Compared to the Old Testament, the New Testament contains a lot of non-narrative material; that is, teachings and philosophy. Much of the New Testament is letters from the Apostles to church leaders and fellow evangelists, clarifying points of theology and writing about how best to follow the example of Christ. Where, then, do you find colorful characters?
Answer: In the gospels and the following book, the Acts of the Apostles. Here we meet Jesus's twelve disciples, including the one who will betray him to the authorities. We'll meet authority figures who were threatened by Jesus's message, both native Judean and Roman, and also humble, scorned people who took Jesus's message to heart. The gospels are full of kings, scholars, lepers, thieves, soldiers and more. Acts opens up an even bigger cast of characters. As the apostles began to travel the known world, to spread the message of Jesus, they met allies in unexpected places (like Gentile communities) and made enemies of the powerful, especially in Rome.
We're not even going to talk about the book of Revelation, which contains some of the New Testament's most mind-blowingly memorable characters -- though usually not by name. Think of "the Beast" or "the woman clothed with the sun" and you'll get what we mean.
Are you ready to test your knowledge of the characters of the New Testament? Let's make your Sunday School teacher proud!
Joseph had to take it on faith that his wife was impregnated by God, not any earthly man. His loyalty makes him one of the New Testament's great figures, even though he is generally overshadowed by Jesus's disciples and early church leaders.
Judas Iscariot is rightly famous -- or, rather, notorious. The words "Judas" and "thirty pieces of silver" have both become shorthand for "betrayal."
There's an entire opera based on Salome's story. A key moment in it is her "dance of the seven veils," essentially a striptease.
It was King Herod who watched "the dance of the seven veils" (note: it's not actually named in the gospels). The price for this entertainment was very high -- the death of John the Baptist.
We have to wonder -- did Joseph truly believe that Jesus would only need the tomb for three days? Maybe he donated it because he knew it would be a short-term loan!
In washing his hands, Pilate was making a public display of not wanting Jesus to be executed. He said he was only giving his approval to please the Jewish population whom he (technically) ruled over -- he was keeping the peace.
Barabbas is a footnote in the gospels, but he probably has a more interesting story than we realize. He was a rebel who opposed Roman rule.
This apostle is also called Simon Peter. He was a fisherman with a tendency to act or speak without thinking, when Jesus chose him to be first and foremost among the disciples.
Tax collectors were looked down on (even more than modern-day IRS agents) because they were seen as collaborating with Judea's Roman rulers. When Jesus chose Matthew to follow him, he was making a powerful statement about his refusal to judge people.
Peter, James and John were all fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Famously, Jesus called them to be "fishers of men."
It was to her cousin Elizabeth that Mary sang the "Magnificat," her song of praise to the Lord. Elizabeth was also pregnant, carrying John the Baptist.
John the Baptist would grow up to preach in the wilderness about the coming of the Savior -- his first-cousin-once-removed, Jesus. He also baptized Jesus in the River Jordan.
There is no "little drummer boy(s)" in the gospels, and the carol "Good King Wenceslas" isn't even about the nativity! It was the three wise men who had to return to their home country "by another route."
John was in exile on the Greek island of Patmos when he had the vision that is recounted in the book of Revelation. You can actually visit Patmos today -- it's a vacation destination!
You've seen Saul's name elsewhere in this quiz as an incorrect choice -- but here, he's the right one. Of course, you might know him better as the Apostle Paul. which he becomes not long after this incident in Acts.
Stephen, known as "St. Stephen" in Catholic lore, is the first Christian noted to be killed. This is recounted in the book of Acts, and gives him a special place in Christianity, though we don't know much about his life otherwise.
This story is found in Acts -- Ananias falls down dead after lying about having given the entire proceeds of a land sale to the early church. Sapphira soon dies in the same fashion. Peter says that their sin is lying to the Holy Spirit -- they were not necessarily required to turn over all the money they made.
The Magnificat is very similar to a song of praise sung by Hannah, mother of Samuel, in the Old Testament. You could credit this to Mary's familiarity with the scriptures, or you could consider it a hint that the Bible is a bit more "edited" for artistic quality and historical continuity than many believers prefer to think.
This is how he got the nickname "Doubting Thomas." He went on to be an apostle to the Indian subcontinent.
Andrew and Simon Peter are brothers. Peter went on to overshadow his brother, but Andrew became an active apostle and the patron saint of Scotland.
The connection isn't immediately clear to English speakers. But the name "James" somehow became "Jacob," rendered as "Iago" or "Yago." From there, "Saint Iago" became "Santiago." Clear now?
James the Less is so named to differentiate him from James the Greater, also "James son of Zebedee." He appears only on lists of the disciples in each of the four gospels.
Though Peter is the disciple with the quick temper, James and John have this impressive nickname. Clearly, they were important to Jesus and his mission.
Nathanael has the famous line "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" about Jesus. It's possible that he is the "Bartholomew" in the synoptic gospels.
There's another Ananias in Acts who doesn't fare nearly so well! But this one was called by God to care for Saul, soon to be Paul, after he was struck temporarily blind.
Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help with the housework instead of sitting at his feet. Jesus does not, saying "Your sister has chosen the better part." We think it's deliciously apt that this Biblical figure now shares a name with domestic guru Martha Stewart.
In a narrative technique used in serial television today, Acts backs up to the time when the resurrected Jesus is still on earth. After the ascension, the story of the early church begins in earnest.
The book of Acts is sometimes called a continuation of the gospel of Luke. Secular scholars say that the two books are by the same "anonymous author"; devout Christians believe it is Luke himself.
Jesus was weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus. Christ then raised him from the dead, which is why movies about scientific revivings of the dead have names like "The Lazarus Project."
Cornelius was a Roman centurion and righteous man. Peter preached to and converted him, after a vision from God assured him it was all right to preach to Gentiles.
Peter's wife is never mentioned, either in the gospels nor in the book of Acts. But we know he had a wife, as Jesus healed his mother-in-law, who promptly rose to get food and drink for the disciples and Jesus.
Paul's epistle to Timothy contains the advice that Timothy should not let anyone look down on him because of his youth. This verse is often quoted to young Christians, telling them that they have important part to play in God's plan.
Several women were prominent in the early church, including Priscilla and Lydia. Dorcas might have been a widow; we do know that she made clothing for widows, an act of charity.
A lot of confusion swirls around this Biblical figure, a woman who followed Christ and witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection. The idea that she was Jesus's wife caught fire (again) in the 2000s with the success of "The DaVinci Code."
Nicodemus visits Jesus secretly to discuss his teachings -- evidently, he does not want his fellow Pharisees to know where he is. It is this conversion from which we get the idea of a religious conversion as being "born again" -- this is the term Jesus uses in conversation with Nicodemus.