When Did the New Testament Begin?


Posted by Matt Postiff June 7, 2018 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology 

A quick thought. I was just reading someone who said regarding the structure of the Bible, "There are two testaments; no one questions that."

And I won't question it. But I will ask a related question: When does the New Testament actually begin? The easy answer is "the book of Matthew." But of course, Matthew was written somewhat after the events it records were over. So maybe we should be more precise and say something like "at the incarnation."

But is even that answer correct? I don't think it is so simple. In Matthew 10:5-6, the Lord commissioned the disciples to take the kingdom-at-hand message to the house of Israel. He specifically told them not to go to Gentiles or Samaritans. This certainly doesn't sound New Testament-ish.

Matthew 11:13 says, "all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John [the Baptist]." I take it that Jesus is classifying John as an Old Testament prophet. He is the last of those prophets. He is certainly a transitional figure as he called the nation to be prepared for the coming one. But his close ties to the Old Testament and his prophetic calling for repentance supports the notion that the "New Testament" doesn't really start with the ministry of John.

In Matthew 23:2-3, Jesus said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." It is clear that Jesus is telling the people, even at this late date in His ministry, that they are responsible to keep the law of Moses and submit to the authority of even its errant administrators. This is not a New Testament mindset. I can't imagine Paul saying those same words in light of Romans 6 and the New Testament situation in which he existed.

So when did the New Testament begin? We might place it at the great "It is finished" recorded in John 19:30, or at the subsequent resurrection of Christ, or at the giving of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Or, better yet, how about at Pentecost with the full coming of the Spirit's new ministry after the Lord's assigned "wait in Jerusalem" period was over (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1)? This birth of the church seems to mark the real starting point of the new era. We call that the New Testament era. We will leave for another time a discussion of precisely how the church relates to the New Covenant that gives our New Testament its name.

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