On Order & the Bible

I’m feeling kind of ripped off. Yesterday I discovered that the books of my Bible are in the wrong order!!! Can you believe it?!

Our lecture yesterday touched on the order of scripture and noted that while we, as Westerners, tend to approach things quite chronologically, the Hebrew people historically approached things more thematically. The result of which was that the scriptures were reordered to reflect a chronological rather than thematic focus. This, my lecturer argued, has lead to us failing to make connections that the original audience would have made quite logically. It also means we diminish the unity of the scriptures. He gave numerous examples – at which point my head exploded – one of which was that traditionally Chronicles was the last book of the Jewish Scriptures. This is significant because Chronicles begins with a genealogy that is then continued in Matthew and this is only the beginning!!!

Did you know this?

Do you feel as ripped off as me?

This revelation made me wonder about the role of man in recording and passing on God’s word. It’s such an important thing! How could we get it so wrong at times? And then I wondered, if God is in control of this, why did he allow the books of the scriptures to be rearranged? Especially if it means we are missing out, or at least working very hard to get back, significant connections. If the changes happened way back at the completion of the Septuagint Greek Manuscripts, was the reordering part of God’s plan in reaching those outside the Hebrew communities? Those who think chronologically rather than thematically.

What do you think?

Do you feel as ripped off as I do?

Where can I get my hands on a Jewish Bible? I want to read that Bible cover to cover and see what I find.

The original order of the scriptures:

The Torah

1. Genesis [בראשית / B’reshit]
2. Exodus [שמות / Sh’mot]
3. Leviticus [ויקרא / Vayiqra]
4. Numbers [במדבר / B’midbar]
5. Deuteronomy [דברים / D’varim]

The books of Nevi’im

6. Joshua [יהושע / Y’hoshua]
7. Judges [שופטים / Shophtim]
8. Samuel (I & II) [שמואל / Sh’muel]
9. Kings (I & II) [מלכים / M’lakhim]
10. Isaiah [ישעיה / Y’shayahu]
11. Jeremiah [ירמיה / Yir’mi’yahu]
12. Ezekiel [יחזקאל / Y’khezqel]
13. The Twelve Minor Prophets [תרי עשר]

I. Hosea [הושע / Hoshea]
II. Joel [יואל / Yo’el]
III. Amos [עמוס / Amos]
IV. Obadiah [עובדיה / Ovadyah]
V. Jonah [יונה / Yonah]
VI. Micah [מיכה / Mikhah]
VII. Nahum [נחום / Nakhum]
VIII. Habakkuk [חבקוק /Khavaquq]
IX. Zephaniah [צפניה / Ts’phanyah]
X. Haggai [חגי / Khagai]
XI. Zechariah [זכריה / Z’kharyah]
XII. Malachi [מלאכי / Mal’akhi]

The Ketuvim

14. Psalms [תהלים / T’hilim]
15. Proverbs [משלי / Mishlei]
16. Job [איוב / Iyov]
17. Song of Songs [שיר השירים / Shir Hashirim]
18. Ruth [רות / Rut]
19. Lamentations [איכה / Eikhah]
20. Ecclesiastes [קהלת / Qohelet]
21. Esther [אסתר / Est(h)er]
22. Daniel [דניאל / Dani’el]
23. EzraNehemiah [עזרא ונחמיה / Ezra wuNekhem’ya]
24. Chronicles (I & II) [דברי הימים / Divrey Hayamim]

21 Responses to “On Order & the Bible”

  1. kim from hiraeth Says:

    I don’t feel ripped off! I’m just grateful that I have the Bible and that it has changed my life–and continues to change it.

    The fact that I don’t know all about it’s genesis or its original form doesn’t change anything for me other than opening my eyes to layer of God’s sovereign goodness in the way He has given us His Word.

    I hope to learn a little from you about what you are learning!


  2. missmellifluous Says:

    Oh! I did say “Do you feel ripped off?” a few times, didn’t I?

    You’re right, Kim: having the Bible is amazing! It is a completely gracious and astoundingly powerful and precious gift from our incredible God. I am sooo grateful for it but I do wonder why it changed and how that has affected our thinking and theology. I really want to read the books in order to see if the unity of the Bible becomes more evident. I want to see the connections. I want to understand how far we really are from the time when the Jewish people first received these scriptures in order to understand them and note the impact they still have on us today and the immeasurable impact Jesus had as he entered this world. I love it and I want more!!- How’s that for greedy! – I want to understand it more. I want to understand God more through it. AND I want to be able to teach it clearly and truthfully to my students. I think that getting back to the original text in its order and meaning is important for that.

  3. kim from hiraeth Says:

    A worthy pursuit!

    So, as you flesh this out, it seems that you are not only feeling a bit “ripped off” but also excited and inspired.

    That’s a good thing.

  4. missmellifluous Says:

    Definitely excited and inspired too! And curious. I don’t understand why the order was changed when the Bible is so important. Who just decides they’re going to change the order of a sacred text to make it more ‘logical’? I’m finding it interesting to consider the divine and human input to the Bible.

    I suppose my biggest curiosity is, if God is in control – and we know He is – why didn’t he prevent the order of the scriptures being changed? Or even, is it part of His plan that we now have them in this order? Is it because He knew we would understand them better this way? Have we lost or gained? I wonder…

    As usual, I have more questions than answers but I am enjoying the contemplating.

  5. John Dekker Says:

    Yes, I did know this. 🙂

    But this is one of the things that was completely new to me at Theological College. It’s on of my OT lecturer’s special interests – he’s writing a book on biblical paratext.

    I have been coming to the conviction that the order of the biblical books is inspired. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Septuagint got it wrong. Sometimes both orders make sense.

    Take, for example, the book of Ruth. In our English Bibles, it follows Judges, which is appropriate, since it is set in the time when the judges judged. It comes before Samuel, which is also appropriate, since it finishes with the genealogy of David.

    In the Hebrew Bible it comes after Proverbs, which is appropriate, because the same word (“worthy”) that is used in Proverbs 31, is also used of Ruth – she’s an example of a Proverbs 31 woman. And it comes before the Song of Songs, which is also appropriate, since it’s a love story. (Plus, we want to know what Boaz and Ruth did after they got married!)

    There are a lot of interesting things about this Hebrew order – for example, Daniel is not classed among the prophets. But it wouldn’t be wrong to do so – in fact, it depends on whether you focus on the first half of Daniel, or the second half. So the different arrangements bring out different things about the various books – they do, in fact, interpret.

    I’ve got to the stage when I switch off whenever I hear an argument that refers to “we Westerners” – the writers of the Septuagint were certainly not “Western”! And besides, that was the Bible the apostles used.

    Like the King James Version, if it’s good enough for Paul…

  6. exilefromgroggs Says:

    Hi, Miss. It’s certainly the case that it is part of his plan – because it has happened! And therefore it will one day be seen to have brought glory to God. However, I am not sure how much significance there is in the exact order. Leviticus is in the same place; I suppose the fact that the casually curious grind to a halt in that place means that only those with “ears to hear” will persist in uncovering the whole story in our culture….

    There are differences between Jewish and Graeco-Roman literature – and I guess the thematic/chronological one is an example. Another is the fact that poetic expression works in Hebrew through repetition, rather than by rhyme/rhythm. This is useful, because it means that we can recognise poetry in (eg) the Psalms even after translation – although acrostic and alphabetical poetry (Psalm 119, Lamentations) is less visible. Had the original language been English (say), then the poetry would have been even more obscured in translation to other languages.

    The chronology isn’t exact in the OT, once you get past Chronicles, of course – and even Chronicles is more of a commentary on Samuel and Kings than chronologically after them. And whilst it is important – crucial! – to see the big picture, I think your lecturer needs to be cautious about saying he knows better than two thousand years-worth of Christian tradition and scholarship. God’s Word is eternal and theology is particular – but theology does reflect the truth, and Christianity would benefit from fewer people prepared to say that everyone who has gone before was wrong (see my recent posts on the New Perspective).

    I think it would be hard to argue that Matthew was originally conceived of as being a book that would follow Chronicles in the scriptures – although I would agree with your lecturer that moving from one to the other is a very useful experience, especially for somebody with the Jewish scriptures (the sort of person for whom Matthew was originally written). For myself, I think that the last word of our OT – the end of Malachi – has a very strong biblical theological lead into the gospels. “See I will send my prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day …” leading into the appearance of John the Baptist. But the whole Bible is written to make God, and his Word, known to a non-specialist readership, and as such is fundamentally perspicuous. Any extra study simply reveals more of its genius and depth.

    BTW are you on Facebook?

  7. exilefromgroggs Says:

    PS Have you changed your hair?

  8. missmellifluous Says:

    Thanks for your comments Paul.

    Just to clarify: My lecturer did not say the order was “wrong” that was me being hyperbolic as I am prone to do. He was way more measured and far less alarmist.

    I think there is a significance in the order if we are trying to read the Bible as a unified book. Connections become clearer…I have more to say but need to run off. My brother awaits. I’ll be back to talk about this more later…till then.

  9. missmellifluous Says:

    Just found your comment, John.
    Replying later…busy! Sorry!
    So glad we’re all discussing this. It’s so interesting!

  10. exilefromgroggs Says:

    🙂 Don’t worry – I was also being hyperbolic – a reflection of the historically particular situation that I find myself discussing regarding justification by faith ….. As I said, the more we dig, the deeper it goes – and to find that you can rearrange the pieces and discover more is, as you say, mindblowing.

  11. missmellifluous Says:

    It is mindblowing indeed, Paul!

    John, The “western” argument did strike me as strange too once I discovered that the changes were made by the Greeks.

    The Ruth example you gave was one we discussed in class. It’s fascinating! How beautiful to have a section in which woman’s perspective is given. It just seems that when you discover links like that you wonder why the books were rearranged. At the same time, as so many of you have already noted, the fact that they are in the order we have them in now does show that it was part of God’s plan to have them rearranged. Still, I wonder why. I’d love to know.

    We also talked about the links between Judges and Samuel and how when these books were placed side by side comparisons between Samson and Samuel were more obvious. They become one of those pairs that give shape to the gospel, like Elijah and Elisha, David and Solomon, Abel and Seth, Moses and Joshua…

    Our lecturer also noted how – crudely speaking – the Hebrew Bible was structured by 3 blocks of narrative and 3 blocks of reflective books. I find it all so intriguing though I really need to read more on it to even start to understand the significance.

    Who was your lecturer, John and what has he written about this? Got any good links/articles/book titles to share on this topic?

  12. John Dekker Says:

    My lecturer is Greg Goswell. He’s writing a book on the subject precisely because there’s not much out there.

    The most important author in this area is Brevard Childs, who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. 😦 I plan to write one some time.

    There is a goodly list of links here. Unfortunately the most relevant ones seem to be dead.

  13. John Dekker Says:

    Actually, it’s suspicious that you heard the same example – who was your lecturer?

  14. missmellifluous Says:

    Thanks for the links. I’ll read them soon.
    Rod Thompson is my lecturer. He’s gold!

  15. John Dekker Says:

    And Rod Thompson has a ThL at the Presbyterian Theological College in Sydney. The plot thickens…

    This sounds like such a great course, MissM. I’m so glad you’re doing it.

  16. Steve Says:

    G’day Miss Mel,
    Are lectures conducted at Southland, at Morling College?

  17. missmellifluous Says:

    No. Not at Morling.
    Is that where you have studied, Steve?

  18. Steve Says:

    yep Mel, many many moons ago. So are you doing the course by correspondence? I have had strong links in the past with both parent controlled schools (started one, did the groundwork for another which almost got CPCS systematised, and have rels who commenced 2 others) and Christian Com Schools (I was a schoolie).. so… was wondering how the course was structured and the relevance and effectiveness of Southland.

  19. missmellifluous Says:

    Umm, sorry, Steve, I think there’s been some confusion. The course is not done through Southland so I couldn’t comment on its effectiveness. And I’m not studying via correspondence. I’m attending lectures. 🙂

  20. missmellifluous Says:

    What are the parent controlled schools you are talking about? Which ones do you have affiliation with?

  21. Steve Says:

    Sutherland, Tamworth, Tongarra, one that was to go in to Holsworthy… kids have been at Belmont CCS, and I helped at the start of Inaburra.
    I was really wondering how Southland was working out from an insiders perspective. 🙂
    Many thanks,

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