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I am curious why the books of the Protestant Bible are in the order that they are in?

Someone told me they thought the books were in some sort of chronological order - is that true? (I know the content isn't chronological, but are they in the order written or something like that?)

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NT is most definitely NOT in the order they were written. –  thursdaysgeek Jul 18 '12 at 21:29
    
I've heard that the epistles are ordered first by author and then from longest to shortest. –  Matt White Oct 8 '12 at 13:00
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3 Answers

They're sorted chronologically within their particular subject matters.

First, the 5 books of the Pentetuch are packed together, these are all fairly chronological.

Then, comes the narrative history of the kingdom of Israel ( all of Jesus' glorious, inglorious and vainglorious ancestors) culminating with the exile and return of the Jews to their homeland.

Then I think you've got the Wisdom books (Job, lamentations, song of songs, psalms and proverbs) these are packed together because theyre not really chronological and they weren't exactly each written in one sitting either.

Finally you've got the Major Prophets and the minor prophets. Major Prophets are prophets who wrote a lot, minor prophets aren't. The confusing thing here is that some writings of the prophets (Jonah and Jeremiah) seem more like narratives and and you can kind of start wondering why Jonah getting swollowed by a fish is right next to PROPHECY AGAINST THE MELEKITES. But that's the reason, Jonah was a prophet (even if he never really got it)


Oh yeah, and then the New Testament. The Gospels are describing the same times. Acts is right after that (it's the sequel to Luke, but it comes in the Bible after John because they group the 3 similar accounts (Matthew, Mark and Luke together). The Letters of Paul, James, Jude, John and Peter aren't chronological in nature. They do all come after Acts (but weren't necessarily written down after acts). Revelation, the last book, is probably the last chronologically, although it's more like the works of the prophets in the OT, it just comes last because it comes last.

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Is your last line a quote from Veggie Tales? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 18 '12 at 3:33
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FYI, as you stated, the Epistles are grouped by author. Within each author, they are sorted by length- Romans is Paul's longest, etc... –  Affable Geek Jul 18 '12 at 12:50
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And the 12 minor prophets are arranged by the last key words of the previous book leading into the first keywords of the next. Incidentally, the Jewish order is the Torah, the Nevi'im (the Prophets) and then the Ketuv'im (the Writings) with 2 Chronicles being the very end. –  Affable Geek Jul 18 '12 at 16:54
    
@AffableGeek I was going to ask that question when I realized when writing this answer that I had no idea how they were ordered within the minor prophets or the Pauline letters. I'll stick your comments in the answer unless you want to write a more scholarly answer than what I could plunk out on my iPod in 20 minutes. –  Peter Turner Jul 18 '12 at 17:06
    
@AffableGeek It's not immediately apparent to me that the minor prophets are in that order for that reason. I'll have to double-check... Cool idea, though! –  Steve Jun 4 at 3:05
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Note that this answer refers to the Protestant Bible. The Catholic Bible, and the Eastern Orthodox Bibles largely follow this pattern, but contain different books. More on the differences can be found here. The differences are also noted below.

First, understand that the Bible is not a single book It's a collection of 66 books, written at different time periods, by different authors (but all through the Divine Inspiration God, a phrase which has a deeper meaning, and wider implication for the Bible's trustworthiness than inspiration as you'd usually think of it.)

It is also not written in a chronological order. It is divided primarily in a topical manner.

The Bible is first divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Old Testament consists of the books that are included in the Jewish Scriptures, but the organization is different. For more info on the Jewish Scriptures, you'd be better off checking out the Judaism Stack Exchange site. I include this bit of information here because the roots of Judaism and those of Christianity are the same. It is at the boundary of the beginning of the New Testament, with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that Christianity sprang out of Judaism. The Old Testament ends with the Jews awaiting the Messiah. The New Testament writings begin with the accounts of that Messiah - Jesus Christ.

Within the Old Testament the books are grouped into:

The Books of the Law, aka the Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch. This consists of the first five books of the Bible. These lay the foundations of the faith, introducing God as Creator, the establishment of his promise with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose line eventually becomes the Jewish people. We learn of the captivity in Egypt, the exodus, exile in the wilderness, and the giving of God's law to His chosen people. This is all found in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Next, come the Historical books, which cover the history of the Jewish people, including the establishment of their kingdom, and various (somewhat frustrating) cycles of turning away from God, punishment for their transgressions, repentance on the part of the people, and healing by God, only to have the people turn from Him and start the cycle anew. This includes Joshua through Esther.

The Catholic Bible also includes 1 and 2 Maccabees. The Orthodox Bible includes, 1, 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees, as well as 1 Esdras. Protestants consider these non-canonical, and if they are included at all, they will usually be in a separate section called "Apocrypha".

Next are the books of writings, sometimes called Poetic Writings or Books of Wisdom. This includes Job,Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

Again, the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include extra books here: Wisdom and Sirach

The remainder of the Old Testament is made up of prophetic books, broken up into the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel) and the Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).

Within the New Testament, the books are grouped as follows:

The Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which tell of Christ's birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection from four different perspective.

Next comes the Book of Acts (or Acts of the Apostles), which begin with a resurrected Christ, and give an overview of the birth of the Christian Church. The various missionary trips, and some basic doctrines are established in the telling of these lives.

Next come the Epistles. These are letters that were written to specific Churches by various authors. There are Specific Epistles, and Generic Epistles.

Firs come the Specific Epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews. Each serves as a message to speak to an individual group of people in that exact place and time, but also apply to every people since then, including today. The Epistles are named after the group of people they were written to.

Following these come the General Epistles: James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude

Finally, the Book of the Revelation is the main prophetic work in the New Testament (although many of the other books contain prophecy as well.) It is largely symbolic in nature, and interpretations vary, but it speaks to the end times, and the establishment of Christ's final rule, and the creation of a new Heaven and a new Earth.

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The order is based on the Vulgate translated by Jerome in the fourth century. However, this was 71 books. Several centuries after Martin Luther removed some books of the Old Testament that, although theses appeared in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), were not part of the Hebrew Bible.

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