The Original Order of the Books of the Bible

By COGwriter

The Bible contains 66 books. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament.

The commonly placed order is not the original one.

So some have wondered about the original order of the books found in the Bible.

The 'Traditional Order'

The order we see the books in the Bible currently traditionally listed was put together by the Catholic saint and doctor of their church, Jerome. Jerome put together what is considered to be the 'traditional order' as his order has been kept for many centuries.

Most Bibles seem to use Jerome's order. Here is some information about that:

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…1 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.” (E.W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1974), p. 139 (Appendix).) Dr. Bullinger has hit the nail on the head! (Patton JW. The Inspired Order of the Bible. http://jpatton.bellevue.edu/inspired.html accessed 05/19/16)

Now, mainly because of Jerome's involvement and production of his Latin Vulgate Bible, the Church of Rome often declares "the Church gave the world the Bible" (e.g. The Role of The Church According to the Bible. © Catholicbible101 2008 - 2010 AD. http://www.catholicbible101.com/theroleofthechurch.htm). Certain Catholics also teach that since they believe their church gave Christianity the Bible all other 'Christian' churches need to come back to it (it should be noted that the Bible itself does discuss a false mother church and her daughters, Revelation 17:1-6).

Yet those who point to Jerome and the Catholic Church often overlook the question of where Jerome got his information. Based on records in Latin and other languages,

Scholars Ray Pritz and the Catholic Priest Bagatti both concluded that Jerome got some of his information on the Bible from the Nazarenes and from various synagogues (Pritz, pp. 49-53; Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, pp. 84-85).

It is a fact that Jerome did deal with “Nazarene Christians” who kept the Sabbath, etc. (Jerome. Letter 112 to Augustine, Chapter 4). Jerome also wrote that he was friendly with at least one of the believing Hebrews that seemed to assist him as he wrote:

Ad quam edomandam, cuidam frati, que ex Hebræis crediderat, me in disciplin dei, ut post Quintiliani acumina, ciceronis fluvios...(Jerome, Epistula CXXV, Chapter 12.  Patrologia Latina (22, 1079; alternatively 22, 941). The edition by J. P. Migne, c. 1886, p. 1079.  http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/02m/0347-0420,_Hieronymus,_Epistolae_Secundum_Ordinem_Temporum_Distributae,_MLT.pdf viewed 04/28/12)

Thus, it is logical to conclude that Jerome got some of his information on which books from people who held to Church of God doctrines.

Therefore, then it would appear that the claim that the Roman “Church gave the world the Bible” neglects to mention that their church most likely got the Bible from those in the true Church of God, also known as the Nazarenes in Asia Minor and in Jerusalem!

This seems to be indirectly acknowledged by some modern scholars. Notice a 21st century account by Gerd Theissen:

Therefore we can advance the hypothesis that above all those writings entered the canon on which the Christian communities of Asia Minor and Rome could agree. (Theissen G, Translated by John Bowden. Fortress introduction to the New Testament. Fortress Press, 2003, p. 178)

Taking this a step further, even those who later compromised in Asia Minor apparently recognized that they knew of the complete canon and thus they (and probably others) influenced the Church of Rome.

Jerome's order does not change the fact that he nor his church actually came up with the books, though it took the Church of Rome many centuries to final their 'canons' of scripture--and when they did so, they added books in the Old Testament that Jerome opposed, but was essentially forced to put in his Latin Vulgate Bible.

More on the canons can be found in the following:

The Old Testament Canon This article shows from Catholic accepted writings, that the Old Testament used by non-Roman Catholics and non-Orthodox churches is the correct version.

The New Testament Canon - From the Bible and History This article, shows from the Bible and supporting historical sources, why the early Church knew which books were part of the Bible and which ones were not.

Research and the Original Order

Former WCG scholar Ernest Martin has been credited for doing a lot of research in figuring out the original order. Notice also the following from Dr. Judd W. Patton:

The scholar, now deceased, who has done the most research, in the author’s assessment, on the issue of Bible book order, is Earnest Martin. His 1994 book entitled, Restoring the Original Bible, is the most systemic, documented, referenced and scholarly work on the Inspired Order of the Bible. ...

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. (Earnest Martin, Restoring the Original Bible (Ann Arbor, Michigan: ASK Publications, 1994), pp. 17-18)

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 (For additional proof and quotes from numerous Bible scholars, see Chapter 1 of Martin’s book). 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. (Patton JW. The Inspired Order of the Bible. http://jpatton.bellevue.edu/inspired.html accessed 05/19/16)

Now, since the Bible does specify the order of each of the books, it is probably best to refer to the order as the original order (or believed original order) as opposed to being the inspired order.'

The Original Order of the Old Testament

The 22 books of the Original OT are divided into three groups: They are called The Law (Torah), The Prophets, and The (Holy) Writings; this last group is sometimes referred to as the Psalms as it is listed first.

The Hebrew Bible has traditionally been divided into three divisions of 22 “books” or scrolls:

In Hebrew, the three words Torah-Nevi’im-Ketuvim are abbreviated to form Tanakh, which is the Jewish word for the Hebrew Bible.

Here is a division that Jesus used:

44 Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." (Luke 24:44)

The division of the books are as follows:

1. THE LAW : The Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses)
Five books are in this group:

2. THE PROPHETS
Six (combined) books are in this group:

The Twelve, so-called minor prophets, are as follows:

Hosea
Joel
Amos
Obadiah
Jonah
Micah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Zephaniah
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi.

3. THE (Holy) WRITINGS

This group contained 11 books known also as the holy writings. Some have called them the 'Royal' or 'Government' group because many of the authors are royalty or of royal lineage, or high government officials.

Now, so may ask about the extra, the so-called deuterocanoconical books that are in Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholic Bibles. They were NOT accepted by the Jewish scholars in Jerusalem in Jesus' time and are not considered to be scripture. Even the Catholic saint Jerome did not want to include them in his Latin Vulgate Bible (see also The Old Testament Canon).

It perhaps should be mentioned that at least one source claims that Daniel was moved to the writings by the Jews around the second century A.D. If that is true, then the order is different than shown here.

The Original Order of the New Testament

The order of the New Testament is shown below in 4 groupings. Here is a common way they have been grouped:

4. THE NEW TESTAMENT 'PENTATEUCH' : The Gospels and Acts

5. THE GENERAL EPISTLES

There are seven of epistles not written by the Apostle Paul, and they come next

6. THE PAULINE EPISTLES

This group has 14 books including the Book Hebrews which is somewhat linked to Paul. Early tradition says that Paul wrote Hebrews, but some believe that the writing style was so different that perhaps Timothy or someone else wrote it.

The 14 books are:

7. REVELATION

The last book of the Bible that was written comes next and last:

Revelation.

Some claim that in the oldest complete manuscripts of the New Testament, there is a five-fold division:

  1. Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John;
  2. Acts;
  3. General Letters: James, Peter, John, Jude;
  4. Paul’s Letters: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Hebrews, Timothy, Titus, Philemon;
  5. Revelation.

The Slavonic Bible is still organized in this way, but the vast majority of New Testaments follow a different order (again due to Jerome).

Some 'experts' have speculated that the New Testament should start with John's gospel account. So, there are various opinions on the order.

Summary

While the generally understood original order may be helpful to know, it is more important to know what the Bible teaches and live according to it.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

So, it is knowing and doing what God's word says is very important.

Thiel B. The Original Order of the Books of the Bible. COGwriter (c) http://www.cogwriter.com/original-bible-order.htm 2016 0611

Back to home page