistles 
Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude

James, John, Peter, and Jude wrote seven of the general epistles. No one knows for sure which human author wrote the book of Hebrews. These authors wrote to the church (to Christians) in general rather than to a specific church or individual and focused on foundational truths.

Unlike Paul’s letters, these books don’t follow the ancient Greek style of letters—a greeting followed by the body of the letter and a closing. Hebrews, for instance, starts off as more of a sermon and only takes on the form of a letter at its conclusion. 

5. Prophecy 
Revelation

The final book in the New Testament (and Bible) is the revelation of the future that Jesus Christ gave to His disciple John. Hence, its full title: TheBook of the Revelation to John

Most call this book Revelation—except for those who mistakenly add an s to the end and call it Revelations. As one pastor said, “If you leave tonight’s study with only one truth, let it be this: there’s no s on the end of Revelation.” He was kidding, but I’m sure every Bible teacher in the congregation silently thanked him.

Revelation is the only book solely dedicated to prophecy, which means it’s a blessing to anyone who studies it. John cracks open the curtain on the end times when Jesus Christ will come again and set up His eternal kingdom and deal the death blow to Satan and his demons. (If God provided a soundtrack to Revelation, it would be epic.)

This powerful book gives us vibrant glimpses of the future by gazing into the past. Some scholars say there are more than five hundred Old Testament references in Revelation. (Blueletterbible.org doesn’t number the references, but they published a long list.1)

John used both literal descriptions and wondrous symbolism to describe the end times. This can make Revelation a challenge to study, but it’s not impossible with the help of the Holy Spirit and wise teachers. 

We can recognize John’s symbolic descriptions through the use of similes, such as “like” or “as.” For instance, when John described seeing Jesus, he wrote, “The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow—and his eyes like a fiery flame” (Rev. 1:14).

The Center of the Bible

Together, all sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments display Jesus Christ, the visible image of the invisible God and Savior of the world. The center of the Bible may technically land somewhere in the book of Psalms, but we could make the case that its true center rests in the New Testament at the cross of Christ.

The cross is the hinge on the door of salvation—everything to which the Old Testament pointed forward and the New Testament pointed backward. In the garden tomb where they laid Jesus’ dead body, the door of salvation swung wide open when Jesus stepped out of the grave, victorious over sin and death. 

Inseparable forever, the books of the Old and New Testaments work together to explain and reveal the power of salvation for all who will believe—like my friend Jay. 

Jay pressed on in the book of John, even though he’d already read the stories three times. By the end, Christ had ripped the scales off Jay’s eyes. With new life in his soul and the gift of faith to believe, he surrendered to Christ in his prison cell. 

Since that glorious day, Jay earned his freedom from prison and continues to enjoy God’s gift of salvation from sin. Along with his wife and children, Jay serves as a missionary in the Middle East and has dedicated his life to sharing the power of the gospel of salvation as told in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the rest of the Bible. 

What’s Next?

Now that we’ve looked at how the Bible is divided, we’ll meet its forty-plus authors. We’ll look at many of these simple men God chose to pen His divine Word. And we’ll discover what Jay wanted to know—why did God include four retellings of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? 
 

It’s a big week here at Revive Our Hearts: Nancy’s new book, Heaven Rules, officially releases tomorrow, and her “Heaven Rules” series began on the Revive Our Hearts podcast today! To celebrate, we’ve created a listener guide for the series, which will air today through September 26. Download your free listener guide here!

1“Parallel Passages in New Testament Quoted from Old Testament: Part V - Study Resources,” Blue Letter Bible, accessed August 30, 2022, https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/quotes05.cfm.

About the Author

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund is passionate about leading women into a greater understanding of the Bible and a deeper relationship with God. She serves ROH as a member of the Leader Connection blogging team and a moderator for the Women’s Ministry Leader … read more …


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