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SCRIPTURE-NTBOOKS Oct-3-2008 (3,240 words) With logo posted Aug. 21 and graphic posted Oct. 3. xxxn

Summaries of New Testament books in Bible

By Nancy Hartnagel
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The New Testament in the Bible contains 27 books, divided according to the Gospels, or first four books; the Acts of the Apostles; the 14 letters attributed to St. Paul or his followers; the seven Catholic letters; and the Book of Revelation.

The following summaries of the New Testament books were condensed from the introductions and texts in the New American Bible, the translation produced by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America under the patronage of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Chapter and verse references are noted in parentheses. The Scripture readings at U.S. Catholic liturgies are taken from this edition of the Bible.


The English word "gospel" is a translation of the Greek "euangelion," meaning good news. Collectively, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Messiah. Three of them -- Matthew, Mark and Luke -- are similar, with overlapping source material; they are called the "synoptic" Gospels, meaning they can be viewed "with one eye." The Gospel of John is very different. Each of the Gospels was written with a particular audience in mind.

Gospel of Matthew: 28 chapters; the longest Gospel was frequently quoted in early Christian writings; according to ancient tradition, it was written by Matthew the tax collector, one of the Twelve Apostles, but later scholarship points to an unknown Jewish Christian author writing for Jewish Christian converts to explain Jesus' mission and their new faith as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises; seven sections: the infancy narrative, including Jesus' birth and the visit of the Magi (1:1-2:23), Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom, including the Sermon on the Mount (3:1-7:29), Jesus' ministry and mission in Galilee, with healings and other signs (8:1-11:1), opposition from Israel and Jesus' teaching in parables (11:2-13:53), Jesus, the kingdom and the church, including the feeding of 4,000 and his transfiguration (13:54-18:35), Jesus' ministry in Judea and Jerusalem, including increased tensions with Jewish authorities and the much-quoted "judgment of the nations" (19:1-25:46), and the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus (26:1-28:20).

Gospel of Mark: 16 chapters; the shortest Gospel likely was the first one written, and was used as a source by the authors of both Matthew and Luke; it was written for gentiles coming to Christianity from the Greek and Roman worlds and aimed to strengthen them against persecution; Mark stresses the message that God has broken into human history in the person of Jesus; four sections and two appended endings: the preparation for Jesus' public ministry, including the ministry of John the Baptist (1:1-13), the mystery of Jesus, including many signs and parables and the death of John the Baptist (1:14-8:26), the mystery of Jesus begins to be revealed, including the transfiguration and predictions of the passion (8:27-9:32), the full revelation of the mystery of Jesus, including his entry to Jerusalem, passion, death and resurrection (9:33-16:8), the longer ending, which includes Jesus' post-resurrection appearances and ascension (16:9-20), and the shorter ending, unnumbered.

Gospel of Luke: 24 chapters; this Gospel also was written for a gentile audience; from the late second century, Christian tradition identified Luke as a Syrian from Antioch who wrote both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles to certify earlier teachings for a person named Theophilus; Luke notes especially the mercy and compassion of Jesus and his concern for women; eight sections: the prologue, which mentions Theophilus (1:1-4), the infancy narrative, including the births of Jesus and John the Baptist, the canticles of Mary and Zechariah, and the shepherds' visit (1:5-2:52), the preparation for Jesus' public ministry, including his baptism and temptation in the desert (3:1-4:13), Jesus' ministry in Galilee, including the call of the apostles, the Sermon on the Plain and his transfiguration (4:14-9:50), the travel narrative of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, which includes the mission of the 72 disciples and the call of Zacchaeus the tax collector (9:51-19:27), Jesus' teaching ministry in Jerusalem, including his cleansing of the Temple and denunciation of Jewish authorities (19:28-21:38), the passion narrative, including the Last Supper, Peter's denial, and Jesus' crucifixion and burial (22:1-23:56), and the resurrection narrative, including Jesus' post-resurrection appearances and ascension (24:1-53).

Gospel of John: 21 chapters; written last, this Gospel is highly literary and symbolic, stressing the divinity of Jesus and a developed theology; it contains many details about Jesus not found in the other Gospels, for example, that he traveled to Jerusalem many times before the last time; it was written around A.D. 90 for the community formed around the apostle John, "the beloved disciple," in Asia Minor; four sections: the prologue, which introduces Jesus as the Word of God (1:1-18), the book of signs, including the wedding at Cana, the raising of Lazarus and Jesus' entry to Jerusalem (1:19-12:50), the book of glory, including the Last Supper discourses, Jesus' trial, crucifixion and burial, and some post-resurrection appearances (13:1-20:31), and the epilogue on Jesus' post-resurrection appearance in Galilee (21:1-25).


Acts of the Apostles: 28 chapters; written by Luke, also for Theophilus, as the sequel to his Gospel; it details the beginnings of Christianity in Jerusalem and throughout the wider Roman world through the exploits of the apostles, mainly Peter and Paul; five sections: the preparation for the Christian mission, including Jesus' ascension and the Pentecost experience (1:1-2:13), the mission in Jerusalem, featuring Peter's speeches, the apostles' trial before the Sanhedrin and Stephen's martyrdom (2:14-8:3), the mission in Judea and Samaria, including stories about the apostle Philip, Saul's conversion and Peter's healings (8:4-9:43), the start of the mission to the gentiles, including the story of Peter and Cornelius, Paul's first missionary journey and the Council of Jerusalem (10:1-15:35), and Paul's mission to the ends of the earth, including his second and third missionary journeys, and his arrest, imprisonment and stormy trip to Rome (15:36-28:31).


Though 13 of these 14 letters identify Paul as their author, most scholars believe some were written by his disciples. In the 14th, the Letter to the Hebrews, no author is mentioned, but a reference to Timothy suggests a connection to Paul. The Pauline letters are arranged roughly by length, from Romans, the longest, to Philemon, the shortest. In general, Paul's letters greet and pray for a community, provide teaching and sometimes correction about Christian beliefs, state his travel plans and conclude with more advice and a farewell.

Letter to the Romans: 16 chapters; Paul wrote this letter, his most influential and longest, to a community he had not yet visited; it contains a systematic unfolding of his thought; seven sections: his greeting and prayer of thanks for the Christians in Rome (1:1-15), humanity lost without the Gospel, including a section on circumcision (1:16-3:20), justification through faith in Christ (3:21-5:21), justification and the Christian life, including teachings on freedom (6:1-8:39), Jews and gentiles in God's plan (9:1-11:36), the duties of Christians (12:1-15:13), and the conclusion, in which Paul calls himself the "apostle to the gentiles," commends Phoebe to the Roman church and counsels against factions (15:14-16:27).

First Letter to the Corinthians: 16 chapters; Paul wrote this letter to the Christian community he founded in Corinth, Greece; in it he responded to questions he'd been asked and to situations he'd been told about, such as factionalism and sexual ethics, involving the fledgling Christian community; six sections: his greeting and prayer of thanks for the Corinthian Christians (1:1-9), disorders in the Corinthian community, including divisions and moral disorders (1:10-6:20), answers to the Corinthians' questions about marriage, virginity and offerings to idols, including advice to seek the good of others (7:1-11:1), problems in liturgical assemblies regarding head coverings and abuses, including Paul's much-quoted teaching on the spiritual gifts (11:2-14:40), the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead (15:1-58), and the conclusion, which mentions a collection for the church in Jerusalem, his travel plans and farewell greetings (16:1-24).

Second Letter to the Corinthians: 13 chapters; this letter, written in an emotional tone, is Paul's most personal and reveals much about his character; in addressing what he describes as a crisis that followed the receipt of his first letter, Paul defends his mission and discipleship; five sections: his greeting and prayer of thanks (1:1-11), the crisis between Paul and the Corinthians, including past relationships and reflections about ministry (1:12-7:16), the collection for Jerusalem (8:1-9:15), Paul's defense of his own ministry, including boasts about his labors and weaknesses (10:1-13:10), and his final advice and farewell (13:11-13).

Letter to the Galatians: six chapters; Paul wrote this letter to a community he founded in what is now Turkey, exhorting its members to remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ and not be drawn back to observance of the Jewish law by other missionaries; six sections: his greeting (1:1-5), loyalty to the Gospel (1:6-10), Paul's defense of his Gospel and his authority, including a description of the Council of Jerusalem (1:11-2:21), faith and liberty, including his thoughts on Christian freedom (3:1-4:31), an exhortation to Christian living (5:1-6:10), and his final appeal and farewell (6:11-18).

Letter to the Ephesians: six chapters; this letter about the church deals not so much with the Christian community at Ephesus, in Asia Minor, where Paul labored for 2 years, but with the universal church; it was traditionally considered one of the "captivity letters" penned from prison; though Paul is designated as the author, scholars now think it may have been written by a later disciple; five sections: Paul's greeting and prayer of praise (1:1-14), the unity of the church in Christ (1:15-2:22), the world mission of the church, including a mention of Paul as a "prisoner for the Lord" (3:1-4:24), daily conduct as an expression of unity, including advice for wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (4:25-6:20), and a final message and farewell (6:21-24).

Letter to the Philippians: four chapters; another of the "captivity letters," this missive was sent to the Christians at Philippi, in northern Greece, a community founded by Paul; some scholars think this letter is a composite of three letters Paul sent the Philippians; the extant letter is full of rejoicing and his love and concern for the Gospel and for his converts; eight sections: Paul's greeting and prayer of thanks for the Philippians (1:1-11), the progress of the Gospel (1:12-26), instructions for the community regarding unity, humility and obedience (1:27-2:18), the travel plans of Paul and his assistants, Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-3:1), a polemic about righteousness and the goal in Christ (3:2-21), instructions for the community (4:1-9), Paul's gratitude for the Philippians' generosity (4:10-20), and a brief farewell (4:21-23).

Letter to the Colossians: four chapters; Paul wrote this letter from prison to the Christians at Colossae, in Asia Minor, a community he had not visited but one that was experiencing problems as a result of false teaching about Christ's relationship to the universe; five sections: Paul's greeting and prayers (1:1-14), the pre-eminence of Christ (1:15-2:3), Paul's warnings against false teachers (2:4-23), the ideal Christian life in the world, with advice for families, slaves and masters (3:1-4:6), and the conclusion, in which Paul mentions details about a number of his co-workers (4:7-18).

First Letter to the Thessalonians: five chapters; this is the earliest of Paul's letters and the earliest work in the New Testament, dating from about A.D. 50; Paul wrote it to the community he founded at Thessalonica, in Greece, urging his converts to be faithful to the end; four sections: Paul's greeting and prayer of thanks (1:1-10), a description of his previous ministry among the Thessalonians and his recent travel plans (2:1-3:13), exhortations regarding sexual conduct, charity, hope for the dead and order in the church (4:1-5:25), and his final greeting (5:26-28).

Second Letter to the Thessalonians: three chapters; this letter, which may have been written in the name of Paul and his companions by later disciples near the end of the first century, attempts to correct errors arising from an expectation of Christ's imminent return; four sections: a greeting and prayers (1:1-12), a warning against deception concerning the Parousia, or second coming (2:1-17), concluding exhortations regarding prayer and work (3:1-16), and a final greeting (3:17-18).

First Letter to Timothy: six chapters; the two letters to Timothy and one to Titus are called the "pastoral letters" because they deal with the work of a pastor in caring for a community; many scholars today believe that Paul did not write these letters, though they bear his name, but attribute them to a secretary or later disciples; Timothy was a disciple and companion of Paul during his second and third missionary journeys; six sections: a greeting (1:1-2), sound teaching (1:3-20), the problems of discipline, including the qualifications of various ministers (2:1-4:16), duties toward others (5:1-6:2), false teaching and true wealth (6:3-19), and a final recommendation and warning (6:20-21).

Second Letter to Timothy: four chapters; this letter adopts a more personal tone than 1 Timothy, but again includes concerns about sound Christian teaching; four sections: a greeting and prayer (1:1-5), exhortations to Timothy about his gifts and conduct (1:6-2:13), instructions concerning false teaching (2:14-4:8) and personal requests having to do with Paul's loneliness and a final greeting (4:9-22).

Letter to Titus: three chapters; Titus was another of Paul's disciples and companions who at the time of the letter was ministering on the Mediterranean island of Crete, which Paul had not visited; three sections: a greeting (1:1-4), a pastoral charge regarding Crete (1:5-16), and teaching the Christian life, which includes a final greeting and blessing (2:1-3:15).

Letter to Philemon: 25 verses; in Paul's shortest letter, written from prison, possibly in Rome, the apostle seeks a favor for the slave Onesimus, someone converted by Paul, who has run away from his master; Paul sends the slave back to Philemon with this letter, containing a touching appeal that he be welcomed back not just as a slave but as a brother.

Letter to the Hebrews: 13 chapters; more a treatise than a letter, this book contains no claim of authorship but is attributed to followers of Paul; it is a "message of encouragement," in the author's words, and is addressed to Christians in danger of abandoning their faith, not because of persecution but because of weariness over the demands of Christian life; its main theme is the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus; six sections: a brief introduction (1:1-4), the Son is higher than the angels, including an exhortation to faithfulness (1:5-2:18), Jesus, the faithful and compassionate high priest (3:1-5:10), Jesus' eternal priesthood and eternal sacrifice, in the context of Jewish history and Scripture (5:11-10:39), examples, discipline and disobedience, again in a Jewish context (11:1-12:29), and a final exhortation, blessing and greetings (13:1-25).


These seven letters are called the "Catholic letters" because they were directed, for the most part, not to individuals or individual churches but to the church at large.

Letter of James: five chapters; scholars believe this letter, concerned almost exclusively with ethical conduct, was the work not of either of the Twelve Apostles named James, but of James, a relative of Jesus called the "brother of the Lord" who led the first Christian community in Jerusalem; four sections: a greeting to "the 12 tribes in the dispersion" (1:1), the value of trials and temptation (1:2-18), exhortations on the sin of partiality and on faith and works, and warnings about divisions and riches (1:19-5:12), and the power of prayer (5:13-20).

First Letter of Peter: five chapters; since the second century Christian tradition had attributed this letter, a blend moral exhortation and catechesis, to the apostle Peter, but some modern scholars think its cultivated Greek and allusions to widespread persecution, among other reasons, point to a later Christian writer; five sections: a greeting "to the chosen sojourners of the dispersion" in Asia Minor (1:1-2), the gift and call of God in baptism (1:3-2:10), the Christian in a hostile world (2:11-4:11), advice to the persecuted (4:12-5:11), and a concluding greeting (5:12-14).

Second Letter of Peter: three chapters; though the author of this letter claims to have been present at the Transfiguration, scholars think it was written by a later author attributing it to Peter, a common literary practice at the time; it was intended for the same Christians addressed in 1 Peter, and sought to strengthen their faith and warn against false teachings; five sections: Peter's greeting (1:1-2), an exhortation to Christian virtue (1:3-21), a condemnation of false teachers (2:1-22), the delay of the Parousia, or second coming (3:1-16), and a final exhortation and doxology (3:17-18).

First Letter of John: five chapters; because of its similarity to the Gospel of John, this letter was attributed in the early church to the apostle and evangelist, but many scholars now think both works were produced by the same Johannine school; this work emphasizes doctrinal teaching, making it more a treatise than a letter, and aims to correct certain false ideas then current in the community; four sections: a prologue on the Word of life (1:1-4), God as light (1:5-3:10), love for one another (3:11-5:12), and an epilogue that is a prayer for sinners (5:13-21).

Second Letter of John: 13 verses; in both 2 John and 3 John, the author is identified as "the presbyter," or elder, and scholars think these letters were written by a later disciple in the Johannine community; this letter, addressed "to the chosen lady and to her children," urges them to continue following the commandment to love one another and to reject false teachings about the incarnation and death of Christ.

Third Letter of John: 15 verses; in this letter, which offers a glimpse of how early church leaders interacted, the presbyter commends "the beloved Gaius" for past hospitality to his missionaries and asks for such hospitality and support in the future; the presbyter also notes that another member of the community, Diotrephes, will not acknowledge his letters or receive his missionaries and the presbyter suggests he may come and deal with him in person.

Letter of Jude: 25 verses; the author of this letter is identified as "Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James," most likely a reference to the author of the Letter of James; the letter is addressed to all Christians, but its main focus, a warning against false teachers, suggests that problem existed in one or more Christian communities; scholars have noted similarities between Jude and 2 Peter; the letter ends with a doxology, or hymn of praise to God.


Book of Revelation: 22 chapters; this difficult final book of the New Testament, replete with fantastical imagery, is also known as the Apocalypse; like the Old Testament Book of Daniel and other apocalyptic writings, Revelation was composed as resistance literature to meet a crisis, probably the persecution of the early church by Roman authorities, making Babylon a symbol for pagan Rome; because of grammatical and stylistic differences, scholars think it unlikely that this author John, an exile to the Roman penal colony on the island of Patmos, is the same John who wrote the fourth Gospel or the same author of the letters attributed to John the Presbyter; seven sections: a prologue (1:1-3), letters to the seven churches of Asia (1:4-3:22), God and the lamb in heaven (4:1-5:14), the seven seals, trumpets and plagues, with interludes (6:1-16:21), the punishment of Babylon and destruction of pagan nations (17:1-20:15), the new creation, including a new Jerusalem (21:1-22:5), and an epilogue that contains warnings and exhortations (22:6-21).


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