How Should the Books of the OT Be Ordered?

English translations need to revisit the way that the books of the Old Testament are ordered.

Let me put it another way:

The only basis for the way that English translations order the books of the Old Testament is modern convention.

The order we use today seems to have arisen with the printing press. There is no ancient precedent for the order of the Old Testament books we find in our English translations.

In The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (esp. 181–234), Roger Beckwith has convincingly demonstrated that the oldest arrangement of the OT is the tripartite division into Law, Prophets, and Writings. This arrangement is reflected in the words of Jesus in Luke 24:44,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

This statement indicates that when Jesus thought of the Old Testament, he thought of three groups of books. These three groups of books broadly match the ordering in printed Hebrew Bibles today: Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). This is the basis of the acronym TaNaK (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim—a list of the books is here). Ancient evidence for this tripartite division of the OT is also found in the prologue to the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, in the text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls known as 4QMMT, and in the Babylonian Talmud’s Baba Bathra 14b.

Another indication that Jesus thought of the OT in these terms is his statement in Matthew 23:34–36 paralleled in Luke 11:49–51. In these texts Jesus speaks of “the blood of all the prophets . . . from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah . . .” This seems to be Jesus’ way of referring to all the martyrs in the OT, from start to finish. The murder of Abel is near the beginning in Genesis 4, and the murder of Zechariah is near the end in 2 Chronicles 24. Jesus’ statement only works, though, if Chronicles is near the end of the OT. In the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings, Chronicles is in the last section, the Writings. The order of the OT books used in modern English translations makes it difficult to understand what Jesus was talking about.

So how did the order of the OT books in English translations come about? Roger Beckwith (The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, 182) explains that once the early church lost contact with its Jewish roots (Origen and Jerome were rare among the early fathers in their ability to read Hebrew), the desire to arrange the books of the OT according to Alexandrian standards won the day.

It seems to me that three considerations argue decisively against continuing to follow the early church fathers in their rearrangement of the order of the books of the OT.

First, the order we find in English translations today doesn’t match the order we find in statements from the early church fathers. That is to say, there is no single “Christian” order of the books of the OT to be found in the writings of the early church fathers, so it is impossible to claim that modern publishers of the Bible are following Christian tradition that derives from the early church. The order given by Melito of Sardis differs from the order given by Origin, and different orders are given by Epiphanius, as is also the case with Jerome. There was not a uniform “Christian” order to the books of the OT until the rise of the printing press. The order of the books of the OT in Codex Vaticanus does not match the order of the books of the OT in Codex Sinaiticus. More evidence could be cited, but it’s all in Beckwith’s book. Here’s hoping that Beckwith’s book will continue to be widely read! So the first reason that we should adopt the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings over against a supposed “Christian” order of the books of the OT is that there is no “Christian” order of the books of the OT to be adopted.

The second reason we should adopt the tripartite division of the books of the OT (Law, Prophets, and Writings) in English translations today as opposed to a (non-existent) “Christian” order of the books of the OT has to do with the way that the Reformers delimited the Old Testament canon. Put simply, at the Reformation, the Protestants excluded the Apocrypha from the OT because they followed the Hebrew tradition rather than the Septuagint tradition. That is, the Jews never considered the Apocrypha to be part of the OT, nor does the NT indicate that the Apocryphal books were ever regarded as canonical. Beckwith helpfully suggests that the appearance of various Apocryphal works in both Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus reflects the reading habits of the early church rather than the canonical status of the Apocryphal books included (195). Still, some early church fathers regarded various Apocryphal books as belonging in the OT canon. In the same way that most Protestants today follow the Reformers in following Hebrew tradition and concluding that the Apocryphal books are not canonical, why should Protestant publishers of English translations of the Bible not follow the Hebrew tradition in the order of the books of the OT? Why should English translations of the Bible follow Hebrew tradition on the question of which books should be in the OT, but then refuse to follow Hebrew tradition on the question of how the books of the OT should be ordered? Again, we cannot claim that the order of the OT books in English translations today follows the order reflected in the Septuagint because (1) there is no uniform order in Septuagint manuscripts, and (2) Septuagint manuscripts include the Apocrypha.

The final decisive reason, to my thinking, as to why English translations should order the books of the OT today according to the tripartite structure of Law, Prophets, and Writings has already been mentioned: this is the order Jesus knew and acknowledged. Luke 24:44 and Matthew 23:34–36 (paralleled in Luke 11:49–51) indicate that Jesus knew and accepted the order of Law, Prophets, and Writings. The fact that Matthew and Luke include these statements in their gospels with no explanatory comment indicates that they expected their audiences to be familiar with this order of the OT books. Thus, I would argue that the earliest church knew and accepted the order of the OT books acknowledged by Jesus, and only once the Jewish roots were cut did the church fathers begin to rearrange the books of the OT. All this to say: why shouldn’t followers of Jesus follow him in his understanding of the order of the books of the OT? Since it is the order acknowledged by Jesus, isn’t the tripartite division into Law, Prophets, and Writings the truly Christian order of the books?

To summarize: We should accept the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings, and we should order English translations of the books of the OT accordingly because (1) the order in use by English translations now does not match the orders found in lists drawn up by early church fathers; (2) Protestants have agreed with Hebrew tradition rather than Septuagint tradition on which books should appear between the covers of the Bible, so Protestants should also agree with Hebrew tradition on how those books should be arranged; and (3) this is the order that Jesus endorsed and that Matthew and Luke expected their audiences to recognize.

If you’ve read to this point, you may be asking the valid question, “What difference does the order of the books of the OT make?” Well, David Noel Freedman has put forward the argument that Ezra and Nehemiah collaborated on the canonization of the books of the OT, and he argues that Ezra and Nehemiah built a symmetry into the OT. In other words, they put the books of the OT into an intentional order that itself communicated their view regarding the overall message of the OT. I don’t agree with everything Freedman has asserted (see a two part interview with him: part 1 and part 2), but what if he is right about Ezra and Nehemiah arranging the books of the OT such that the very arrangement of the books themselves communicates a comprehensive understanding of the OT’s message? In my view, only inspired prophets would have been able to do what Freedman suggests Ezra and Nehemiah did. If he is right that they built an intentional structure into the arrangement of the OT books, should that arrangement be considered inspired? I doubt that question will be settled, but we can ask similar questions: if the arrangement was intended by Ezra and Nehemiah, doesn’t reorganizing the books make it harder for people to understand the OT’s over-arching message? And again, even if the arrangement is not inspired, by undoing that arrangement, doesn’t reorganizing the books of the OT not make it harder to see what Jesus was saying?

I have a French translation of the Bible, La Bible en francais courant, that arranges the books of the OT according to the tripartite structure of Law, Prophets, and Writings. I would love to see an English translation of the Bible follow suit.

What do you think?


This post originally appeared as a guest post at Moore to the Point.

Join the Conversation


  1. You make a good case.I seem to recall B.H. Carroll discusses this in his Interpretation of the English Bible.

    Have you dealt with the NT order as well? J. Sidlow Baxter found significant structure in the traditional NT ordering.

    Your biggest obstacle would be convincing a publisher. However, with specialty editions like the Chronological Bible, you could encourage someone to tackle it.

    Tell them I will buy a copy 😉

    Appreciate your ministry!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, David, I follow Dempster’s suggestions about the order of the NT books and discuss that issue a little in GGSTJ, see esp. 443–47, but it’s leavened throughout . . . Blessings!

  2. Dr. Hamilton

    I could not agree more. Not only does the overall structure indicate something about the OT’s overall message at a macrostructural level, but, as you know, some have argued that the sequence of books within each major division of the canon gives clues which guide the interpretation of the individual books. I hope like you do that we will one day return to the tripartite division with Chronicles as the last book unlike its placement in B19.

    Also there is a German scholar (I cannot remember his name) who argues in an article (I cannot remember its name) that the Chronicler is the Canonicler instead of Ezra or Nehemiah. Are you familiar with such arguments, and if so, do you find them compelling?

    Joe Justiss

    1. You may be thinking of Rendtorff. I don’t know enough about the issue yet to know where I am on the question of whether Ezra and the Chronicler are the same person. I’ve worked carefully through the Hebrew and Aramaic of Ezra, but I’m yet to get to Chronicles. Several other books are in the queue for the long slow meditative read before Chronicles, but hopefully I’ll get there.

      I reject the idea that the genealogies in Ezra are going down into the 300’s. I think that’s a misreading of the evidence.

      So at this point I’m at least open to the idea that the Canonicler is the the Chronicler is Ezra.

      I want to work through Chronicles slowly in Hebrew for myself, though.



  3. Interesting coincidence: I was up late last night discussing the ordering of the OT canon. I find Beckwith’s argument extremely compelling!

    We were discussing a few resources last night that might be helpful: Stephen Dempster’s “Dominion and Dynasty” summarizes the canonical significance of this ordering well. Also the forthcoming “What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About” edited by Jason DeRouchie looks to be especially helpful in exploring the details of the canonical arrangement.

  4. The Jewish Publication Society offers The Jewish Bible: Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures — The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text: Torah * Nevi’im * Kethuvim which can be ordered from for $14.97

  5. Dr. H,

    What do you think of this?

    In terms of the early formation of the Old Testament canon, Meredith G. Kline argues that it “was a divine work by which the authoritative words of God were through the mystery of inspiration inscripturated in document after document, the canon being formed by the very appearance of these God-breathed scriptures.” This would mean that the canon was recognized by men, not formed by them in a series of conciliar decisions. The Pentateuch came to Israel as a covenant document, fully inspired and authoritative. Kline again, “The beginnings of canonical Scripture thus coincided with the formal founding of Israel as the kingdom of God.” “The origin of the Old Testament canon coincided with the founding of the kingdom of Israel by covenant a Sinai.”

  6. The TNIV Books of the Bible edition puts the order as Law, Prophets, Writing. It also does away with verses and chapters.

    I love it. Just wish there was an ESV edition.

    1. I like that idea, Philip! Dr Hamilton, I recently preached an ‘overview of the Bible’ series and I reorganized the whole Bible into a chronological order. It really helped people see the storyline of the Bible. I’m interested to check out the LPW order now.


      P.S. I’m really enjoying and benefiting from your biblical theology. I got it cheap on Kindle and will definitely be buying the hardcopy

  7. I agree with a 3-fold division of the Hebrew Bible.

    However, is it not a bit anachronistic to refer to an “order” of the Hebrew Books? I mean, we are talking about scrolls, not books–Ezra obviously did not gather the books and make a codex, since that did not exist yet. Thus, the scrolls were all lumped together. Are you arguing that the scrolls were placed in a specific order?

    I just think the whole notion of an “order” beyond the 3-fold division goes beyond the evidence and reads into the Hebrew Bible technology that did not exist until well into the Christian era.

    1. See Beckwith’s discussion. He argues that since there wasn’t one big scroll, but since there were boundaries to the canon, there was probably a list. I can’t remember if he says this or not, but the easiest way to memorize the contents of a list is if everything on it is in a standardized and universally accepted order.

  8. Thanks, Dr. Hamilton! A very good point.

    I might be mistaken but I believe the Books of the Bible places the OT in this tripartite division. But a major downside is that it uses the TNIV translation. Of course, the TNIV has been superceded by the updated NIV.

    Also, I believe Messianic Jews have similarly argued for this. For example, David Stern’s translation of the Complete Jewish Bible orders the OT in this way.

    Since we’re on the topic of recommending improvements to how Bibles might be better designed, I think it’d be nice if more Bible publishers published Bibles in a single column text format rather than double. It’d look and read more like what I’d think is a normal modern book. But obviously this is just a personal preference. I mean, it could just be me that likes this! 🙂

  9. When I read (and re-read) R. Laird Harris’ book on the inspiration and canonicity of Scripture, I found his argument against the tripartite division, and against seeing the order of books as a finally-settled fait accompli, persuasive. Are you familiar with it?

    From memory, one of Harris’ observations was that the NT passages acknowledging a three-part division are fluid, and that they are outnumbered by twofold (“the Law and the Prophets”) and singular (“the Law”) descriptions. By “fluid,” I mean it will say law, prophets and psalms, for instance, rather than “writings.”

    But I find the current theological examinations of the purported shape very intriguing, and am open to the case being made. Haven’t read Beckwith yet.

    Have you read Harris’ book, Jim?

    1. Thanks for your note, Dan, I haven’t read Harris, but Beckwith discusses the things you mention. He suggests that at times Torah can be used to describe the whole, other times Law and Prophets does the same, and there is noted “fluidity” in what the third section is called. Jesus calls it “the Psalms,” and the Prologue to Ben Sira calls it things like “those who followed.” Still, it’s clear that there’s a Law and a Prophets, and I think there are other clear indications that people are recognizing a Writings, but the moniker for that third section isn’t yet frozen.

      In spite of the “living” activity of terming the third section, and in spite of the slight variation in the arrangement of that section, I think the evidence still indicates that this is the only order that has come down to us as being historically attested.

      I don’t know whether it originates from Ezra and is therefore inspired, but maybe I don’t need to know that if it has the authority of Jesus behind it?



  10. Dr Hamilton

    Very helpful insights, something I have wondered about from time to time over the years but never made time to really look into at any depth. Glad you are, maybe I can make time to read further. Too busy enjoying your book on Biblical Theology !

    Thoroughly enjoyed hearing Dr Schreiner on Galatians last weekend up in Nevada, keep up the good work at Southern.

    Warmest regards

    Pastor Robert Briggs
    Sacramento, CA

  11. I also have to admit I have not read Beckworth, but it is my understanding the order of the books in the Hebrew canon particularly in the Writings section varied considerably in different Hebrew manuscripts though the contents of the three sections are stable. Is this so and if so how does this affect the approach you have outlined?

    1. Thanks for your note, Mike,

      Beckwith approaches the order as a text-critical problem–which reading best explains the rise of the others. Again, his discussion is masterful. From his discussion, I would say that there is one oldest order from which the others derive. The re-arrangements fall into two categories: those derived from historical considerations and those that derive from theological/pastoral considerations. If I remember correctly, I think Beckwith argues that the Literary arrangement was the oldest–but I’d have to check that detail.

      I’m not too troubled by the fluidity in the Writings section. It is one of the things that prompts me to hold this idea loosely. I think the Tri-Partite division of the OT canon is the only arrangement that comes down to us from antiquity, that it was endorsed by Jesus, and that these two considerations make it the best arrangement of the books.

      But the fact that there isn’t an explicit command in the Bible that the books be ordered this way, and the fact that there is some fluidity in the arrangement and designation of the Writings keep me from going to war over this issue.



  12. I apologize if I came across as hostile. I am certainly not rejecting the idea of going back to the Hebrew order out of hand. It is just that the variations in the order of the Writings was the question that immediately came to mind and I wanted to hear your response to it. I may have to read Beckwith for more details.

  13. Dear Dr. Hamilton, I find the discussion in both Harris and Beckwith interesting, and to some extent convincing. However, the discussion does not deal with the fact that while the tri-partite division of the Hebrew canon is fairly standard in our presently existing Hebrew manuscripts, the order of books is not. For example,the order of books in the writings is not even standardized in modern printed editions of the Hebrew Bible. For example, BHS has the writings in the order Psalms, Job Proverbs, while a couple of editions that I have has the order Psalms, Proverbs, Job. In like manner, the Five Scrolls (Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, Lamentations) are found in different orders in different printed editions, and this reflects differences in the manuscript traditions. There is also some evidence that books “migrate” from one section to another, depending on the manuscript. Likewise, the order of books varies in the Septuagint manuscripts. Someone has recently published a Bible with the books in “the original order.” I suppose the editor received divine revelation on that one.

  14. Dr. Hamilton,
    I thoroughly agree that the OT order matters and that the tripartite order makes the most sense for historical and theological reasons. I just finished a dissertation at SEBTS on the theological significance of the NT order and so am always happy to see a focus on canonical shape. Thanks for the post!

    In Christ,
    Matthew Emerson

      1. Dr. Hamilton,
        It’s titled “Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament.” Dr. David Hogg, who was formerly Assoc. Prof of Theology here but is going to Beeson to be the Assoc. Dean of Academic Affairs, was my supervisor. I believe he’s teaching a class at SBTS this week.


  15. Matt (and/or Dr. Hamilton),

    Just wondering, have you read The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament by Bernard?

  16. In the Preface, Bernard focuses on the aim and design of his lectures. He is trying to show that the New Testament “exhibits a scheme of progressive doctrine, fashioned for permanent and universal use;” to observe “the actual sequence of thought” in the NT; to show that this progressive scheme “involves the unity of a divine plan, and therefore the continuity of a divine authority.” It is a fascinating book published in the 19th century.

    1. Bernard quotes with my comments-

      The teaching of the Lord in the Gospels includes the substance of all Christian doctrine, but does not bear the character of finality. Secondly, the teaching of the Lord in the Gospels is a visibly progressive course, but on reaching it highest point announces its own incompleteness, and opens another stage of instruction.

      Bernard comments, “With these words we enter on a new stage of history and of doctrine, and they are words which connect it with the past.” As with the Gospel of Matthew, so with the Book of Acts – it connects itself to the past, yet it is the natural advance of former revelation. As the Old Testament was preparatory of the New Testament, so the earthy ministry of Christ was preparatory of the subsequent, post-ascension ministry of Christ. Christ “began both to do and teach” during his earthly ministry “until the day in which He was taken up.” However, the ascension did not close the book on Christ’s ministry of revealing the Father’s will. The teacher remains the same, the origin and means of instruction are changed. As Bernard puts it:

      the book of Acts at its opening attach[es] itself to the preceding record; throwing back our thoughts on “the former treatise of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,” and then passing rapidly in review the last circumstances which connect the Apostles with their Lord, as the instruments which he had chosen and prepared for the work which he had yet to do. Thus the history which follows is linked to, or (may I not rather say) welded with, the past; and the founding of the Church in the earth is presented as one continuous work, begun by the Lord in person, and perfected by the same Lord through the ministry of men. This is the point on which I have now to insist. “The former treatise” delivered to us, not all that Jesus did and taught, but “all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up.” The following writings appear intended to give us, and do in fact profess to give us, that which Jesus continued to do and teach after the day in which he was taken up.

      As expected, Bernard sees continuity between the book of Acts and the Epistles. Acts gives us apostolic history; the Epistles give us apostolic doctrine. “The history gains significance from the doctrine, and the doctrine derives authority from the history.” But, as Bernard asks, “what is that truth which they worked out?” Bernard observes that in the book of Acts the recorded addresses are delivered, on the main, “to those who are not yet Christians. So Christ was preached to the world: but how was he taught to the Church?” This is the domain of the Epistles. The Epistles record what the Apostles taught those who had believed. Granted, the book of Acts contains glimpses of instruction for believers, such as the Jerusalem Council, Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders, and brief records of Paul revisiting and instructing the churches born through his missionary labors, but the content of his instruction is not recorded. Just the opposite occurs in the Epistles. In the book of Acts sinners become saints, are baptized, and formed into local churches and instructed. But we are not told of what this instruction consisted. Bernard says:

      To this point the book of Acts conducts us, and at this point it leaves us.
      It may be said, what more should follow? Christians exist. Christian communities are formed. Let them now be left to their ordinary and permanent resources.
      So it might have been.–So in God’s mercy it was not.
      A new life had begun, intellectual, moral, and social, teeming with elements, which could not but work and expand. It would have been hard to say with what force they would do so, or in what direction. Now the great ideas of the Gospel are old and familiar; and the very words which represent them have been sorely battered by controversy, and worn thin by use. But then the revelation of Christ had just broken, like an unexpected morning, on a weary and hopeless world. The stupen¬dous events which had so lately passed on earth, the present actual relations with heaven which were wit¬nessed to men by proofs within and around them, the prospect of things awful and glorious hastening on, and perhaps already near at hand, must have given a stimu¬lus to thought and feeling, the first sensations of which it is not easy for us now to estimate. The Father revealed, the Son incarnate, the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven—redemption wrought, salvation given, the resurrection of the body, the eternal judgment, the sec¬ond death, the life eternal—new principles of thought, new standards of character, new grounds of duty, new motives, new powers, new bonds between man and man, new forms of human society, new language for human lips—all coming at once upon men’s minds, placed them, as it were, in a different world from that in which they had lived before. At the same time they carried into that world of thought all the tendencies, infirmities, and perversities of our nature, and revealed truth had to settle itself into lasting forms, to find its adequate ex¬pression, and to have its moral and social consequences deduced, under a variety of influences uncongenial to itself. So critical a period, on which the whole future of the Gospel hung, would seem to cry aloud for a con¬tinued action of the living word of God; such as might, with supreme authority, both judge and guide the thoughts of men, and translate the principles which they had received into life and practice.
      The Lord recognized this necessity. He met it by the living voice of his Apostles; and their Epistles re¬main as the permanent record of this part of their work. They are the voice of the Spirit, speaking within the Church to those who are themselves within it, certifying to them the true interpretations and applications of the principles of thought and life which as believers in Jesus they have received. This is the function in the scheme of divine instruction which belongs to these writings; and I propose now to note some particular aspects in which their designation and adaptation to it will appear. Without entering yet into the examination of their actual doctrine, we shall see that the Epistles are fitted to form a course of teaching of the kind described, by their form, their method, their authorship, and their relative character.

      Bernard opens this lecture by placing the Apocalypse in biblical context. He relates the Epistles to the words of Jesus in John 16:13, “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” and the Apocalypse to the final words of that text, “and He will tell you things to come.” According to Bernard, this statement finds

      its distinct fulfillment in the Apocalypse. That book continues the line of predictive history running through the New Testament, and is the consummation of the sure word of prophecy which pervades the Bible as a whole.

      Bernard reminds us that he has already shown us “that the words spoken by our Lord in the flesh give the substance of all the later doctrine” and form “the heads and summaries of chapters which were to be written afterwards.” Then he makes a transition to the Apocalypse as follows:

      As all the great doctrinal features of the Epistles are found in germ in separate sayings of the Lord, so also the main outlines of the Apocalypse are given us in parables and sayings, which trace the future history of his kingdom. And more particularly it is to be noticed, that this book bears the same relation to the last discourse in St. Matthew which the Epistles bear to the last discourse in St. John. In the upper room where the last Passover and the first Eucharist had been celebrated, and in the midst of the little company which then represented the Christian Church, the Lord spoke the words which opened the mystery of the spiritual life, a mystery afterwards to be fully unfolded by the Holy Ghost, in the day when they would know that he was in the Father, and they in him and he in them. Sitting on the Mount of Olives with Jerusalem spread before him, and questioned as to the sign of his coming and of the winding up of the age, he gave the outlines of a prophetic history, which contained the substance, bore the character, and must rule the interpretation, of the later and larger revelation.

      Only the written word of God, confidingly followed in the pro¬gressive steps of its advance, can lead the weakest or the wisest into the deep blessedness of the life that is in Christ, and into the final glory of the city of God.
      Perhaps in some minds this needful confidence may be strengthened by a review of the books of the New Testament in the light in which they have now been placed. When it is felt that these narratives, letters, and visions do in fact fulfil the several functions, and sustain the mutual relations, which would belong to the parts of one design, coalescing into a doctrinal scheme which is orderly, progressive, and complete, then is the mind of the reader in conscious contact with the mind of God; then the superficial diversity of the parts is lost in the essential unity of the whole: the many writings have become one Book; the many writers have become one Author. From the position of students, who ad¬dress themselves with critical interest to the works of Matthew, of Paul, or of John, we have risen to the higher level of believers, who open with holy joy “the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” and, while we receive from his own hand the book of life eternal, we hear him saying still, “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me.”

  17. One last piece:

    Bernard sees the Apocalypse as a book of restoration. After referencing Revelation 21:1-2, he says:

    In taking these words for my text [i.e., referenced at the beginning of this lecture] I place myself at the point where the whole teaching of Scripture culminates. Here, at the last step, we have a definite and satisfactory completion of the former doctrine of the future. There is to be a perfect humanity; not only perfect individually, but perfect in society. There is to be a city of God. “The Holy City!”–there is the realization of the true tendencies of man. “New Jerusalem!”–there is the fulfillment of the ancient promises of God.

    Later he adds, “The Bible opens the prospect of which history had led us to despair.” The Bible, for Bernard, is “one long account of the preparation of the city of God.” It is not merely concerned with personal salvation. Bernard acknowledges that “it is, but it is more than this.” He comments:

    It places before us the restoration, not only of the personal, but of the social life; the creation, not only of the man of God, but of the city of God; and it presents the society or city, not as a mere name for the congregation of individuals, but as having a being and life of its own, in which the Lord finds his satis¬faction and man his perfection. The “Jerusalem which is above” is, in relation to the Lord, “the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife” (Rev. 21:9), and, in relation to man, it is “the Mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). In its appearance the revealed course of redemption culminates, and the history of man is closed: and thus the last chapters of the Bible declare the unity of the whole book, by com¬pleting the design which has been developed in its pages, and disclosing the result to which all preceding steps have tended.

    Bernard understands the final vision of the Bible as “a conclusion by which all that went before is interpreted and justified.” He further says that “a Bible that did not end by building for us a city of God would appear to leave much in man unprovided for, and much in itself unaccounted for.” Thankfully, as Bernard acknowledges, “neither of these deficiencies exist.” Bernard sees the consummation as something that “from the first, the desires of men and the preparations of God have been alike directed towards it.” In other words, the eschatology at the end of the Bible has been there from the beginning. Indeed, Bernard gives this brief history of redemption to illustrate his point:

    At the beginning of the sacred story, the Father of the faithful comes forth into view, followed by those who are heirs with him of the same promise; and they separate themselves to the life of strangers, because they are “looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” In due time solid pledges of the divine purpose follow. We behold a peculiar peo¬ple, a divinely-framed polity, a holy city, a house of God. It is a wonderful spectacle—this system of earthly types, thus consecrated and glorified by miraculous inter¬ventions and inspired panegyrics. Do we look on the fulfilment of patriarchal hopes or on the types of their fulfilment? on the final form of human society or on the figures of the true? The answer was given by Prophets and Psalmists, and then by the word of the Gospel, finally by the hand of God, which swept that whole system from the earth. It was gone when the words of the text were written, and when the closing scene of the Bible presented the new Jerusalem, not as the restoration, but as the antitype of the old.

    The redemptive-historical types give way to their eschatological anti-types. Old Jerusalem was a type of the new Jerusalem, the city of God.

    1. I was about to mention Miles Van Pelt’s lecture at The first time I heard his lecture about a year ago, I was blown away. I still have a copy of his lectures on my phone so I could listen to them in my spare time. Very good stuff indeed.

  18. I support your suggestion. I wonder though how the different arrangement would affect interpretation. To read the historical books as prophetic seems quite right. However, what does it mean that Daniel and Chronicles are placed with the Writings?

    1. I think they are there to resume the historical narrative, which is what Beckwith argues in OT Canon of the NT Church. I follow him in GGSTJ and my new book on Daniel.

  19. I think what I find fascinating in this discussion is that somehow we see the OT laid up in the Temple as somehow our Bible, and maybe if we see them as scrolls instead of codices we are thinking that they were linked by a chain so that they stayed in a specific order on the shelf. I think our Bible actually lacks something the Scrolls demonstrate — and that is that each book is meant to stand on its own as one part of the whole revelation.

    With my puny non-seminarian education, I have always seen the anthology of Scripture as co-equal books written on a singular topic, and then the description of “Law-Prophets-Writings” to be more a cardinal description of the functions of the books rather than an ordinal description of how they should be lined up on a table or on a shelf (on by a table of contents). That is to say: Moses’ books are seminal for the nation of Israel (there is no Israel with these books), the Prophets are in some sense God’s rolling commentary on how Israel is doing keeping the covenant in Moses’ books, and “the writings” are the other stuff God wants us to have (for example, songs to sing about our faith; good advice for living as if God’s word is true; examples for those who were either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad for the sake of us doing what seems right in our own eyes).

    I’m not convinced that ordering the books is a canonical issue. I think understanding the priority of the books is a bigger deal.

  20. Dr. Hamilton, I have actually e-mailed Crossway and asked them to publish an ESV Bible with the Hebrew arrangement. Alas, they said they had no plans at the moment to publish such a Bible. But perhaps if someone like you with some scholarly clout sends a request, they might consider it. Just a thought. 😉

    Completely agree with this post by the way.

  21. I continue to find this issue fascinating. I am, however, still unsure of the magnitude of the issue and whether or not I am convinced. My current OT professor, Jason DeRouchie, argues as you do Dr. Hamilton. I’m sure the two of you have discussed the issue previously.

    It is interesting that Tom Schreiner mentions this point in is biblical theology, The King and His Beauty. However, he but says in that book that theologians make too much of an issue about the ordering.

    So, I keep wrestling.

    Thanks for the post. Very helpful.

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