Catholic Classroom: The New Testament
Question: How was the New Testament put together?
Catholics believe that Scripture is God’s Word, written down by people inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Word has always been extremely important to the people of the God of Abraham, as was evident in the lives of the ancient Jews. With the New Covenant in Jesus, there was more to be added to Scripture. The additions came to be known as the New Testament. But what is contained in the New Testament, and how do we know these documents are truly Scripture?
The New Testament consists of the following 27 books:
The Four Gospels
Description of the Early Church
- Acts of the Apostles
- 1 & 2 Corinthians
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
- 1 & 2 Peter
- 1, 2, & 3 John
People began writing down the life and teachings of Jesus soon after his crucifixion. Two of the Gospels, Matthew and John, come from the apostles themselves, which speaks to their trustworthiness. The other two Gospels, Mark and Luke, were written by authors who were closely associated with the apostles. The author of the Gospel of Luke is also believed to have written the Acts of the Apostles. Following the Gospels and Acts, there are several letters to the blossoming Christian communities that the apostles established. Many of these letters are attributed to Paul. The epistles address many of the questions of the early Church and help to codify the new Christian faith. Finally, the Book of Revelation details an apocalyptic vision of the apostle John.
Biblical scholars debate when each of the books was written, how they were inspired or influenced, and who actually wrote them. The exact answers to these questions can be difficult to establish, especially because of how the texts were initially distributed. Before printing, books of the New Testament had to be copied by hand, which left room for the transcriber’s error or interpretation. Additionally, some Christian beliefs or practices were passed down by oral tradition instead of being written down.
Despite the unknowns, the New Testament is still trustworthy as Scripture. Over the first few hundred years of Christianity, councils met to confirm the documents that were canon—that is, the documents that could be trusted as inspired Scripture. They considered all the books that Christian communities were using until they agreed on the books we read today. We trust that the Holy Spirit guided these councils in the same way that he guides the councils of the Church today. This comes from our belief in Jesus’ words: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). We are therefore able to accept the New Testament as God’s inspired Word and trust that it is true and complete.