The Story of the New Testament

by Edgar J. Goodspeed

Edgar J. Goodspeed (1871-1962) was a scholar of Greek and a New Testament translator (An American Translation). Published by The University of Chicago Press, copyright 1916 and 1929.

This material prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) The situations out of which each of the books of the New Testament grew, and how each book met that situation.


  • Introduction

    Christianity began its world-career as a hope of Jesus’ messianic return; it very soon became a permanent and organized church. The books of the New Testament show us those first eschatological expectations gradually accommodating themselves to conditions of permanent existence.

  • Preface

    New Testament study is not a closed system but a living and vigorous discipline, and its progress during the first quarter of the 20th century has been such that some revision is now necessary if the book is to continue to give its readers a sound historical view of the New Testament.

  • Chapter 1: The Letters to the Thessalonians

    Paul began Christian literature with these two short letters. Before he was finished with his missionary journeys he had written more than one-fourth of what is now included in the New Testament. In these first letters we see the difficulties that already were besetting the small new groups of Christians, and the patience, skill, and boldness with which their founder looked after their development.

  • Chapter 2:<B> </B>The Letter to the Galatians

    The demand of the newcomers in Galatia that the Christians there should undertake some of the practices of the Jewish law, such as circumcision and the religious observance of certain days, Paul denounces as unreasonable and dangerous. In opposition to these claims, he affirms with his very first words that he is an apostle, divinely commissioned, with an authority quite independent of that of the apostles at Jerusalem.

  • Chapter 3: The First Letter to the Corinthians

    Paul addresses the problems of his Corinthian correspondents from their petty disputes about their favorite preachers to the serene heights of the lyric on love and the vision of the resurrection.

  • Chapter 4: The Second Letter to the Corinthians

    The first letter did not accomplish the task intended. Paul sets forth again in a conciliatory tone, his ideals and methods in his ministry. In every part of this letter Paul shows that warm affection for the Corinthians which made his difference with them so painful to him.

  • Chapter 5: The Letter to the Romans

    The good news is that God has now through Christ revealed the true way to become righteous and so acceptable to him. This is accomplished through faith, which is not intellectual assent to this or that, but a relation of trustful and obedient dependence upon God, and is fully revealed through Christ. This letter is an excellent expression of Paul’s theology.

  • Chapter 6:<B> </B>The Letter to the Philippians

    Amid the divisions and differences — with Barnabas, Mark, Peter, the Jerusalem pillars, the Corinthians, the Galatians and their teachers — which attended the career of Paul, it is refreshing to find one church that never misunderstood him, but supported him loyally with men and money when he was at the height of his missionary preaching and when he was shut up in prison.

  • Chapter 7: The Letters to Philemon, to the Colossians, and to the Ephesians

    Paul’s belief in the speedy return of Jesus made him attach little importance to freedom or servitude. Hence his attitude towards Philemon’s slave, Onesimus. Still a prisoner at Rome, Paul could not visit Colossae and instruct the Christians there in person, but he could write a letter and send it to them by one of his helpers, who was also to conduct Onesimus back to his master Philemon. The letter to the Ephesians is a general letter to all Christians, and was written by some gifted and devoted follower of Paul, to introduce the collected letters to the churches everywhere, and strike the great note of unity in Christ which the times so demanded.

  • Chapter 8: The Gospel According to Mark

    Mark saw at once the great loss the churches would sustain if Peter’s recollections of Jesus perished, and at the same time he saw a way to preserve at least the best part of them for the comfort and instruction of the Roman believers. Despite the richness of the more comprehensive works of Matthew and Luke, no more convincing or dramatic account has been written of the sublime and heroic effort of Jesus to bring forth the great task of the Kingdom.

  • Chapter 9:<B> </B>The Gospel According to Matthew

    The book of Matthew harmonized and unified the diverse materials relating to Jesus’ life and teaching which were available to the writer. And it did these things with an intuitive sense for religious values that has given it its unique position ever since.

  • Chapter 10: The Gospel According to Luke

    Luke traces the ancestry of Jesus not simply to David and Abraham, but back to Adam the son of God, thus emphasizing his human nature more than his Jewish blood, and preparing the way for his later emphasis on the universal elements in Jesus’ ministry. More than any other evangelist Luke claims to have a historical purpose. His aim is to acquaint himself with all the sources, oral and written, for his work, and to set forth in order the results he ascertains.

  • Chapter 11:<B> </B>The Acts of the Apostles

    Some were still alive who knew what courage and perseverance and faith it had taken to bring about the spread of Christianity through the Roman world, and they felt that it would strengthen the faith and stimulate the zeal of the Christian believers around them to hear the story from the beginning. In such a spirit the physician Luke, perhaps in some city on the Aegean Sea like Ephesus, began to write the story of the Greek mission.

  • Chapter 12:<B> </B>The Revelation of John

    So symbolic and enigmatical is the language of the Revelation of John that few outside of Jewish or Christian circles can have understood its meaning, or guessed that by Babylon the prophet meant the Roman Empire. Its value to the frightened and wavering Christians of Asia must have been great, for it promised them an early and complete deliverance, and cheered them to steadfastness and devotion.

  • Chapter 13:<B> </B>The Epistle to the Hebrews

    To show his readers the extraordinary value of what they are in danger of throwing away, the writer proceeds to explain to them the messianic priesthood of Christ and its superiority to the old Jewish priesthood. To Jesus’ religious significance the writer couples the practical lesson of drawing near to God through the new and living way which Jesus has opened.

  • Chapter 14: The First Epistle of Peter

    The Empire’s condemnation of the Christians put a peculiar strain upon the churches all over the Roman world. The ignorant masses already regarded the Christians as depraved and vicious and credited them with eating human flesh and with other monstrous practices. But quite aside from this the Empire had adjudged being a Christian a crime punishable by death. In this situation a Christian elder of Rome wrote to his brethren throughout Asia Minor a letter of advice and encouragement.

  • Chapter 15:<B> </B>The Epistle of James

    In James the Christian preacher tells his hearers that life’s trials, vicissitudes, and temptations will perfect character, if they are met in dependence upon God. But his hearers must not merely profess religion, but really practice purity and humanity. They must be doers that work, not hearers that forget.

  • Chapter 16:<B> </B>The Letters of John

    Who the writer of these letters was, the Asian Elder, is uncertain. There is no need to identify him with the prophet John of the Revelation, although to him the letters have always been ascribed. Perhaps he could have been the one sending them out from Ephesus, one to Gaius, one to the church to which he belonged, and one to that and other churches with the assurance that the Christian experience and belief in Jesus as the Christ would save them from the mistakes of Docetism.

  • Chapter 17: The Gospel According to John

    Early in the second century a Christian leader of Ephesus, well acquainted with the early Gospels and deeply influenced by the letters of Paul, put forth a new interpretation of the spiritual significance of Jesus in terms of Greek thought, for Christianity and Judaism by then had parted company. Christianity found itself now, almost totally Greek, Gentile. As a result, Paul had laid great emphasis upon faith in Jesus the risen Christ, glorified at God’s right hand, and had attached little importance to knowing the historical Jesus in Palestine.

  • Chapter 18: The Letters to Timothy and to Titus

    The value of these letters lay in the practical direction they gave the churches of their time, showing them how to readjust their high hopes of Jesus’ return and to set themselves to the task of establishing and perpetuating their work. In these little letters we see the church after the lofty enthusiasm of its first great experience settling down to the common life of the common day and grappling with its age-long task.

  • Chapter 19: The Epistle of Jude and the Second Epistle of Peter

    Who this Jude was we cannot tell. He looks back upon the age of the apostles, asking his readers to recollect how they have foretold that as time draws on toward the end scoffers will appear. A generation after this vigorous letter was written it was taken over almost word for word into what we know as Second Peter.

  • Chapter 20: The Making of the New Testament

    How and when did these collections of letters and writings become scripture? When the latest book of the New Testament had been written, there was still no New Testament. Its books had to be collected and credited with a peculiar authority before the New Testament could be said to exist. What led to this collection and estimate?