A while ago, I revised the way I organized all my notes and the system has spilled over into this blog. The publishers of the NIV version actually came out with something like this a while back that I was unaware of until after undertaking this project, called “The Books of the Bible”.
It is essentially the Scriptures ordered a bit differently and set without verse numbers and such, which I highly recommend for reading large portions of Scripture. You can actually download the ebook version for free here; go about halfway down the page you can find the link to which I’m referring.
So, just an explanation for anyone who may be confused:
I try to refer to the ‘Old Testament’ and ‘New Testament’ as the First Covenant and New Covenant (though, I may use ‘First Testament’ and ‘New Testament’ all the same, they being simply the latinized version of the same word), because that is the way the author of the Hebrews refers to the two covenants (9:15). Saying the same thing this way avoids any possible trace of negativity the speaker or listener may imply by using the term ‘Old’.
Moreover, the order and divisions traditional Christian organization of Scriptures counted 66 units of books and ordered them in a way slightly different than it seemed the Jews did. You will see below there are only 50 listed titles, 25 in each Testament, but it counts all the same Scriptures Christians have recognized since the beginning.
In my revised system of the First Testament, I tried to return more closely to the latter pattern while simultaneously ordering the New Testament into literary constellations, matching each section of literature with an appropriate Gospel. Therefore, although not exactly the same as the way Hebrew Bible’s are ordered, taking cues from older traditions, I typically think of the Scriptures in the following manner.
The First Covenant
The Early Histories
- The 12
The Later Histories
The Five Scrolls
- Song of Songs
The New Covenant
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
Pauline Doctrines & Practices
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- Letters of John (1, 2, 3)
Essentially, what I mean by all this is that the way texts are ordered, a part of what is called ‘paratext’, actually influences meaning, and how a person reads the texts. This is just another method of examining the Scriptures to draw out different connections than I may be unconsciously preferring by considering them in a different order. This is not meant to replace any canonical order: Jewish, LXX, etc., only to supplement it.
Obviously, my presupposition is that there is no inspired order, and I simply organized the Old Testament according to the pattern of the Jews of antiquity with a few exceptions: Ezra and Nehemiah are split, rather than being a combined book, and the books at the end (Esther – Ruth) are slightly reorganized.
Historically, Josephus even plays with (or hands down another tradition) of ordering (well, really numbering) of the Hebrew canon a little bit. Judaism typically counts 24, but he says 22?
The Masoretic Text is aligned as twenty-four book list, but Josephus refers to 22 books. Why? He probably is counting the same books, but merges a few to match the Hebrew Alphabet; the Hebrew Scriptures in his eyes are an “alphabet” of God’s revelation. So what I am doing isn’t an altogether new project.
My rendering of the New Testament books may seem a bit more radical, but I tried to do so logically, and carefully in a way that made sense to me, in the form of literary constellations. A literary constellation is simply a way of organizing documents according to literary features by which these texts were produced other than genre, chronology, and the like. I developed a system to which I would adhere.
Hierarchy of Organizational Priorities:
- To develop a Christological Focus.
- To develop continual reflection on the gospels (circularly).
- To develop helically (a spiral) a christological understanding of the New Testament.
- To keep texts of similar authorship closer together (Luke-Acts, John’s writings).
- To keep texts of similar amanuenses together (Acts – 2 Tim).
- To keep texts of similar recipients together (1 Thes. – 2 Thes.).
- To keep texts of similar themes close together (Galatians – Romans).
- After all these, to follow sensible chronology (John – Revelation).
The two divisions are balanced, not in actual length, but at least in number; and my reading plan to go through the Bible in a year is simply to read one book a week no matter the length. Some weeks are just easier than others!
The number 50, or 52 just rounded down as is the custom of the ancients (’72’, LXX, ’70’ – ‘let the reader understand’), is a reminder of the timelessness of the Bible, and simultaneously its timefulness, the message God entered into the world, and time, and history, and did so in order for the sake of humanity in the ultimate act of love.
Besides, even that though the number fifty reminds me of the mission Christ gave at Pentecost, that this book is meant to be taken to the world, to make disciples of all people, and that one day there will be men and women from every tribe, and tongue, and nation in paradise when Christ comes to make all wrongs right and restores heaven and earth to the way it ought to be.