Summary of introduction to the new testament
Louis Berkof by systematically addressing the origin of the Gospel and the Epistles of the New Testament, their content, characteristics, authorship, composition, and canonical significance, Takes on the difficult undertaking of ensuring that the New Testament is accurately understood within what he perceives is the correct historical setting. Berkhof primarily intended this book for his students at Calvin Theological Seminary where he taught for nearly 30 years. Introduction to the New Testament incorporates the research and labors of many past scholars, and church Fathers, and presents it in such a way as to make “Introduction to the New Testament” a diverse and authoritative study.
The Gospel in General
Louis Berkhof takes the position that the early Church consciously perceived the four books of Jesus’s Ministry, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as a single Gospel. Berkhof cites in his defense Irenaeus writing that states “The Gospel is essentially fourfold” and Augustine who writes of the Gospel that they are “the four Gospels, or rather, the four books of one Gospel”. This concept of viewing the four treatises writers as a single Gospel binds the four even the more tightly to one another, to wit Berkhof calls them fourfold portraiture of the Saviour, or a fourfold representation of the Apostolic Christ.
The Synoptic Problem
Louis Berkhof does not try to deny the differences in content, wording, and order, of the synoptic Gospel, but rather addresses the four most common theories by scholars that attempt to explain those differences away. Finding holes in all four of the theories himself Berkhof suggests that the possible answer may be a combination of oral tradition, Petrine influence, and many other factors. Then the author infers that the answer is hidden in the first two verses of the Gospel of Luke. “1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word”.
The Johannine Problem
How do we justify the vast differences in the synoptic Gospel and the Gospel of John?. This very question has come to be known as simply the “Johannine Problem”. In an attempt to answer this problem Berkhof divides the problem into two categories. First those “Differences Touching the External Coarse of Events in the Lords ministry” and second, those “Differences in Regard to the Form and Content of the Lord’s Teaching.” When considering the two categories, Berkhof accounts for the differences using four simple arguments; • We should not lose sight of the true character of John’s writing. Moreover, neither John’s Gospel nor the Synoptic Gospel was meant to be a history of the Lord’s earthly life, but rather a pen-picture taken from a particular view of the Apostolic Christ. • The intent when John wrote the Gospel as it says in Chapter 20 verse 31 “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Therefore, John naturally speaks of Christ rather than the Kingdom of God, and he does those things that as much as possible proves that Jesus is Christ.
• John was acquainted with the other Gospels and avoided as much as possible repeating facts that were already known. This is seen in how he writes the Gospel, it appears he has a pre-supposition that the readers had some basic knowledge of the certain facts. In Chapter 6 verses 51-58 John presumes that the reader understands the Lord’s Supper, though he never explains the ascension there is from scripture the assumption that the reader had a previous knowledge of it. ( John 6:62, 20:17) • Finally, The Gospel of John has the stamp of the author. John was a much deeper, spiritual, thinker, and pondered the mysteries of Jesus Christ. There was no other apostle that was able to describe the divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Inspiration of the Gospel
Berkhof confronts the perception of early scholars that the Gospel is not inspirational composed, He then further comes into opposition to those scholars that do not wish to deny the divine inspiration of the Gospel but choose to ignore this prerogative when investigating its historical origins. • In defending his point against those that deny that the gospel written by inspiration of God, Berkhof flagrantly proclaims, “Over against this position we hold that the Gospels were written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that they are therefore absolutely trustworthy and authoritative accounts of the life of our Lord.” To defend his position Berkhof list but a few passages from scriptures that support his position.
• As for those that admit the inspiration of the Old Testament Prophets, but deny that the Apostles were inspired because they did not use the expression “Thus Saith the Lord” or did not observe the characteristic phenomena that accompanied the inspiration of the prophets, Berkhof gives three points in distinguishing the inspiration of the prophets from the inspiration of the Apostles. o In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit took possession of the Prophets sometime suppressing their personality, while in the New Testament the Holy Spirit aboded in the Church and first the Apostle using them as instruments to produce His revelation.
o For the Old Testament Prophets the Holy Spirit was an external Power that impelled them to prophesy. While for the Apostles the Holy Spirit was an intermediate that led to them to speak the word of God. o The Prophet spoke of unknown things, while the Apostles spoke of what they had seen and heard; The Holy Spirit operated out of the imagination of the prophets, while He operated out of the understanding, memory and reflection of the apostles. After addressing those the would deny the inspiration of the Gospel Berkhof give six reasons to believe the Gospel is the word of God and thus divinely inspire. This list of reasons to believe are; • The contents of the Gospels testify to their divine origin, • It is filled with prophecy that awaits fulfillment
• At least two of our Gospels were written by apostles who in speaking to their contemporaries, were inspired by the Spirit of God. • There are other scripture passages that point to the inspiration of the Gospel. • The fact that the early Church from the very beginning accepted these Gospels as canonical. • Finally the Holy Spirit testifies in the heart of every believer to the divine character of the Gospels, so that they feel assured that these writings contain the very Word of God. The Canonical Significance of the Gospel
Berkhof speaks of the Gospel as a foundation for which the rest of the New Testament is built. The Gospel contains the methods and substance of all that Jesus Christ began to do and teach, the completion of which is found in the work of the apostles and all that believed on His name.
The Epistles in General
Berkhof begins his conversation on the epistles in general by eloquently apologizing the epistolary form of Biblical literature. He suggests that this form of literature is not exclusive to the New Testament and uses a few passages from the Old Testament in support of his conviction. He then quickly separates the letters of the Old Testament from the epistles of the New Testament, highlighting the advantages that are exclusive of the epistle that we know today.
Inspiration of the Epistles
Louis Berkhof equates the epistles with the Gospels and the book of Act as divinely inspired. Reasoning that since the Apostles were inspired that the fruit of their actions whether sermons or letters were thereby inspired as well. Berkhof further reasons that the apostles were evidently conscious of being inspired by the Holy Ghost in the composition of their epistles. Moreover, he provides scripture from the epistle that suggests that the apostles knew they were divinely inspired.
The Canonical Significance of the Epistles
Berkhof describes the Epistles as being built on the foundation of the Gospel. Whereas the Gospel shows how Christ was preached to the world, the Epistles shows us how Christ was preached to the Church. In the epistles we see the inner working of the local body of Christ at its inception. Through them we see how the teaching of Jesus Christ was properly received, how it was received in error, and how some willfully perverted the the teaching to their own destruction.
The Epistles do not represent the irresistible motivation of the Holy Spirit as it did with the prophets, Much different with the prophets the apostle wrote the epistles out of their own intellect, engaging the reader to search the scripture, to be pricked in the heart and to call them to action. In the Epistles we have a less prominent divine factor than with the Prophets, The Epistles were calculated to train the minds of men through assimilation of the truth. Classification of the Epistles
Louis Berkhof identifies the Epistles in two major classifications, First the Pauline Epistles and the General Epistles.
Of the Pauline Epistles Berkhof further divides the Epistles into; • Those written during the period of Paul’s missionary activity. Which includes First and Second Thessalonians, the epistle to the Galatians, First and Second Corinthians, and the epistle to the Romans. • Those epistles that were written during Paul’s imprisonment. Which includes Ephesians, Colossians; Philemon, and the Epistle to the Philippians. • Those Epistles written after Paul’s release from Roman prisons. Which includes, First and Second Timothy, and the Epistle of Titus ( there is an uncertainty of the authorship of Hebrews)
The General Epistles
There are seven epistles written by apostles and leaders exclusive of Paul, they are called general epistles, the writing has a more Jewish type of Christianity in how they are written. Berkhof divides the General Epistles in this way; • Those Epistles written to a community of Christians. Which includes the Epistle of James, the First and Second Epistles of Peter, The First Epistle of John, and the Epistle of Jude. • Those Epistles written to a certain individual. Which includes The Second and Third Epistles of John.
The Revelation of John
Louis Berkhof separates the Revelation of John from the other Epistles in his classifications however, just as the other Epistiles he systematically addresses the origin its content, characteristics, authorship, composition and canonical significance in the same way.
Interpretation of Introduction to the New Testament
Louis Berkhof makes no claim to originality in his book Introduction to the New Testament. He overtly admits to assimilating the research and labors of many past scholars, and church Fathers, to create a work all his own. In doing so he lays hold of the expression. “ He has milked a lot of different cows, but churned his own butter” The injection of German phrases throughout the book seemed to have no reason or ryhmn, and actually made the book more difficult to read for little or no effect what-so-ever. However, overall the book was written with the student in mind, systematically and concisely, which provide the reader time to take notes.
Why Four Gospels?
The issue of why there are four different Gospels has always been a problem to me. This was especially true when I tried to reconcile the difference in genealogy or events, or times from one Gospel author to another. However, I believe that Louis Berkhof provides in his book three key points that should be considered when comparing the four accounts of the Gospel. These three points are first, that the Gospel is not an exhaustive account of the life of Jesus Christ; secondly, without all four accounts it is impossible to get a complete portrait Christ and His ministry; thirdly, each Gospel account presents a distinct perspective on the life, and ministry of Jesus Christ. • The Gospel are not written as to be a biography of the life of Jesus Christ as they would have been if written by the authors of today Instead they were originally written in a common ancient method of highlighting key events or themes. Unfortunately all that we have about Jesus Christ is contained in the four accounts of the Gospel, however,these accounts are not meant to be an exhaustive representation of the life, or ministry of our Lord. (John 21:25)
• Without all four accounts it is impossible to get a complete portrait Christ and His ministry. There is a harmonizing effect of the four Gospel that makes them incomparable to any other writing,both in the Bible and all the world. Berkhof calls the Gospel “sui generis” (in a class of their own) in that each of them gives us slightly different and individually unique views of Christ, and without all four of these views together, we cannot correctly perceive His likeness. For the true student of the New Testament we must see the harmony of the Gospels and why the four treatises are not separate gospels written by four separate people, but are a single photo of Jesus Christ taken from four different perspectives, which together make up a single portrait of our Lord and Savior.
• Each Gospel account presents a distinct perspective on the life, and ministry of Jesus Christ. However, just as important is the fact that each Gospel account was written for a specific audience. Almost every contradiction I thought existed with the Gospel in general had its origin in one of these three points. However, no point was more instrumental in reconciling my perceived contradictions as much the understanding of the focus and audience intended by the author. For Matthew Christ is the Son of David, the rightful heir to the Messianic throne. While for Mark Jesus was the perfect servant of God, and for Luke, Christ was the son of man, fully human, but perfect in His submission to God. Finally, for John, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, creator of all there is. This is evident in the fact that John begins his Gospel with “In the beginning”.
Reconciling the Synoptic and Johannine Gospel
Louis Berkhof did an excellent job in reconciling the marked differences in among the Synoptic Gospel and the Gospel of John. He began formulating his defense using scripture, history and approximate dates for which they were written. Then after setting it up for two chapters Berkhof released a probability bomb, that added a marked amount of validity to his theory. What if John had read the other Gospels? When considering the dates and times they were written this would surely answer the questions of why the fourth Gospel is so marked different from the others. It would definitely explain way on many occasions the Apostle John did not explain Jewish tradition, but wrote as though he presumed that the reader knew tradition, or at least had read them from the other gospel.
The Epistles their Place in Scripture
If we abandon the origin, characteristics, authorship, and canonical significance of the Epistle. The only question I have of any account concerning the epistles as they are represented in the book is their significance in scripture with relation to the Christian. Berkhof describes the Epistles as being built on the foundation of the Gospel. This is not a problem until he suggests the Epistles are the completion of the work that Christ started. I struggle with that for several reasons, first when Jesus was on the cross he said it was finished. (John 19:30) I perceived that as meaning there is nothing new that needs to be done, this statement not so much a proclamation of his human life as it was the completion of His work for our salvation.
Secondly, I am not suggesting that the Epistles are not canonical, however to label them, or even the work of the Apostles as finishing what Jesus failed to finish is in my opinion blasphemous. On the other hand I like the fact that Berkhof uses a comparison of the effect the Epistles had on the church with the effect the Gospel has for the proselyte Christian. This comparison does not suggest that the work of Christ needed to be finished but defines the condition of the Christian after hearing the Gospel, and the condition of the Church is trying to live out the Christian life.
Louis Berkhof in his book Introduction to the New Testament takes on the most the difficult task of proving the validity, of the Gospel and the Epistles of the New Testament. This is not just the issue of whether there is a God or if Jesus Christ is divine, but more specifically the origin, authority, and canonicity of the of gospel and the epistles themselves. Today there is an enormous attack on the Bible in general, everyone from atheist to false religions, to those that ascribe to just bad doctrine have through their erroneous thinking brought into question the purity of scripture.
Therefore, Introduction to the New Testament, which answers the questions of origin and authorship of New Testament scripture, is of such importance in bringing clarity to false presumptions, not just at the time of its original publication, but also in this post-modern time of many gods. In all that Louis Berkhof provides in his book Introduction to the New Testament, there are still many basic things that he leaves unanswered. For instance Berkhof never provides a readable timeline of or graph of the chronology of the New Testament. Also issues like the book’s composition whether or not it is a historical or epistolary, or prophets are never given to the reader. This of course should be addressed since it would help to better understand the meanings of the Bible in general.
Courtney from Study Moose
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