By Adolf Jülicher
§ 46. The Variations in the Order of the different Parts of the New Testament
1. A glance at the Lutheran Bible will show that such an apparently indifferent question as that of the order of the New Testament Books is of no small importance in the history of the Canon. In it the Epistle to the Hebrews stands in the midst of the Catholic Epistles, followed by James, Jude, and the Apocalypse. Such a singular arrangement can only be explained by remembering Lutherʼs judgment upon these four documents of the New Testament. In his eyes they were not the pure metal unalloyed, and he therefore gives them a lower place: Hebrews first, because the Pauline Epistles preceded the Catholic; the Apocalypse last, because he was accustomed to read it at the end. In the oldest editions he had only carried the numbered index of New Testament Books as far as 3. John (i.e. to No. 28); the last four books were given no numbers at all—a more eloquent witness as to his attitude towards them than long discussions on the question of their authors! Except for this separation of the last four, Luther kept to the order usual in his time. This, however, only became permanent through the invention of printing; from that time onwards the Apocalypse everywhere forms the conclusion of the New Testament, as the fourfold Gospel forms the beginning; the Acts stand after the Gospels, and the only point which still varies is that most of the newer Greek texts place the Catholic Epistles before, the Vulgate texts after, the Pauline Epistles. It is to be regretted, though perhaps it is not surprising, that even in its ʽNovum Testamentum Graeceʼ the new Stuttgart edition has introduced Lutherʼs order, unsupported as it is by any Greek manuscripts.
2. Before the introduction of printing, the New Testament is found comparatively rarely in one volume, so that it seems as though the majority of the manuscripts could teach us nothing as to the order of the whole. But the manuscripts almost always include—except in the case of the Apocalypse and the Acts—several connected books, such as the four Gospels, the Pauline or the Catholic Epistles. The Epistle to the Galatians was not copied out alone any more than the Epistle of Jude. Now, the order within these groups shows variations which are not always accidental. With the Gospels the present established order is very old,1 and has by far the largest amount of evidence in its favour. And since John is considered to be the last-written of the Gospels, the time of writing may be taken as the general principle on which these books are grouped. There is an important deviation from this principle in those collections in which we find the Gospel of John placed before the Gospels of the Apostlesʼ disciples2— that is, either after or even before Matthew; in these the desire is to place the two Apostolic Gospels together, or perhaps the Beloved Discipleʼs first of all. Other re-arrangements, such as the placing of Luke before Mark, can only be looked on as exceptions, and have no historical interest.
As to the Epistles of Paul, we gather from the history of the Canon that the Greeks, almost without exception, placed the Epistle to the Hebrews before the private Epistles, as No. 10, sometimes also as No. 4 after 2. Corinthians, to which it fairly corresponds in length; the Westerns almost as invariably placed it after them as No. 14. Even the Epistle to the Laodiceans is inserted immediately before the Epistle to the Hebrews in a few Latin manuscripts. As a rule, its place is next to Colossians. It is difficult to decide at what time the present arrangement of Paulʼs Epistles replaced the motley confusion presented by Marcion and the Muratorianum; it took place before the fourth century, however, for Cyprian found it already existing in all essentials. It is very probable that the Epistles to the Churches and those to individuals were at one time separated, but otherwise placed according to their length: thus establishing a basis for a rough estimate of their value. Only in one point does the greater part of the Latin evidence differ until late in the Middle Ages from the Greek tradition; the Epistle to the Colossians is usually placed after 2. Thessalonians.
The variations in the case of the Catholic Epistles are connected with the gradual growth of this collection; at first there were only 1. John and 1. Peter; naturally 2. and 3. John and 2. Peter were attached to their predecessors; but when James and Jude had to be added, it was necessary to make some arbitrary arrangement. As early as Eusebius, James stands first: the probable order of the rest was Peter, John, Jude, as in most of the Eastern lists, and, since Jeromeʼs time, in those of the West also: consideration for the words of Gal. ii. 9, ʽJames and Cephas, and John, they who were reputed to be pillars,ʼ might have decided in favour of this order. In the West, on the other hand, the ʽCanon Mommsenianusʼ and the Rescript of Innocent name John as the first, no doubt because he was the Beloved Disciple; otherwise Peter enjoys this position almost universally in districts under Roman sway: some placing John immediately afterwards, others (probably under Greek influence) first James and then John and Jude; more rarely James and Jude first, and then John (e.g. Rufinus). If Jude is occasionally found in the West before James, the reason might be that he was there admitted to the Canon earlier than James.
3. But we possess at any rate a sufficient number of complete Bibles and lists of the New Testament Books to be able to pronounce an opinion as to the succession of the five integral parts—the Gospels, the Acts, the Pauline Epistles, the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse. As the Gospels were the first to appear in the Canon, so they have always maintained their place at the beginning. The few exceptions in which they form the conclusion to the New Testament are not of more importance than the placing of Paul by some Vulgate manuscript between Isaiah and Genesis, or of the Apocalypse, the Catholic Epistles and the Acts, between Jeremiah and 1. Samuel. The Apocalypse usually takes the last place, wherever it is read at all; as early as Origen, as we know, it follows the Gospels and the Apostles; its conclusion formed a peculiarly fitting end to the Holy Scriptures, and its outlook towards the end of the world appeared naturally to assign it to the last place. Codex x shows the following order for the three middle portions: Pauline Epistles, Acts, Catholic Epistles; Codex B, Acts, Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles. Augustine,3 followed by most medieval authorities, including Pope Eugenius IV. in his Bull of 1441, presents this order: Pauline Epistles, Catholic Epistles, Acts; hence it always appears that the Acts and the Catholic Epistles have a closer connection with one another than with Paul;4 as if in those two ʽall the Apostlesʼ were represented, over against the one Apostle Paul. When the order: Pauline Epistles, Catholic Epistles, Acts, was introduced, it was for the sake of having all the Epistles together; to place the Pauline before the Catholic Epistles and the Acts might appear more natural, considering the course of the history of the Canon; but the final victory of an order which placed the Acts before the Epistles was brought about by the feeling that the place of the Acts, as history, was immediately after the Gospels, themselves historical books. That the Pauline Epistles were finally placed immediately after the Acts, thereby deposing the Catholic Epistles, is due to their advantage over the Catholic in quality and quantity—an advantage which unintentionally found this means of expression. Thus we may now conveniently make the threefold division of the New Testament into five books of history, twenty-one Epistles, and one book of Prophecy, corresponding to the order of subject matter in the Old Testament of the Greeks; but the early ages, which looked more to the contents than the form, attached no value to such an arrangement.
It is characteristic of the state of the Canon that the New Testament could be arranged in such various orders at all; it is not less characteristic that since the Council of Trent and Lutherʼs translation of the Bible, the Churches know no more of such alternatives.
1) As early as the Canon of Muratori and the Mommsenianus.
2) E.g., Catal. Claromontanus; see p. 536.
3) De Doctr. Christ. ii. 8 (13).
4) See Philastrius: Quae septem [i.e. the Cath. Ep.] Actibus Apostolorum conjunctae sunt.