The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. — Psalm 37:23
The Christian Bible is the product of countless steps taken by humble men and women – both Jews and Christians – who served the Lord with all their hearts, all their souls, and all their strength. Many sealed their service with their own blood, dying as martyrs for the Word of God. The Bible Wheel proves that the steps taken by these saints as they gathered together Inspired Scripture were in fact “ordered by the Lord.” Though many who hold a superficial view of the Bible seem to think that the order of the Books is little more than the result of a “lot cast in the lap,” the perfect sevenfold symmetry of the Christian Canon is a super-obvious, over-the-top, and incontrovertible proof that “the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord,” as it is written, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33)
History has given us two primary orders or sequences of the Books of the Old Testament – one witnessed by the Jewish Bible and one witnessed by the Christian Bible. The two traditions are closely related and have a common origin. They contain exactly the same set of 39 Books, with 26 Books (2/3) following exactly the same sequence in both canons.
Comparison of the Christian OT and the Jewish Tanakh.
The modern Jewish Bible goes by the name Tanakh (TN’K), which is an acronym formed from its three primary divisions:
- Torah (Law)
- Nevaiim (Prophets)
- Kethuvim (Writings)
The table shows the relation between the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament. Both lists contain exactly the same set of Books. The primary difference between the two canonical structures is in the distribution of the books in the last section of the Tanakh – the Kethuviim (Writings). The gray bars show how the first 26 Books of the Tanakh were simply shifted in the Christian OT.
Modern versions of the Tanakh list 39 separate Books just like the Christian OT. The first numbered column shows the traditional Jewish way of counting the 39 Books as 24 by combining the double Books (1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles and Ezra/Nehemiah) and counting the whole set of Twelve Minor Prophets as a single Book (which it was originally, since they were small enough to be written on a single scroll). The reason for the Number 24 is discussed in connection with the early Jewish effort to force-fit their canon into an alphabetic pattern in the article called The 22 Books of the Jewish Canon. The second numbered column shows the actual ordinal position of each Book as found in modern versions of the Tanakh (verify). The third numbered column shows the order in the Christian OT.
The relation between these two lists is surpisingly simple and direct. The sequence of the first 26 Books of the Tanakh, colored gray in the table, is retained in the Christian OT. The difference is due entirely to the placement of the 13 Books of the Kethuvim (Writings) which are interspersed amongst the common sequence of 26 Books in the Christian canon.
Many scholars speculate that the Jewish sequence is based on the temporal order in which the books were accepted into the canon. All agree that the first 5 Books, the Torah, were the first to be considered “canonical,” followed by the Historical Books called the “Latter Prophets” in the Tanakh. The Kethuvim (Writings) then became a kind of miscelaneous “bin” or “repository” for all the Books accepted later, regardless of their innate genre. It contains books of History, Prophecy, Wisdom and Poetry randomly tossed together in a mixed bag. The Jewish Canon therefore appears to record an intermediate and incomplete state of the canon before the later Books were placed in their natural and correct positions.
The most obvious disorder in the Tanakh is seen in its last 4 Books where we find Ezra and Nehemiah coming before Chronicles! This is an anachronism because the last verses of 2 Chronicles are identical to the first verses of Ezra which continues its historical narrative. This obvious error is corrected in the Christian Canon where 2 Chronicles immediately precedes Ezra. Furthermore, all 4 Books are also placed in their natural and correct position with the rest of the Historical Books.
A similar correction is seen in the position of the Book of Ruth which is an historical narrative set in the “days of the judges” (Ruth 1:1) and so correctly stands immediately after the Book of Judges. It should be noted that this is not a Christian invention. Ruth held this position in the early days of the Tanakh when the Rabbis attempted to force-fit their canon into an alphabetic pattern of 22 Books.
The question of which canon is correct is settled once and for all by the Perfect Symmetry of the Christian Old Testament, especially when it is compared with the complete lack of symmetry and material disorder – in both chronology and genre – of the Jewish Tanakh:
Comparison of the Christian OT and the Jewish Tanakh.
The Christian OT exhibits a 17-5-17 symmetry, with both groups of 17 Books subdividing into groups of 5 and 12, followed by both groups of 12 subdividing into groups of 9 and 3! This means that the symmetry continues down through three levels. Furthermore, it fully integrates with the 27 Books of the New Testament and the meanings of the Twenty-Two Hebrew Letters as established by God in the Alphabetic Verses! We have witnesses lined up from here to eternity! There is no end to the glory of what God has done in His Holy Word! Yet there is still more! Christ Himself bore witness to both the Jewish and the Christian canonical structures.
Christ Testifies to both Traditions
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. — Luke 24:44
Most scholars see a witness for Jewish Tanakh in the words quoted above since the Psalms are the first book of the Writings in the modern form of the Tanakh and so are understood as as representing the entirety of that division. But this assumption is by no means certain, since the oldest copy of the Tanakh, the Leningrad Codex, places Chronicles at the head of the third division (which, by the way, corrects for its anachronistic relation to Ezra seen in the modern Tanakh). This exemplifies how the order of the books in the last division of the Tanakh remained somewhat “fluid” and changable for many centuries. Antoher example is the placement of Ruth which is sometimes found after Proverbs rather than after the Song of Songs as in the modern Tanakh.
Many scholars cite Luke 24:44 as “proof” that the Tanakh is the “original” and therefore “correct” order of the OT Books. But there is another witness from the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the order of the Books which testifies to the traditional structure of the Christian Old Testament (Matthew 11:13f)
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias [Elijah], which was for to come.
Here Jesus reveals the prophetic identity of John the Baptist as the “Elijah” prophecied in the last verse of the Christian Old Testament (Malachi 4:5)
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
The application of this verse to John the Baptist is confirmed in Luke 1:17:
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias [Elijah], to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The Christian Old Testament literally prophecies until John the Baptist, whose coming is promised in its very last verse. We have therefore a witness from the Lord for both the Jewish and the Christian canonical structures. It appears that both were in existence at the time He walked the earth, and were probably held by competing groups of Rabbis – perhaps the Sadducees and the Pharisees which were at odds on so many theological issues.
These observations are confirmed by F.F. Bruce in his excellent book The Canon of Scripture, in which he noted that there were probably two canonical structures held amongst the Jews before the advent of Christ:
The order of books in copies of the Septuagint which have come down to us differs from the traditional order of the Hebrew Bible, and lies behind the conventional order of the Christian Old Testament. The law, comprising the five books of Moses, comes first in both traditions; it is followed by the historical books, poetical and wisdom books, and the books of the prophets. As with the Hebrew Bible, so with the Septuagint, the order of books is more fluid when they are copied on separate scrolls than when they are bound together in codices [see The Scroll versus the Codex]. But there is not reason to think that the Christian scribes who first copied the Septuagint into codices devised a new sequence for its contents; it is more likely that they took over the sequence along with the text itself. It has been held indeed that the Septuagint order represents an early Palestinian order of the books in the Hebrew Bible, contemporary with, and possibly even antedating, the Hebrew order which became traditional. The evidence is too scanty for any certainty to be attained on this matter.
F. W. Bush presented the general scholastic consensus as supporting the “two canon” theory in his review of the position of Ruth in the canon in his book Ruth and Esther in the Word Biblical Commentary (page 8):
The implications for our question are obvious. The testimony of the ancient authorities cited above demonstrates that both arrangements of the canon — that with Ruth among the Prophets after Judges and that with Ruth among the Writings immediately before Psalms — existed among the Jews of Palestine, dating at least earlier than the first two centuries a.d. (see Beckwith, Canon, 181–222). It is simply no longer possible to posit that Ruth was moved to the Prophets by Hellenized Jews whose canon is reflected in the Septuagint. It can only be the case that these different arrangements of the Prophets and the Writings arose among different elements of the Jewish community and existed side by side at least until the time of Jerome, late fourth century A.D.. How the one arrangement later became exclusive to the rabbinic tradition as reflected in the Talmud and the other to the stream of tradition ultimately reflected in the Septuagint is simply unknown. Nor do we have any information to decide which of the two may be earlier or original.