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INTRODUCTION: Pre-History to the New Testament Manuscripts

  [Note: Much of scripture in this article that is not quoted from the Bible is paraphrased by me for compression of space and better understanding.]

In Acts 2 we read about the birth of the Christian Church. It all started about 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every year Jews would celebrate the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost which indicated the end of the barley harvest. Jews throughout the entire Roman Empire all gathered together at Jerusalem for this important holiday. To show you how big this gathering was, there were Jews from Rome, Crete, Cyrene, Libya, Egypt, Asia Minor, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Pontus, Cappadocia, Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Arabia, and other regions who met in Jerusalem for the feast.

At this specific time in history the third person of the trinity which is the Holy Spirit was poured out on the original apostles of Jesus Christ. The apostles began to speak in other languages and all these people groups from various regions of the Roman Empire understood every word spoken as though they heard the words in their own language. This was a supernatural miracle of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter filled with the Holy Spirit spoke to this huge gathering the gospel of Jesus Christ and up to 3,000 Jews were saved, baptized, and became followers of Jesus Christ. Through the miracle of the Holy Spirit the Christian Church was born.

These new Jewish converts to Jesus Christ would learn about the Son of God through the Hebrew Scriptures and also through the Hellenistic Septuagint Scriptures for Greek speaking Jews of which there were many. These new Christian Jews saw Jesus as the central subject of the Hebrew Scriptures. They saw all the Messianic prophecy pointing to Jesus. They eventually realized that they were free from the law through Jesus Christ.

There was one book the Holy Hebrew Scriptures for both Hellenistic Orthodox Jews and the new Jewish and Gentile Christians, however, the scriptures did not unify both parties. The Orthodox Jew looked at scripture as a law to follow. Every male was to be circumcised. The seventh day of the week must be observed for rest. Certain animal’s flesh could not be eaten or touched, it was un-clean. The Orthodox Jew favored the traditional scroll for the format of the Septuagint. The Christian Jew and Gentiles favored the Codex or book form. It was much easier to page back and forth to find various scripture passages to compare with others.1

But these stubborn Orthodox Jews missed the greatest promise of God, because they would not heed the prophets of old. In fact they would kill many of these prophets. It was these types of Jews that would not bow the knee to their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Many prophets from Moses to Malachi promised the Jews their Messiah, but they had their Messiah killed just as they killed the prophets.

Jeremiah wrote about the new covenant which would be in Jesus Christ, but yet these Orthodox Jews would not pay any attention to Jeremiah. They were all wrapped up in their man-made traditions and other Jewish writings; they would not listen to even Jeremiah. This is what Jeremiah told his people.

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God; and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33 NKJV®)

One day in history we read in the book of Acts that the Apostle Peter went into prayer, he became very hungry. Next he fell into a trance and had a vision. In his vision he saw heaven opening up; he saw a great sheet bound at all four corners descending down to him which included animals which by Jewish standards were unclean. The voice from heaven said “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Peter said, “No, I have never eaten anything unclean.” The voice spoke, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was repeated three times for Peter.

Peter was further encouraged by the Holy Spirit to meet a God fearing man who was a Gentle. The man’s name was Cornelius. Prior to meeting with Peter he fasted for four days in prayer. At that time it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with a Gentile. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit Peter explained his new attitude toward the Gentile Cornelius. Peter explained he was instructed by the Holy Spirit that Christian Jews must stop calling any man common or unclean. At the house of Cornelius many Gentiles were present. Peter preached the gospel and the Holy Spirit fell on these new Gentiles and they were saved. [I think of the statement the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans.] “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek:” (Romans 1:16 NKJV®)

The Apostle Paul’s former name was Saul. Saul was born a Jew in the city of Tarsus which at that time was the capital city of the province of Cilicia, now modern day south central Turkey. He was very orthodox in his beliefs. He was trained as a Jewish Pharisee by the very famous Rabbi Gamaliel. Saul hated this new religion that was corrupting many Jews, which at that time was called the Way and would later be called Christianity. He fought to eliminate this heresy before this following got any larger. Saul visited the high priest asked for letters of permission to invade the synagogues in the city of Damascus where he believed were located many followers of the Way. He would breathe threats and murder against these disciples of the Way. He was ready to bring both men and women bound to Jerusalem as prisoners.

Along with various men Saul took off to Damascus. While walking on the road all of a sudden everyone saw this bright light all around them. It was supernatural. Saul fell to the ground. He heard a voice as from heaven. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The voice spoke, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul was trembling and shocked. Saul said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Jesus said, “Arise and go into the city of Damascus and you will be told what to do next.” The other men with Saul were confused, they heard a voice, but could see no one. When Saul was helped off the ground he had no eye-sight. He was led into Damascus by the men. When he came to Damascus Saul was without sight for three days and did not want to eat or drink.

Meanwhile, in Damascus lived a serious follower of Jesus Christ, his name was, Ananias. Ananias all of a sudden had a vision from God. In the vision the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Arise and go to the street named ‘Straight,’ go to the house of Judas and at that house ask for Saul of Tarsus. By now Saul has been in prayer and has had a vision of you, Ananias, coming in the house of Judas and putting your hand on him that he would receive his sight.” Ananias being completely confused and in fear answered the Lord, “Lord, I have heard many things about Saul of Tarsus. He has done much harm to many of your believing saints in Jerusalem. Now he has authority from the chief Jewish priests to invade the synagogues in Damascus to bind all believing saints there that worship You.” The Lord told Ananias, “Go to Saul, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine. He will bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” [Jews] “I will show Saul how many things he must suffer for My name.”

So Ananias was obedient to the Lord and entered the house of Judas to lay his hands on Saul that he would receive his sight. Ananias said to Saul, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road to Damascus has sent me to restore your sight and that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At that time Saul received his sight and was baptized. He was ready to receive food and was strengthened.

The new converted Saul spent some time in Damascus with his new fellow Christian saints. Immediately Saul began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Many saints who heard him at first were skeptical of him. These saints knew that Saul previously destroyed many saints in Jerusalem. Saul grew in strength and in the spirit of the Lord. In time Christians were in complete harmony with Saul. However, this really confused the non-Christian Jews.

While the Christian Church was being established in the first century eventually there came about a division among the traditional Orthodox Jew and the new Christian Jews. Since these Christian Jews worshiped Jesus as the Messiah along with their Gentile believers the old traditional non-Christian Jew believed the worship of this Jesus as Messiah was blasphemy.

New writings by the apostles to pass out to the newly formed churches were being produced. The gospels were written that told about the life of Jesus Christ. Matthew was a Jew and a former tax collector for the Romans. He wrote the gospel of Matthew for a Jewish audience and incorporated a lot of Old Testament Messianic Scripture. Matthew also wrote a genealogy of Jesus starting with Jesus Christ as the Son of David, the Son of Abraham who is father of the Jews and ending with Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.

Mark wrote mostly of what Christ did. Mark focuses on the service and miracles that Jesus worked. It is also the shortest gospel of the four. Luke was a physician and Gentile believer. His gospel is one of the most complete witnesses of Jesus Christ. Luke’s gospel starts out before the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist. Although there are passages in the gospel of Matthew of the birth of Jesus, Luke is usually the gospel read around Christmas about the birth of Jesus in chapter 2. Luke also wrote about the start of the Christian Church which he wrote as the book known as the Acts of the Apostles.

The Gospel of John written by the apostle John is known as the non-synoptic gospel which is quite different from the other gospels. John’s gospel emphasizes the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Pharisees “…before Abraham was, I AM.” Read chapter 8. John’s gospel is very evangelical. Read John chapter 3, and 5:24, 6:47 and other verses. This is why the gospel of John is a recommended first book for a new Christian to read. In my opinion this gospel shows a clear path to salvation. Some events are only recorded in John such as the wedding in Cana, chapter 2, and the rising of Lazarus from the grave, chapter 11. The Apostle John also wrote 1, 2, & 3 John, and the only prophetic book of the New Testament—Revelation.

The Apostle Peter who gave the first sermon in the church wrote 1 & 2 Peter. James the Just who wrote the book of James was a brother to Jude and Jesus the Christ. Jude wrote the book of Jude and was a brother to James the Just and of course Jesus the Christ.

Nobody really knows who wrote the book of Hebrews. Hebrews was written for a Jewish Christian audience. There were some Christian Jews that were thinking of going back to the law of Judaism. The author of Hebrews pointed out that if you are a Christian you are free from the law. Because of the new covenant there is no need for animal sacrifices, food laws, or priests. Christians can go directly to the throne of God through Christ. Christ is our high priest. No need for a human priest to mediate between God and man.

The Apostle Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Paul wrote these books: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Tutus, and, Philemon. Some scholars even think he might have written Hebrews.

Thanks to the writers of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament the church was now launched. The Holy Scriptures would now be the voice of God for the Church. There would now be no need for apostles, prophets and the Levitical priesthood, for now the believing saints are a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)

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1. F.F. Bruce The Canon of Scripture; IVP Academic an imprint of InterVarsity Press; Downer Grove, IL 60515 (1988) p68.