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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






22 September 2005

The Order of Biblical Books


Q: Why are the books of the Bible not in chronological order and why are the Apocryphal books not included?

A: Some of them are in order (the historical books follow chronological sequence until the Chronicles overlap with 1 and 2 Kings, albeit from different perspectives). Job probably dates back to the time of the Patriarchs. However, it is grouped with the poetic or “wisdom” books (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) because of its structure and theological perspective.

The prophets are mixed in chronological order after Isaiah – Daniel (the so-called “Major Prophets”). The ordering of the prophets is due somewhat to size and theological importance: The first four are of greater scope and have more “meat” than do the twelve which follow. The order of these “Minor Prophets” may be partly due to size and partly to time of acceptance by Israel as true Scriptures. Lamentations follows Jeremiah not because it is prophetic but because he is considered its author.

The three groupings are from the Hebrew Bible, although Israel normally had the Torah (the five books of Moses) and the prophets before the other books, which they collectively called the “Writings.” Also, there is some difference as to what category some books belong.

In the New Testament, the Gospels and Acts are in chronological order regarding their content, as is Revelation. However, this doesn’t mean that they were written in the same order as they appear. The Pauline epistles are grouped by author, size, and to some degree theological weight and catholicity (application to all of Christendom). The others are partly arranged by author and partly by their general acceptance by the early Church.

The Apocrypha are books that have never been widely accepted as genuine, inspired Scriptures, although different ones have had varying degrees of acceptance. This is somewhat true even of books that are included among the 66 that are in all Christian Bibles. As one example, Esther is not regarded on the same level as other historical books for several reasons, including its not mentioning God with any names or titles. For more on the Apocrypha, please see my earlier column, “Missing” Books of the Bible.

Some deride Luther for not fully accepting James in the canon of the New Testament, but James was from early years among the antilegomena, books “spoken against” by some in the Church. While Christians agree that the Holy Ghost inspired the authors, He did not (at least to the same degree) inspire the compilers. His guidance was, of course, necessary to determining the truth of the witness of the various writings. The books’ individual testimony, their agreement with the rest of Scripture, and their bearing witness either to the coming of the Messiah or the message of Christ was all part of the decision-making process.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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