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An Introduction to the New Testament by Richard Heard

Richard Heard, M.A., M.B.E., M.C., was a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge and University lecturer in Divinity at Cambridge (1950). Published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950. This material prepared for Religion-Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

The religious implications of modern New Testament criticism and encouragement to follow up the evidence for oneself with the more intensive study of the text and the important books and commentaries to which it is the function of an Introducion is the challenge.

Chapter 1: The Critical Study of the New Testament
There are many important points on which critical opinion is likely to continue divided, but there are good grounds for thinking that we can still get from the New Testament a knowledge of Jesus and of his Church different in some respects from that of earlier days but with the same power to inspire men to follow him in their lives.

Chapter 2: How the Books of the New Testament were Selected
While the New Testament can now be regarded as ‘apostolic’ only partially, and in a very wide sense, it remains true that the New Testament does contain substantially all that has survived of those first-century Christian writings which preserved the knowledge of the early ministry of Christ and the teaching of the first Christian generation. As such it is of unique authority for Christians.

Chapter 3: The Text of The New Testament
The reliability of the text is of great importance for the New Testament claims from its readers an unique authority. We wish to be assured that, when we read it, even in translation, we are reading essentially what the original authors wrote, and not a corrupted version of their work. The reader of any of the standard modern translations, such as the Revised Version, the new American Version, or Moffatt, can have confidence that he will nowhere be seriously misled on important points of Christian doctrine in his reading.

Chapter 4: The Study of the Gospels
To the superficial reader the gospels appear to furnish a uniformly consistent representation of Jesus’ life and message, but closer examination reveals that there are in fact serious inconsistencies in the accounts both of what Jesus did and said.

Chapter 5: The Oral Tradition
The modern interest in detailed biography was not marked in the ancient world. There can be no doubt that the apostles and the family of Jesus in fact told much more of the life of Jesus than has been preserved, but with the passing of the earliest Christian generation, and with the catastrophe of the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which largely severed the communications between the Christians in Palestine and those of the Gentile world, most of this information, preserved only orally and temporarily, was lost to posterity.

Chapter 6: Written Gospel Sources
Many more written accounts of Jesus’ teaching, his controversies, his miracles, and his ministry, may have been in existence when our gospels were written. If so, they have perished, and we can only search for traces of them in our existing gospels. Sources involved in Luke, Matthew, Mark, Q, and others are discussed.

Chapter 7: The Gospel of Mark
A great achievement of New Testament criticism of our times has been the establishment beyond reasonable doubt that the gospel of Mark formed one of the principal sources used both by Matthew and Luke, and that it is both the earliest and in some ways the most important of our gospels, yet for centuries Mark had been the least read and regarded of the four gospels.

Chapter 8: The Gospel of Matthew
Matthew’s gospel is an attempt to improve and supplement Mark as a record of Jesus’ teaching and as a testimony to his Messiahship for the guidance of Jewish Christians. Matthew adds to the narrative of Mark, which he shortens but reproduces in essentials, only an account of Jesus’ birth and infancy, a few incidents from Q, a couple of other stories, a few variations in Mark’s narrative, and a Resurrection appearance in Galilee.

Chapter 9: The Gospel of Luke
It is unlikely that Luke, with many opportunities for gaining information, depended for the bulk of his information, outside what was provided by Mark and Q, on written sources. While his gospel is in some ways the most important historically of the four, it is probable that he wrote under the handicap of being no longer able to check the value of some of his material.

Chapter 10: The Gospel of John
In the other gospels the authors have been primarily compilers of material, and their personal interpretation of the events of Jesus’ life and of his teaching play only a subordinate part in the shaping of their material. In this gospel the historical facts of Jesus’ life serve primarily to illustrate the author’s main themes, and the speeches put into the mouth of Jesus are made the vehicles for the author’s own interpretations of Jesus’ thought.

Chapter 11: The Life of Jesus
The references to Jesus in pagan and Jewish writings of the first and second centuries A.D. do little more than confirm that he really lived, was put to death under Pontius Pilate (so Tacitus, Annales, 15:44), and was recognised by those who believed in him as the Christ. Despite the lack of references to him, the universality of the teaching, and its appeal to Gentile as well as to Jew, is responsible for Christianity’s rapid spread.

Chapter12: The Study of the Acts of the Apostles
Acts is our most important historical source for the earliest development of Christianity, and as such of immediate relevance for present-day Christians.

Chapter 13: The Acts Of The Apostles
Luke traces for Theophilus (who is unknown to us) the stages by which the Christian message had spread from Jerusalem in A.D. 29 to a time and place where Theophilus’ own knowledge could continue the story.

Chapter 14: The Growth of the Church
For the early history of the Church, as for the life and teaching of Jesus, the books of the New Testament are virtually our sole important sources. Only one of these books, the Acts of the Apostles, is in any sense a history of the Church, and that to only a limited degree.

Chapter 15: The Study of the Epistles
The gospels and the speeches of Peter and Paul in Acts give important testimony as to what the apostles taught about the Christian life and proclaimed about the meaning of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection; yet both the gospels and Acts were written, not by apostles, but by later disciples, and their evidence on particular points stands in need of confirmation, if possible, from the apostles themselves.

Chapter 16: The Epistle of James
The authorship and early date of the epistle are matters of probability and not of certainty. Yet if James, the brother of Jesus, is accepted as the author of the epistle, it becomes our best witness to the beliefs of the earliest Jerusalem church.

Chapter 17: The First Epistle of Peter
While the epistle remains a work of great spiritual power and lasting value, whoever was the author, its especial historical significance is bound up with the connection with Peter.

Chapter 18: Paul and His Epistles
We are severely limited in what we know about Paul, and what little we do know comes mostly from a dozen or so letters he has written and from what Luke has to say about his career and teaching in the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 19: The Epistle To The Hebrews
Modern critics have confirmed that the epistle cannot be attributed to Paul. The writing is one of consolidation, written to stave off apathy and apostasy by giving a better understanding of the supreme excellence of the new covenant mediated through Christ.

Chapter 20: The Epistle of Jude
The weight of the epistle lies in its authorship. Could Jude be the brother of Jesus? Jude writes as one whose authority is unquestioned, and as one who can himself remember and vouch for the original content of the gospel, departure from which is fatal. The epistle was written from somewhere in Palestine between A.D. 60 and A.D. 80, and to whom we do not know.

Chapter 21: The Second Epistle of Peter
The evidence is clear that there is no possibility this letter could have been written by Peter. It was written sometime in the first half of the second century.

Chapter 22: The Johannine Epistles
There is evidence these epistles of John were written by the author of the Fourth Gospel. The purpose of the first epistle was to build up the faith of a community known only to the author. The second epistle is a warning against those holding heretical views. The third epistle threatens to expose Diotrephes who refused hospitality to some missionaries.

Chapter 23: The Teaching of The Church
The core of the earliest Christian kerygma consisted in the proclamation that Jesus had by his life, resurrection, exaltation, and pouring forth of the spirit been proved to be from God, that he would return in judgement, and that salvation was offered to those who repented and received baptism in His name.

Chapter 24: The Study of The Revelation
Was the eschatological expectation of Jesus expressed in the crude material forms of contemporary Jewish apocalyptic, or do such passages in the gospels represent the distortion of his original message under the influence of Christian prophecy?

Chapter 25: The Revelation of John
There is no ‘teaching’ as such in the Revelation. Even in the letters to the churches it is not teaching which is given, but commands from the Spirit, and the main purpose of the book as a whole is the revelation of the future.

Chapter 26: The Place of Apocalyptic in The Teaching of Jesus and of The Early Church
The expectation of the recurring theme of the imminent end of the present age and the approaching judgement was not fulfilled and many earnest Christians throughout the centuries have echoed the words of the ‘mockers’ in 2 Pet. 3:4. ‘Where is the promise of his coming...?’

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