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OT Canonical Order assumed in the NT: Jesus said,

“Everything written about me in the Law of Moses [Torah] and the Prophets and the Psalms [Writings] must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

The Psalms, the first and largest book of the writings section, is often used to refer to all of the writings. And Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees,

“on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sancturary and the altar” (Matt 23:35).

Jesus is refering to the first book Genesis (where Abel is the first death) and the last book of the Hebrew canon Chronicles (where this Zechariah is the last death). Thus he is using this as shorthand for all of the righteous saints who died in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus assumed the OT canonical order stated below.

It is the order found in Jewish Bibles. Thus, the Hebrew Scriptures are often called the Tanakh (in Hebrew, T is for Torah, N for Prophets, K for Writings). Here the Westminster Confession of Faith could use some reformation as it lists the Old Testament books in a different order reflected also in English language translations of the Bible. Notice that the New Testament follows the same God-given pattern…

Torah: In the beginning (Genesis); Exodus; Leviticus; In the wilderness (Numbers); and These are the words (Deuteronomy). The phrases are the Hebrew titles (the first word in the Hebrew text).

Prophets: Joshua; Judges; Samuel; Kings; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Ezekiel; The Book of the Twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).

Writings: Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes), Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.

New Testament Torah: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

New Testament Prophets: Acts

New Testament Writings: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.

Eugene Peterson suggests that Acts is partially Torah and partially Prophets, making the fifth book of NT Torah.  Then he makes most of the epistles Prophets while James and Revelation are writings.  Sometimes I am persuaded by this argument.

Early comments: As you might guess, you can compare the Books of Moses to the gospels and Joshua to Acts. And putting them this way helps you see why Daniel and Revelation have so much in common — they are both apocalyptic (genre) writings (section). Nevertheless, do not flatten the Bible and ignore the historical nature of special revelation.

First observation: Old Testament books that have been divided in the English Bible into two should be read as one book. For example, 1 Kings and 2 Kings is one book as is 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles. One you might not realize is that Ezra-Nehemiah is also one book. And it is very important to read the so-called minor prophets instead of as separate books as The Book of the Twelve. They have been edited together to be read as a single book. It would also be appropriate, though divided in the order of the New Testament, to read Luke and Acts as one book. The reason that the gospel of John divides them in our canon is that John is assuming that you already know the stories we can find in Matthew, Mark & Luke. Thus he writes a book that reflects much more theologically on the life of Christ.

It is worth noting, unlike in the OT the 1 Letter, 2 Letter, 3 Letter designations in the NT are indeed separate letters and should be read as such but putting them next to one another also encourages you to see the connections between them. In this order the authors of the epistles are separated: Romans through Philemon are by Paul, Hebrews is by an unknown author, James, Peter, John, and Jude are as the names suggest.

Second observation: You should read Scripture according to these divisions (Torah, Prophets, Writings, Old and New). How you read the OT Torah is different than how you read the OT Writings.

To build on this observation: Each book needs a unique reading strategy and knowing where they fall in the canoncial order helps. One thing that is necessary for interpretation is to identify the kind of writing (the genre) that you are reading. You read a grocery list differently than a love letter and a fable different than a history textbook. And so you should read Matthew differently than Revelation and Psalms differently than Isaiah. Not every scholar will agree on the genre of a text. For example, one person might say that you should read Deuteronomy like you would read the gospels. It contains his speeches but it also includes information that is likely told by someone telling us the story. Another will mention that the book resembles an ancient treaty formula. Actually both of these observations are helpful for Deuteronomy, especially the former given our discussion. Knowing which section of the canon a book falls into will help you to identify the genre. For another example, Daniel is a wisdom book (found in the writings alongside other wisdom books) and not one of the prophetic books. This does not mean that Daniel does not include prophecy but it does mean that you should read it differently than one of the prophetic books. It is a failure to recognize this truth that has led to all sorts of interpretive mistakes.

Third Observation: And when we read the books in order we should also interpret them in order, thus Ruth and the woman in Song of Songs are examples of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 (in the Hebrew order it is Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs).

May you read Scripture afresh. Amen.