An Introduction to the New Testament, Gospel
Literature and the Book of Mark
By Reid S. Monaghan
Each of our lives is defined by various moments, events and decisions as we travel in life from beginning to end. The journey we travel has twists and turns, ups and downs requiring a unique perspective if we are "to see" our way forward in the mission of Jesus. Often people look to the life of Jesus to find a moral example, to find encouragement, or to learn a life lesson. We find all of these when our gaze finds the living Jesus. Yet the story of Jesus is much more than the recounting of a great person and his teachings - it is the story by which all of us are defined. This fall at Inversion we are going to journey to some of the peaks of the gospel of Mark seeking to define our lives in light of the great hero of history - the crucified and risen Son of God.
This past spring we looked closely at a book in the Old Testament -this year we will walk into the New. So as we begin our journey I thought it would be helpful for us to do a little New Testament overview together. This article has a few ambitious goals. First, we want to introduce the New Testament and its relationship to the rest of the Scriptures. Second, we want to look at a particular genre of Scripture, that of gospel literature. In doing so we will look specifically at what are known as the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Third, we will rifle our view towards the gospel of Mark itself, a fast paced and succinct look at the person, teaching and works of Jesus Christ. Finally, we'll close together as we find our way by finding him, giving an overview of our series and the Signposts for life carved out in the most extraordinary life ever lived.
Testaments - Something Old, Something New
When we arrive at the book of Matthew in Scripture there is a mass of literature that has come before it. Many followers of Jesus can forget that there are 39 books of the Bible before we come to the first book of the New Testament. We labored in detail elsewhere to communicate the importance of the Old Testament...why the Old School matters so much. So here I want us to look briefly at the relationships between the Old and New as we begin, so we might see the significance of the last 27 books of the Bible. In a simple way we will begin by looking at the word Testament. What exactly is a Testament?
Now I know you may be able to pick up some Testamints in a Christian bookstore among the other Jesus junk, but there is much more to the word. In looking at the language of the Scriptures the word for testament is actually the same word (Greek - διαθήκη diathēkē and Hebrew - בְּרִית berith) which we translate covenant. If you remember from our introduction to the Old Testament, we defined a covenant as follows:
The idea of a covenant was prominent in many cultures that existed in the time of the Old Testament. A covenant was usually seen as a treaty or contract between two parties binding them to certain benefits and consequences should one party prove unfaithful to the deal. In his book Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson defines a covenant with firm sobriety: A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death, sovereignly administered. In other words a covenant is a bond between two parties in relationship that is not casual in nature but has commitments of a life and death nature. As such this relationship and its terms are conveyed to us and established by the Sovereign God of the universe. It is both a privilege and a responsibility before God to be his people by covenant.
In short, in the Old Testament, God establishes and unfolds his covenant or relationship with humanity, in the New Testament he fulfills it and brings it to fullness in Jesus Christ. Or as Mark Dever aptly puts it, the Old Testament records promises made by God, the New Testament records his promises kept. The New Testament is not a dangling grouping of books unrelated to the rest of Scripture. Rather, we find in the New Testament the revelation of the life, person, work and teaching of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God. Remember, Jesus is only seen in his fullness (High Def, HD Jesus) in light of both the Old and New Testaments. It is only in the backdrop of the redemptive history in the Old that we properly see Jesus in the New.
The Old Testament closes with the book of Malachi in mid 5th century BC. That particular book records a prophetic rebuke to the people of God but also a pointing forward to a coming messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord. This messenger would be known some day as John the Baptizer, the one who introduces Jesus onto the world scene. In the roughly 450 years that follow this prophet, an era known as the intertestimental period, the word of God ceased in Israel and God was silent. There was no prophet in the land and Scripture was not being given. Yet this silence should not be seen as inactivity, for God was preparing the world for what Paul would later call "the fullness of time." For in the coming time of Jesus, God's ultimate purposes for the world would be fully known in and through a man who would be born in Bethlehem.
During the time between the testaments many things took place. A Greek language and culture was established as much of the known world was Hellenized by the conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). Vast transportation routes and law and order were brought to Europe, North Africa and the near east by the firm hand of the Roman Empire. The Romans had a tenuous relationship with the Jewish people in the province of Judea and they had adopted the ancient Persian practice of crucifixion to execute criminals and enemies of Rome. It was into this world where God became a human being. He stepped into a world with a common language where a message could be widely proclaimed. He stepped into a world where free movement was possible, and the trade routes and port cities of the empire became the seedbeds of the Church. He stepped into a world where a Roman cross was waiting, a world where the Son of God would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities as predicted in the fifty third chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah. Into this world Jesus lived and died; it was in this world that the gospel rang forth and has continued until this day. So the New Testament begins in a proper place, with the story of Jesus in the gospels. In these books, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we find a body of literature passionately proclaiming and presenting Jesus before a waiting world. Before turning to these gospels let us first look at the overall breakdown of the New Testament.
 Reid Monaghan, An Old Testament Overview and Introduction to the Prophecy of Habakkuk (Inversion Fellowship, 2007, accessed August 2 2007); available from http://www.inversionfellowship.org/mediafiles/article_oldschool_paper.pdf.
 Reid Monaghan, The Importance of the Old Testament - Hd Jesus (Power of Change, 2007, accessed August 2 2007); available from http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2007/01/the_importance_of_the_old_test_2.html.
 Galatians 4:4-6 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" For an excellent study of the influence of early Christianity in port cities see Rodney Stark, Cities of God : The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome, 1st ed. ([San Francisco?]: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).