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?)

  • 3
    NT is most definitely NOT in the order they were written. Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 21:29
  • 2
    I've heard that the epistles are ordered first by author and then from longest to shortest.
    – Matt White
    Commented Oct 8, 2012 at 13:00
  • I know the content isn't chronological - You are (half) wrong (and half right). The bulk of the Old Testament is certainly chronological, spanning from Genesis to Kings. The same for the portion spanning from Chronicles to Esther. The same holds for the four major Prophets. Likewise for Gospels, Acts, Pauline corpus, and Apocalypse, with the caveat that the former four run in parallel to each other, and the ordering of the Pauline corpus is in stichometrical order.
    – user46876
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 9:39

4 Answers 4


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: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Collectively, this is called the Torah. 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.

    For Jews, this represents the covenant and are the most important books period. The Sadducees believed no other part of the Bible to be inspired. These books are chronological in their subject matter, with Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers being primarily story. Leviticus represents the first iteration of the covenant, given at Sinai, in the events that occurred in the Exodus. Numbers recounts what occurs after Exodus, and Deuteronomy (literally 'Second Law') being the re-iteration of the covenant after the wandering of Israel. The names of the books are the first significant words in each book.

  • 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".

    The events in these books are chronological as well, with the exception that the events of 1 & 2 Kings (also called 3rd and 4th Samuel in older traditions) are repeated in 1 & 2 Chronicles. The difference between Kings & Chronicles is that Kings focuses on the Kings, and Chronicles on the Temple.

    Interestingly, in the Hebrew Bible, the "Ketu'vim" is placed after the Prophets (the Nevi'im) and thus the Hebrew Bible ends with the Temple in 2 Chronicles.

  • 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

    These books are in no particular order - indeed both Psalms and Proverbs are merely collections and are not even chronological within themselves.

  • 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).

    The Major prophets are roughly in chronological order, although there is an argument about Isaiah actually being two books.

    The Minor prophets collectively are smaller than Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, and were often bound together in a single scroll. These books are specifically not in any chronological order, but rather are ordered the way they are based on the ending words of one book leading into the start of the next.

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.

    Historically, it was believed that Matthew was the first to be written, followed by Mark, then Luke, the John. Modern scholars now often believe in what is called Marcan priority, meaning that Mark predates Matthew - both consensus solidly places John to be the last Gospel to be written. The events of the 4 Gospels are all roughly contemporaneous.

    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.

    There is very little doubt that Acts is a sequel to Luke, written by the same author, but about the events that occurred after the Gospels.

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

    First 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.

    With the exception of Hebrews, these are all written by Paul (the Church erroneously attributed Hebrews to Paul) or a person claiming to be Paul. These books are ordered by length, and length alone.

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

    Within each author, these are also ordered by length. 2 Peter and Jude are so similar that they are often treated as the same book.

  • 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.

  • Hope you don't mind the edits - OP seemed to be interested in why they were in the order they were in, and thought it good to add that. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:20

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.

  • 4
    Is your last line a quote from Veggie Tales?
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 3:33
  • 3
    FYI, as you stated, the Epistles are grouped by author. Within each author, they are sorted by length- Romans is Paul's longest, etc... Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 12:50
  • 3
    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. Commented Jul 18, 2012 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 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
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 3:05

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


Why the Order of the Books Simply put, the Old Testament is arraigned according to the Septuagint Greek version, departing from the Hebrew Jewish order. Notice that Jesus referred to the Hebrew Bible order twice when He spoke of the (a) "Law, Prophets, and Writings," (Luke 24:44) and (b) "upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the Earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias...whom you slew between the Temple and the altar." (Matthew 23:35; the Hebrew Bible began with Genesis and ended with the Books of Chronicles.)

{Following the lead of the Palestinian Canon, the Deuterocanonical and Apocryphal writings were left out of the Old Testament Christian canon. But some religions have placed them "between" the Testaments as profitable and inspirational reading.}

The Modern Bible differs some from the LXX in the order of the prophets. The "Major Prophets" were moved from the end to the beginning of the prophetic section. And one or two of the Minor Prophets have a different order. So now the prophetic section goes from Isaiah unto Malachi.

Instead of the groupings of the Old Testament books being "the Law, Prophets, and Writings," the Christian Old Testament has:
The Torah (5 books of Moses)
the History books (Joshua to Esther)
the Wisdom literature (Job to Song of Solomon)
The Major Prophets (Isaiah to Daniel)
The Minor Prophets (Hosea to Malachi).

The New Testament was arraigned by Martin Luther according to the amount of emphasis that was placed on Jesus within the books. Of course, the New Testament would start with the four Biographies of Jesus (Gospels). And the ending epistles deal to a large extent with the Church community.

Martin Luther considered four books to be disputable as far as the canon went (Jude Hebrews, James, Revelation), so he placed them at the back of the New Testament. He may have done this on doctrinal grounds; they are now accepted and placed in the New Testament canon, which is grouped as:
The Gospels of the Evangelists
History (Acts of the Apostles)
Episles of the Apostles (Romans to Philemon)
A theological Essay (Hebrews)
Various Epistles (James to Jude)
an Apocalypse (Revelation of John)

Chronology Since the books of the Bible are not in chronological order, one must read Introductions to the books in a "Study Bible" for information about the author, location, and year of writing.

The reason why the books of the Bible are in their present order is largely due to the influence of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible (LXX), and to Martin Luther's research.

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