There are 27 books in the New Testament. That might seem like a lot, but it’s actually not that complex.
The New Testament is made up of three basic parts:
The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four books cover the life and ministry of Jesus. They tell about his birth, background, ministry, teachings, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.
The Gospels were written by four different authors. Matthew and John were two of the twelve disciples, and Luke and Mark were close associates of two other apostles (Peter and Paul).
The four Gospel writers each tell the same story from their own perspective. Each Gospel has its own unique flavor, but it’s remarkable how similar they are considering they were written independently from one another. It’s almost like God was divinely orchestrating the whole thing.
SO…if you want to read about Jesus, read the Gospels.
The book of Acts is the fifth book of the New Testament (it comes right after the Gospel of John). Acts is a historical account of the first 30 years of the Church. It is an incredibly vivid book, and it picks up right after Jesus ascends into heaven. The book of Acts tells the story of how the Church grew from a small band of Christians in Jerusalem into a movement that spanned the known world.
SO…if you want to read about how the Church got started, read Acts.
The rest of the New Testament is made up of letters. These are real, ancient letters. When we refer to letters such as Ephesians as the ‘Book of Ephesians’, it’s a little misleading. Ephesians is not a book. It’s a real letter that was sent 2,000 years ago.
The first 13 letters in the New Testament (starting with Romans) were written by the Apostle Paul. He was the greatest missionary in church history, and he planted churches all over the Mediterranean world. He never stayed in one place for too long, so he would stay connected with the churches he planted by writing them letters. He was functioning as their pastor via letter. His letters are a window into the struggles that the early Christians faced. It’s incredible how we still struggle with many of the same issues today.
Some of Paul’s letters were written to specific churches, and some were written to individuals. All of his letters are named after the recipient. For example, Philippians was a letter that Paul sent to the church in the city of Philippi. The people who lived there were called Philippians. Ephesians was written to the church in Ephesus, Romans was written to Rome. In the case of 1 & 2 Timothy, Paul wrote the letters to his protégé Timothy. You get the idea.
The last nine books of the New Testament are also letters, written by other early-Christian leaders like Peter, John, James and Jude.
Hebrews and Revelation are technically letters, but they are unique. Hebrews is essentially a sermon in letter form, and Revelation is a prophetic book dealing with the end times (also in letter form).
SO…if you want to read the words of early-Christian leaders, read their letters.
Gospels. Acts. Letters.
Jesus. The Church. Early-Christian Leaders.
That’s the New Testament in a nutshell.