Jesus of Nazareth
The central figure of the New Testament, whose life,
death, and resurrection are chronicled in the books. The four Gospels
describe Jesus’s life until his resurrection, and the remainder of
the New Testament concerns itself with the community of followers
of Jesus that steadily grows after his death.
Paul of Tarsus
More than half of the books in the New Testament have
been attributed to Paul of Tarsus, the great missionary who directs
the spread of Christianity after the death of Jesus. In these books,
Paul uses his keen mind and robust intellect to develop Christianity’s
first sophisticated theology. In the period immediately following
Jesus’s death, he is an active persecutor of Jesus’s followers, but
he later converts and becomes the most active proponent of Christ’s
first of Jesus’s disciples. Extremely devoted to Jesus and his mission,
Simon is able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah before the other
apostles. As a result, Jesus makes him the “rock”—renaming Simon
“Peter,” which means rock—on which his church would be built (Matthew 16:13
Although Peter denies his association with Jesus after Jesus’s arrest,
Peter later becomes one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.
in-depth analysis of Peter.
John the Baptist
The forerunner to Jesus, spreading the word of Jesus’s
imminent arrival. John the Baptist is an old ascetic who lives in
the desert, wears a loincloth, and feeds on locusts and honey.
A female follower of Jesus since the time of his Galilean
ministry, when he exorcises her of seven demons (Luke 8:2
Mary Magdalene is a close friend of Jesus. She is one of the women
who discover that Jesus’s body is not in his grave. Following this
event, she witnesses the resurrected Jesus. She is also known as Mary
prefect, Pontius Pilate governs Judea by the authority of the Roman
Empire during the time of Jesus’s trial in Jerusalem. The Gospels
differ on the extent of Pilate’s responsibility for Jesus’s crucifixion. What
is clear, however, is that Pilate holds the ultimate authority to
determine whether or not Jesus should be executed.
early in Acts for his generosity toward the church, Barnabas later
becomes one of Paul’s traveling companions and fellow missionaries,
joining Paul in spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles.
One of the Twelve Apostles, Judas betrays Jesus to the
authorities in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. According to
Matthew, Judas commits suicide out of remorse (Matthew 27:3
leader of the Hellenists, a faction of the Jewish Christians, in
Jerusalem during the years after Jesus’s ascension. Stephen preaches
against the temple (Acts 6
When brought for trial before the Jewish court, Stephen seals his
fate by issuing a ringing condemnation of the Jewish leadership.
traveling companion and fellow missionary of Paul. Timothy coauthors
letters with Paul—such as 1
Philippians—and serves as his emissary throughout the Christian
communities of the Mediterranean.
Mary, Mother of Jesus
Luke’s narrative of Jesus’s infancy focuses heavily
on the courage and faith of Mary, who becomes impregnated by the
Holy Spirit. She is also one of the only people who remains with
Jesus through the crucifixion. Gospel writers who have a high esteem
for the female leaders in the early church community point to Mary
as a model of discipleship.
husband. Joseph is a direct paternal descendent of the great King
David, which makes Jesus an heir to the Davidic line. This heritage
reinforces Jesus’s place in the Jewish tradition.
traveling companion of Paul. Christian tradition dating back to
the second century a.d.
claims that Luke is
the author of the Gospel that bears his name and of Acts of the
high priest who presides over Jesus’s trial. Though it is Pilate
who declares the verdict of Jesus’s guilt, the Gospel writers are
insistent that Caiaphas is also responsible for the crucifixion.
Herod the Great
The King of Palestine from 37
to 4 b.c.
Matthew, Herod hears of Jesus’s birth and decides to kill the child,
who is prophesied to become king of the Jews. To evade Herod’s orders,
Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt.