The Spread of the Gospel is a chronological overview of the New Testament Church after the Ascension of Jesus. The book of Acts, treated verse by verse, provides the framework, and chapters on the other books of the New Testament are interwoven where they fit in chronologically. The chapters on each book other than Acts include background, an overview, verse by verse treatment of representative passages, and study questions for review and discussion.
Chronology matters. The time during which a particular book was written provides an important context for understanding the content of that book and the purpose for which the author wrote it. In many cases, those who read the Bible are unaware of the chronological context of the books of which it consists, and therefore miss important clues that enrich its content and meaning. What can we hope to gain from a chronological approach to the books of the New Testament? Doing so allows us to see, for example, connections between the founding of churches by the Apostle Paul and the letters he later wrote to those same churches. Do the circumstances under which the churches were founded aid our understanding of the issues addressed in the epistles later on, or do the matters addressed in the epistles give us an idea of how the churches developed in the months or years after their founding? Studying the New Testament in chronological order also enables us to see developments in the Church at large. As the Church grows and spreads throughout the Roman Empire, persecution becomes more of a prominent issue, and the later writings indicate this. Troubles plague first-century believers not only from the unbelieving world in which they live, but also from among their own number, as heresies spring up and multiply; the growth of these false teachings can also be traced chronologically through the epistles. Furthermore, the larger and more geographically diverse the Church becomes, the more organization matters, so the focus on structural concerns in the Pastoral Epistles should not surprise us. While chronology is useful in comprehending the messages of the New Testament writings, we also need to recognize that the one central message of those writings remains consistent throughout – the Good News of the salvation provided by God through the Incarnation, perfect life, teaching ministry, miracles, atoning death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The main purpose of the books of the New Testament is to explicate that Gospel, and we should anticipate that each of the writings inspired by God for the edification of His people focuses on different aspects of it. These writings were preserved for future generations for a reason; they are intended for us as well as for the Christians to whom they were originally written. Because the book of Acts is the only historical writing after the Gospels, it must of necessity provide the structure for the book before us, and we will be examining it in verse-by-verse detail. Acts takes us from the Ascension of Christ to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment and follows the outline that Jesus Himself gave His disciples in Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end if the earth.” The Church begins in Jerusalem, spreads to other places in Judea, then into Samaria, and finally, through the missionary journeys of Paul, throughout the Roman Empire. This growth serves as the outline for this book, with chapters interspersed dealing with the epistles written during the time covered in each section of Acts. Once we arrive at the end of Acts, books written later, including the Pastoral Epistles, most of the General Epistles, and the book of Revelation are given chapters in roughly chronological order. In covering the remaining books of the New Testament, we will deal with background information, an overview of the book, some representative passages, and study questions for discussion and further thought.