Lecture 3: Order of the OT Books: Hebrew vs. English
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The order of the books in Hebrew Bibles is different from the English Old Testament because of the criteria used when putting them together.
Course: Biblical Theology
Lecture: Order of the OT Books
The Hebrew Order Teaches Covenant
In our previous time together yesterday, we spent a good deal of time just talking in general about what the New Testament says about the meaning and significance of the Old Testament and what is it about. We were able to describe the significance or the meaning of the Old Testament with both an encompassing framework and a theological center. We had two things we focused on yesterday. We talked about Jesus Christ being the theological center of the Old Testament, that is, the person it is about. The Old Testament is about Jesus. We were also able to talk about and use the phrase the kingdom of God as our thematic framework. That is the thing we think about when we want to summarize all of the diverse parts into a unified whole. We do that with the phrase the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is that overarching umbrella that helps us to understand the whole of Scripture. And then Jesus Christ is that topic, that theological center, that helps us to understand the center or the point of Scripture.
Now we did that by going to Scripture itself. We looked at Acts 28:23, where Luke is summarizing basically Paul’s teaching ministry in Rome. He uses these descriptions: Jesus and the kingdom of God. He also, remember, uses those similar descriptions in the very beginning of Acts. In Acts 1, the kingdom of God is mentioned there and also Jesus. In some sense, it kind of brackets what is going on there for Luke. Luke is our master summary statement-maker. He is always summarizing, in some sense, what Paul is doing. Those are great statements about what Paul is doing with his Bible. And for Paul, remember, his Bible was the Old Testament; not the Old Testament and our current New Testament. That was still, you could say, in production. It was at the publishing house, but not yet released. They were still anticipating its release.
According to Acts 28:23, we were looking at three parts: the kingdom of God, Jesus and then the law and the prophets. We had these two questions – the million dollar questions or the two million dollar questions. What is the Bible about? How is that message communicated? We tackled those questions. Look on your summary sheet for Covenant Part I Review. I just put that there in your handout. We said this is the big question: What is the Bible about? And how is that message communicated? We answered that question with Acts 28:23. Let's just read it again by way of introduction to today's course. It says, it is written, in Acts 28:23, "When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets." And so, from Acts 28:23 I get my three-dimensional worldview into the Bible. I have the kingdom of God as my thematic framework. Jesus is my theological center. Then we have the Law of Moses and the Prophets as our canonical structure. That is what we are going to be working on today. It is this statement: a canonical structure.
If you are tracking with the metaphors that we used yesterday, we used two metaphors. We used both the metaphor of the body and the metaphor of a tire or a wheel. In terms of a tire or a wheel, Jesus is the hub of the tire. The kingdom of God is that outer part, the wheel or the rim which rolls on the ground. And then the thematic structure is those spokes that give it the form and the structure and the stability – and that is the Law and the Prophets.
In terms of the metaphor of a body, the kingdom of God is the skin. It is that organ of the body which contains everything. Nothing exists outside of the skin. Then we had also the heart, which was the theological center, that is Jesus. You take the heart out of the body and it is a lifeless, dead piece of tissue. You have got to have the heart. And then the canonical structure, the Law and the Prophets represents, in the body metaphor, the bones. It is that which gives it its form and outward appearance and basic structure. That is what we are going to be looking at today and tomorrow, for these next few hours of lecture.
II. The Structure of Jesus' Bible
We need to expand upon the designation that Luke records in Acts 28. In Acts 28 we get a simpler reference to Jesus' Old Testament: the Law of Moses and the Prophets. This occurs a number of times throughout the New Testament as a reference to the Bible of the New Testament community.
a. Luke 24
But in another place, by Luke again, in Luke 24:44-45, we get another reference by Jesus concerning His Bible. Let's read that in Luke 24:44-45. "Jesus 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 Psalms.' Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures."
Here it is not just the Law of Moses and the Prophets. We now have three categories for Jesus' description of the Old Testament. The first one is the Law or the Law of Moses. The second category is the prophets. And then He mentions the Psalms. So we have the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. What is this a reference to? Why would Jesus refer to His Bible in these three categories? The answer to that question is this. In my Hebrew Bible, my printed Hebrew Bible, my Bible printed in Hebrew (or, for example, in the Jewish Publication Society Bible, the Bible of the Jewish community today), the Old Testament is divided, not into four sections like our English Bibles, but into three sections. A Hebrew Bible or today's modern Jewish Bible has three sections. They are called the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.
You will often hear this referred to in popular circles as the Tanakh. Tanakh is simply an acronym for the names of the three sections. In Hebrew, the word for law is Torah. It starts with a "T". The word for prophets in Hebrew is Nevi'im. That starts with an "N" sound. We will just put "N" in English. Finally the writings begin with the "K" sound or a hard "C" sound. In Hebrew they are the Ketuvim. So you have this T, N and K, and then they just simply stick the simple "A" vowels between the consonants and you get Tanakh. Those are the three divisions: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.
In Jesus' designation, He simply refers to the last book as Psalms. Why does He do this and not just call it Writings? There are lots of different theories about why it was called this. Let me just summarize certain things for you. First, the writings would have been the last bunch of Biblical books in the Old Testament canonized. The material in the Law is the oldest. The material in the Prophets is the next oldest. And then the stuff in the Writings was canonized last. And so we have these three sections. In the Jewish Bible or in my Hebrew Bible, the book of Psalms is the first book in this section. One of the ways ancient literature named its sections was oftentimes just by the first word or the first piece in that literature. Let me give you an example. The book of Genesis in Hebrew is called Bereshit simply because that is the first word in the book. The book of Exodus is called Shemot – names. Or it is called Eli Shemot. That is just the first words. The book of Leviticus is called Vayikra – and He called. That is not very descriptive in terms of content or anything. It is just named after the first word in the book.
It is a standard ancient practice. One of the reasons this third section is listed that way is just because this is the first book in that section. There are twelve books in this section. We will talk about that in a moment. But the book of Psalms is the first. So it is an easy way of calling it that. That is what is going on there.
Now this is different to what you are normally used to seeing in the Old Testament. In our Old Testaments in our English Bibles, we do not see three sections: Law, Prophets and Writings. We see four sections. We see the Law, or what is called the Pentateuch, which means five books. Those are the first five books of Moses. Then we have a large list of historical books. Then we have a few poets. And then we have all of our prophets. So in our English Bibles we have four sections. In our Hebrew Bibles we have three sections. In a moment we are going to compare and contrast the Hebrew Bible arrangement and the English Bible arrangement. Then we are going to have to think which one should we adopt in terms of our own thinking. Is the arrangement important or is it not? We are going to have to talk about that: a three-fold structure or a four-fold structure.
If any of you have ever written a book or have ever written even a paper, you will know that the arrangement of that paper or book is important. You do not start with your conclusions, then followed by the summary, then followed by the introduction and then the body. The arrangement is important and the arrangement tells you about the nature of the paper. Different papers have different arrangements. Likewise, different books have different arrangements. The arrangement is important.
We are going to talk about the possible arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. From the New Testament, from Luke 24, we learn one thing about the arrangement of the Bible in Jesus' day is that it had three sections and not four. In a moment, we will talk about other historical evidence that supports that. That even predates Jesus. We will talk about some stuff after Jesus. Then we will talk about how we got four sections versus three sections. It is important to know. Because if you drop this bomb on somebody and say your Bible is out of order, you have got to be able to explain that. Before you have what I call a canon revolution and start chopping up your Bible and rearranging it, you have to be able to articulate how it got that way and why you think it should go back. Or you may disagree with me. That is fine too. I am simply going to set forth for you some different options and then argue for one of them.
b. Luke 11
Additional New Testament evidence that is helpful to have at your disposal in terms of thinking about the structure and the order of the Bible in Jesus' day is Luke 11:49-51. There is also the parallel account in Matthew 23:33-35. This is the synoptic account. It is the same account in both Luke and Matthew. They are parallel accounts. So I will just read the Luke 11 one. But note also that it is in Matthew 23:33-35. Here is the Luke 11:49-51 passage read. The Bible says: "The wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute', so that the blood of the prophets shed from the foundation of the world may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation."
This is a very odd kind of statement. You are going to thin: How in the world are you talking about the Bible's order based upon that verse? That just seems impossible to me. But it is actually quite descriptive and very commonly understood to be a reference to Jesus' Bible. Here, with Abel and Zechariah, it may look like we have an A to Z arrangement: all of the prophets from A to Z. That would mean every prophet. In Hebrew, that does not work because Abel starts with what is equivalent to our "H" and Zechariah starts with a "Z" and that is the seventh letter in the Hebrew alphabet. We have Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, He, Waw and Zayin (or Alef, Bet, Gimel, Dalet, He, Vav and Zayin in Unicode): those are the fifth and seventh letters in the Hebrew alphabet. So the A to Z scenario does not work in Hebrew because that is letters five to seven.
What is going on here in Jesus' mind when He is making reference to Abel and Zechariah? Well, it is this. He is talking about canonically (that is, in His Bible) the first recorded martyr in Genesis 4 and the last recorded martyr at the end of 2 Chronicles, in 2 Chronicles 24. This reference by Jesus to these two martyrs is not a reference from A to Z, Abel to Zechariah. Let us get that clear. Rather it is a reference to the first and last recorded martyrs in the Hebrew Bible: Abel in Genesis 4 and Zechariah in 2 Chronicles. Now what Jesus is doing there is He is making a reference to His entire Bible. All of the martyrs in My Bible, their blood will be required of this generation. So not only do we know from Jesus' very own mouth that His Bible has three sections, we can also tell what was the first book in His Bible (Genesis) and what was the last book in His Bible (Chronicles). That is different from our Bible, because the last book in our English Old Testament is Malachi. We are going to have to take a look at that in a moment and say: Well, which one is it? Is it Malachi or Chronicles? And does it matter? So there are some interesting things to think about.
Are there any other places in antiquity or history that make reference to either a three-fold or a four-fold Old Testament? Where are they dated, before Jesus or after Jesus? And does that help us understand? Let me just give you a few things, because this is the kind of information that can be disconcerting to the person in the pew. When you tell them that their beloved Old Testament that they memorized with rigor in Sunday School and got the gold star on the Sunday School chart is actually not the original order and perhaps not the best order to be working with, you will need to account for that.
Is there anything else in history? Well, we do have some stuff in history. We have a book in the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is a collection of books that were considered of value to the ancients, but not necessarily part of the canon. They were not inspired, authoritative and inerrant. They are in Catholic Bibles, but not in Protestant Bibles. Our Protestant Bibles do not have these books. Catholic Bibles will have them. They are called the Apocrypha. One of those books, called The Wisdom of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus was written in the second century B.C.
That book was translated by the author's grandson in approximately 132BC. It was translated from Hebrew into Greek. The Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures also were being translated from Hebrew into Greek around this time. We now call that translation the Septuagint. Greek was becoming the prevailing language during that day and so, in some sense, they were making their first NIV modern Bible translation for that people group.
When the grandson of the author of Ecclesiasticus wrote his translation or did his translation work, he wrote a preface to it. Three times in the preface, over one hundred and thirty years prior to Jesus' birth, he makes reference to the Old Testament as the law, the prophets and the other books. He refers to the law, the prophets and the last or the final writings. Three times he makes a reference to his three-division Old Testament. So that is as early as the second century B.C. According to the testimony of the author there himself, it is already an ancient tradition. At that time, he already has a three-fold Bible, not a four-fold Bible – talking about the Old Testament. The Old Testament of the translator to Ecclesiasticus three sections and not four. That is very important. This is well over a hundred years before Jesus is even born. So this version of three-fold division of the Old Testament is quite old. It predates Jesus.
d. The Babylonian Talmud
Several centuries after Jesus, we have the Babylonian Talmud. This was the Jewish interpretation of the law while they were living, in some sense, in exile in Babylon. This was many, many years after the original exile. They were very specific about their Bibles and the laws and the rules and everything that went with living and thinking about their Old Testaments. In one of the tractates of the Babylonian Talmud, called Bava Barta or Baba Bathra (there are different ways of pronouncing it) – it is 14b, if you want the reference. It represents the oldest rabbinical order dating from the third to the sixth centuries A.D.
It actually lists all of the books of the Old Testament and it puts them in a specific order and it gives a rational for the ordering. That list has a three-fold division. When we compare it to our Hebrew Bibles, there are only two main differences. We will perhaps talk about those, but at least I will list them now for you. In the Babylonian Talmud listing, Isaiah is not the first of the Major Prophets. In our Bibles, it is Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In the Babylonian Talmud it is Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah. We can talk about that. Perhaps when we get to the prophets and I am talking about the prophets, I will tell you why I think Isaiah should be first and Ezekiel should be last. But it is not a critical point for our discussion.
And the other one is the book of Ruth is out of place. Well, not out of place. But let us just say the book of Ruth is in an alternate location in the Babylonian Talmud list as opposed to both our English Bibles and in our current Hebrew Bible arrangement. This is very interesting. I will talk about that. Ruth is one of my favorite paradigm examples for why the location of a book in the Bible is important. In the English Bible, you probably well know that it is Joshua, Judges and Ruth. Ruth comes after Judges, because historically it is located during that time. In terms of genre, it is historical narrative and so it fits well there. In my Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth comes after Proverbs. We will talk about why that is the case later. In the Babylonian Talmud list, the book of Ruth is the first book in the book of the Writings. It is the preface, in some sense, to the book of Psalms. The reason for that is, you will recall, that the book of Ruth ends with a genealogy that culminates in David. One of the primary authors and collectors for the book of Psalms is David. In some sense it is like the brief author biography for a book. Have you ever seen in a book, on the dustcover or on the back flap, the picture of the author and his name and then where he is from and who he is? Have you seen that kind of thing? It would be something like that. It would be like the dustcover. But that (Ruth) is a lot of narrative just to identify a dude. So we have got to figure out: Is it just for that or is there something else going on? We will talk about those three options.
e. The Problem of Canonical Structure
By way of brief summary, the canonical structure that we are about to describe represents the presentation and the representation, the arrangement of the Old Testament Scriptures. The thematic framework represents the encompassing matrix or theological sum under which all of the various parts may be fitted and understood. Finally, the theological center represents the goal, reason and ultimate explanation for the presence of every article, adverb, preposition and conjunction contained in this living word. We have got these three things. We have got our thematic frame, theological center and now we have got a canonical structure.
But here is our problem. We have at least two canonical structures. I will be honest with you. The whole discussion of canon and the history of canonization is very difficult to get at in all of its specific details. What I am going to be doing is simply looking at two final forms of the canon: the Hebrew Bible canon and the English Bible canon of the Old Testament. I am going to try to do this. I am going to say the Hebrew Bible canon, or the Hebrew arrangement of the Old Testament is governed by these criteria. I am going to say the English Bible arrangement of the Old Testament is governed by these criteria. Can we explain which one is original and which one derived from the other? And if that is the case, if one is original and one is derived, which one should we be following in terms of how we think about the Bible? I hope that is clear.
III. My Bible is Out of Order
This next part of the lecture, I have given this subtitle to. This is a new section. What we have done is the introduction to all of this. Now, this part of the lecture is going to be dealing specifically with the arrangement of the Old Testament, English versus Hebrew. I have labeled this section "Order in the court, my Bible is out of order". My English Bible is out of order. In some sense, for me, it is being charged with contempt. My Bible is out of order. Before we look at the structure of the Christian Bible, we must first consider which version or arrangement of the Old Testament is to be used for our discussion. We have already alluded to this reality. At this point, it becomes important to make a number of important observations about the differences between the Hebrew and the English Bible arrangements. We must also justify our use of one over the other in our discussion of the Bible in its final form.
Let me preface what I am about to say this way. You may, at the end of these lectures, adopt to follow in your mind a different arrangement of the Old Testament than is currently available to you in your English Bible. Fine and dandy. Or you may just opt to say "I am going to just keep my English Bible order. What you have said really does not convince me or make much sense." That is fine too. If you do adopt the alternate structure, that does not necessarily mean you have got to rearrange your Bible in English, although that is not a bad idea. It would not be irreligious. But what you have to do, as you are just thinking about it differently, and when you teach or preach from it, you just think in that original Hebrew three-fold division no matter where you are at. So you can use the English Bible and the English Bible arrangement in church.
You do not have to upset the apple cart. There are certain people – for example, your favorite sweet grandmother sitting in the pew – who, the moment you tell them that Ruth is out of place, that would dislodge them in a significant way. You would want to be careful and sensitive to how you do that. In this more academic environment, we can be a little more provocative and say things in a little more shocking manner to make the point. But you cannot do that in the local church. So please be sensitive.
There are things we will learn here that you must ease them into your congregation's life and mind. Then you have got to be committed to being there to iron out all the kinks. You just cannot show up on Sunday, drop the bomb and burn rubber out of the parking lot. You have got to be committed to staying around to work out the kinks. And perhaps, for some of you who are in youth ministry, you know there are some things you have got to say and do in the life of the youth that, if you are just a transient bystander, it is really of no value. You have got to be the kind of person to be around for a while to let it stick in or sink in and work itself out.
a. The Scholarly Literature
Let us talk, then, about the significance of order and meaning. One of the things that is happening in contemporary Old Testament scholarly literature is this. People are beginning to revert to a Hebrew Bible arrangement in their discussion of Old Testament theology. Let me give you two good examples. I can give you three off the top of my head.
First, Paul House has just come out with a big, massive volume called Old Testament Theology. I can give you four examples, by the way, now. He structures his Biblical theological discussion book by book according to the Hebrew Bible order because he believes that that order, that that structure, provides meaning and significance to the whole. So he can better understand the individual parts by understanding where they fit in the whole. I will demonstrate that to you later by showing you what that does with something like the book of Ruth. Ruth is a very small and simple, but profound, example.
John Sailhamer is a scholar at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I think it is in North Carolina. He has some stuff out on introduction to the Old Testament or introduction to Biblical Theology or Old Testament Theology. He discusses this arrangement and what he calls the intentional putting together of the canon. He calls it the macro-canonical structure. He is saying that the final form of the canon, the big picture, helps us understand all the different little pictures that make it up. You can get Paul House's book or John Sailhamer's book and they will be discussing Old Testament theology in these categories.
Let me give you two more books just in terms of reference – if you want more references later for further study. Steve Dempster has a Biblical theological study of the Old Testament called Dominion and Dynasty. It is in the Inter-Varsity Press Biblical Theology Series. He adheres to closely and argues vehemently for using the Babylonian Talmud list. That is our Hebrew Bible with Isaiah and Ruth in different locations. His whole theology, the matrix through which he looks at Scripture, is dependent upon and stems from the arrangement of the canon that way. There are people doing this and actually doing fruitful theological work.
Another one is Rolf Rendtorff. He is a German scholar and he has a massive volume. I do not remember what it is called. It is something like A Canonical Theology of the Hebrew Bible. I know it is by Deo Publishing. [editor's note: The Canonical Hebrew Bible: a Theology of the Old Testament] It is a massive piece of literature. At the very beginning and at the very end, he argues that we must be doing our theology, our theological discussions of the Old Testament, with the Hebrew Bible arrangement.
My job is going to be, with these gentlemen, to convince you why that is true.
b. A Comparison of the English and Hebrew Bible Arrangements
Let us take a look at our handout of the Old Testament canon. I have a handout for you entitled: "The Old Testament Canon: A Comparison of the English and the Hebrew Bible Arrangements". It has two big columns on it. Do you guys have that? There is an English Bible column and a Hebrew Bible column.
The English Bible column is on the left. The Hebrew Bible column is on the right. Here is what we have. The English Bible column you are going to recognize from growing up in Sunday school. You see it when you turn to the table of contents in any English Bible. There is the Pentateuch, five books there: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Then you have a number of historical books from Joshua to Esther. You have five books that are poetical. Then you have all of the prophets or what the English Bible considers prophets.
c. The Arrangement of the Hebrew Bible
In the Hebrew Bible, you do not have four divisions. You have three. Those are in bold on the handout: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. In the Law, you have same five books that are in the English Pentateuch. That is like the holy of holies of the Old Testament. No one messes with i. It is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Then, in the Prophets, you have two groups of prophets: the former prophets and the latter prophets. There are four former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.
In the Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Samuel is one book. 1 and 2 Kings is one book. In our English Bibles, because of the Septuagint and the issue of scroll length in translation, these are each two books. The Hebrew Bible maybe had one scroll for Samuel and, when it was translated into Greek it took a lot more words to translate, and so it became two scrolls: 1 and 2 Samuel. The divisions in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel are quite arbitrary. They are just basically based upon length, not necessarily on common sense.
A good example is 1 and 2 Kings. At the end of 1 Kings, from 1 Kings 17 on, that is where the story of Elijah begins But Elijah is not taken up in the fiery chariot until 2 Kings 2. That is when Elisha's narrative ends. That would have been the natural place to break. 2 Kings 3 is the beginning of the ministry of Elisha (or two and a half). That is where you should have 2 Kings start. But it just does not work that way. It is not intended to be a logical break. It is intended to be just a natural scroll length break. So there is no significance in the break, except for convenience. Nothing is being done there. Technically it is one book.
You have the Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings. Then you have the Latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and, here is my favorite designation, the Twelve. These were always the hardest books for me to memorize in Sunday School. There is Hosea and Joel and Amos and Obadiah and then the rest of them get really fuzzy. I know Malachi is at the end and they have got Zechariah and Haggai and Habakkuk and all that stuff in there. But in the Hebrew Bible, they were easier on their children in Sunday School. They just had Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the twelve Minor Prophets are considered one book. This makes sense because, in some major fashion of measurable reality, the message of each of the twelve Minor Prophets is not complete without the other. We will talk about that when we get to the Minor Prophets and speak briefly about their structure and their existence and what they are doing and that kind of thing.
Then you get to the Writings. The Writings are twelve books. They begin with Psalms and they end with Chronicles. Again, we have 1 and 2 Chronicles in our English Bible, but for the Hebrew Bible it is just Chronicles. We have Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. There is the first six. Then we have the second six: Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.
I am going to come back and explain this to you. Do you know there is actually a rationale for this arrangement? There is actually a rationale for what is in the former prophets and what is in the latter prophets. There is actually a rationale for the arrangement of the twelve books and the Writings and for the two sub-groups, the first six and the latter six. If you understand those arrangements and rationales for the grouping and the sub-groupings, that is going to help you interpret the books. Their position is going to tell you their function.
If you have studied Greek (a lot of you are studying Greek in here), you will notice that we have talked about the issue of word order in Greek versus word order in English. Word order in Greek means very little because it is a case-driven system. You could have the direct object of your verb out front or at the end. You can have the noun that is the subject in the beginning or at the end. It does not matter. But in English, position is everything, because it tells you about the function. If you like to think in those terms, for example – In English, the noun that is before the verb is the subject and the noun that is after the verb is probably the object. The position of the noun in relation to the verb tells you its function.
A similar reality exists in the Hebrew Bible. The position of the book in the canon in some way is related to its function. So it is important to know what the function is and what the position is. If you took an English sentence and you put all the nouns up front without any regard for their function in the clause and you just put noun, noun, noun and verb, you would have a tough time knowing how those nouns really functioned in the life of the sentence. If you do the same thing in the Hebrew Bible – if you take all certain books and just put them together according to another arrangement scheme – you are going to have a hard time telling how those books originally functioned in the life of the canon. But that is exactly what we have done in our English Bible. We have misplaced books. We have rearranged it. Now we do not really understand its original function. So we have problems in interpretation because we have lost their original position. Position in Hebrew and in the Hebrew Bible equals, to a large degree, function and meaning. We are going to get to that.
d. The Arrangement of the English Bible
So what are the principles that govern the arrangement of the English Bible? Look at the handout in front of you entitled: "The Old Testament Canon". There are only going to be about four handouts in this class, so it is not going to be overwhelming. There are four sections and there are three criteria. This is important. There are three criteria that govern the arrangement of the English Bible. You may have never even thought about this. This may be completely new material to you to even think that. I do not know, growing up, that I ever thought: "Why is my Bible arranged that way?". This may be a completely new way of thinking about your Bible.
The English Bible has four sections and we have got three criteria for that arrangement. What is the word I used? Three principles that govern the arrangement of the English Bible. The first is genre. The second is chronology. The third is authorship. The three principles that govern the arrangement of our four-fold English Bible are genre, chronology and authorship.
Genre, what is genre? Genre is simply this: the type of literature. Is it history or narrative, poetry, prophecy? This criterion shapes the Old Testament at the macro-canonical level. That is a big word. This is the kind of word you can now impress your friends with. I was thinking this afternoon about the macro-canonical structure of my Bible and it dawned on me. You begin a sentence like that and you have just entered into a new sphere of relationship with your peers. This criterion shapes the Old Testament at the macro-canonical level. That is to say, the four major divisions – Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetical Books and Prophetical Books – are structured by genre. That is, the books that appear in those four main sections are determined primarily by genre.
Look at your list now. In the Pentateuch, we are going to leave that out for a moment, because the Pentateuch is unique and it is frozen. It is the Mosaic literature and, like I said, the holy of holies. No one messes with it. The next section is a gathering of all of the historical books following the Pentateuch. So you have Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Every book that is of historical value, is written in a historical narrative. is grouped there. They happen to be in chronological order, by and large. That is our genre: historical narrative.
Our next genre, or type of literature, is the poetry: the romantic, the deep, the esoteric. All of that business is contained in Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.
Then you have the Prophets: the mean and cranky guys in the Old Testament. They have doom and gloom and all of that business – not really, but that is oftentimes how we think of them. You have Isaiah, Jeremiah, then you have Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel and The Twelve. You have these three principles. Genre structures the big picture, the macro-canonical structure, the main divisions. Does that help?
The second two criteria, chronology and authorship, work at the micro-canonical level. That is, they determine the arraignment of books within those sections. So, for example, in chronology: the events of Joshua happen to predate the events of the Judges. Then, we know that the book of Ruth exists after the book of Judges because, at the very beginning of the book Ruth, it says: "These things happened during the days of the Judges." So let us just slap it in there because it meets two things. It is the same genre and the same chronology – even though we do not know who wrote the book of Ruth. Then the events of 1 and 2 Samuel generally come before 1 and 2 Kings. And then 1 and 2 Chronicles contains events that happened after 1 and 2 Kings – although, if you have read Chronicles, you will know that in the genealogies it starts with Adam. Chronicles actually starts at the beginning again. It is the deutero-history of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy is the "second law". Chronicles is the deutero-history, the "second" history of Israel. It is a different history for a different purpose. But it recounts everything from Adam up to about 400BC, by and large. Then you have Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Those things really happened after the events recorded in Chronicles. At the micro-canonical level, in that section, chronology is really at work in shaping those books. That makes good sense to our Western minds. We do not want 1 Kings heading up the Former Prophets or heading up the Historical Books, because the things in 1 Kings did not happen until way after the things in Joshu. For us, we think linearly and we like to have things in order. That is how we like our blocks organized.
Then look in the Poetry. Here you can see, in some sense, there is some chronology going on. We think that Job is perhaps the oldest book in that poetical arrangement, so it exists there. Psalms has some older material in it, so it goes second. And then Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs we would attribute, by and large, to Solomon. We think of David as the primary working force behinds Psalms and that kind of stuff. So, we can think it is basically historical in terms of its arrangement, by date of composition.
Then in the Prophets, Isaiah preceded Jeremiah. Jeremiah preceded Ezekiel and stuff like that. Ezekiel proceeded Daniel, or was in some sense contemporaneous with him. Daniel's kind of stuff goes a little longer. Ezekiel and Daniel are contemporaries at some point. Then the twelve Minor Prophets span the gamut. Some of them are really early. Some of them are really late. It is just a conglomeration of those books.
But notice, in the Prophets, we have Isaiah and Jeremiah and then Lamentations. Now why would we put Lamentations after Jeremiah in our English Bible? Because Jeremiah is the author of that work. We have structured here by authorship. Another example of that is grouping Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs together. They are all by the same author – or, at least, attributed to Solomon, or a working force in them attributed to Solomon (that wise dude of the Old Testament). So they are all together there. Does that make sense?
Then Daniel is kind of conceived of in the Prophets. They do not really know what to do with Daniel. Some Old Testament scholars are very befuddled by what to do with Daniel. You know the famous mantra: "dare to be a Daniel"? But very few people know what to do with him once they dare to be him.
David Noel Freedman has an article discussing the arrangement of the Old Testament. He has done a remarkable thing. He has counted all the words in the book. If you take the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, divide it in half, the arrangement is equal. That is to say, from Genesis to 2 Kings, let us say it is 3,000 words. Then from Isaiah to Chronicles, it is 3010 words. It is remarkably balanced. He says there is no way you could get at that unless someone was behind the design of the final form.
Some people may argue that there was this redactor (which is a big fancy word for an editor) who put it all together. And that is true. We did have to have someone put it together. Or, you could, in some sense, say that it is of divine design. In fact, because of our view of inspiration and authority and the origin of Scripture, God could have intended this from the beginning and that is how He had it work out. Either way is fine with me, because at the end you get the same thing. Whether you have a redactor doing it under inspiration or God Himself doing it kind of anecdotally through various parts coming together at the end, it still works out. I am still fine with that.
So the English Bible order is genre, chronology and authorship. Again, genre is the big picture, the macro-canonical divisions. Chronology and authorship are the micro-canonical divisions: that is, how each of the big divisions are grouped inside. I think that is an important thing to know. It is important to know how your English Bible is arranged.
Let me say: This is highly Western. That is how we think. It is very Greek. We like things grouped like this. The Greeks had their different kinds of literature. They had their histories and their tragedies. They had their prophets, their poets, all that kind of stuff. That is how they grouped their literature, if you have ever studied the classics. We also like our chronology linear. We like things in order. We want David told before Solomon and Solomon told before Rehoboam, because that is how it happened historically. It makes us feel good. We have got a grip on history. And then we like to know who wrote it. We like all of our J.K.Rowling books on the left side of the shelf and our J.R.R.Tolkien books on the right side of the shelf. We do not want them mixed up. We want to keep those books written by the same author together. That is the English Bible. Any questions about the English Bible?
That is what we are used to. I am just giving you a reason and rationale. If you are just simply to describe your English Bible now to folks, you can say this is how it is ordered and this is helpful to know. This is a helpful thing to know. It helps you to understand your Bible.
e. The Arrangement of the New Testament
What is interesting at this point is to say: This is not how your New Testament is arranged at all. Think of this. Why is John, 1, 2 and 3 John and the Apocalypse not grouped together if authorship is a big thing? That is an interesting question. Why is Luke separated from Acts? If you are ever going to jam two books together, surely it would be them. If I were putting the New Testament together – thank the Lord I do not have that responsibility – but if I were working on the final form of the New Testament, I would have gone, without a doubt, because of my Western training: Matthew, Mark, John, Luke, Acts. I would have done that without even a hesitation of a heartbeat. Why is it not that way? There is a different arrangement scheme in the New Testament. Guess what? It is not the same arrangement scheme as the English Bible, but it is the same arrangement scheme as the Hebrew Bible.
Check this out. If I can demonstrate and tell you this is why our Hebrew Bible is the way it is and if I can explain to you historically that it is original and if I can also explain to you that the New Testament is structured on it and that once you understand the Old Testament structure the New Testament structure is parallel to it – would not that be a compelling argument for using the Hebrew Bible order along with the New Testament? We do not have to change our New Testament order at all. We could a little bit.
Let me conclude with this by saying this about our New Testament and then we will take a break and come back and do our second lecture. Let me preface this by saying: The history of the canon is a very complicated history. I do not at all want to come across as being an expert on canonization. I probably only know this much more than most of you, which is very, very little. If you were to go read two books on the canon, you would probably be up to speed with me. I am not at all an expert. I have read maybe half a dozen books on canon. That is not much. So I am not going to give you the full canonical history – the development and all this stuff.
But there is evidence from second century manuscripts (and I will bring this evidence to the second part of class to show you what it is) that says, by and large, our New Testament circulated in a grouping of four. There were the Gospels. There were the Acts and the General Epistles. There were the Pauline epistles with Hebrews sandwiched in the middle of the letters to the churches versus the letters to the individuals (which means the second century manuscript evidence would argue for Pauline authorship of Hebrews). Whether you agree with that or not does not matter to me. It is anonymous and so I am happy to leave it anonymous (although if anyone in the New Testament could have written it, Paul is a good candidate). Then there is the Apocalypse. So we have those four groups. That actually matches pretty well with our Old Testament arrangement.
And you are saying: "Four?". I will explain that to you in a second. There are really three main sections. There is the Gospels. There is Acts and the General Epistles. There are the Pauline epistles. Then there is the conclusion. And the conclusion is kind of its own separate mama. It corresponds to something in the Old Testament that is an introduction to everything, the book of Genesis. So for me Genesis and Revelation kind of hang out at the end and correspond to each other. We will talk about that when we get to our world-famous fancy chart.
But here is the thing. With the New Testament really, all I am switching is two main things. We do not have to switch to the New Treatment, because nothing really happens for me at this point (although it is interesting). This makes good sense to me. In the book of Acts, you get the description of the life of all of the apostles who are the general apostles: Peter, James, John. Those were all of the guys that come first. In the second half of the book of Acts, who do you get mostly? Paul. If you take the book of Acts, then you follow it by the letters of those guys who wrote during that time, they just kept the same order in the second century manuscript tradition. You have at the beginning of the book of Acts Peter, James and John and then you get Peter, James and John's letters. Then, at the second part of the book of Acts, you get Paul and then the second part of the Epistles is Paul. So it just corresponds one to one. Actually, you have Peter, James and John and then Paul. Then when you get their letters you get Peter, James and John and then Paul. So you kind of have this A-B-A-B pattern. If you like that, that is fine.
It does not do anything with my scenario because, for me, all of the epistles are jammed together in one group. How do you live and think in light of what Christ has done in the gospels? If you switch this (the second century order) around, the only thing that is switching big time is you are switching the General Epistles with the Pauline Epistles. If you do that, then you have kind of got an A-B-B-A. That is chiasm and it is good Hebrew and so everyone is happy on both accounts. But there is no major restructuring. There is no Pauline letter in the Gospels. There is no Gospels in the Letters – that kind of thing. Acts does not circulate with the Apocalypse. There is no change in the macro-canonical structure, simply a micro-canonical structure change.
I can say that, at the end, when I am working with the Old Testament and the New Testament, there are different options. But I am working now with what we call the received traditions: the final form of our Hebrew Bible that is in my Hebrew Bible and the final form of my Greek Bible that is in my Greek Bible that is also in my English Bible.
I will never forget, in 1990 I bought my first Hebrew Bible. It was November of 1990. I was so excited because I had been taking Hebrew for September and October. I thought I was ready to read the whole thing by now after two months of Hebrew. I was so excited. All of a sudden we had to turn to something like Ruth. It is that small, short book. You think: "What can I translate?" Everyone goes for two things: Jonah and Ruth. They are short and relatively easy. I will never forget not being able to find Ruth. You are counting Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth. All of a sudden I am in Kings. Now I am befuddled. I cannot find it. And then I see all of these other books I do not know. Here is a great one, Eikhah. What is that book? Well, that is Lamentations. In Hebrew, the first word there is eikhah, "how oh Lord". You have got all these problems. I will never forget that initial befuddlement. I guess from there on out, I have been thinking about: Why is the canon in this order? Is that important.?
So far we have seen that there are two arrangements of the Old Testament: an English Bible arrangement (and we will see where that comes from) and a Hebrew Bible arrangement. The Hebrew Bible arrangement has three divisions. It begins with Abel in Genesis and ends with Zechariah in Chronicles. We have seen the criteria for the arrangement of the English Bible: genre, chronology and authorship.
We will take a break and we will come back. I will show you how the Hebrew Bible is structured. I think this will be very fascinating before you. This is going to be important. For me, the position of the book in the ordering determines, by and large, and in significant measure, the function of that book. Just like the position of a word in an English sentence determines function, so the position of a book in the Hebrew canon is going to determine function for you. This is going to be important to know.
It is like going on the battlefield. You need certain weapons at certain times. You need to know: When do I need a parachute versus when do I need a machine gun? A machine gun is not going to help you if you jump out of a plane. You need the parachute for that. And a parachute is not going to help you if you are trapped in a bunker and you have to get out. You need a machine gun for that. So, it is important to know how these books function because they will tell you how best to use them in the church and in your life. Now let us take a break and we will come back and pick up the Hebrew Bible order.