Original Order of Scripture
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” (Luke 24:44)
Song of Solomon
The Inspired Order of the Bible by Dr. Judd W. Patton, Professor of Economics Bellevue University
(Condensed by Daily Heart Burn)
Many of the books of the Bible have been “scrambled,” so to speak, from the order or arrangement as originally canonized and seen in the manuscripts.
The historical evidence and the internal evidence of the Bible, demonstrate the God-ordained order or sequence.
That is because God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). The traditional arrangement of the books of the Bible, when contrasted to the Inspired Order, will be seen as just that – confusing. The Bible is indeed fitly joined together, God-breathed and ordered.
Throughout this paper the author will refer to the contemporary arrangement of the Bible that all of us are familiar with as the Traditional Order and the original God-ordained order as the Inspired Order.
This paper seeks to demonstrate and prove this Inspired Order by letting the Bible itself speak about its own order and principles for arrangement. When the correct book order is restored, we’ll discover a marvelous and eye-opening series of insights and a series of connected subjects and organizational logic from Genesis to Revelation. All of the teachings in the Bible become clearer and plainer.
The Influence of Jerome
The man most responsible for what became our traditional Bible of sixty-six books was the Catholic theologian, Jerome. His Latin Vulgate translation, written between A.D. 382 and 405, with his “new” arrangement of the books for both the Old and New Testaments, became the standard for Protestant scholars and translators. Of a truth once a tradition becomes established, it is difficult to change. Yet Jerome knew better. He had a rationale, a wrong rationale, for making these changes! Regardless, the Tradition lives on today.
In A.D. 391 Jerome said the following, “As, then, there are twenty-two elementary characters by means of which we write in Hebrew … so we reckon twenty-two books, by which, as by the alphabet of the doctrine of God, a righteous man is instructed…” Yes, Jerome understood that the Hebrew Old Testament contained 22 books coinciding with the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, not 39. And to this day the Jewish translations contain 22 Old Testament books. The books and arrangement or order of the books has never been lost. Even Josephus, in Book 1, Section 8 of his famous work, Antiquities of the Jews, recognized “only 22 books.”
Concerning the New Testament, E.W. Bullinger in his Companion Bible made this bold statement: “Our English Bibles follow the order as given in the Latin Vulgate. This order, therefore, depends on the arbitrary judgment of one man, Jerome. All theories based on this order rest on human authority, and are thus without any true foundation.”
Now, while Jerome is the primary figure responsible for the Traditional arrangement of the books of the Bible, there is more to the historical story. Earnest Martin details other “players” besides Jerome. Briefly, sometime in the second or third centuries A.D., the Septuagint version of the Bible, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, was put into book form by Egyptian Christians, replacing the twenty-two separate and independent scrolls of the Hebrew Bible. Simultaneously they abandoned the Hebrew order of the books or scrolls as maintained at the Temple, and rearranged the books into a more subject-oriented or topical arrangement.
That is, they grouped the historical books together (Genesis through Esther). Then the poetic books were placed together (Job, Psalms and Proverbs) followed by the poetic works of Solomon (Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon). Finally, the prophetic books were grouped together (Isaiah through Malachi).
Check it out in your own Bibles. Perhaps some Bible students were unaware of this organizational three-part rationale for this Traditional Bible book order – historical, poetic and prophetic?
Jerome was well aware of both the Hebrew Bible order and the relatively new Septuagint book order in his day. He had a choice to make. What should he do for his own translation? Well, he decided to use the Septuagint order in his Latin Vulgate version of the Bible. The rest is history, as the saying goes!
The point is that while Judaism did not lose the original Bible arrangement of twenty-two books, Christianity did, primarily through the influence of the Catholic theologian Jerome. Again, the Protestant translators, with few exceptions, relied on the Latin Vulgate version of Jerome in their translations and thereby the Protestant world lost the original book order.
Christ’s Comment on the Hebrew Scriptures
The whole issue about the arrangement of Bible books in the Old Testament is easily resolved. Did Christ reveal His inspired order? Indeed He did!
Turn to Luke 24:44-45. “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures”.
Christ identified the three great divisions of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures in this New Testament passage. The Divisions consist of the Law (also called the Torah or Pentateuch), the Prophets, and the Writings. The latter section begins with the book of Psalms and has also been identified in Judaism as the Hagiographa, meaning inspired writings. It became known as the Royal Division since it was written by kings, under the inspiration of God, of course, for priestly rulers and leadership instruction.
The Law, Prophets and the Writings
Romans 3:2 states that, “Unto them (the Jews) were committed the oracles of God.” Yes, they were God’s instruments in preserving the Old Testament scriptures, and what they have preserved are twenty-two books, from the twenty-two original scrolls. Let’s review these books.
The First Division is the Law consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
The Second Division of the Old Testament is the Prophets. It consists of only six books, though there may seem to be many more than that! The first book is Joshua – Judges. It is counted as two separate books by Traditional reckoning but only as one in the Hebrew. The second book consists of 1&2 Samuel -1&2 Kings. It is one book or scroll known historically as the Book of Kingdoms. Together these two books are known as the Former Prophets because they are the upfront or first books in the Division.
The next three books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are called the Major Prophets because they are larger in size or contain more pages than the books of the Minor Prophets, not because of importance. Lastly, the Minor Prophets are one book in Hebrew but consist of twelve prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Together, and in that historical, chronological order, they contain roughly the same number of pages as any one of the Major Prophets.
It’s also important to distinguish the Latter Prophets, which refer to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve books of the Minor Prophets, from the Former Prophets, Joshua-Judges and the Book of Kingdoms.
Finally, the Third Division, according to Christ as recorded in Luke 24:44 is the Psalms, the first book of the division and undoubtedly the reason Christ used it rather than the “Writings” appellation. All books within this division were composed by kings and leaders like David, Solomon, Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra and Hezekiah and written for kings and priestly rulers. Again, these books contains leadership principles.
The Hagiographa consists, then, of eleven books in three sub-categories. These categories include three Poetic or Wisdom books (Psalms, Proverbs and Job); five Festival Books also called the Megillot (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther); and three Restoration Books (Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1&2 Chronicles).
Count them, please! There are a total of eleven books in the Writings Division with Ezra-Nehemiah counted as one book and 1&2 Chronicles counted as one book.
The five Megillot (meaning scroll) books, as they were called in Hebrew, were designated by Ezra to be read on specific Festival or commemorative days. That is, the Song of Solomon was to be read on the Passover. Ruth was to be read on the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost. Lamentations was to be read on the tenth day of the month Ab (in August) commemorating the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. Ecclesiastes was to be read on the Feast of Tabernacles, and Esther was to be read on the Feast of Purim. Understanding Ezra’s directive adds context for the meaning of these annual Festivals or Feast days (see Leviticus 23), these commemorative days (Temple destruction and Purim), and for the books themselves!
There is also a distinct feminine aspect of note to the Megillot books that is significant and readily apparent. The Song of Solomon is about a woman who wishes to court King Solomon or be courted by him. Ruth is the grandmother of King David and the events surrounding her experience relate to the meaning of the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost. Lamentations is written in a style of a mother weeping for her children who have been destroyed. Ecclesiastes deals with wisdom and understanding which are feminine attributes, and Esther is about Queen Esther and her role in saving her nation of Judah from destruction.
All of the Holy Day and feminine aspects to these five books are lost when the books are scattered and dispersed in our Traditional arrangement of the Old Testament. If God indeed placed these five Megillot books together and inspired Ezra to have them read on specific Festival occasions, then clearly knowledge and insights are lost by dispersing them throughout the Old Testament.
Let’s notice some of the similarities and differences between the Traditional 39 books and the Inspired Order of 22 books. First, the similarities: the Law is the same in both orders – Genesis through Deuteronomy. Joshua-Judges is the same in both orders positioned after Deuteronomy, though split into two books by the Traditional Order. Likewise, each book within the Minor Prophets are in the same order from Hosea to Malachi, but they are positioned or pulled as a group to the end of the Old Testament and counted as eleven separate books instead of reckoned as one book in the Inspired Order.
Beyond those similarities, Jerome’s Septuagint-inspired order really scatters the remainder of the books. The Restoration books are pulled forward and split up with 1 & 2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah positioned after 2 Kings, while Daniel is positioned just before the Minor Prophets. The Megillot books are widely dispersed, with Ruth and Esther placed in the Traditional Historical division, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are grouped together after Proverbs in the Traditional Poetic division while Lamentations, authored by Jeremiah, is placed within the Major Prophets after the book of Jeremiah. Finally, the Inspired Order poetic books are rearranged so that Job precedes Psalms and Proverbs.
Such are some of the differences caused by replacing the Law, Prophets and Psalms divisions in the Inspired Order of the Bible with three new groupings of the Traditional order: Historical, Poetic and Prophetic books.
With these changes came a loss of spiritual understanding. That’s our point! Asking why Malachi, for example, is the last book of the Bible is a nonsense question. Obtaining an answer is really nonsense! Failure to grasp the Festival nature of the five Megillot books, for example, really limits and hides knowledge contained within these books. These examples just indicate the “tip of the iceberg” of the loss of meaning and confusion caused by the Septuagint-inspired order adopted by Jerome.
Fitly Joined Together: Insights Derived from the Inspired Order
Let’s notice two examples. First, the Inspired Order is Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. It is not Job, Psalms, and Proverbs! Proverbs concludes with Chapter 31 about the virtuous woman. Then Job begins with righteous, upright Job (Job 1:1). What a perfect and logical lead into the book of Job and the theme of becoming righteous before God. This fit is lost in the Traditional Order.
What is the last book of the Old Testament? It’s Chronicles, not Malachi. The book of Chronicles focuses on the lives and reigns of the righteous line of King David, that is, the Kings of Judah: David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Yet it ends without getting to the King of kings, the King of the Jews, the only truly righteous King, Jesus Christ.
That is where Matthew picks up the incomplete Davidic line by detailing the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David. In Matthew 2:2 he identifies Christ as “King of the Jews.” What a beautiful fit! It doesn’t exist with Malachi as the last book of the Old Testament.
Also, notice how 2 Chronicles 36:23, the last verse of the Old Testament, correlates with and is the perfect lead into New Testament theology. That is, Cyrus, a type of Christ, was given all power (Matthew 28:18) and was commanded to build a house or spiritual temple. That is precisely what Christ is now doing, building the New Testament Church and Temple of God. Is there any question that Chronicles is the last book of the Old Testament?
New Testament Order
There is very little argument about the order of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. To quote Dr. Bullinger once again, “Our English Bibles follow the order as given in the Latin Vulgate. All theories based on this order rest on human authority.” That’s right, on the authority of Jerome!
Scholars generally recognize four Divisions in the New Testament, though some suggest five sections by letting Acts stand alone as a separate division. The four Divisions are: The Gospels and Acts, the General Epistles, the Pauline Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.
There are just two basic questions to answer about the New Testament order. Do the General Epistles come before or after Paul’s epistles? And secondly, where does the book of Hebrews fit, as the tenth book within Paul’s Epistles, or as the final book, i.e., the fourteenth? The answers are not difficult to obtain.
In virtually all the manuscripts the General Epistles precede the Pauline letters or books. The General epistles consist of seven books: James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. And the fourteen books of Paul include Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
Here is what Jerome did for his Latin Vulgate version. It is so easy to understand his reasoning.
He left Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts in place, along with Revelation as the last book of the Bible. He simply “pulled,” as a group, the seven General Epistles down below Paul’s letters. And then he “pulled” Hebrews down to be the final or 14th book of Paul’s letters. His rationale was simply to enhance or give preeminence to Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles and to diminish or reduce the Jewish apostles and simultaneously downgrade Jerusalem relative to Rome. After all, Jerome was an early Roman Catholic.
It’s just that simple!
Notice the conclusion of Biblical scholar Dr. Scrivener who analyzed over 4,000 New Testament manuscripts: “Whether copies contain the whole or a part of the sacred volume, the general order of the books is the following: Gospels, Acts, Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles, Apocalypse.” Catholic, of course, refers to general or universal books, not the Catholic Church. These General Letters were not written to specific congregations but were written by the “Jewish” apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude. Jude was a half brother of Jesus.
Logic of the New Testament Order
There is an obvious logic to the New Testament Inspired Order that is easy to spot, especially by any teacher. It is organized in a systematic manner from basic or elementary subjects and doctrines to the “weightier matters” and deeper understanding of Christian doctrine. As the apostle Paul might put it, “From the milk of the Word to the meat of the Word.” This progressive doctrinal approach would not be true in the Traditional order.
Using an education analogy, the Gospels and Acts can be likened to elementary school. These five books reveal fundamental Christian Principles as well as the life and works of Christ. Matthew emphasizes Christ as King while Mark’s theme is Christ as servant. Luke emphasizes Christ as Man while John’s theme is Christ as God.
The General Epistles represent or can be likened to the high school level. The General Epistles deal with faith (James), hope (1 &2 Peter) and love (John). James teaches how to live as a Christian, and Jude concludes the General Epistles by admonishing Christians to contend for the faith once delivered.
Paul’s Epistles, from Romans through Hebrews, can be likened to college level work. Here we see the ABC’s and XYZ’s of Christian doctrine in detail and depth. Romans focuses on the basic doctrines of repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment. Hebrews however is for mature Christians going on to perfection by building on the foundational principles covered in the immediately preceding epistles. Lastly, Paul’s pastoral epistles of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, a clear sub-group of Paul’s letters, can be likened to Master’s level studies in leadership instruction for Christians.
Finally, the Book of Revelation has to be at the Ph.D. level of education with all its symbolism and prophetic utterances. Moreover, it brings the Bible to a conclusion with end time events, the return of Christ and the New Jerusalem.
By contrast in the Traditional order, Paul’s Epistles are positioned before the General Epistles. Notice, though, in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter tells us that Paul’s epistles contain subject matter that is “hard to be understood.” Thus the “hard matters” are positioned before the more basic exposition of love, faith and hope. No teacher would approach any subject or discipline in this manner!
Principle: “To the Jew First”
There is a second reason why the General Epistles must be positioned before Paul’s epistles. In Romans 1:16, Paul states that the gospel of Christ is, “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Likewise, in Acts 13:46 we see Paul and Barnabas telling the Jews that, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you…we turn to the Gentiles.”
Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13), but he always went to the Jews first whenever he taught (Acts 11:19; 13:14; 14:1; 17:1,10; 18:4; 19:8; 28:17). Even Christ Himself sent His twelve disciples (apostles) to the Jews first. In Matthew 10:5-6 Christ commanded the twelve, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles…But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Surely God had and has an order or priority in preaching the gospel, just has he had in designing His Word. He is consistent. Thus one would expect the precept “To the Jew first” to be seen in the Orignal Order of the books of the Bible as well. And that is exactly what we discover!
That is, the General Epistles were authored by James, Peter, John and Jude who were commissioned to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the Jewish people, as Galatians 2:9 shows. Therefore, the epistles of these Jewish apostles must precede Paul’s epistles, the apostle to the Gentiles.
Notice the contrast of the Inspired Order verses the Traditional order.
The very first verse of the book of James validates the principle of going to the Jews first: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, greeting.” But Paul’s greeting in Romans, his first book begins with, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God…To all that be in Rome” (Romans 1:1, 7). To place Paul’s epistles prior to the General Epistles is to clearly contradict the Biblical principle of “To the Jew first.” The Traditional Order of the Bible by Jerome therefore follows the unbiblical proposition “To the Gentles or Romans first.”
Principle: Eldership and Rank
There is yet another reason that the Bible demands that the General Epistles come before Paul’s Epistles. It is the principle of eldership and rank. In Galatians 2:9 we find that James, Peter and John were the pillar apostles. Yet in 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul identifies himself as “the least of the apostles” because he persecuted the Church of God. It would be a contradiction to place the works of “the least apostle” before the works of “pillar apostles.” Eldership and rank demand otherwise. God, nevertheless, honored Paul by using him to author the most books in the New Testament, fourteen.
Conclusion: Paul’s Epistles must follow the General Epistles based on Biblical evidence and precept, let alone the historical evidence. The principles of: (1) eldership and rank, (2) to the Jew first, and (3) “milk to meat” progressive doctrinal teaching are sufficient to establish this truth.
Book of Hebrews
Another truth that is readily established is that the book of Hebrews should not be positioned as the last book of the Paul’s epistles, and thus the book that precedes the General Epistles. Why?
The historical record, Dr. Bullinger informs us, is that, “In the best and oldest Codices, Hebrews follows 2 Thessalonians instead of Philemon.”
The first seven books of Paul expound the ABC’s and XYZ’s of Christian theology, Romans through Colossians. These letters were written to six specific churches with the Corinthians receiving two letters. The seventh church letter, the eighth and ninth of Paul’s fourteen, is Thessalonians, which also gets two letters apiece. It is interesting that the letters of the seventh church area address end-time events (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
Bible students know that Christ will return at the seventh trumpet. “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.’” (Revelation 11:15). After Christ returns to the earth, He reigns forever, but He reigns for a thousand years before the second resurrection (Revelation 20:5).
Interestingly, in the book of Hebrews the millennium is addressed. Paul speaks of “the world to come” in Hebrews 2:5, the millennial rest in Chapter 4, the New Covenant in Chapter 8, and in Hebrews 11:16 the City of God, the New Jerusalem.
The millennium, of course, follows the end-times or latter days and the return of Christ. Likewise, the Feast of Tabernacles (picturing the 1000 year reign of Christ) follows the Feast of Trumpets as seen in Leviticus 23.
Let’s connect the dots. 1 & 2 Thessalonians, covering the doctrine of the end-times and the second coming of Christ, must logically precede the book dealing with the millennium – Hebrews! Hebrews, therefore, follows 2 Thessalonians without a doubt.
Jerome should not have let his prejudice for Rome and Gentiles over Jews prevail in his Latin Vulgate translation by pulling Hebrews to the end of Paul’s books.
Once this order is recognized, another small but significant insight emerges. Paul introduces Timothy in the last few verses of Hebrews. “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly. Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.”
The first letter to Timothy is the book that follows Hebrews in the Inspired Order. Thus Paul introduces the young minister Timothy at the end of Hebrews and even leads into the book’s purpose of ministerial leadership principles and proper rulership. This fit does not occur when Hebrews is shifted to the end of Paul’s books, i.e., after Philemon.
One final point, the last four books of Paul’s epistles, known as the pastoral epistles, are: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. They obviously go together as books providing ministerial instruction. These four books of the Bible provide information on church government, encouragement to maintain pure doctrine, and principles to be effective leaders in the congregations of God. They are fitly joined together in purpose. By contrast the book of Hebrews is doctrinal in nature, not pastoral. Here is another proof that it does not belong as the last book of the Pauline epistles, as the Traditional Order maintains.
The Traditional order of sixty-six books owes its origin to the ideas and prejudices of Jerome contained in his Latin Vulgate translation. Jerome’s arrangement of the books of the Bible, are contrary to the historical record and Biblical precepts that God gives us in His Word.
Earnest Martin: “All the teachings in the Bible become clearer and plainer when the Biblical books are placed back in their correct order. It is truly amazing what the books of the Bible have to tell us when we read the Holy Scriptures in the context that was first intended by God and those who officially canonized the Bible.”
It’s time to recognize this truth and reject a tradition of man.