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Religion Library: Christianity

Sacred Texts

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

The second volume of the Gospel According to Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, was written at the same time as Luke, around 80-85. Its main characters are the apostles Peter (chapters 1-12) and Paul (chapters 12-28). This book is the only known continuous record of the expansion of the communities of believers during the thirty years following Jesus' death. The author hopes to establish a common theological outlook between Peter and Paul in regard to faith and its relationship to the Jewish law.

New Testament Epistles
(many scholars doubt whether Paul wrote the bracketed letters)
Letters of PaulRomans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, [Ephesians], Philippians, [Colossians], 1 Thessalonians, [2 Thessalonians], [1 Timothy], [2 Timothy], [Titus], Philemon
Other LettersHebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude

The New Testament contains twenty-one epistles, or letters. Christian leaders like Paul used letters to maintain contact with congregations. Most of the epistles are attributed to early community leaders. Thirteen are attributed to Paul, although Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians differ from Paul's other letters in either style or theological perspective. Many doubt that 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, the so-called Pastoral Letters, are genuinely works of Paul. Paul's letters are clearly correspondences with specific communities, while the pastoral letters show concern with sending advice on pastoral or practical matters.

St. Paul

The non-Pauline epistles include one anonymous work (Hebrews), two that are attributed to Peter, one attributed to James (an early Christian leader), three attributed to the apostle John, and one attributed to Jude (another early Christian leader). Most of these are addressed to believers generally; James, for example, is a circular, and Hebrews is a sermon.

Books attributed to John, son of Zebedee (c. 95 CE)
  1. The Gospel According to John
  2. 1 John
  3. 2 John
  4. 3 John Revelation

The final book of the New Testament is Revelation. Its author is uncertain, although it is traditionally attributed to the apostle John, son of Zebedee, also credited with the Gospel According to John and the epistles of 1, 2, and 3 John. It was probably written around 95, and is addressed to seven congregations in the Roman province of Asia, although it is also intended for "the churches." While also an epistle, Revelation is an apokalypsis or Apocalypse, a literary genre common in Judaism around this time. It is distinctively Christian, and the only complete apocalypse included in the New Testament. Revelation is carefully constructed and is full of symbolic numerology, also common at the time in both Jewish and Greco-Roman writings. It predicts the fall of Rome and the transformation of Jerusalem into a heavenly city, the center of God's fully redeemed world.

The Bible has been published, in whole or in part, into over 2,000 languages. It is also easily accessible in several translations on the internet.

Roman provinces, with the province of Asia highlighted in red

Study Questions:
1.     What is the biblical canon? What does it contain and how is it organized?
2.     How did Christianity's canon differ from Judaism's?
3.     Describe the four gospels of Christianity.
4.     What is an apocalypse? What book of the Bible could be classified as this, and why?


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