Health and Growth

The New Testament Books: What You Need to Know

The New Testament books of the bible contain the most profound truth + message in the world. Here’s a must-know breakdown of every book.

The New Testament Books: What You Need to Know
by

Paul Maxwell

The New Testament books contain the most life-changing truths in the world.

However, it can often be difficult for a 21st century reader to understand how to read the New Testament, which was written in the 1st century, without first understanding the context, central themes, and key texts of each book. We're not going deep on four horsemen of the apocalypse, but I guarantee you'll walk away from this post with some great insights.

But hang tight.

In this article on New Testament Books of the Bible, I’m going to share:

  • the New Testament books in order;
  • summary of the New Testament books; and a
  • breakdown of every book

After reading this post, you’ll know the purpose and nature of each book.

You will also gain answers to questions about the New Testament like:

  • What are the books of the New Testament in the Bible?
  • What are the first 10 books of the New Testament?
  • How many books are in New Testament?
  • What is the first book of the New Testament?
  • What language was theNew Testament written in?
  • Who wrote the New Testament?
  • What are the 27 books of New Testament?
  • What is the New Testament in the Bible?
  • Why is the New Testament important?
  • Where does the New Testament start?
  • What is the first book of the New Testament?

As a result, you will be able to read, understand, apply, and preach from each book with a better grasp of its true meaning. Use this breakdown of New Testament books as a way to more fluently and thoroughly understand each text you encounter.

New Testament Books

First it may be helpful to understand that the Bible breaks down the New Testament into 5 main sections:

  • 4 Canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
  • the Acts of the Apostles
  • 14 Epistles of Paul
  • 7 General Epistles, and
  • the Book of Revelation.

Understanding the main sections of the New Testament gives you immediate context into what you're reading. Now on to summary of each New Testament Book in the Bible.

1. Matthew

The book of Matthew was written between 70 and 80 AD by the Apostle Matthew.

Matthew drew on the Gospel of Mark as source material for his own work, as did Luke. Scholars refer to these three gospels as “The Synoptic Gospels.” This term comes from the word “synopsis,” meaning “summary,” because all of these authors drew on many of the same summary source materials—even one another—when writing the Gospels.

The reason that there are four gospels is that the early church needed different ways to explain the life and work of Jesus from multiple angles to understand the entire history in a cohesive way.

Luke’s expansive historical prose would have made the Gospel of Mark unsightly, disorganized, asymmetrical in its content structure, and confusing in its style, voice, and purpose. Matthew ideally establishes the relationship between the Old and New testaments because he emphasizes the Jewishness of Jesus as a central feature of the nature and purpose of his work, beginning with a genealogical prequel in Chapter 1, followed by a retelling of the life of Jesus in a way that mirrors the story of the Old Testament itself in order to highlight by way of genre the manner in which Jesus fulfilled the major prophecies and themes of the Old Testament.

Key verse: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matt 22:37-40)

Key theme: Jesus is the promised messiah; the kingdom of God.

2. Mark

Mark is considered by scholars to be the first gospel. Its brevity (only 16 short chapters) should not be confused with sparsity or lack of substance. Mark intended this work to be a terse, potent, and forceful assertion of both the historical credibility of the stories about Jesus and the radically transformative irruption which his life and work catalyzed in human history.

Mark ends on a somber note: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Some later manuscripts add 11 verses which summarize what occurred afterward—namely, the fallout of the resurrection of Christ and the institution of the church.

Mark is centrally about the new shape that the kingdom of God has taken through Christ and how it clashes violently with the evil, corruptive, and oppressive forces of the world. After centuries of waiting, Mark’s Gospel is a “tell it like it is” story of the central elements of Jesus’s life and work.

Key verse: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Key theme: Jesus is the great servant preacher who announces the good news of God's saving reign.

3. Luke

Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts as a two-part work, commissioned by the wealthy benefactor Theophilus. Luke was a medical doctor who, by his training, was gifted with the intellectual capacity to engage in ancient journalism to produce the Gospel account with the highest degree of investigative rigor.

Luke’s account is considered by scholars to contain the largest amount of information with the least amount of artistic flare by the writer.

The purpose of Luke was to give an account of the life and work of Jesus that dovetailed thematically and historically into an account of the early church. In that regard, Acts is not so much a sequel to Luke as much as Luke is a prequel to Acts. There are other Gospel accounts, but there is only one Acts. Luke had the foresight to understand that it would be critical for the political integrity of Christianity as a new religion to have a researched, first-hand account of the founding and rationale of their organization, which had its first official general council meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 15).

In other words, Luke was written to give a comprehensive account of the life of Christ in a way that was intelligible and preachable as Scripture in the early church. We might put it crudely in this way: Matthew, Mark, and John are meant to be understood as communicating many important features of the life of Christ, but Luke was intended to serve as a public document that drew on theological themes insofar as it served to illuminate to the Roman republic and Greek-speaking world the historic rationale for the founding of the church itself.

Key verse: “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” (Luke 24:44)

Key theme: God has decisively revealed himself in Jesus Christ and it has changed the world.

4. John

The Gospel of John is a rich work that does recount the historical events of the life of Christ, but the Apostle John saturates this historical narrative with theological themes such as the love of God, divine illumination, the importance of fellowship among believers, and the deeper resonances of Christ’s relationship to the world, with an emphasis on his divine lordship and eternal nature.

Key verse: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

Key theme: Jesus is the Christ, the eternal Son of God who gives eternal life to all who believe.

5. Acts

Acts is Luke’s second work, which is meant to show how the ministry of the Spirit in the life of Christ is transformed through his crucifixion and resurrection into the ministry of the church. What Christ accomplished in his life by the power of the Spirit would be dispensed at scale to the entire church in Acts 2. The rest of the book of Acts is about what the Spirit does to fulfill Christ’s charge to reach Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Key verse: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Key theme: God has given the church the Spirit to continue the mission of Jesus on earth.

6. Romans

Romans was written by the Apostle Paul in 57 A.D. in order to help the Roman church navigate the difficult relationship between the Jewish and Roman communities. The context is that the Roman church was primarily Jewish, initially, until the Jews were exiled from Rome. However, they were later allowed to return, yet when they returned, the church had become primarily Gentile, meaning that the Roman church came to practice Christianity in a way that was not distinctively Jewish.

This sparked deep debate about the continuing relevance of the Old Testament for Christian practice and threatened to divide the church in Rome. Paul wrote the book of Romans to settle this theological controversy as well as to promote unity among the church, encouraging them to love one another and to place unity in Christ above minor theological questions about the Old Testament, important as they are (Paul devotes the first 11 chapters of Romans to resolving this issue for the church in Rome).

Key verse: “For all have sinned and fall short of the flory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:23-25)

Key theme: The Gospel; The righteousness of God

7. 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians was written by the Apostle Paul to rebuke the church in Corinth for integrating too much pagan culture into the church, which sparked abuse, licentiousness, heinous sexual sin, arrogance, and the oppression of believers based on what spiritual gifts they had. Paul wrote to tell the Corinthians that their church had merely taken on Christian language, but made the church into an essentially pagan institution by their practices.

This is where the famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13 becomes relevant. Love in Christ, properly conceived, would resolve the tensions the Corinthians were experiencing—the social factions, the social hierarchies, the lawsuits against one another, and even the moral self-righteousness of those who were condemning Christians who ate meat sacrificed to idols.

Paul wears two hats in this letter—one as a referee, and the other as a spiritual parent. He is concerned both with reunifying the church and helping them to keep their eyes set on Christ in order to grow in maturity and love for one another without losing the theological insights that changed their community. He is careful not to take the side of any political faction in the church, yet makes the necessary rebukes, for example, toward a man who was sleeping with his step mother (1 Corinthians 5).

Key verse: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no on can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which if Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)

Key theme: Undo political factions in the church through love from Christ.

8. 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians was Paul’s later letter to the Corinthian church. While they had matured since Paul’s first letter, there were other leaders who claimed to be apostles that questioned Paul’s spiritual authority. He defends his credibility with the Corinthian church (2 Cor 6) by recalling all that he suffered for their sake and the fact that he never took any money from them.

Key verse: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no on can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which if Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)

Key theme: Paul is a true Apostle from Jesus; Faith teaches us how to suffer, but doesn’t save us from suffering

9. Galatians

The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians in order to dispel a particular heresy in the church in Galatia. There was a group called “Judaizers” who were teaching that, in order to receive Christ properly, individuals must first become Jews and then Christians. For example, they taught that Christians must be circumcised first in order to receive the forgiveness of Christ.

Paul was so frustrated by the spiritual disruption of this heresy that he wrote to the Galatians: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12).

Paul took the relationship between faith and works very seriously, because it represented a critical transition in history between a time when the people of God were made right with God by obedience to the law and a new era inaugurated by Christ in which people were made right with God by receiving his love through spirit-wrought faith in Christ.

He framed Christian behavior, not in terms of “acting good” or “acting bad,” but living “according to the Spirit” and “according to the flesh” (Galatians 5). While the Judaizers were incorrect, Paul didn’t want to over-communicate his point and mislead the Galatians to become licentious like the Corinthians.

Key verse: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:23-25)

Key theme: Justification with God by grace through faith, not by works

10. Ephesians

The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians in order to communicate the lordship of Christ over creation, the exact benefits of the gospel, how the message of Christ relates to works in the Christian life, and what Christian household and civil life should look like in this new era of Christ’s resurrected reign.

Key verse: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:4-7)

Key theme: The unity of the church under the headship of Christ.

11. Philippians

The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians in order to express his deep gratitude to the Philippian church for a gift they had sent him. This town, with a large veteran population, was committed and loyal to Paul, and supported his ministry.

This kingly gift of an Apostolic letter was Paul’s way of giving this church an expression of gratitude, along with very helpful theological instruction on the nature of Christ and how his life promotes generosity in the church.

Key verse: “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Key theme: Gratitude to God for partnership; faithful endurance by the power of Christ

12. Colossians

Paul wrote the book of Colossians in order to dispel a heresy in the early church that downplayed the divinity of Jesus (properly conceived) and taught odd things about how to connect with Christ via quasi-mystical spiritual practices. Paul wanted to impress upon the Colossians the reality of Christ’s lordship over creation and how such a reality changed Christian behavior.

Key verse: “If then you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4)

Key theme: Christians are a new creation, no longer under demonic powers

13. 1 Thessalonians

The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to help the church in Thessalonica to properly understand the future return of Christ to earth. Some in this church were persuaded that Christ would either not return for a long time, or would never return in a literal fashion.

Paul impressed upon them the open possibility of Christ’s imminent return and the definitive fact of that impending return in order to supply the church with encouragement and hope.

Key verse: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

Key theme: Be encouraged; Christ will return soon.

14. 2 Thessalonians

The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians because his earlier letter was misconstrued by some to mean that Christ was definitely going to return in the next few days.

Paul rounded out his theology of the future with a commendation to continue working, and to express the open possibility that Christ may in fact not return immediately, though its possibility should prompt us to be expectant, prepared, and waiting in such a way that does not diminish our daily activity on the earth.

Key verse: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” (2 Thesalonnians 3:5)

Key theme: Be encouraged; Christ may not return today.

15. 1 Timothy

The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Timothy in order to shepherd a young pastor through the trials of church planting amidst theological controversy in the early church.

Because Christianity was such a young movement at the time, Timothy was operating with very little precedent, and therefore needed apostolic oversight from Paul to deal with more complicated issues in church governance and leadership.

Key verse: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Key theme: Encouragement and advice to a young pastor facing heavy responsibility.

16. 2 Timothy

2 Timothy is Paul’s last letter. He writes it to Timothy in order to hand off the baton of his legacy-building initiative to Timothy, vesting him with the task of planting and overseeing churches in his respective region.

While Timothy was not granted apostolic authority as Paul had, Timothy was an officer in the church who was operating on behalf of the Jerusalem council and carried out the mission of Jesus through the Apostle Paul’s careful oversight.

Key verse: “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

Key theme: Continue to be faithful, even when it’s hard.

17. Titus

Titus was a key asset for the Apostle Paul, and Paul’s epistle to Titus, similar to his epistles to Timothy, was meant to guide him in his work. Titus journeyed with Paul through Jerusalem with Barnabas, and was later dispatched to Corinth, where he helped Paul to reconcile the divided community there.

Because Titus had experience with conflict management, Paul used Titus in a very different way than he did Timothy. Paul write this letter to help Titus to manage theological controversy in the church in order to guard it from division, while at the same time being ruthless with false teachers in the church promoting a gospel of salvation on the basis of works.

Key verse: “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14)

Key theme: Qualifications for church leadership

18. Philemon

The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philemon to a wealthy Christian whom Paul had brought to Christ. Later, Paul met a runaway slave named Onesimus, who also became a Christian. Paul learned that Onesimus was a slave who ran away from Philemon. Paul wrote to Philemon in order to request that Philemon take back Onesimus without punishment, in respect for and recognition of the work God had done in his heart.

Key verse: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 1:6)

Key theme: Models prudence, courtesy, and compassionate care for the forgiveness of one who faces serious consequences.

19. Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is mysterious. There is no consensus about the authorship of Hebrews. It bears the style of many other New Testament biblical writers, including both Paul and Luke. Most scholars recognize that Hebrews is a distinctively Pauline work, though its style is sufficiently different from Paul’s style that it is likely not his direct product.

The purpose of the book of Hebrews is to encourage Jewish Christians who are tempted to deconvert back to Judaism to remain in Christ. The author warns that not only will they put themselves back under the yoke of slavery to the law, but that deconversion bears serious spiritual consequences.

The author of Hebrews seeks to accomplish not primarily by way of warning (though HEbrews is famous for its warning passages in chapters 6, 9, and 10), but by highlighting the majesty and glorious benefits Christians have in Christ.

Key verse: “The former priests were many in number because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Key theme: Remain in the faith even when your community pressures you to leave.

20. James

The book of James is written by James, the brother of Jesus, to Christians who believe that forgiveness for sin through Christ means that Christians are no longer obligated to do good in the world. James makes the definitive point: Faith without works is dead.

By this, James means that all genuine faith manifests itself in good works, because the same Spirit that unites us to Christ for the sake of salvation is the Spirit that works through us to love others.

The Epistle of James bears many thematic similarities to the sermon on the mount, and feels very much more like the writings of Matthew and Mark than it does the writings of Paul and Peter.

Key verse: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

Key theme: Faith should always manifest itself through works.

21. 1 Peter

The Apostle Peter wrote his first letter in order to encourage persecuted Christians who had been dispersed throughout the world. Unlike the Apostle Paul’s epistles, which were written to a specific local audience with the intent of being circulated for the sake of proper Christian instruction, Peter’s intended audience is simply: Christians everywhere.

As long as there are Christians, those Christians will be persecuted and they will be tempted to leave the faith (John 15:18-25). Peter understands and experiences this on a personal level, and he leverages his apostolic authority in 1 Peter to encourage the saints who are exhausted from the suffering that came with believing in Jesus in the first century.

Key verse: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Key theme: Remind Christians of their present identity and future inheritance in Christ in light of persecution.

22. 2 Peter

The style and message of 2 Peter is very different from 1 Peter. Peter himself says that he is writing the epistle before his imminent death (2 Peter 1:14). The epistle is saturated with Old Testament references and imagery, and shares significant stylistic similarities with the book of Jude, because both epistles are dealing with odd views among Christians about fallen angels.

Some scholars have used the differences between 1 and 2 Peter to indicate that Peter did not write the epistle, although there is sufficient time between the writing of these two letters to indicate that Peter’s circumstances and resources inhibited him from writing better Greek prose (good, not great) in his second Epistle.

Key verse: “You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” (2 Peter 3:17-18)

Key theme: Warning against false teachers who seek to divide the church for selfish gain.

23. 1 John

The Apostle John was concerned in his gospel to articulate, beautify, highlight, and defend the pre-existent divinity of Jesus as the eternal Son of God. 1 John was written to dispel myths circulated by some Jewish Christian circles that Jesus was not the pre-existent Son of God.

John makes the case because Christ is the Son of God, his sacrifice is a maximal example of love that we should emulate, tying tightly together the Christian doctrines of Christ’s divinity with the doctrine of neighborly love.

Key verse: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)

Key theme: Fellowship in Christ, encouragement in maturity, the nature of eternal life

24. 2 John

The Apostle John composed his second epistle in order to dispel the myth of a heresy called “gnosticism,” which taught that one only comes to know Jesus through mystical practices and initiations that guard and safely dispense “secret knowledge” (Greek: Gnosis) in order to receive salvation.

He argues that by accepting gnosticism, we dilute and destroy the love of God for us in Christ.

Key verse: “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.” (2 John 6)

Key theme: Jesus Christ is both God and man, and this changes how we relate to others.

25. 3 John

3 John is a strictly personal letter that encourages hospitality, missional work, and the need for prudence when accepting new members and teachers into the church.

John warns that by guarding the church from false teachers, we guard the church from evil, abuse, and hatred.

Key verse: “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 11)

Key theme: Fellowship with other believers and show hospitality to those in genuine need.

26. Jude

Jude writes this letter under Jamesian apostolic authority to warn against false teaching in the church. Jude is concerned to guard the church from malicious parties who would take advantage of her, yet also expresses the notion that Christians should have an instinct of hospitality and love toward those who undergo seasons of doubt.

He strives to articulate strict boundaries for church belonging, but not so strict that it cannot accommodate the realities of human life.

Key verse: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Key theme: Vigilantly preserve the faith in love.

27. Revelation

The Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation while exiled for his faith on the island of Patmos. He wrote it in order to give Christians a vision of the future that helped them to live faithfully in the present.

While it is full of imagery that many find confusing, it is important to understand that he gets much of his imagery from the Old Testament. So, while other New Testament writers will explicitly cite Scripture, John does something more subtly—he takes imagery from Daniel, Ezekiel, and many other prophets and books to paint a more vivid picture of Christ’s work in the world today and how it relates to our hope for the future which will be fulfilled by Christ himself.

Key verse: “Behold I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:12-13)

Key theme: Christ is the king of the universe and will fulfill all his promises throughout Scripture.

Over to you

Use this survey of New Testament books in the bible to enrich your reading of the Bible and engage with the text of Scripture at a deeper level.

The more you are able to leverage an understanding of a book’s context and central themes, the more you are able to fluently read and apply the texts to your life and the life of the church.

Check out these additional Bible verse posts

For additional encouraging Bible verses and Bible verse posts, check out these resources:

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The New Testament Books: What You Need to Know