To be sure, there are many differences between the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament is twice as long as the New and spans a much longer time period — the Old was written over the course of a millennia whereas the New Testament was completed inside of 50 years.
Another important difference is the audience. Although the Old Testament was written primarily to Jewish people, New Testament authors wrote for the world at large. While the Old Testament has many human heroes, stories, and plots, the New Testament focuses on one human, the divine-human, Jesus Christ. Yet, for all these differences, they are not different stories at all, but a continuation of one great story. The New Testament is the story of God’s Messiah as predicted, pictured, and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
In Part 1 of this series on the Bible, we took a bird’s eye view of God’s great book. In Part 2, we likened the Old Testament to a bookcase with four shelves. Let’s keep with our bookcase theme. Standing right next to the bookcase entitled “Old Testament,” is another entitled “New Testament.” It, too, has four shelves upon which sit 27 books.
First Shelf: Gospels
The top shelf has four volumes and are often called “Gospels”: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Their laser focus is on the person and work/ministry of Jesus Christ, because all the Old Testament was pointing to Him. The first three Books are called the “Synoptic Gospels” because they have so much in common concerning their material. However, we need all four portraits of Christ. Each writer presents Him in a more full-orbed fashion due to their own backgrounds, audiences, and emphases. Although what they wrote is only a bare minimum of what they could have said (see John 20:30-31; 21:25), their material is sufficient to lead one in saving faith to new life in Christ!
Second Shelf: Acts
The Book of Acts, the history Book of the New Testament, sits on the second shelf. It relates the spread of the Good News about Jesus from Jerusalem all the way to Rome, the empire’s capital. This story, which spans approximately three decades, begins with Jesus’s ascension and ends in the early 60’s AD. This record of turning “the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) presents the Christian movement north and west from Jerusalem, focusing on Peter (Acts 1–12) and Paul (13–28). But tradition also indicates how other apostles were doing the same gospel work south and east.
Third Shelf: Epistles
Our third shelf, the Epistles/Letters, have the next 21 Books. From Romans through 3rd John, we read personal letters that were read and distributed throughout the Christian world. Sometimes they are subdivided between the Pauline Epistles (those that Paul authored, traditionally Romans–Philemon) and the General Epistles (Hebrews–3rd John). These letters were written to individuals and communities to catechize them in the faith, to encourage their faith, to expose false teaching, to deal with church issues, to give instruction for instruct heavenly citizenship in an ungodly environment, and to evangelize their reading audience.
Each letter was written with a special purpose in mind to meet the particular need of a congregation or an individual. Because they are real letters to real people in a real world facing real problems they speak so eloquently and pertinently to our contemporary situation. When studying Paul’s letters, it is helpful to place them in the historical account recorded in Acts as Paul traveled, evangelized, planted churches, and nourished believers. This background often helps us better grasp the contents of his correspondence.
Fourth Shelf: Revelation
The fourth and final shelf contains Revelation, the climax of Biblical revelation authored by the aged apostle John. The bulk of the material is eschatology, or, “last things.” As God pulls back the curtains of heaven to reveal the future, He shows us how He will consummate history and usher us into eternity. Thus these 66 Books, this Divine Library, this one Book from God, takes us from start to finish.
How ought we respond to this supernatural, without error, one-of-a-kind, divinely-authored Book? Preeminently we should say with the psalm writer, “O how I love Thy law” (119:97). We should love its Author and value Him above all earthly treasures.
We should hide His word in our hearts (119:11) and meditate on all it teaches (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:97). But for these things to be true one has to read it constantly, consistently, and comprehensively. A yearly reading in the entire library is very feasible. And God has promised that the return-on-investment, the profit, is more than we can imagine since He uses His Book to accomplish myriads of purposes in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16–17; Psalm 19:7–14; Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:6,11).