What was the first-written book of the New Testament?
If you answered “Matthew”, you might want to read up a bit on what scholars currently know about the bible.
Most scholars believe First Thessalonians was the first book in the New Testament written. What about the Gospels? Is Matthew the first Gospel written? Wrong again. The first gospel written is widely believed to be Mark. Mark — without the extra verses tacked on at the end — is considered one of the best sources we have of what early Christians had for a bible.
Why didn’t they just use a regular bible? Well because people didn’t have bibles until almost 300 years after Jesus lived. Up until that point all that people had were letters that they shared and read.
So what was it like to live just a few years after Jesus was on Earth? You had the book of Mark written in Greek and perhaps bits of the other gospels. Probably lots of letters that aren’t in the modern bible, like the Book of Thomas. Churches were informal groups of people without any of the church offices we have today. Some, maybe most churches hung on to Jewish tradition. One of the first things people had to figure out was: given this story of Jesus, what did it all add up to?
John Carroll, an unbeliever but expert in Greek, takes on the story of Jesus from this early perspective in The Existential Jesus
Going back far enough, you lose a lot of the current religious dogma surrounding the gospels — for instance, the trinity was debated hundreds of years later. In Mark’s Jesus there is no immaculate conception at the beginning, and there is no Christ ascending into heaven in the end. These things came in later books (sometimes decades later)
Instead you find a mystery. A mystery so deep that people have been striving for centuries to understand and expound on it.
I found this book to be very compelling and illuminating. Even for atheists, it’s obvious that something very interesting and important to humanity happened in Judea in the early first century. I, for one, think that my atheist friends can admit that there probably was a person who filled the role of historical Jesus. Given that presumption, a logical question is what information early adherents had — why was Jesus’ story any different from any of the other apocalyptic preachers of that age?
For those friends, and for my Christian friends who are able to put aside dogma and strict rules of what to believe and not believe, I challenge them to read this book. In the end, I found a powerful story about existence, being, and purpose. Highly recommended.If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.