The world has never had a complete Bible of the Old and New Testaments in the original manuscript order of the biblical books. This is a fact! It is almost unbelievable that such a non-manuscript arrangement of the books of the Bible could exist, but all modern translations of the Holy Scriptures do not follow the early manuscripts. — Ernest L. Martin
Thus begins the first chapter of Restoring the Original Bible in which Ernest L. Martin advocated a new and novel arrangement of the Christian Bible that has never actually existed as such at any time in the history of Christianity. Apparently oblivious to the inherent irony of claiming to “restore” that which has never existed, Martin refuted himself in his first sentence. Contrary to the title of his book, he advocated the creation of a novel hybrid Bible in which the New Testament would be patterned on his so-called “original manuscript order” and the Old Testament would be patterned on the modern Jewish Tanakh that was fixed in its present form by medieval Rabbis. He began the justification of his thesis in the second paragraph of his first chapter by appealing to an apparent consensus amongst a few 19th century biblical scholars (all quotes are from the free online version of his book published on the www.askelm.com site):
Let us look at the situation with the New Testament first. The last century saw the advent of what we call the modern scholarly criticism of the biblical texts and manuscripts. These pioneer scholars were very good at their task. Indeed, when they printed their final results of surveying the early New Testament manuscripts, they all without exception placed their arrangement of the books in the same order. [Martin’s emphasis]
Martin’s statement is factually correct in that the four Greek New Testaments published in the 19th century by Lachmann (1862), Tischendorf (1872), Tregelles (1872), and Westcott and Hort (1881) “all without exception placed their arrangement of the books in the same order.” But his statement is egregiously misleading because it suggests a consensus that has never existed, then or now. If critical scholars know anything, they know that there is a vast array of various orders represented in the Greek manuscripts. The mere existence, let alone exact sequence, of an “original order” has never been proven, and if there is any scholastic consensus it would have to be that no single sequence should be called “original” because the various patterns probably developed somewhat independently over time through communal use in local congregations. Here is how Daryl Schmidt explained the facts in his exhaustive analysis of all the sequences found in the Greek manuscripts that contain the complete New Testament called “The Greek New Testament as a Codex” published in “The Canon Debate” (edited by McDonald and Sanders, 2002, p.473):
The variety of actual arrangements is quite surprising, and rarely mentioned by current textual critics. After noting that the sequence varies within each group, the Alands state: “The only characteristic common to the whole manuscript tradition … is that the Gospels stand at the beginning and Revelation at the end,” with “all variations of sequence to occur” in the middle sections. As we will see, even these characteristics vary.
Given the overwhelming evidence that the actual historical documents exhibit nothing like the uniform sequence that Martin suggested in his second paragraph, we could wonder if he was simply ignorant of the evidence, or if perhaps his zeal had caused him to accidentally overstate his case in that one instance. Unfortunately, neither provides a viable solution to the enigma of his error. We know he did not “accidentally” overstate his case because the thesis of his entire book is that the order he advocates is the one and only “proper manuscript order.” Indeed, he uses the phrase “proper manuscript order” or its equivalent ten times in chapter one to refer to his prefered sequence. A typical example is found in the eleventh paragraph of chapter one [my emphasis]:
Almost all the Greek-speaking ecclesiastical authorities from the areas of Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece refer to the books of the New Testament and they do so in the proper manuscript arrangement. Note in all cases that they position the seven ‘Catholic Epistles’ (from James to Jude) before those of the apostle Paul.
… [here he cited five witnesses that agree with him] …
Further names could be cited in support of this prevalent view among eastern churchmen. These included Cassiodorus, Nicephorus and also the Syrian Peshitta Version of the New Testament.11 — RTOB, chapter 1
The ignorant might be impressed by these eight witnesses, but those familiar with textual criticism recognize them as a small minority cherry-picked from a much larger set containing many variations. That Martin was aware of these facts is evident from his footnote numbered 11 which cites page 14 of James Moffatt’s Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, (3rd ed. T&T Clark Ltd, 1981) where Moffatt presented a table listing a few of the more prominent variations in the manuscript sequences. The abreviation “Evv” stands for Evanglia (Gospels). Column “B” lists a few of the dominant documents with the traditional sequence of Gospels, Acts, Pauline Epistles, Catholic Epistles, and Revelation, denoted “Evv, Acts, Paul, Cath, Apoc.” This is the pattern we see in all modern Bibles. Martin’s prefered order is presented in column “E”:
|Moffett’s Table of the various orders of early NT Manuscripts (read online)|
|Epiph.: Jerome: א: Codex Fuldensis, etc.||Council of Carthage: Amphilochius: Philastrius: Rufinus: Syriac Canon (om. Cath. and Apoc.), etc.||Chryso- stom.||Apost. Constit. ( ii.57).||Codex Alexandrinus: Athanasius: Cyril: Leontius (6th cent.): Cassiodorus: Nicephorus (om. Apoc.), etc.||Council of Laodicea: Cyril of Jerusalem: John of Damascus, etc.||Augustine: Innocent 1.: Isidore of Spain (7th cent.), etc.|
Martin cited information from this table, so we know he was not ignorant of the wide variations in the manuscript order. How then did he support his assertion that his was the one and only “proper” sequence? The answer is as simple as it is disturbing. Martin attributed the primary variation from his “proper” order to Jerome who “willfully devised” an alternate sequence “to exalt the so-called ‘Gentile’ epistles of the New Testament into a primal position over those which had ‘Jewish’ characteristics.'” He repeated this charge over and over and over again throughout his first chapter without ever producing any documentary evidence whatsoever. Here is an example from the seventh paragraph of chapter one [Martin’s italics, my underlining]:
This new arrangement of Jerome had the advantage in Jerome’s eyes and to some western theologians of exalting the position of Paul
(the apostle to the Gentiles) to a primal authority of rank above the Jewish apostles who were commissioned to go to the Jews. Jerome’s new and radical placement of Paul’s epistles before the seven “Catholic Epistles” in his Latin Vulgate also placed the Book of Romans and the city of Rome (the city to whom the first epistle of Paul’s collection of books was sent) into a first rank position ahead of the Jewish apostles who once had Jerusalem for their top rank position. This rearrangement by Jerome (to exalt the Gentile section of the Christian Church, and the city of Rome in particular) does not have the slightest justification when one consults the majority of the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. — RTOB, chapter 1
From a scholastic point of view, Martin’s errors are simply incomprehensible. He cited no documentary evidence for any of his assertions about Jerome’s motivations. He seems to be pretending to be some kind of “psychic archeologist” who can read the undocumented secret motivations hidden in the hearts of men long dead. And even if his accusations were true, they would not prove which order was “proper” because such ad hominem argumentation is logically fallacious. Yet those errors are nothing compared with his assertion that the order of the Vulgate was a “new arrangement of Jerome” and that the setting of the Pauline before the Catholic epistles was a “new and radical placement.” Neither statement could be further from the truth. Jerome was born around 347 AD and it is a documented fact that the pattern that became the basis of his Vulgate had been already established some 33 years earlier when Eusebius wrote his Ecclesiastical History III.25 around the year 324 AD:
At this point it seems appropriate to summarize the writings of the New Testament which have already been mentioned. In the first place must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels, which are followed by the book of the Acts of the Apostles. After this must be reckoned the epistles of Paul [of Paul the fourteen epistles commonly received are at once manifest and clear. It is not however right to ignore the fact that some have rejected the epistle to the Hebrews, asserting that it is controverted by the church of Rome as not being Paul’s]; next in order the extant former epistle of John [acknowledged as undoubtedly genuine both by the writers of our own time and by those of antiquity], and likewise the epistle of Peter must be recognized. [Of Peter then one epistle, which is called his former epistle, is generally acknowledged; of this also the ancient presbyters have made frequent use in their writings as indisputably genuine.] After these must be put, if it really seems right, the Apocalypse of John, concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time [Concerning the Apocalypse men’s opinions even now are generally divided]. These, then, are among the recognized books. — Eusebius, Ecc. Hist. III.25
Martin’s claims of a “new arrangement of Jerome” are therefore fully refuted by the plain truth of history. Yet beyond his many factual errors, Martin exhibits a much more disturbing blindness to the theological reasons that explain why God led His people to place the Book of Romans as first in the Epistles. The theological supremacy of Romans, which becomes particularly vivid when compared with James, has been recognized by countless scholars, many of whom would have mourned any exaltation of Rome. The validity of its position as first in the Epistles is also confirmed in a thousand ways by its integration on the first Spoke of the Bible Wheel where it aligns with Genesis and Isaiah. Here is a quote from the Bible Wheel book (pgs. 64-66) that quotes a few of the many Christians who have understood the unparalleled significance of Romans:
Few books, if any, have received accolades quite like this “cathedral of the Christian faith” as it was called by Frederick Godet. In the introduction to his Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans he lists but a few of the prominent Christian leaders who have recognized the unique significance of the Book of Romans:
Coleridge calls the Epistle to the Romans “the profoundest book in existence.” Chrysostom had it read to him twice a week. Luther, in his famous preface, says “This Epistle is the chief book of the New Testament, the purest Gospel. It deserves not only to be known word for word by every Christian, but to be the subject of his meditation day by day, the daily bread of his soul.” … Melanchthon, in order to make it more perfectly his own, copied it twice with his own hand. It is the book which he expounded most frequently in his lectures. The Reformation was undoubtedly the work of the Epistle to the Romans, as well as the epistle to the Galatians; and the probability is that every great spiritual revival in the church will be associated as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book.
Reformer John Calvin wrote that “If a man understands Romans he has a sure road open to him to the understanding of the whole Scripture.” Gleason Archer concurs, saying, “There is no more complete compendium of the Christian doctrine in the sixty-six books of the Bible than the Epistle to the Romans.”
Luther’s praise of the Book of Romans is an elegant refutation of Martin’s absurd thesis that Jerome put Paul before James because he wanted to “exalt Rome.” If ever there were an historical figure who would have opposed any exaltation Rome, it would be Luther who declared that “the Pope is the very Antichrist” (see Article IV: Of the Papacy of his Schmalkald Articles). And so, when Luther redesigned the sequence of the New Testament epistles, where did he put Romans? First. And where did he put the Catholic epistles of James and Jude? Near the end. Did he do this to exalt Rome? Of course not! That is a ridiculous assertion.
The Old Testament
The final step required to produce Martin’s hybrid Bible is itself a hybrid of the modern Jewish Tanakh with a novel method of counting the books. Here is the order of books and their enumeration that he advocates:
It would seem to me that even we Christians ought to return to the Hebrew order of the books as maintained by the Temple authorities when the Holy Sanctuary existed in Jerusalem, since this is the order that Christ advocated as “the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44–45). The Hebrew manuscript order is as follows:
I. THE LAW (TORAH)
II. THE PROPHETS
6) Joshua and Judges [reckoned as two separate books by the Jews after the 2nd
7) The Book of Kingdoms (Samuel and Kings) [reckoned as two separate books by the Jews after the 2nd
8 ) Isaiah
11) The Twelve (Hosea to Malachi) [always reckoned as one book by the Jews]
III. THE HOLY WRITINGS (or THE PSALMS because it was the first book in the collection in this “Royal Division”)
12) The Psalms
13) The Proverbs
15) Song of Songs
21) Ezra-Nehemiah [reckoned as one book by the Jews]
22) The Book of Chronicles [reckoned as one book by the Jews]
These 22 books of the Old Testament (and their arrangement as indicated above) should be the standard canon followed by every version of the Bible today. They represent the exact number presently in our King James Version but, as one can observe, they are arranged and enumerated differently. Again, it was Jerome who gave us our present enumeration of 39 books for the Old Testament rather than the original 22 enumeration (which agreed with the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet). — RTOB, chapter 1
Martin’s list follows the exact order of the modern Jewish Tanakh but it differs in the way he enumerates them. In the earliest records, the Jews counted the books of the Tanakh as 22 in an apparent attempt to force-fit their canon in accordence with the number of letters in their alphabet (see The 22 Books of the Jewish Canon). But history has provided no specific list of the 22 books, and since the time of the Talmud (5th century) the Jews have consistently counted their books as 24. The reason for the different enumerations and the likely cause of the rejection of of the 22 book arrangement is explained by McDonald in his very thorough analysis called The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon:
There are strong reasons to believe that the twenty-four-book list actually preceded the twenty-two-book list and that the latter was fashioned after the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This appears to be more reasonable, since the twenty-four-book collection is more simple than the twenty-two-book collection’s awkward and arbitrary combination of Ruth and Lamentations with Judges and Jeremiah. … The practice of doubling up several books in the list in order to arrive at the number twenty-two suggests that the number, more than its precise contents, was what was considered most important. Perhaps … the number twenty-two was a holy number and thus all of the scriptures had to fit within that number. Hence we have the doubling up of books that do not naturally belong together (for example, Judges and Ruth).
Contrary to McDonald’s reasoned approach, Martin states his assertions dogmatically with little or no documentary support. For example, he ignored the historically attested combination of Lamentations with Jeremiah and Ruth with Judges (which is reflected in our modern Bibles) and simply asserts, with no evidence whatsoever, that Joshua and Judges were “accounted as one book” in the original Jewish enumeration of the canon:
Originally, the historical account from the death of Moses until the rise of Samuel the prophet (which we call Joshua/Judges) was accounted as a single book. Later people, however, divided it into the separate books of Joshua and Judges. These books introduced the “Prophets Division” and recorded the singular time when Israel had NO kings in contrast to the next Book of Kingdoms which recorded the history of Israel when they HAD kings. Internally, Joshua/Judges represent a single literary composition, and they both have the earmarks of one author (whom the Jews recognized as Samuel), and even the apostle Peter referred to Samuel as the one who commenced the “Prophets’ Division” of the Old Testament (Acts 3:24). — RTOB, chapter 5
The error here is staggering. Martin did not site any documentary evidence nor a single scholar to support his assertion that the Jews ever counted “Joshua/Judges” as a “single book” in their enumeration of the canon. On the contrary, scholarship is almost universal in its agreement that the combined books were probably Jeremiah/Lamentations and Judges/Ruth as noted by McDonald above. Furthermore, Martin’s argument that “Joshua/Judges represent a single literary composition” has nothing to do with the question of whether or not the Jews counted them as a single book in their enumeration of the canon. They counted the Minor Prophets as a “single book” but never mistook it for a “single literary composition,” and conversely, they most certainly recognized the Torah as a “single literary composition” but did not then feel compelled to count it as a “single book.” Martin’s enumeration has no historical, scholastic, or documentary support. As far as I can tell, after having reviewed a large volume of scholastic literature on the development of the Old Testament Canon, no scholar has ever suggested that the Jews counted Joshua/Judges as a single book in any enumeration of their canon. Martin’s assertion, like those above concerning Jerome, seems to be another baseless fabrication.
The Restored Bible
The original arrangement of the Old and New Testament books shows a marvelous design that enhances the basic teaching of Christ and
the apostles. It reveals a symmetrical balance between the divisions and parts of the Bible that is truly inspiring and instructive. We will look at the significance of this matter later in this book, but as a preliminary synopsis, note that the original Scriptures had exactly 49 books: 22 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. — RTOB, chapter 1
Martin’s “49 books” are identical in content to the 66 books found in the traditional Protestant Bible. The difference lies only in their order and how they are counted. For the New Testament, Martin followed one of the more prominent variations found in the Greek manuscripts which lists the books as Gospels, Acts, the “Catholic Epistles” of James, Peter, John, and Jude, the Pauline Epistles, and Revelation. For the Old Testament, he followed the order of the modern Tanakh (Jewish Bible) but had to invent a novel way of counting them because the Jews reckon their canon to have 24 rather than 22 books. He required 22 books in the Old Testament to balance the 22 Epistles of the New on either side of the 5 Books of NT History in the center as seen in this diagram:
There are many striking patterns found in this arrangement:
- The total number of books is 49 = 7 x 7, and the Number 7 is the numerical symbol of completion and perfection in the Bible.
- The books are perfectly balanced: there are 22 books on either side of the five central books and there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet from Aleph (א) to Tav (ת).
- Likewise, there are 24 books on either side of the central book of Luke and there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet
from Alpha (A) to Omega (Ω).
- There are seven subdivisions of the 49 books, three on either side of the central group of five books.
At first glance, the symmetry of Martin’s arrangement seems to be a strong confirmation of its validity over that of the traditional Christian Bible. But upon closer examination, we see that most of the same symmetry already exists implicitly within the traditional Bible if we simply enumerate the Old Testament in accordance with the most probable ancient Jewish count: Torah (5), Joshua (6), Judges/Ruth (7), Samuel (8), Kings (9),
Chronicles (10), Ezra/Nehemiah (11), Esther (12), Job (13), Psalms (14), Proverbs (15), Ecclesiastes (16), Song (17), Isaiah (18),
Jeremiah/Lamentations (19), Ezekiel (20), Daniel (21), Minor Prophets (22). Furthermore, these books are already arranged in the
traditional Christian Bible with a perfect symmetry that begins with three columns just like Martin’s pattern, but then is further confirmed by a continued symmetry that runs three layers deep. Here is a comparison of the two Old Testament canons as discussed here.
Note the perfect numerical symmetry of the three columns History (17 books), Wisdom/Poetry (5 Books), Prophecy (17 Books). Martin’s pattern destroys this symmetry and replaces it with nothing. To see the truly amazing depth of symmetry of the Holy Bible as God designed it, it helps to display it with all the books listed (see Perfect Symmetry of the Christian OT):
Thus, the perfect numerical symmetry continues with the sequence 5 + 12 | 5 | 5 + 12 on the second level, and 5 + 9 + 3 | 5 | 5 + 9 + 3 on the third level where the 12 Books of OT History are divided precisely as the 12 Books of the Minor Prophets, with the division itself based on the primary historical event of the Babylonian exile. All of this structure has been hidden in plain sight since the day God sealed the canon. It requires no manipulation to see it, and given the natural history of the formation of the canon, we know that it can not be attributed to any human design. And that’s what’s so wonderful about the design of the traditional Christian Bible. It fulfills the ancient Jewish intuition that the completeness of the Bible should be represented by its integration with the Hebrew alphabet, but it does so in such a way that God alone gets the glory since no human, or group of humans, could have conspired to design the pattern.
This article is currently being discussed in the Bible Wheel forum here.