the weblog of Alan Knox

Different terms for the Scriptures

Posted by on Aug 21, 2013 in scripture | 10 comments

In the first post of this series, I said that I was looking at the terms Scriptures, Bible, New Testament, Gospels, and gospel. In the next post, I looked at various uses of the term “Scriptures” in the New Testament.

In those passages in which the “Scriptures” are described or defined, we see that 1) the Scriptures are inspired by God, 2) they are good for teaching, correcting, etc., 3) they help prepare us for good works, and 4) they contain information about Jesus Christ. Perhaps most important are those passages that indicate that reading, studying or memorizing the Scriptures do not guarantee “knowing,” and that something more is needed to actually understand the Scriptures.

For example:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures… (Luke 24:45 ESV)

But, what writings are considered “Scriptures”?

We should admit that the Scriptures themselves never give us a list of writings that are Scripture. We can tell that certain quotations (and thus the writings that contain those quotations) are considered Scripture. Also, through the years (beginning very early) Christians have disagreed about what writings are Scripture.

Typically, a person accepts certain writings as Scripture because of the Christian tradition they are part or grew up in. In fact, almost every list of writings has strong historical basis to be considered Scripture.

I use the term “Scriptures” to refer to 66 books – 39 books of “Old Testament” and 27 books of “New Testament.” And, of course, that also explains what I mean by the term “New Testament.” All of these writings together can be called “the Bible” (which comes from a term that means “book”), but I tend to use the term “Scriptures” instead.

In the New Testament, four of the writings by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John are typically called “Gospels.” A capital “G” is used to differentiate the writings from the term “gospel.” The “titles” attached to the earliest manuscripts of these documents were “According to X” with X being the traditional author of the books. It’s possible that “Gospel” was part of these titles, as is found in later manuscripts, or it’s possible that “Gospel” was added later.

Either way, I prefer to use the capitalized term “Gospel” to refer to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

So, for me, Scriptures or Bible refers to those writings that are inspired by God and have been collected by and perceived by believers as being generally beneficial to followers of Jesus Christ. The term New Testament refers to the subset of Scriptures that were written after the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, the term Gospels refer specifically to those four books within the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).

How do you understand the terms “Scripture,” “Bible,” “New Testament,” and “Gospels”?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-21-2013

    To answer your question on what do I think, I would have to give you the structure of the Bible on what I understand of the the books of the Bible.

    For example, each book is written to someone, group of people, who? Or in other words–Get “to whom” correct — administrations

    Difficult verse must be understood in light of the clear verses.

    Interpretation and application are always with respect to whom it is addressed.

    In each book Jesus Christ means something special and specific in that book. (having that understanding)

    Just these few keys will help us understand the scriptures regardless if someone refers to the OT as scripture or the NT as scripture.

    I wouldn’t personally care what you called the OT or NT, one of my points is, is it addressed to you specifically for your LIFE or just for your learning.

    For example by learning, I don’t have to go through what Job went through, But I can learn from his learning ie Job 3:25, he feared and then the devil was all over him and then attacked him. What a bad deal that was, but NOW, we have Jesus Christ–he went through all what he went through–But I don’t have to, but for my learning.

    For example by what specifically to me or us. Romans–the whole book, not just part of it, but all of it, is for my spiritual life and where I stand as a believer and a Son of God. Period. which is what kind of Book (and yes it matters) it’s a Doctrinal Book and of course there’s a practical side to it as well.



  2. 8-22-2013

    Hi Alan,

    An interesting topic! Could I add a little “twist”? The terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” are commonly used terms for the 39 older and 27 newer books of the Bible, but such designations are not scriptural/Biblical at all!

    Actually “testament” is a synonymn for “covenant”. Every covenant made by God is either a promise or a series of promises signified by a visible token which lasts as long as the covenant which it signifies. Genesis to Malachi is NOT the Old Covenant or first covenant! Only the 10 commandments are! (Israel promised God that they would keep those commandments and within the ten God made certain promises to them. See Deut.4:13 The covenant made at Sinai was signified with the sprinkling of animal blood(Ex.24) Nor do the books Matthew to Revelation comprise the New Covenant! The New Covenant is a series of seven promises found in Hebrews 8 and is signified by the cup. Most of the events recorded in the 4 “Gospels” (up until the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus) happened in Old Covenant times (when the Old Covenant was still in force). So the “Gospel” narratives have little to do with the New Covenant at all!

    Your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the New Covenant and how it affects the church and the lives of believers today in contrast with the Old!

    For a number of years I thought I was planting “New testament churches” but looking back I now realize that the vast majority of things I taught were (in reality) Old Covenant practices! (A distinct class of ministers, a distinct holy building, distinct holy tithes and offerings, holy clothes,holy days etc. Now I realize that for believers under the New Covenant the common is made holy!

    Common sinners are made saints, who are to live lives of holiness 24/7. All of them are priests and ministers, they have no holy buildings for they themselves ARE the holy temple of God. They have no distinct holy meal for as often as they eat and drink they remember their Lord and the price He paid to redeem them etc.

    Am enjoying your posts. Keep up the good work.

    A brother in Christ,
    Bruce Woodford

  3. 8-22-2013


    I agree that each book is written to a particular person (group) for a particular person. That context is very important. I’m not sure about this statement though: “In each book Jesus Christ means something special and specific in that book.” Jesus Christ is a person, so I’m not sure what “Jesus Christ means something special and specific” would mean.


    I agree with much of what you said. No, the phrase “New Testament” as a portion of Scripture is not the same as the phrase “new covenant,” which is why I use different phrases for the two. Also, I agree that the new covenant has no place for special buildings, people, rituals, etc. I have never considered “new covenant” to represented by a “a series of seven promises found in Hebrews 8,” but I’ll look at that passage again to consider it.

    However, I do think the Gospels are important for new covenant people of God. Think about these questions: 1) When were the Gospels written? 2) By whom were the Gospels written? 3) To whom were the Gospels written? 4) For what purpose were the Gospels written?

    I don’t think “old covenant” plays a role in the answers to any of those questions.


  4. 8-23-2013

    Well let me explain that,

    God’s the author of the Bible

    Jesus Christ is the Subject of the Bible, and in each book he means something to the believer. For example Ephesians would be “Jesus Christ is the Believers Heavenly Standing”

    Alan have you ever heard of the “red thread”? What this means is the main understanding message of Jesus Christ in that particulate book.

    Now I’m going somewhere with all of this, dealing with scripture and gospel, the Word of God.

    And to answer your other question, where do I get that word “administration”, I get it from dispensation.


  5. 8-23-2013


    I agree that God inspired people to write the books/letters that have now been collected and called “the Bible.” In some way, each author refers to God’s salvation and God’s plan of redemption, which was accomplished (and is being accomplished) in the person of Jesus Christ.

    I am familiar with dispensationalism, although I think salvation has always been by the grace of God and through faith.


  6. 8-24-2013

    Hi Alan,

    Re “New Testament” and “New Covenant” my point is that the scriptural use of the term does not ever use it as referring to the later books of the Bible! Translators used different terms for the original words and that is what has brought the confusion! We have been trained (conditioned)to think that the new covenant and the new testament are distinct but in reality both terms are one and the same as far as scripture is concerned. “My blood of the new testament” (Matt.26:28; Mark 14:24; I Cor.11:25) is not “my blood of Matthew to Revelation”!”This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20) is not this cup of Matthew to revelation!

    Re my statement that the Gospel narratives have little to do with the new covenant…I meant that the recorded events were in Old Covenant times and the instructions given were for people currently living under the Old Covenant. Certainly the Gospel accounts were written after the death and resurrection of Christ (in New Covenant times). They were written by believers on new covenant ground and to believers on new covenant ground. But for the most part they were records of events in Old Covenant times and instructions to people on old covenant ground.

    For what purpose were the Gospel narratives written? …”That ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing ye might have life through His name.” John 20:31

    Brother I am curious about your comments re Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant. If the New Covenant is NOT the unilateral promises of God recorded in Jer.31 and Hebrews 8, what is it (in your view)?

    Your brother in Christ,

  7. 8-24-2013

    Don’t you think it’s interesting that the order of the books change in order depending on the text? But the 7 church epistles are always in the same order?


  8. 8-24-2013


    I think the New Testament authors as new covenant believers wrote about those events and statements because they are very important FOR new covenant believers.

    When I said that I would consider Hebrews 8, I wasn’t talking about the new covenant per se. I was talking about your statement, “The New Covenant is a series of seven promises found in Hebrews 8 and is signified by the cup.” I do not equate the new covenant with a particular passage of Scripture or a particular set of promises. That’s what I meant that I would consider.


    What do you mean by “7 church epistles”? Among the different early circulations and collections of Scripture (Gospels, Acts/General Epistles, Pauline Epistles, Revelation), there were many different orderings, both within the collections and of the collections themselves (except for Revelation, which was circulated by itself, or always at the end).


  9. 8-24-2013

    The 7 church epistles I’m referring to is:

    Romans, Corin., Gal., 1st–3

    Eph., Phil., Col., 2nd–3

    Then Thess. by itself — 1

    And to add–the book of Acts is the 7 in operation, the how, the practice part,

    What are these books–there addressed to the Faithful in Christ.


  10. 8-24-2013


    I would have to go back and check on the ordering in various codices, but I think there were differences in the ordering of some of the Pauline epistles, with Hebrews almost always thrown into the mix somewhere.