The New Testament
The Bible is the first major expression in history of monotheism, or the belief in one God. It has become the basis of faith for about a billion people throughout the world. It has been translated into over one thousand languages and dialects and is by far the most widely distributed book today.
The Bible has had enormous influence on the art and literature of Western civilization. In the Middle Ages, figures from the Bible were carved in the stone of cathedrals and churches, and Bible stories were represented by scenes in frescoes on the walls and in the stained-glass windows. Biblical figures appear in such famous works as Michelangelo's fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome and his sculpture Moses, Leonardo da Vinci's fresco The Last Supper, El Greco's painting The Resurrection, and the more recent works of Jacob Epstein and Marc Chagall. The Bible of Martin Luther in German and the Authorized, or King James, Version of the Bible in English have been dominant models of literary style.
The New Testament
The books of the New Testament, which were written in the 1st century A.D., describe early Christianity. All the books, with perhaps one or two exceptions, were written in Greek, the most widely spoken language in the Middle East at the time.
The New Testament begins with four accounts of Jesus Christ, described as a devout Jew of Palestine, as Canaan had come to be known. Written between 60 A.D. and 90 A.D., they are called the Gospel ("good news"). They reflect the early Christian belief that Christ is the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament. The four accounts have been ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John have traditionally been considered Disciples of Christ. Mark is thought to have been an associate of Peter's, and Luke an associate of Paul's.
The first three Gospels, called by modern scholars the Synoptic Gospels from the Greek term for "common view," present similar views of Christ's birth in Bethlehem, His preaching mission, and His Crucifixion and Resurrection. The Synoptic Gospels stress that Christ came to expand the stern Law of Moses in a new spirit of love, that He was the Messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets, and that He ushered in a New Testament, or covenant, that was to fulfill the covenant of the Old Testament. The authors relate parables, or morally Instructive stories, which they ascribe to Christ. These include the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. The authors also declare that Christ performed miracles to show God's power. The fourth Gospel uses historical detail in support of the doctrine that Jesus is a divine mediator between God and man. The idea of a divine mediator was part of several religions of the time in the Middle East and the Mediterranean area.
The Book of Acts describes the spread of early Christianity inside and outside Palestine, with special emphasis on the efforts of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Some of the Apostles wrote long epistles, or letters, to instruct and encourage new Christian groups that were forming in the Mediterranean world. Several of the epistles were made part of the New Testament. The epistles written by Paul between 50 A.D. and 67 A.D. became one of the chief sources of early Christian doctrine. Paul insists that Christ came to save all men, not only Jews, and that salvation depends on faith in Christ, rather than on strict obedience to the details of Jewish law.
The final book of the New Testament, Revelation, was written at the end of the 1st century A.D. The author, who may have been St. John the Apostle, prophesies the triumph of good over evil at the Last Judgment and the coming of a new age. He regards his vision as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of the Old Testament and the culmination of history.