"The Names and Order"

of the Books of the Old Testament.

Part 1 of 4

By the Rev. Dr. BULLINGER.

Taken from: Things to Come Magazine, 1895


THESE words are found at the beginning of every English Bible, and they refer to a subject on which the general Bible student has only vague ideas. He sees the order of the books before him; he learns that the order of the books is not the same as in the Hebrew Bible; but he nevertheless proceeds to search for some fanciful reasons for the arrangement of the books, as he sees them in the ' English Bible, and to draw some imaginary lessons from it.

The fact being that the order of the books in the Hebrew Bible is the only true order, and that it comes to us on precisely the same authority, and rests on exactly the same evidence as the truths which the books reveal to us, so that we cannot ignore this order of the books without undermining the truth which they contain.

Our present order in the English Bible comes to us direct from the Latin Vulgate; and this again was copied from the ancient Greek Translation, called the Septuagint (known by the abbreviation LXX.), made about the third century before Christ.

In this ancient Greek Version the "names" of the books were changed, either when this translation was made, or subsequently, and their "order" was re-arranged.

Instead of following the order of the Hebrew Canon, the books were evidently classified into four groups, (1) The five books of Moses; (2) The Historical Books; (3) The so-called Poetical Books, and (4) The Prophets. No one can tell us why? or when? this re-arrangement was made. We know, however, that man has always attempted to improve on God's works and ways, and doubtless he thought it would be far better to arrange and classify the books according to their subjects. Just as in our own day we have a Bible1 in which the books themselves are re-arranged and cut up, each portion being placed in what is supposed to be its historical and chronological order, in such a manner that the books, and even the chapters, psalms, stories, and prophecies, may be read as one connected history. This was formed on the basis of Lightfoot's Chronicle.

It is evident that this "order" is just as good, but just as destitute of authority, as the present order. It is natural also that man should think an arrangement according to subjects or chronology superior to, and more useful than the "order" which God has given us in the Hebrew Canon.

The Vulgate Version, as we have said, followed the Septuagint; and even when the Vulgate was not the basis of a translation it exercised a great influence in all succeeding versions, Latin being well understood, and Hebrew being but little known.

Luther, though he translated from the Hebrew, yet kept to the order of the books as given in the Vulgate, and Wyckliffe, making his version directly from the Vulgate itself, of course followed the same order, and thus this arrangement passed over into all subsequent translations.

When the Authorized Version was made, in 1611, the people had become accustomed to the "order" of the books as given by Wyckliffe, and so it was perpetuated. Even the Revisers, in 1885, did not venture to revert to the order of the Hebrew Canon.

There is no reason, however, why English Bible Students should not be acquainted with the facts which circumstances have thus hidden from them. Indeed, it is most desirable, if not necessary, that they should know God's order, and learn the lessons which He would teach them.

We propose to divide our subject into the following heads:

(1) The Division of the Old Testament.

(2) The Number of the Books.

(3) The Order of the Books.

(4) The Names of the Books.

(5) The Division of the Books.


The Lord Jesus when on earth set His seal to the ancient threefold division of the Old Testament, when He spoke, in Luke xxiv. 44, of

"The law of Moses,
The Prophets, and
The Psalms."2

This is classification indeed, and therefore conclusive, inasmuch as it is divine.

The Hebrew names for these three great divisions are:

Torah, the Law.

Nebee-eem the Prophets.

Kethuveem the (other3) writings (called by the Greeks Hagiographa or sacred writings).

The initial letters of these three words spell the word T'nach, and amongst the Jews the use of this word T'nach is as common as the word "Bible" is with us.4

"The other books" or writings presupposes a settled and fixed number, and when Christ, in Matt, xxiii. 35 and Luke xi. 51, mentions Abel and Zechariah together, He refers to the first and last books of the Hebrew Canon (Genesis and Chron.) as including all the blood shed between these two men.

This points to the fact that the three great divisions of the books as we have them in the Hebrew Bible (the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms) are the same on which the Lord Jesus Christ set His seal.

"The Prophets" were afterwards divided into the Former Prophets (see Zech. i. 4, and vii. 7, 12), which were chiefly historical (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), and the Latter Prophets, chiefly predictive.


The modern lists as presented in the English Bible give thirty-nine books. The Alexandrian Jews and the ancient Christian Fathers5 called them twenty-two; but this, though ancient, was a purely arbitrary and artificial arrangement made to correspond with the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The true number of books, according to the MSS., the Massorah, and the Talmud, is twenty-four. This number is produced (1) by each of the so-called double books (Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles), being reckoned as one book respectively; (2) Ezra and Nehemiah as one book, and. (3) the twelve minor prophets as one book.

All the manuscripts, the Massorah, and the early printed editions of the Hebrew Bible, present these respectively as one book, and in the enumeration of the Sedarim or sectional divisions the numbers are continuous.6 The division of these books is of modern origin, and is a human invention having ho authority whatsoever.

Thus reckoned, the number of the books is twenty-four. The practice of numbering them as twenty-two is, as we have said, purely artificial and fanciful. To obtain this number Judges and Ruth were arbitrarily reckoned together as one book, and Jeremiah and Lamentations were similarly reckoned as one.


When once the departure was made from the order in the Hebrew Bible, the way was open for various arrangements, and hence we find the Septuagint, the Fathers, the Talmudists, and the Rabbins, all at variance amongst themselves, so that we are driven back on the ancient Hebrew Text, and on the MS. authority on which it is based.

There never has been any variation in the sequence of the Books in any of the MSS., or early editions of the printed Hebrew Bible, so far as the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets are concerned — that is to say from Genesis to Kings. It is only in the Latter Prophets and the Hagiographa that any variation is seen.

In the Latter Prophets, the early printed editions of the Hebrew Bible,7 following the oldest and best MSS., give the order of these four books as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets.8

In the Hagiographa the variations are greater; some MSS. commencing with Ruth, others with Chronicles,9 while others commence with the Psalms. But the Holy Spirit has settled this latter order as the correct one by calling this third division by the name of " the Psalms," as being the first book of this great section (Luke xxiv. 44).

The early printed editions commence the Hagiographa with the Psalms, and have the divine imprimatur in so doing.

The order of the books may be thus set forth:


"The Law" (Torah.)
  1. Genesis These five books form the Pentateuch, and are always given in this order without variation.
2. Exodus
3. Leviticus
4. Numbers
5. Deuteronomy
"The Prophets" (Nebee-eem.)
  6. Joshua "The Former Prophets" which are always given in this order.
7. Judges
8. Samuel
9. Kings
10. Isaiah "The Latter Prophets."
11. Jeremiah
12. Ezekiel
13. The Minor Prophets10
"The Psalms" (Kethuveem) or the (other) Writings.
  14. Psalms  
15. Proverbs
16. Job
17. Song of Songs The "Five Megilloth"or scrolls always given in this order in the early editions and best MSS.
18. Ruth
19. Lamentations
20. Ecclesiastes
21. Esther
22. Daniel  
23. Ezra-Nehemiah
24. Chronicles


This is the true order of the books of the Old Testament according to the Hebrew Canon, and whatever lessons may be drawn from the position or sequence of these books must be based upon this order; no other is authoritative.

In our next paper we will speak of the "Names" of the various books which will be found full of instruction for mind, and heart, and conscience.

IN our first paper we spoke of the Divisions, Number, and Order of the books of the Old Testament. We now come to consider

Continued in Part 2



1) Rev. George Townsend, M.A., four vols., 1836.

2) So called because the book of Psalms forms the first of the eleven books contained in this division; and by the figure of Synechdoche is put for the whole.

3) The son of Sirach in the preface to the Apocryphal book of Ecclus uses the general term τὰ ἄλλα (the others) to denote the books of this third division.

4) It is remarkable that we have no Scriptural authority for our common terms "The Bible" or "The Old and New Testament." In the time of Christ the common term was "The Scriptures" or "The writings" (Matt, xxii. 29, Acts xviii. 24), or "Holy Scripture " (Rom. 1, 2), or the "sacred letters" (2 Tim. iii. 15).

The Rabbins name it either " the four-and-twenty books," or limply "the reading" (from Neh. viii. 8).

In the Greek Church the term "old covenant" was used (from Jer. xxx. 31, Ex. xxiv. 7, 2 Cor. iii. 14). This term was quite common in the second century, and through the Vulgate has come down to us as "Vetus Testamentura" or "Old Testament."

5) Josephus against Apion, bk. . 58 (cent. 1); Jerome in Prologue Galeatus (cent. 4); Origen, Comm, on Psalm i.; Athanasius; John Damascene; Gregory of Naz.; Epiphanius; Cyril of Jer., Catech. iv., c. 33; &c.

6) Thus the two books of Samuel have 34 Sedarim, the two books of Kings have 35 Sedarim, the twelve minor prophets have 21 Sedarim, and the two books of Chronicles have 25. These run on through the 2 books respectively without any break. The Sedarim is the name for those divisions by which the Law was read through once in three years: one Seder being read on each Sabbath.

7) Soncino 1488, Naples 1491-3, Brescia 1492-4, Venice 1521-5, and 1524.

8) The Talmud and a few MSS. vary the order by giving Jer., Ezek., and Isa.; or Jer., Isa., Ezek.

9) For full particulars as to the various MSS. and all the variations, see Dr. Ginsburg's Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. 25, New Oxford Street, London, W. C.

10) The order of these 12 vary in the LXX.