"The book known as the New Testament is a collection of twenty-six writings of diverse styles. Some have the shape of history (the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles), others are, or called, letters, and one, Revelation, contains a revelation given to John.
The letters are not what everyone today would consider a letter. Some are directed at specific Christian groups and treat community-problems (ex., 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians); on the other hand, others develop themes (ex., Romans, Ephesians, Hebrews, and James).
The title New Testament is strange. In Spanish, 'testament' means a legal document that expresses the final will of someone who has died; this book, on the other hand, is not a legal document nor does it present itself in any way as a will. The reason for the title was as follows: The Jewish people that translated the Hebrew books into Greek used the Greek word that signifies 'will' in order to translate the Hebrew word that means 'covenant.' The Greek term acquired a new meaning, but through the Latin it moved to the Spanish with the form “will.”
It is called 'New' as opposed to 'Old,' which is to say, it refers to the New Covenant that God made with all of humanity and that replaced the old that was made with the Hebrew people.
I The Origin and Form of the New Testament
During the time of Jesus, there already existed a collection of Jewish books that composed what we call today the Old Testament or the Old Covenant. The Christians, following Jesus, accepted these books, but not as possessing any value in and of themselves, but as the preparation for the Messiah (i.e., the consecrated leader) that had to come; in other words, the Christians identified Jesus as the content of these books, Jesus being the one who fulfilled all of its promises. Because of this, many parts of the OT, like the ancient Law, were no longer valuable to them, as Jesus himself had declared and as Saint Paul had explained.
The Christians, in the beginning, did not have their own books, but they recorded the sayings and acts of Jesus which were transmitted, orally or in writing, by the Apostles and first disciples; moreover, they were accompanied by a special guidance which the Holy Spirit gave to groups in the form of Christian prophets, in other words, men who received messages from by the Spirit that they transmitted to the community. Faith is not based on books; instead, faith is based on the testimony about Jesus and on one’s personal experience of the Spirit.
Saint Paul, who travelled much, stayed in touch with people through letters with the communities that he had founded, encouraging them and clarifying or discussing certain questions. Some of these letters were passed to other communities for them to read (Col. 4:16); so, some were copied and collected. Some of them are oldest writings of the New Testament. Other apostles or well-known men also wrote letters that have survived.
It did not take long before the need was felt to preserve in writing the sayings and acts of Jesus, and other Christians, in different regions, writing books that are today called 'Gospels,' in order to remember and keep alive the original message for new, future communities. One of the authors, Luke, added a second installment (the Acts of the Apostles), telling about the expansion of the message from Palestine all the way to Rome.
As those who knew the Lord began to die, it became even more urgent to collect the writings which recorded Jesus’ message and the experience of the earliest disciples. They began to form collections (the Gospels, the letters of Paul). The books that circulated were actually more than those that are included in the NT and it had to be decided which could be considered authentic. The false gospels, gospels that presented themselves as accounts of Jesus’ life in order to put forth non-Christian ideas, were ruled out. The writings that were thought to be the work of an Apostle or a disciple of an Apostle were kept.
By the end of the second century, the recognized collection comprised of four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Saint Paul (with the exception of Hebrews), 1 Peter (even though it was still being discussed in Rome), 1 John, and Revelation. Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude were still being discussed in certain places. In other places, however, books that were later removed were admitted into the canon (the Didache, Shepherd of Hermes, and the Apocalypse of Peter).
In summary, the greatest writings of the New Testament, some twenty, were unanimously recognized by the end of the second century. The collection as we know it was permanently fixed at the end of the fourth century. Almost all of the writings that comprise the canon pertain to the first century.
To set the collection, the books, together with the Old Testament, form the Bible, which means no more than 'The Books.' Even though is it called 'The Holy Scripture,' not every book has the same authority: the OT has to be interpreted and evaluated in the light of Jesus the Messiah. In the same way, the same principle applies to the NT, as not all of its writings completely contain the message of Jesus nor were they written under the same circumstances. The only authors that attempted to present the complete message, or, at the least, the essentials of the message, were the evangelists, and to them we must turn in order to understand it. Hence, the particular authority and veneration of the Gospels as been enjoyed by the Church. The other authors show a little about the life and problems of Christian groups and the explain aspects of the message, treating the aspects in a theological manner or by practical applications. Some writings, however, deal with situations that are very specific and are almost limited by organizational or problematic questions (1 and 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, Jude).
As usual, it is Saint John who hits the nail on the head and clarifies the issue: The Word of God is Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God; his person is the message. The writings that we possess are more or less close witnesses for us about the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life."