CHRISTIAN GREEK SCRIPTURES
So designated to distinguish them from the pre-Christian Greek Scriptures, that is, the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is a common practice to call this latter portion of the Bible “The New Testament.”
There are twenty-seven canonical books that make up the Christian Greek Scriptures. Under inspiration the twenty-seven selected were penned after the death of Jesus by eight men: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude. Not all these men followed Jesus during his ministry; in fact, as far as is known for a certainty, only the three apostles Matthew, John and Peter did. Mark may have been the “certain young man” present at Jesus’ arrest. (Mark 14:51, 52) At Pentecost James, Jude and perhaps Mark were present along with them. (Acts 1:13-15; 2:1) Later the apostle Paul was converted. All these writers became closely associated with the governing body of the first-century congregation in Jerusalem.
In what language were these books originally written? Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in Greek, not in Latin. Peter, who especially worked among the Jews, wrote his two letters in Greek, as also did John and Jude. James the brother of Jesus, who took the lead in the Jerusalem congregation and resided there until his death, wrote his letter in Greek, even though he addressed it to “the twelve tribes that are scattered about” and surely meant to include the natural Jews residing in Judea. (Jas. 1:1) So with the possible exception of the book of Matthew, which was the first of the Christian Scripture writings, thought to have been written originally in Hebrew and later translated by Matthew into Greek, all the other twenty-six books were written in the common (koi·neʹ) Greek, the international language of the day.
Nor was it a mere coincidence that these inspired Christian men, all of them natural-born Jews (Rom. 3:1, 2), had their writings sent out in Greek. These were not private communications, but were intended for wide circulation, to be read and studied by all the congregations. (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16) The writers were under divine command to spread this good news and teaching to the most distant parts of the earth, to places where Hebrew and Latin were not read. (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8) Even in territories closer to Palestine, there was an increasingly large number of non-Jews coming into the local congregations. Also, when quoting the Hebrew Scriptures, these writers frequently allowed themselves to be influenced by the Septuagint Version, or they directly quoted from that common Greek version of their day.
The books of the Christian Greek Scriptures, listed according to the approximate year (C.E.) written, are as follows: Matthew, 41; 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 50 and 51; Galatians, 50-52; 1 and 2 Corinthians, 55; Romans, 56; Luke, 56-58; Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 60-61; Hebrews, Acts, 61; James, before 62; Mark, 60-65; 1 Timothy, Titus, 61-64; 1 Peter, 62-64; 2 Peter 64; 2 Timothy, Jude, 65; Revelation, 96; John and 1, 2, 3 John, 98. This era of less than sixty years is quite a contrast with the Hebrew writings, which took nearly eleven centuries to complete.
When it came time to combine these books of the Christian Greek Scriptures together into a single volume, they were not assembled in the order in which they were written. Rather, they were put in a logical arrangement according to subject matter, which can be classified as (1) the five historical books of the Gospels and Acts, (2) the twenty-one letters, and (3) the Revelation.
The four Gospels (the word “Gospel” meaning “good news”), written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, give us a fourfold historical account of the life and activity of Jesus, each account being an independent report. The first three of these are sometimes called “synoptic” (meaning “like view”) because they have a relatively similar approach to Jesus’ ministry in comparison with John’s Gospel, yet each reflects individualism on the part of the writer. John’s Gospel fills in certain details omitted by the other three. The Acts of Apostles then follows in logical sequence, carrying the history of the Christian congregation as established at Pentecost on down nearly thirty years after the death of Jesus.
The congregation’s inner workings, its problems, its public preaching, its other privileges and its hopes, are dealt with in the twenty-one letters that follow the historical section. Paul is named as the writer of thirteen letters. The letter to the Hebrews is also generally ascribed to Paul. Following these writings is a group of letters most of which were written to all the congregations in general, by James, Peter, John and Jude. Lastly, and as a delightful climax to the whole Bible, is the Revelation with its preview of profound events of the future.
The writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures directly quoted the Hebrew Scriptures more than 365 times, and made about 375 additional references and allusions to them. Examples are drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures by all the inspired Christian writers. (1 Cor. 10:11) These Christian writers undoubtedly employed the Divine Name Jehovah when they were quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures. These later writers acknowledge and include the Hebrew Scriptures as inspired of God and beneficial for completely equipping the man of God for every good work.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21.
After the death of the apostles, uninspired writers profusely quoted from the Greek Scriptures, just as the inspired Christian Bible writers had quoted from what came before them.
There are, however, more than 13,600 papyrus and vellum manuscripts in whole or in part of the Christian Greek Scriptures available for comparative study, dating from the second to the fifteenth century. Of these, 4,600 are in Greek, 8,000 in Latin, and the remainder in various other languages. More than 2,000 of the ancient copies contain the Gospels, and more than 700, the letters of Paul. While the original writings themselves are not currently extant, copies date back to the second century, which is very close to the time the originals were written. This vast number of manuscripts has enabled Greek scholars in the course of years to produce a highly refined Greek text of the Scriptures, confirming in many respects the dependability and integrity of our present-day translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures.—See MANUSCRIPTS OF THE BIBLE.
This vast mountain of manuscripts caused one authority to remark: “The great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed. . . . If comparative trivialities, such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like, are set aside, the words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament.” (Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, 1957, pp. 564, 565) To this may be added the observation of Jack Finegan: “The close relationship in time between the oldest New Testament manuscripts and the original texts is also nothing less than amazing. . . . For our knowledge of the writings of most of the classical authors we are dependent upon manuscripts the oldest of which belong to a time between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. . . . Thus it is that the certainty with which the text of the New Testament is established exceeds that of any other ancient book. The words which the New Testament writers addressed to their world and time have crossed the further miles and centuries to us substantially unchanged in form and certainly undiminished in power.”—Light from the Ancient Past, 1959, pp. 449, 450.
As an integral part of the written Word of God, the Christian Greek Scriptures are of inestimable value. They contain four accounts of the ministry of God’s only-begotten Son, including his origin, his teaching, his example, his sacrificial death and resurrection. The historic record of the formation of the Christian congregation, the outpouring of the holy spirit, which enabled it to grow so successfully, its problems and how they were resolved—all of this is so essential for the operation of the true Christian congregation today. The separate books that were independently written for particular persons or situations or with a special view and purpose in mind, all merge to form a great unified complete entity with no details lacking, complementing and completing the Bible canon, and presently of universal importance, interest and concern primarily to spiritual Israel, the congregation of God, but, additionally, to all persons who seek the approval of God.
For information on the contents of the twenty-seven books, their writers, the time written, proof of authenticity, see the individual books by name.