The New Testament (NT) is the collection of writings comprising the second portion of the Christian Scriptures, the first part being the Old Testament. “New Testament” is a variant translation of “new covenant”. The background of the concept is Jeremiah 31:31-34, a passage that is influential in both eh Qumran community and early Christianity. In the latter, the term new covenant is used of a new declaration of God’s will in Jesus, not, at this early period, of Christian writings.
The transfer of the terminology to a collection of Christian writings was a natural extension, however, given Paul’s use of “old covenant” to refer to the writings of the Mosaic covenant. It is believed that the word “testament” originated from that fact that the section of writings contains testimonies from writers who were divinely inspired. The NT writings, when classified according to type, fall into three groups: biographical/historical, epistolary, and apocalyptic. When classified according to subject matter, the NT writings are grouped in terms of those that give accounts of the life of Jesus, the one that tells of the origins of the church, and those that represent the beginnings of Christian theology.
The NT books were all written in Greek. Although Jesus and his followers probably spoke Aramaic, in the present form in the gospels even the words o Jesus are given in a Greek form. The authors of most NT books are unknown except in the most general terms. At least seven letters can be linked with the apostle Paul. The others associated with his name are usually attributed to his disciples who followed the common Mediterranean practice of writing in the name of a revered teacher. None of the authors of NT books wrote with any thought that his contribution to early Christian life would be something that would eventually be collected into a body o Scripture that would be authoritative or all Christians in all times and places. Each wrote with specific recipients and a specific situation in mind. In this sense, all of the NT documents are occasional literature. At the same time, in many cases it is clear that the authors wrote with a definite sense of the authority of their contributions.
The NT writings were not immediately gathered into a canon of Scripture. They are only the cream selected from a much larger body of Christian literature of antiquity that included what we know as the Apostolic Fathers, the Apocryphal NT, and the Apologists. The selection process was gradual. Sometime near A.D. 100, Paul’s letters were probably colleted and published for the larger church. This collection would have possessed authority for the circles in which it was used. The first time that a list containing the exact 27 books of the NT came about was in Athanasius’ Easter letter of A.D. 367.
The NT speaks about the new covenant God established with his people. Whereas the covenant instituted through Moses at Sinai was based on the gracious initiative of God in the Exodus and was broken by a faithless people, the new covenant is rooted in God’s grace in and through Jesus the Christ and is enabled by a new ingredient. In the new covenant, God not only graciously set people in relationship with himself but also acted at Calvary, on Easter, and at Pentecost so as to assume responsibility for his people’s faithfulness to the relationship. This good news is variously expressed in the Christian Bible: For example, God puts his law within his people, writing it on their hearts; there is .a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; the Christian’s righteousness or faithfulness to the relationship is enabled by the indwelling Christ whose faithfulness to God in the days of his flesh is now lived out in and through the believers; life in the new covenant is an abiding in Christ in which he abides in the believers, enabling them thereby to bear fruit.