From the Protestant Reformation to the American Pledge of Allegiance to Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to Chinese Christians smuggling copies into secret house churches, the enormous theological, historical, political, social and cultural influences of the 27 books of the New Testament of the Christian Bible are staggering. Arising out of the Middle East in the first and second century, the New Testament's impact spread not only to the Western world but to Asia and is now exploding in what is called the Global South, giving rise to the most widespread religion in the world at over 2 billion people: Christianity.

A New Covenant

The New Testament records the life of an early first-century Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be not only the Messiah (or Christ) prophesied about in the Jewish Old Testament, but also the Son of God. Jesus said he came to offer eternal spiritual salvation "by grace through faith," rather than through sacrifice, as Jewish law required, thereby offering a new covenant ("testament"); this covenant was also open to everyone, not just Jews. According to the New Testament, Jesus’ controversial claims led to his execution by crucifixion, instigated by Jewish priests and carried out by the Roman government.

The Spread of the Gospel

The New Testament book of 1 Corinthians reports that more than 500 people witnessed Jesus appear alive after his death, began to call themselves Christians and spread this "Good News" across the continent. These Christians were heavily persecuted for their beliefs because they refused to bow to Roman gods or Caesar and caused considerable public disturbance with their preaching, which the Roman government found threatening to its power. The conversion of countless gentiles to Christianity also angered pagan temple sellers of idols and images, who lost customers.

Religion and State

Christianity became so widespread and popular over the centuries following Jesus' death and alleged resurrection that many European countries declared it as their official religion. However, the legislating of religion led to forced conversions of citizens and wars against other nations or regions that did not practice Christianity. This eventually brought about the separation of church and state in many Western European countries, although some still hold some form of Christianity as their national religion. The practice of religion in public institutions in increasingly secular nations is often discouraged.

Divisions and Denominations

The Protestant Reformation in the 1500s attempted to root out corrupt traditions that had developed in the Christian church over the centuries and purportedly did not align with the teachings of Jesus, such as papal indulgences. These and many other points of controversy led to tension and war until the church split completely into the Catholic church, which maintained many old traditions, including revering the pope as an equal authority to the New Testament, and the Protestants, who dispersed into a multitude of smaller denominations, such as Baptists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, to name a few.

A Multitude of Other Influences

Art inspired by the New Testament, such as paintings of the Virgin Mary and Jesus' last supper with his disciples, as well as literature and poetry, abound in Western culture. Even the timeline through which we view history (B.C. and A.D.) centers on the life of Jesus. The final book of the New Testament, Revelation, which depicts a catastrophic apocalypse at the end of time, has inspired countless end-of-the-world prophesies, films, books and calculations as to the last days. Many Christians worldwide believe that Jesus will return and fulfill his promise of paradise for his followers on the final day of history.