Part of my preparation for my comprehensive exam next month, I must master the basic contours of the second half of the Christian Bible—the New Testament. While I am just scratching the surface, I have found this study so rewarding that I want to share my method and some of its fruits.
During the covid months of June, July, and August, I embarked on a journey to go through the New Testament several times. First, I listened to the New Testament in the NIV (dramatized on Bible.is app) while commuting to work. This helps me think through the text during the day.
Second, I systematically read all twenty-seven books in one sitting at least twice (with some occasional unplanned breaks). Reading each book in one sitting made me follow the biblical writer’s argument and aim for writing. I was using the ESV Scripture Journals. I bought the whole NT (and OT) set.
Third, on my second reading, I took my colored pencils, markers, and pens and started marking repeated ideas, words/phrases, throughout the book. The ESV Scripture Journals were perfect for this.
Fourth, I started looking up key and repeated words and phrases in the Greek text. I read a couple shorter epistles in the Greek text, but time and ability prevented me from doing this for all 27 books. I also started jotting down the book’s structure, literary devices (e.g., inclusios, possible chiasms, etc.), and the biblical writer’s purpose statement if explicitly stated (e.g., John 20:30–31; 1 Tim 3:14–16; 1 Pet 5:12; 1 John 5:13).
Lastly, I compared my observations with secondary sources and took a lot of notes.
Some Fruits: Melodic Line of Each NT Book
I am not planning on sharing all the notes I took (200 pages of random notes), but one of my goals is to state the overall message of each book in one sentence. Many call this the theme or theological message of each book. To those familiar with Charles Simeon Trust, they call this the melodic line of each book.
A melodic line is a short sequence of notes that form a distinctive portion of a song. It may be part of the main melody that gets repeated and varied. Books of the Bible work the same way. Each book has a melodic line, an essence that informs what the book is about. And each passage in the book, then, will serve that melodic line in some way. So, in preaching, we might ask, what is the essence of my book? And how is my particular passage informing it and informed by it?David Helm, Expositional Preaching, p. 47.
Notice that each of the Gospels start with Jesus as the subject, which is in keeping with their purpose: to present their portrait of the words and works of Jesus. Yet beginning in Acts all the way to Jude, I shifted the subject to the church. While the Bible is primarily about Jesus, Acts and the letters are concerned about or addressed to local churches (or pastors/leaders of churches). The Book of Revelation ties in the whole storyline of the Bible on what God is doing in the history of redemption through Christ.
I often tell my students that the best theme statements should not be more than 12 words to remain effective. I also understand that lumping all the key words together does not necessarily indicate the biblical writer’s main point, and often doing that overshadows the main point. But I’m breaking my own rules. My goal is to write in one sentence how the key ideas in each book relate to its main point. Hopefully it sounds more organic and less artificial.
So, here is my attempt—and any comments for improvement are always welcome.
|Matthew||Jesus the Emmanuel is the Messianic Sovereign King|
with ultimate authority who demands full allegiance.
|Mark||Jesus the Son of Man is the Messianic Servant|
who suffered in the place of his people.
|Luke||Jesus the Son of Adam is the Messianic Savior who, through the Spirit, seeks sinners and forgives those who repent & believe.|
|John||Jesus the Word is the Messianic Son of God|
who gives life to those who believe in him.
|Acts||The church, through the Spirit using the Word and prayer, testifies Christ’s death and resurrection for the sake of Christ’s name and for the joyful salvation of the nations.|
|Romans||The church lives in righteousness because God justly declared righteous His unrighteous people by faith alone in Christ.|
|1 Cor.||The church, as one body in Christ, maintains unity, purity, and love through the gospel by the Spirit for the building of the church and the glory of God.|
|2 Cor.||The church and its leaders have comfort and joy despite afflictions in the ministry because of the love and sufficient grace of Christ.|
|Galatians||The church safeguards the Gospel truth of justification by faith alone which liberates God’s people from the law to live for Christ through the Spirit.|
|Ephesians||The church, with love and unity, displays to the cosmos the glory of the Father as the church walks worthy of her gracious calling in Christ.|
|Philippians||The church, with gospel partnership and gospel growth,|
rejoices in Christ despite difficult circumstances.
|Colossians||The church walks in union with the Preeminent & all-wise Christ towards maturity & fruitfulness in the Gospel against worldly philosophies & passions.|
|1 Thess.||The church, having received the Word of the Gospel,|
walks in love and holiness, until Jesus comes again.
|2 Thess.||The church endures and grows despite persecution|
through the comfort of the coming of Christ.
|1 Timothy||Pastors must teach and practice sound doctrine|
unto godliness and proper church conduct for the perseverance of faith.
|2 Timothy||Pastors must unashamedly continue to teach the Word of truth|
and guard the Gospel with endurance until the end.
|Titus||Pastors must set the church in order|
by teaching sound doctrine unto good works.
|Philemon||The church loves and forgives one another |
because they are brothers and sisters in Christ.
|Hebrews||The church must persevere and not forsake the superior Christ,|
who is the perfecter of our faith.
|James||The church, while experiencing trials,|
depends on the wisdom of God, not worldly wisdom.
|1 Peter||The church rejoices in hope and holiness while suffering as pilgrims, because Christ also suffered for his new people.|
|2 Peter||The church is established in the grace and knowledge of Christ|
against false teachers through God’s Word.
|1 John||The church knows that they have eternal life as evidenced by their love for brothers & sisters, confession of Christ, and abiding in God’s commandments.|
|2 John||The church walks in truth and love|
by separating from false teachers.
|3 John||The church walks in truth and love|
by uniting and welcoming brothers and sisters in Christ.
|Jude||The church contends for the faith|
and holds fast to the love of God.
|Revelation||God, through the conquering lamb, King Jesus, pours his holy wrath in judgment, executes final salvation in restoration, and receives worship from all creatures.|
Studying the New Testament has brought me to adoration and confession. How can I not believe that this is God’s Word? Whether I pass my exams or not, this was totally worth it. No regrets.