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Don Stewart :: Why Are the Books of the Bible Placed in a Particular Order?

Don Stewart

Although Christians believe that the sixty-six books of the Bible are all part of sacred Scripture, the books are not arranged in any God-given order. The reasons for the way they are variously arranged is as follows.

The Old Testament (Protestant Order)

According to the Protestant order, the books of the Old Testament are divided along a topical arrangement. They are divided into sections for sake of convenience. The usual Protestant order is as follows.

The Law (5 Books)

Poetry (5 Books)

1. Genesis

1. Job

2. Exodus

2. Psalms

3. Leviticus

3. Proverbs

4. Number

4. Ecclesiastes

5. Deuteronomy

5. Song of Solomon


Prophets (17 Books)

History (12 Books)

Major Prophets(5)

Minor Prophets(12)

1. Joshua

1. Isaiah

1. Hosea

2. Judges

2. Jeremiah

2. Joel

3. Ruth

3. Lamentations

3. Amos

4. 1 Samuel

4. Ezekiel

4. Obadiah

5. 2 Samuel

5. Daniel

5. Jonah

6. 1 Kings

6. Micah

7. 2 Kings

7. Nahum

8. 1 Chronicles

8. Habakkuk

9. 2 Chronicles

9. Zephaniah

10. Ezra

10. Haggai

11. Nehemiah

11. Zechariah

12. Esther

12. Malachi

This division goes back to the time the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek. This translation, known as the Septuagint (which means seventy and is abbreviated LXX), began in the third century before Christ. Jerome, who translated the Old Testament into Latin in the fourth century A.D., also adapted this division. The English division follows Jerome.

The traditional number of Old Testament books is twenty-four. First century writer Flavius Josephus said the Jews recognized twenty-two sacred books. Most likely he placed Ruth with Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah.

The terms major and Minor Prophets are derived from the size of the writings - it has nothing to do with their importance. The Major Prophets are longer writings than the Minor Prophets.

The Roman Catholic Church Accepts More Old Testament Books

The Roman Catholic Church adds a number of books to the Old Testament that are not accepted by the Protestants or by the Jews. These books are known as the "Old Testament Apocrypha" by Protestants and Jews, and "Deuterocanonical books," or books added to the canon, by the Roman Catholic Church. In our section on the canon of Scripture we detail the reasons as to why the Roman Catholic Church accepts these works as Scripture and why Protestantism and Judaism reject them.

Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible has a different structure than the English Bible. The grouping of books is according to their literary character. The Hebrew Bible divides the Scripture into three divisions - the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Hebrew terms are Torah, Nebhiim, and Kethubiim. The acronym TeNaKh is used to describe the entire collection (Torah, Nebhiim, Kethubiim).

The Law (5 Books) Torah The Prophets (8 Books)Nebhiim

(Former Prophets)

(Latter Prophets)

Genesis

Joshua

Isaiah

Exodus

Judges

Jeremiah

Leviticus

Samuel

Ezekiel

Numbers

Kings

The Twelve

Deuteronomy

The Writings (11 Books) Kethubiim

Poetical Books

Five Rolls

Historical Books

Psalms

Song of Songs

Daniel

Proverbs

Ruth

Ezra-Nehemiah

Job

Lamentations

Chronicles

Esther

Ecclesiastes

There Is Early Testimony To The Threefold Division

The earliest testimony to the threefold division goes back two hundred years before the time of Christ in the prologue to apocryphal the Book of Ecclesiasticus. First century historian, Flavius Josephus, also noted the threefold division.

Jesus Himself referred to the threefold division of the Old Testament.

He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" (Luke 24:44).

Philo of Alexandria, who lived in the first century A.D., mentioned the three different sections of the Old Testament (De Vita Contemplative 25). Like Jesus he calls the third section "the Psalms."

Sometimes There Are Divided Into Two Sections

Sometimes they were divided into two sections - the Law and the Prophets. Jesus said.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

The New Testament uses both the twofold division as well as the threefold division in referring to the Old Testament books.

New Testament

The Protestant division of the New Testament is as follows.

Gospels (4 Books)

History (1 Book)

Matthew

Acts

Mark

Luke

John


Paul's Letters (13 Books) The General Letters

1. Romans

9. 2 Thessalonians

1. Hebrews

2. 1 Corinthians

10. 1 Timothy

2. James

3. 2 Corinthians

11. 2 Timothy

3. 1 Peter

4. Galatians

12. Titus

4. 2 Peter

5. Ephesians

13. Philemon

5. 1 John

6. Philippians

6. 2 John

7. Colossians

7. 3 John

8. 1 Thessalonians

8. Jude


Prophecy (1 Book)

Revelation

They Are Not Placed In The Order They Were Written

The twenty-seven books are roughly chronological but they are not placed in the order in which they were written.

The Order Of Gospels

The order of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is known as the Augustinian order. This is named after the early Church Father, Augustine. Augustine concluded that the gospels were written in this chronological order - Matthew the first and John the last. Most modern scholars assume that Mark was written first.

The Order Of The New Testament Letters

In the western Church, the letters of Paul are placed before the general letters. In the eastern Church this is reversed - the general letters come before Paul's writings.

The Order Of Paul's Writings

The thirteen letters of the Apostle Paul are not ordered as to when they were written but rather according to their length. The Book of Romans is the longest letter that Paul wrote to the churches while Colossians is the shortest. First Timothy is the longest letter that Paul wrote to an individual while Philemon is the shortest.

Genesis And Revelation Are In The Right Position

The books of the Bible are not in any sacred order but rather they are in a logical order. However, two of them, Genesis and Revelation, must stand in their present position. The Book of Genesis must be the first book of Scripture because it records the beginning of all created things. In the same manner, the Book of Revelation must stand last because it chronicles the end of all things present as well as the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

The Septuagint is arranged by similar subject matter. There is Law, historical books, poetry, wisdom, and prophets. Jerome in the Latin Vulgate followed this sequence. Most Christian Bibles today keep this order. It is closer to a chronological sequence. Therefore Ruth is after Judges and Chronicles is before Ezra-Nehemiah.

How The Books Were Named

Some of the books in Scripture have their name based upon the various topics in which they write about. This would include the books of Kings and Chronicles. Other books, such as Psalms and Proverbs are named for the literary form in which they are written. Paul's letters are named after either the churches to whom he was writing (such as Thessalonica) or the individuals to whom he addressed (such as Timothy). The four gospels were named after the individuals whom it is believed authored the works.

Almost All Of The Books Were Written By Jews

It appears that Hebrews, or Jews, wrote all the books of the Scripture. Scripture says that the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:1,2).

The one exception is writings of Luke. He wrote the gospel that bears his name as well as the Book of Acts. It seems that Luke was a Gentile. Paul spoke of him in this manner.

Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings (Colossians 4:14).

Before he sent greetings from Luke, Paul made this statement.

These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me (Colossians 4:11).

After Paul mentioned the various Jews who provided comfort to him he then went on to mention a number of Gentiles. Luke is in this group of people. Therefore it seems Luke is associated with the Gentiles, or non-Jews, who sent their greetings.

Summary

The books of the Bible are divided for sake of convenience and the logical historical development - there is no sacred order. Because the order of the books is human-made it is not necessary to read the Bible in this sequence.

In the Protestant Bible there are sixty-six books - thirty-nine in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, which is the same as the Protestant Old Testament, there are twenty-four books. The contents of the books are exactly the same. The difference is in the way they are divided. The Roman Catholic Church adds a number of books to the Old Testament that are not accepted by Protestants or by the Jews. These books are known as the Apocrypha by Protestants and the Deuterocanonical books by the Roman Catholic Church.

There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament. They can be divided into four gospels, one book of history, twenty-one letters, and one book of prophecy.

The four gospels are placed in their present order based on the opinion of Augustine as to when they were written. The letters of Paul are placed in order according to their length rather than the time they were written.

The eastern and western Churches have a different order with respect to Paul's writings and the general letters. The western Church places Paul's writings before the general letters while the eastern churches reverses this.

While there is no sacred order of the books of Scripture Genesis and Revelation must stand first and last since they detail the beginning and the end of all things.

The books were named after their subject matter, literary style, person or group addressed, or the name of the author. All the books seem to have been written by Jews with the exception of the writings of Luke (Luke/Acts).

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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