The partition shown in my Bible Readers Handbook page 2 is fairly standard amongst Christians. However, other divisions have been used.

The Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) is traditionally divided into three divisions of 22 “books” or scrolls:

  • Torah (Law): Genesis through Deuteronomy;
  • Nevi’im (Prophets): Joshua/Judges, Samuel/Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Twelve Prophets; and
  • Ketuvim (Writings): Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth), Esther, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, Chronicles.

In Hebrew, the three words Torah-Nevi’im-Ketuvim are abbreviated to form Tanakh, the Jewish word for the Hebrew Bible. Jesus used this three-fold division of the Hebrew Bible in Luke 24:44:

everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

The above order also explains Jesus comment in Luke 11:51 about the blood of martyrs “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah”. The murder of Abel is in Genesis 4:8, near the start of the first book, and the murder of Zechariah is in 2 Chronicles 24:21, near the end of the last book of the Hebrew Bible.

The Christian Old Testament follows a different division (into 39 books) and a different order. This rearrangement is due to Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin in the fourth century.

In the oldest complete manuscripts of the New Testament, there is a five-fold division:

  1. Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John;
  2. Acts;
  3. General Letters: James, Peter, John, Jude;
  4. Paul’s Letters: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Hebrews, Timothy, Titus, Philemon;
  5. Revelation.

The Slavonic Bible is still organized in this way, but the vast majority of Christians follow a different order (again due to Jerome) with Hebrews moved to the end of the group of Paul’s letters (there is considerable doubt about whether Paul was the author of Hebrews), and the General letters coming before Revelation.

The reasons for the changes introduced by Jerome are discussed in Restoring the Original Bible by Ernest Martin. Some people think the order of books is very important.┬áPersonally, I don’t think the order matters much. The books were originally distributed individually, and so any compilation of them is necessarily of human origin.

Several new Bible projects have sought to rearrange the books either to their assumed original order (as in the Transparent English Bible) or to a more natural order for reading.

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