The Literature and History of the New Testament (1915) [Lesson 1]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The New Testament


A) About the author of the chapter:

John Gresham Machen “studied at Johns Hopkins University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the universities at Marburg and Göttingen. In 1906 he joined the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary …

He left Princeton in 1929, after the school was reorganized and adopted a more accepting attitude toward liberal Protestantism, and he helped found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.” [1]


B) Chapter Summary:

i) The Origin and Meaning of the Name

“The English word “testament” comes from a Latin word. The equivalent Greek word is hard to translate. As used in the Greek Bible it may mean either “covenant” or “testament.” Usually it should probably be translated “covenant.””[1]

“The phrase “new covenant” occurs about five times in the New Testament. In none of these passages does the phrase refer to the “New Testament” in our sense. It designates a new relationship into which men have been received with God.”[2]

“The names “old and new covenants,” then, were applied first to these two special relationships into which God entered with men [i.e. with the Hebrew nation, and with all who through faith accept the salvation offered by Christ]. Afterwards the names were applied to the books in which the conditions of those relationships were set forth.”[3]

ii) One Book or a Collection of Books?

“In the first place, the New Testament may be treated in every respect as a single book …

Nevertheless, the Bible is as a matter of fact not a mere textbook of religion, and if we treat it as such we miss much of its richness.”[4]

“It is nearer the truth … to say that the New Testament is a single book than to say that it is a collection of books. Its parts differ widely among themselves, in authorship, in date, in circumstances, in aim. Those differences must be studied carefully, if the full meaning is to be obtained. But widely as the New Testament writings differ among themselves, they differ yet far more widely from all other books. They presented themselves originally to the Church with a divine authority, which is foreign to the ordinary writings of men. That authority has been confirmed through the Christian centuries.”[5]

iii) The Four Divisions of the New Testament

“(1) THE GOSPELS … “gospel” means “good news,” and “good news” means tidings, information derived from the witness of others. In other words, it means history.”[6]

“(2) THE BOOK OF THE ACTS.—The Book of The Acts is a history of the extension of Christianity from Jerusalem out into the Gentile world. It represents that extension as guided by the Spirit of God, and thus exhibits the divine warrant for the acceptance of us Gentiles, and for the development of the Christian Church. It provides the outline of apostolic history without which we could not understand the other New Testament books, especially the epistles of Paul.”[7]

“(3) THE EPISTLES.—The Epistles of the New Testament are not just literature put in an epistolary form, but real letters. It is true that the addresses of some of them are very broad, for example, those of James and of I Peter; and that some of them contain no specific address at all, for example, Hebrews and I John. But the great majority of them, at least, were written under very special circumstances and intended to be read first by very definite people.”[8]

“The letters of Paul differ widely among themselves. The Epistle to the Romans is almost a systematic exposition of the plan of salvation. Philemon is concerned with a little personal matter between Paul and one of his converts.”[9]

“(4) THE APOCALYPSE … the Apocalypse opens a glorious vision of the future. The vision is presented in symbolical language.”[10]


[1] p.5

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] p.6

[5] p.7

[6] Ibid.

[7] p.8

[8] Ibid.

[9] p.9

[10] Ibid.

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