Book Summaries

The collection of 27 short religious writings that constitute the 2nd and briefer of the 2 general divisions into which the Christian Bible is divided. The NT is less than 1/3 the length of the OT. It consists of the 4 Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, a number of letters of Paul, some general epistles, and the Apocalypse. The Gospels are books of faith containing the good news of God's provision for man's salvation through Jesus Christ. They seek to make known the gospel as it is embodied in the person, the work, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Acts of the Apostles presents an account of the beginnings of the Christian church. Paul's letters were originally written to specific churches and individuals to meet particular religious needs, but under the inspiration of God they have had abiding value for all Christians in all ages. The same is true of the general epistles of Peter, James, John, and Jude. The book of Revelation, with its symbolism, presents the final victory of Christ and his kingdom over the forces of evil. These books, though written in the 1st cent., have had a message for Christians in every age, and speak with special force today.

The name "Testament" is derived from the Latin testamentum, which was erroneously adopted in the Old Latin version as a translation for the Gr. diathe µke µ, employed in the LXX as a rendering for the Heb. beréÆth, "covenant." The germ of the idea of an old and new covenant seems to have been found in Paul's reference to the reading of the old covenant in 2 Cor 3:14, RSV. So far as is known, the 1st Christian writer to use the designation Novum Testamentum, "New Testament," was Tertullian (a.d. 160-230), but its use soon became general.

The majority of NT scholars throughout Christian history have agreed that the original language of the NT was Greek. However, to many of the writers of the NT, Greek was a secondary language, hence a few scholars have advocated that the 4 Gospels and part of Acts were originally written in Aramaic, the native tongue of Jesus and the apostles. But no copies of NT books in Aramaic have survived, and the Semitic flavor that these writings contain can be explained in part, at least, by the Semitic background of the writers and by a conscious imitation, particularly on the part of Luke, of the language of the Septuagint. It was doubtless in the providence of God that the various books of the NT were written in Greek, the international speech of the time.

The kind of Greek in which our NT was written was the subject of considerable debate in the 17th cent. Some scholars in those years argued that the language of the NT was the pure Attic Greek of the classical period. The Hebraists affirmed that it was a Hebraic-Greek, a sort of Jewish-Greek jargon. Still others said it was a special language of the Holy Ghost. Today we know that all of these views were incorrect and that the NT was written in the vernacular Koine µ Greek of the 1st cent. a.d. This common, or Hellenistic, Greek had become the lingua franca of the Greco-Roman world and was widely used even in Palestine. It was a language based on the late Attic vernacular, but with elements derived from other Greek dialects. Proof of this was derived from a study of the Greek papyri and inscriptions of the period of the NT.

The autographs, that is, the original documents in the authors' own handwritings, have all disappeared. These were written probably on papyrus, a fragile substance (see Writing Materials) that could not survive long in damp climates. Of the copies of these autographs only a few from the first 3 cent. have survived. Before the age of printing, copies were laboriously written out, such copies being called manuscripts (Latin manuscriptum, "written by hand"). But since there are no perfect copyists, there are no 2 manuscripts of the NT exactly alike. Gradually, through repeated copyings, various mistakes crept into the text the of NT; however, none of so serious a nature as to affect any major doctrine. Where variant readings exist it is the task of the modern scholar to determine if possible the original authentic reading. This is the science of textual criticism.

The earliest printed Greek NT was that incorporated in the Complutensian Polyglot, of which the NT portion was printed in 1514 but not published until 1522. The work was done at Alcalá (Latin Complutum) in Spain under the direction of Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, cardinal archbishop of Toledo, who is more popularly known as Cardinal Ximenes. The first published Greek Testament was edited by Desiderius Erasmus and was published March 1, 1516. Erasmus' edition was based on only a few manuscripts coming from medieval times and therefore contained a late form of the Greek text. Nevertheless, his text, as revised by himself and later by Robert Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevir brothers, became the Textus Receptus, the "Received Text," of the Greek NT until the 19th cent. Upon it the older standard translation of modern Europe are based, such as Luther's and the King James Version.

Since that time many older copies of the Greek text have been discovered, by means of which the text can be restored to a condition much nearer to that of the original autographs than was possible in the 16th cent.

The papyri are the oldest of the Greek manuscripts. Among them are the Chester Beatty Papyri consisting of portions of 3 codices (PS45, PS46, PS47) containing parts of 15 NT books and dating from the 3d cent. . The oldest existing NT manuscript is the Rylands Papyrus 457 (P52), a scrap containing parts of Jn 18:31-33, 37, 38, and dating from the first half of the 2d cent. In 1957 and 1958 Prof. Victor Martin of Geneva published a newly discovered papyrus of the Gospel of John dating from about a.d. 200 (P66), also known as Bodmer II. The 3d-cent. codex Bodmer VII-VIII, in addition to a miscellaneous assortment of noncanonical writings, contains the earliest known copies of the 2 Epistles of Pe and Jude (P72), published in 1959. A voluminous codex of the 7th cent., Bodmer XVII, published in 1961, contains portions of Acts, Jas, 1 and 2 Pe, 1, 2, and 3 Jn, and Jude (P74). The earliest known copy of Lk and one of the earliest of Jn are contained in Bodmer XIV-XV, a 2d- or 3d-cent. codex, published in 1961 (P75).

Uncial manuscripts were written in capital letters without separation between words and generally without accents or breathing marks. The great uncials are still our basic source for the reconstruction of the text of the NT. Only some of the more important ones can be mentioned here. Codex Vaticanus (B), of the first half of the 4th cent., is regarded by scholars as probably the oldest fairly complete copy, and the most valuable copy, of the entire Bible . It has been in the Vatican Library at Rome since before 1481. Codex Sinaiticus (a) is a 4th-cent. manuscript discovered by Tischendorf in the monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai (1844-59). This manuscript was purchased by the British Government from Soviet Russia and was transferred to the British Museum in 1933. It contains the whole NT , also the Epistle of Barnabas and about 1/3 of the Shepherd of Hermas, and about half of the OT. Codex Alexandrinus (A), of the early 5th cent., was produced in Egypt. In 1624 it was offered as a gift to King James I of England by the patriarch of Constantinople, but it did not actually reach England until 1627 as a gift to James's successor, Charles I. Originally it contained the whole Bible and the 2 Epistles of Clement, but it has suffered a number of mutilations, including the loss of most of Matthew's Gospel and much of 2 Cor. Codex Ephraemi (C), a 5th-cent. manuscript now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, is a palimpsest, that is, a reused manuscript from which the Biblical text had been erased and the sermons of Ephraem written over it in Syriac. It is possible, however, still partly to read the Biblical text. Codex Bezae (D), in the library at Cambridge University, is a 5th- or 6th-cent. bilingual Greek-Latin manuscript of the Gospels and Acts in the curious Western type of text. Besides these more important manuscripts, there are the 6th-cent. bilingual manuscript of the Pauline epistles in Codex Claromontanus (D2) with a Western type of text, the Freer Gospels in Washington, D.C. (W), and Codex Koridethianus (q) of the Gospels, probably from the 9th cent.

Cursive manuscripts date from about the 9th cent. and later. Of these, Minuscule 33 is known as the "Queen of the Cursives," and Family 1 (1-118-131-209) and Family 13 (13-69-124-346) have been subsumed into the Caesarean text.

Originally the books of the Bible were not divided into chapters and verses. Divisions of the books of the NT into various sections were made as early as the 4th cent. Our modern chapter divisions were made in the early 13th cent. by Stephen Langton, then connected with the University of Paris but afterward archbishop of Canterbury. Verse divisions were not made until the age of printing. No Greek manuscript has them. In 1551 Robert Stephanus, while making a horseback journey from Paris to Lyons, divided his Latin New Testament into 7,959 verses. His object in making the verses was apparently twofold: He was preparing a concordance to the NT which his son Henri finally published in 1594, and hence desired small divisions for ready reference, and he was preparing to publish a NT with the Greek in the center, and Erasmus' Latin translation on one side and Jerome's on the other, the verse divisions of which would afford a ready comparison of the exact words. Henri Stephanus says that his father did the work inter equitandam, "while riding," which probably means during intervals on the journey. If the verses were actually made while he was on horseback some of the unfortunate divisions may be due to the jogging of the horse at the wrong place. Stephanus' 4th edition of the Greek NT, which appeared in 1551 in 2 small volumes at Geneva, was the first to contain the verse divisions. The earliest English NT to have them was William Whittingham's translation of 1557, published at Geneva.

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.