The Shape of the New Testament

The New Testament is made up of 27 Books, the order in which they have come to us doesn’t create quite the same even pattern we see in the Old Testament, but there is a shape that balances different perspectives for us. My father used to teach it as a gateway a model that he had developed from a previous scholar A.T Pierson.

The model works because there are two “columns”, each of nine books, that progress in order representing a church or global perspective on matching subjects. He then built these on the steps of the Gospels and Acts and capped them with a lintel made up of the letters to individuals. I’ve reproduced a scan of the model at the bottom of this page.

It works but is a bit complex to remember easily, nor to insert the complex relationships between various books. But the parallel progression of 9 books to Churches and then 9 books from Church Leaders is I am sure key to any understanding of the New Testament meta-narrative.

The other 9 books form a progression in themselves, from Four Eye-witness Accounts of all that Jesus began to do and teach, (note I consider Luke to be an eye-witness, but that is another post). Through a single history of the Gospel spreading  out North, South, East and West to be balanced by four letters to a new generation of leaders who have only known Jesus by faith, testimony and the Holy Spirit. In that sense they connect to every generation that has come since back to that first generation.



New Witness
A Royal PerspectiveMatthew


1 TimothyLook after yourself, the messenger.
A Servants PerspectiveMark2 TimothyLook after the message
A Historical PerspectiveLukeTitusLook after the ministry
A Heavenly PerspectiveJohnPhilemonLook after the community

Now looking at the remaining 18 books of the New Testament we can think of them like this, see table. Note the pattern in terms of theme progressing in terms of connection to the experience of Jesus from the Cross through to the Second Coming.

Connected to Jesus' experience.

Letters to Churches

Theological Emphasis

Letters from Leaders

Death, Burial and Resurrection
Legal Righteousness
- Jesus is: The propitiatory sacrifice, 4v25.

Ceremonial Righteousness
- The Captain of Salvation bringing Sons to Glory, 2v10
- The cleansing High Priest of our confession, 3v1.

Breathing on/in the Holy Spirit
1 Corinthians
- Christ is the Wisdom and Power of God, 1v30, 2v3-4
- The Foundation Rock, 10v4+
- The first fruits of Resurrection, 15 .

Church Order
(loosing and bridling the tongue)
- Jesus is the Lord who is a brother to James who is an equal family member to all believers 1v9-12, 2v1,5v12.
2 Corinthians
Struggles of the co-worker with Christ.
- Jesus presented as the "yes" and "amen" of God's promises1v20,
- As head of the triumph, 2v14
- As the presiding judge, 5v10+

(both inner and outer)
1 Peter
The church finds an empathy in its suffering with their suffering, 4v13
- Jesus is the pure and innocent Lamb slain before the foundation of the Earth, 1v19.
The highest example to us, 2v21.

40 Days Walking in Resurrection
Freedom from Legality.
- See Jesus as the paradoxically redeeming innocent curse, 3v13.

2 Peter
Freedom from Licence.
- Jesus is the one who shares his own divine nature with us, 1v4.

The growth upwards of the Church.
- Jesus is summing up all things, 1v10
- Under his headship, 4v15.

1 John
The growth upwards of the individual.
- Christ is the Mercy Seat for our failures, 2v1, 4v10
- He is the pure example we aim for 3v3
- Savior of the World, 4v14.

Anointing with Joy
The Joy of Jesus.
- Jesus is presented as the source and reason for all righteousness, peace and joy in us, 3v8-9.

Doctrine of Christ
2 John
That your joy may be complete
- by receiving Jesus as the teacher and instructor, v9.

Made Head over All Things
Christ in you the hope of glory...
- 1v27, 3v15-16

Christ in You
3 John
Versus Diotrephes - means "fed by Zeus" counterfeit Glory.
- Jesus is seen cryptically as the "truth", v4, 12.

Second Coming
1 Thessalonians
Focuses on the Godly
- Jesus is coming, 1v10
- for us, 2v19
- to establish us, 3v13
- with those who have already died in Him, 4v14 .

Return of Jesus
Focuses on the Ungodly.
- Jesus is "our God and Savior" able to rescue and keep us, v24-25.
2 Thessalonians
The Man of Lawlessness (the antichrist) as counterpoint to Jesus.
- Who is coming in his people, 1v10.

End of the Age
The Christ.
- Presented in His full deity in the form of a man, 1v10-18
- as an eternal slain Lamb, 5v6.

The Original Gateway to the New Testament…

NT Gateway Graphic


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