Deciphering biblical content can sometimes feel like undertaking an archaeological expedition, unearthing historical and spiritual mysteries buried in the sands of time. One particular question devout Christians and theological scholars often explore is: “When does the New Testament start in the Bible?” As we delve into this topic, it is important to remember the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “the one who has hope lives differently.” This post aims to shed light on the beginning of the New Testament, its relevance, and its implications for Christians today, in a manner hopeful and accessible for all.
The Historical Context
Before we discuss when the New Testament starts in the Bible, we must first understand the historical context in which it was written. The New Testament—as the second major part of the Christian biblical canon—primarily contains writings regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the early Christian church. (Britannica) It thus takes its start after the end of the Jewish “Second Temple” period around 70 AD, which marks the culmination of the Old Testament narratives.
The Start of the New Testament
The New Testament begins in the Bible with the Gospel according to Matthew. This book, the first of 27 books in the New Testament canon, initiates the story of Jesus’s life, providing detailed genealogy that links him back to Abraham, thereby connecting the ‘new’ covenant God made through Jesus with the ‘old’ covenant made with Abraham, as told in the Old Testament. It is important to note that while the Gospels technically start the New Testament, they are not necessarily the earliest written New Testament texts, as scholar Michael J. Kruger points out (Kruger). Some of the Epistles of Paul were likely written earlier, but the ordering of books in the Bible is based on other factors, such as thematic continuity.
Understanding the ‘New’ in New Testament
The term ‘New Testament’ denotes a new covenant or agreement God establishes with humanity through Jesus Christ. It contrasts the Old Testament, where God’s covenant was primarily with the people of Israel. This ‘new’ covenant, according to Christian theology, is not restricted to a particular group, but is universal, offering salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ(Catechism of the Catholic Church). It is this ‘new’ covenant that starts with the Gospel of Matthew, creating a pivot point in the Bible and in human history according to Christian belief.
Consequences and Significance for Christians Today
Understanding the start and essence of the New Testament is crucial for Christians today. It affirms the basic historicity and theological framework of Christianity. It underscores a shift from the largely exclusive covenant of the Old Testament to the inclusive covenant in the New Testament, allowing Christians of all races and cultures to feel a sense of spiritual belonging and connection. Furthermore, the lessons, values, and teachings found in the New Testament serve as guiding principles for Christians in shaping their actions, attitudes, and interactions with others.
Conclusion: Journeying Through the Bible
Discovering when the New Testament starts in the Bible is more than just a chronological quest; it is a spiritual journey that uncovers how humanity is invited to partake in a new covenant with God through Jesus Christ. The New Testament begins with the Gospel according to Matthew, serving as a bridge between the Old Testament’s ancient promises and the New Testament’s universal proclamations. For Christians today, understanding the New Testament’s commencement and significance offers an enduring source of hope, guidance, wisdom, and inclusiveness –”for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).