The New Testament Explosion
Many books in a short span of time
Review some numbers with me. There are 66 books in the Bible—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
The Old Testament not only contains more books than the New, its books were written over a longer period of time. If we accept an early date for the exodus in 1446 BC (which I won’t take time to defend in this article), then Moses was writing the Torah—Genesis through Deuteronomy—during the 1400s BC. And if we grant that the latest Old Testament prophet was Malachi, then we would locate the composition of his prophetic oracles in the 400s BC.
Take a look at that span of time. From the 1400s to the 400s BC, the Old Testament would have been composed over a thousand-year period. Obviously there were Old Testament events that took place earlier than the days of Moses, but here we’re thinking about the time of composition of the books themselves—from Moses to Malachi. Thirty-nine books during a thousand years.
What about the New Testament? We’re now dealing with 27 books written during a much smaller window of time. How small a window?
Conservative New Testament scholars will often suggest that the earliest New Testament books were some letters, particularly the letters of James or Galatians—but neither of these would have been written earlier than AD 45. The latest New Testament book may have been Revelation, with its latest composition date being AD 95.
A reasonable window of time for the composition of all New Testament books is between AD 45 and 95—that’s fifty years. Fifty.
Now compare fifty years to a thousand! The difference is staggering. While the Old Testament was composed over a long period of time, the literature of the New Testament was more like an explosion. The 27 books consist of four Gospels, a history of key events and people in the early church, twenty-one letters, and an apocalypse.
If we consider what the Two Testaments report, the great time difference between their compositions makes sense. The Old Testament was forward-looking, reporting the acts of God in the history of Israel and advancing the hope for a deliverer who would come to rescue sinners. The Old Testament era was about promises, predictions, and patterns.
The New Testament, on the other hand, was the era of fulfillment. The Messiah had come, and the various types and shadows and prophecies came rushing together in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Long-held hopes had met the awaited One.
The books of the New Testament make up about ¼ of the Bible. That may not seem like much in terms of space, but 27 books in less than 50 years during the first century AD is an incredible amount of literature. The various New Testament authors must have believed something very important had happened. They wanted news to be spread fast and far. The New Testament exists because God kept his Old Testament promises.
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