Meet the Authors of the New Testament

What do a despised tax collector, a deserter, a Gentile doctor, a fisherman, two younger brothers, a denier, a Jewish rabbi, and one well-known man have in common? God called them each to preach the gospel of salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ, and to write the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. They penned their books sometime between AD 44 and about AD 96 or earlier.

When God called these men out of their obscure lives, He didn’t call them to futures of ease. He sent them into the fiery furnace of affliction. Many of them suffered intense persecution for their message. Most were likely martyred. 

In the previous article in this series, we looked at each of the Old Testament authors. Now let’s take a glimpse at the faithful New Testament authors in the order of thefive divisions of the New Testament.

1. The Four Gospels

Books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Each Gospel book was named for its human author.And each of the four Gospels tells the message of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Jesus paid the penalty for sin on the cross through His death and resurrection, and that whoever trusts in Him will be saved (Romans 1:16; 5:8; 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 15:1–5; Eph. 2:8–9). 

The Gospels tell this great story in the words of four different authors as they wrote from specific vantage points to different audiences.

Matthew

Matthew (a.k.a. Levi, the despised tax collector) wrote the Gospel of Matthew to a Jewish audience.

He focused on the truth that God fulfilled His Old Testament promises (particularly Genesis 3:15) in Jesus. He wanted them to know that Jesus was their Christ, the promised King and Messiah (God’s anointed and chosen Deliverer). 

Matthew often referred to “the kingdom of God,” and to Jewish customs without offering an explanation since his Jewish audience knew them well. 

He quoted Old Testament passages about Christ more than sixty times and revealed Jesus as the rightful heir to King David’s throne. That Jesus is “the Son of David,” an Old Testament name for the Messiah (Isa. 11:1; Matt. 1:1). 

Matthew’s audience was tough because throughout the Old Testament, God’s people believed the Messiah would come like King David—as a conquering king—and set them free from their worldly enemies. 

They never imagined (and many refused to believe) that the Messiah would be both God and man. That God would leave His throne in heaven, come to earth and take on human flesh so He could die a criminal’s death on a cross for the sins of all who will believe. 

Because they couldn’t see the truth, in their minds, Jesus committed the highest possible crime by making Himself equal to God. Matthew wrote to His fellow Jews so that they might believe.

When Christ called Matthew to follow Him, Matthew was working as a (hated) Jewish tax collector. He immediately left his job, his name (Levi), and the lucrative money behind to follow Christ as one of the twelve disciples and apostles. 

Mark

Mark (a.k.a. John Mark, the deserter) wrote the Gospel of Markin Rome to a Roman Christian audience. Mark’s action-packed Gospel explained Jewish customs and used terms familiar to Romans.

He focused on Jesus’ humanity as the “Son of Man” (Mark 8:31) and the “Suffering Servant” (Mark 10:45). 

John Mark was not one of the twelve disciples. He was a cousin of the missionary Barnabas (Col. 4:10). He had a close relationship with the disciple Peter. Most scholars believe Mark wrote his Gospel report from Peter’s eyewitness testimony. 

Luke recorded in the book of Acts that Mark traveled on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas but left them during the journey. This earned him the undesirable designation as a deserter (Acts 15:36–41). 

When Barnabas wanted to take Mark on the next journey, Paul refused. Vehemently. So, they went their own ways. Paul took Silas, and Barnabas took Mark, and all turned out well. Paul later commended Mark as a great help to his ministry (Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11).

Luke 

Luke, a Gentile doctor, wrote the Gospel of Luke.(He also wrote the book of Acts, which we’ll see below.) He addressed his Gospel to the “most honorable Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), a Roman dignitary, so he could be certain of what he’d been taught (v. 4). His wider audience was to all Gentiles (non-Jews).

Luke focused on Jesus’ humanity and revealed Christ as “the Son of Adam” (Luke 3:38) and the perfect Man and Savior of all who will believe in Him. 

Most believe Luke wasn’t an eyewitness to Christ’s life and ministry. Instead, he interviewed witnesses, investigated all the evidence, and then wrote an orderly (although not necessarily chronological) report. Fun fact: Every known author of the Bible was Jewish except Dr. Luke. 

John 

John, a common fisherman, wrote the Gospel of John to a Christian audience

and revealed Jesus as the “Son of God” (Isaiah 7:14; John 3:16).

He focused on Jesus’ love and divinity—that He is the holy Creator God and a personal and merciful Savior. 

John was one of the twelve disciples and one of the three members of Jesus’ inner circle with Peter and his brother James. He reflected deep love for Christ and referred to himself as “the one Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Many refer to him today as the apostle of love. 

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)

2. History

Book: The Acts of the Apostles

Luke

Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke, also wrote the book of Acts.He picks up where he left off in his Gospel account. Luke shares the continuation of Christ’s story and the amazing acts of the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them.

Luke traveled with Paul on his second and third missionary journeys as well as the voyage to Rome where Paul was imprisoned. Paul referred to the doctor as “Luke, the dearly loved physician” (Col. 4:14). 

3. Pauline Epistles

Books: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon 

Each of these books was named for its recipient, whether a church or a person.

Paul

Paul (a.k.a. Saul, a Jewish rabbi) was one of the greatest Christian leaders in history—and a prolific author—but he was first an enemy of Christ. 

Before his conversion to Christianity, Paul, known then as Saul, was a member of a group called the Pharisees, a powerful sect within Judaism. Saul believed he could please God most by destroying the church of Jesus Christ.

Saul set off for Damascus to arrest Christians. Along the way, Jesus appeared to him and physically (and metaphorically) blinded him with the truth. “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5).

Christ transformed Saul from a leading persecutor of His church to Paul, the church’s leading missionary to the Gentiles—but it wasn’t Christ who changed his name.

Since Saul/Paul was born in the Roman city of Tarsus and a member of the Hebrew tribe of Benjamin, he had both a Hebrew name (Saul) and a Roman name (Paul). He started going by his Roman name during his first missionary trip since he was preaching the gospel primarily to a non-Jewish audience.

Paul suffered (and rejoiced) much for the gospel. He was imprisoned multiple times, beaten and shipwrecked more than once, stoned nearly to death, plotted against, and in threat of mortal danger by his enemies most of the time, but he also experienced miraculous rescues (2 Corinthians 11:16–33). Many believed his message and were saved.

This tentmaker and great church leader wrote at least thirteen letters to various individuals and churches. His letters were named after their recipients. They helped lay the foundation of the doctrines (teachings) of the church.

4. General Epistles

Books by known authors: James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Jude

Each of these books was named for its author.

Book by an unknown author:Hebrews

It’s possible that Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Apollos, or a totally different author wrote Hebrews. Hebrews is named for its audience—Jewish (Hebrew) Christians, likely a specific congregation.

James

James was one of Jesus’ younger brothers. (A half-brother, actually. They shared the same mother, but Jesus was born of God the Holy Spirit, not of man.) He wrote the book of James.

James didn’t believe his brother was the Messiah until he saw Jesus after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). He then became a faithful “pillar” in the church (Gal. 2:9).

We don’t know how James died, but historians agree he was martyred. One tradition says James died when he was thrown from the temple parapet. Another says he was clubbed to death after being thrown from the parapet. Still another says James was stoned. The Bible doesn’t say.

Peter

Peter (the denier) was originally a fisherman named Simon. When Jesus told Simon and his brother Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 ESV), the brothers abandoned their nets and became one of the first of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He wrote the books of 1 and 2 Peter.

Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, which means rock—a most unfitting name at the time. As one of the more passionate of Christ’s disciples, Peter’s emotions

often ping-ponged all over the place. The night Jesus’ enemies arrested Him,

Peter vowed he’d die for Jesus. A few hours later, he denied he even knew

Jesus. After Pentecost, though, the Holy Spirit transformed Peter into the rock Christ knew he’d become. 

Peter was one of Jesus’ inner circle of three and became the leader of Christ’s apostles. By the Holy Spirit’s power, Peter performed miracles as proof he was a true apostle of Christ and that his message was trustworthy.

Tradition says the church’s enemies crucified Peter in Rome, and that he requested to be crucified upside down because he was unworthy to die like his Lord. The Bible tells us only that Jesus prophesied about Peter’s death saying, “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18–19ESV).

John

John (the author of the Gospel of John) wrote the three letters1, 2, and 3 Johnto Christians. (We’ll look at his final letter, Revelation, below.) 

John and his brother James were the sons of Zebedee. Jesus called them the “sons of thunder.” Perhaps they earned this nickname because of their great zeal—and pride. John and James sought the right- and left-hand seats beside Christ in heaven. (Their mother asked Jesus for these exalted seats, but they were standing with her when she asked.)

By the time John wrote the Gospel and his four letters (these three plus Revelation), Christ had transformed him into a humble—and aged—leader of the church. His letters proclaimed the love of God and exhorted his audience to love like Jesus (1 John 4:8).

Jude 

Jude, another of Jesus’ half-brothers, authored the letter of Jude and served as a leader in the church. 

Like his brother James, Jude didn’t believe in Jesus until after the resurrection and didn’t mention his family connection to Christ in his letter. Instead, he referred to himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1). 

By the time Jude wrote his letter, all the apostles except John had been martyred.

Jude urged the church not to abandon the faith but to fight for truth and contend for sound doctrine as false teachers creep into the church (Jude 4). This cry continues, as does the promise Jude proclaimed that Christ is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us “blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24 ESV).

5. Prophecy

Book: Revelation

John

John (author of the Gospel of John, and 1, 2, and 3 John) wrote Revelation, the final book (a letter) in the Bible and the only book in the New Testament dedicated to prophecy

John wrote the glorious revelation Jesus Christ gave him to deliver to seven specific churches—and ultimately to the world-wide church of every generation(Rev. 1:9­–20).

John wrote Revelationwhile exiled to the island of Patmos by the violent Roman

emperor Domitian for preaching the gospel—and most likely for opposing Domitian, who called himself a god. A temple to Domitian was built in Ephesus where John lived in AD 86. John (like all the apostles) preached that there is only one true God, and the emperor was not Him. 

A second century church tradition says that after John was released from Patmos, he lived a long life in Ephesus and died a natural death. 

From First to Last, It’s All about Christ

Jesus Christ, our Creator and the King of kings, ensured the Bible would give us everything we need to find Him and His salvation. From Genesis to Malachi in the Old Testament and Matthew to Revelation in the New, we see the grace and power of God’s redemption on display. 

In grace, God planned Christ’s coming from before the beginning for the salvation of all who will believe. In power, He is accomplishing all things from first to last exactly as He designed. Amen.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone. Amen. —Revelation 22:21

What’s Next?

The previous three articles in this series have looked at the men who wrote our divine and glorious Bible. In the next article, we’ll look at evidence that proves we can trust it. 

Selected Bibliography

The following resources were consulted in preparation for this article:

John MacArthur, ed., MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006).

R.C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015).

GotQuestions.org, https://www.gotquestions.org/

Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/

Crossexamined.org https://crossexamined.org/
 

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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 Revive Our Hearts as a member of the Leader Connection blogging team and a moderator for the Women's … read more …


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