The Origin and Organization of the Bible

Scripture was provided for us by God through inspiration. (1 Tim 3:16) The words themselves carried a “God-breathed” quality.

God provided his inspired words to us through prophets. (2 Pet 1:20-21)
  • OT – 30+ writers over 1,000 yrs. wrote 39 books (approx. 1500-500 BC)
  • NT – 9 writers over a period of 50 yrs. wrote 27 books (approx. AD 40-90)
  • The writers were “pushed along” by the Holy Spirit like wind in sails.
  • What they wrote was not of their own origination but God’s.
  • God worked through their personalities, perspectives, and vocabularies.
  • Psa 45:1 may best describe the “process” of a prophet writing inspired Scripture.
  • Spoken by OT prophets (Psa 45:1) and recorded by OT prophets or assisting scribes (Exo 17:14; 34:27; Josh 24:26; 1 Sam 10:25; Isa 8:1; Ezk 43:11) / NT spoken or written by NT apostles, and sometimes recorded for NT apostles by assisting scribes (Gal 6:11 vs. Rom 6:22/1 Pet 5:12)

God has preserved his words for us in the many copied manuscripts that exist.
  • Copied, preserved, examined, and taught by scribes, who were either priests or kings – OT (Deut 17:18; Prov 25:1, cf. chs. 25-29; Ezra 7:5-6, 10) – or believers w/in the church – NT
  • Today, approx. 10,000 OT manuscripts (complete or partial) and 25,000 NT manuscripts (6,000 partial or complete Greek texts, the rest early translations)
  • OT preserved in the Temple as a national/sacred archive (Deut 31:24-26/2 Kings 22:8)
  • OT manuscripts were more carefully centralized and guarded thru the Temple/synagogue system, but NT manuscripts were not centralized, proliferating more organically in churches throughout the early centuries AD.
  • For the purposes of our study, we won’t examine the what the Bible teaches and history shows about the preservation of Scripture at the words level; we will focus on preserving at the book or canonical level.

Our collection of biblical books is based upon a long and wide acceptance by the people of God (Israel, now church leaders and congregations).
  • Many/most books of Scripture have received wide and resounding acceptance by Israel (OT) and gospel-teaching churches (OT/NT). Some, however, have been debated and discussed (and even disagreed upon) more than others, such as OT books (esp. Ezekiel, Proverbs, Esther, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes) and some NT books (James, 2-3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation).
  • Christ, apostles, and early believers recognized OT as Scripture (Matt 21:42; John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 18:24)
  • We receive as Scripture those books which the people of God (Israel, now churches) have historically acknowledged to be the Word of God.

Old Testament Composition

The Hebrew collection of 24 OT books (Torah, Prophets [former/latter], Writings)
  • All the same books we have today only 1-2-type books are combined as one; Ezra/Nehemiah is combined as one; and the twelve minor prophets are combined as one, making 24 rather than 39 books. All the same content though.
  • Tanak = Torah / Nevi’im / Kethuvim
  • Poetry (Psalms/Job/Proverbs), Five Festival Scrolls (Megilloth), Historical (Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles)
  • Song of Songs (Passover), Ruth (Pentecost), Lamentations (mourn destruction of Solomon and 2nd temple), Ecclesiastes (Booths), Esther (Purim)

TorahProphets Writings

NumbersKingsThe TwelveRolls (Scrolls)


Song of Songs








This Hebrew order places the latter prophets after Kings, which fits well chronologically, since the prophets overlapped with and ministered during the period of the kings.

It follows Proverbs (31, the excellent wife) with Ruth (finding of a godly wife), with Song of Songs (a book about marriage) / these also written before exile in 586 BC, while Lamentations thru Chronicles were written after exile.

Chronicles at the end is purposeful because it serves as a summary of Judah’s history, with a hopeful conclusion, leading into the gospels – whereas it also begins w/ a genealogy and so does Matthew 1.

Christ himself referred to this threefold OT (Luke 24:44), though the twofold Law and Prophets was also customary (Luke 24:27).

Christ referred to this OT arrangement another way, too. In Matt 23:35, he said “from the martyr Abel to the martyr Zechariah, son of Berechiah.” We know Abel as the first martyr in the OT (Gen) but did you know that this Zechariah was the last prophetic martyr in the OT? So Christ is referring to all the martyrs between the first and last book of the Hebrew OT.

The contemporary collection of 39 OT books (Pentateuch, Historical, Poetical, Prophetic)


Numbers1-2 SamuelEcclesiastesEzekielObadiah
Deuteronomy1-2 KingsSong of SongsDanielJonah

1-2 Chronicles











Rearranged by scribes for Greek translation, LXX (Septuagint), 3rd century before Christ.
  • Greek thinking tended to organize things by category or kind, so they paired historical books from the prophets and writings together, same with prophets from both categories, etc.
  • Also, larger books (were divided into two books, 1-2, because the Greek language included vowels in their spellings and Hebrew did not, which required 2 scrolls instead of one to write down)
  • Also note that Major and Minor prophets do not refer to importance but simply the size of the book
  • Christ acknowledged and quoted from the LXX at times, not just the Hebrew OT, indicating that he didn’t elevate one over the other. Knowing this, we should not obsess about the order of the OT books of the Bible as the order can change and is not inspired.

Early churches acknowledged this collection of books as Scripture:
  • Recognized the OT as “the oracles of God” (Rom 3:1-2)
  • Guiding principles have historically been: (1) written by an apostle or from an apostle by a close associate, (2) claims to be Scripture internally, (3) provides true content and agrees w/ other Scripture (historical/theological orthodoxy), and (5) accepted by other churches, and (6) exhibits intangible “Scripture” qualities/impact

New Testament Composition

NT written more than 400 years after the OT
The collection of NT books (Gospel, History, Letters, Prophecy)
  • The NT apostles recognized NT writings as also being Scripture (1 Tim 5:18 [cf. Deut 25:4; Luke 10:7]; 2 Pet 3:15-16)
  • Gospels, history, letters of Paul widely accepted by churches early (AD 100s)
  • General epistles, Revelation widely accepted by churches later (AD 200-300s)
  • Lists of various church fathers in the AD 300s attest to acceptance of 27 books, as early as Athanasius in AD 367

The order of the NT books is as follows:

GospelsHistoryEpistles Prophecy

1 CorinthiansJames
2 Corinthians1 Peter
Galatians2 Peter

Ephesians1 John

Philippians2 John

Colossians3 John

1-2 ThessaloniansJude

1-2 Timothy



Why this order?
  • Gospels + Acts give the historical foundation for the church – it’s origins (past)
  • Matthew first most likely due to its more distinctly Jewish nature, genealogy, OT prophecy references, a bridge from OT
  • Epistles give instruction for the church (present)
  • Revelation (future) give future outlook

In this class, we’ll be looking at the purpose for each book in the Bible – its central message, key contents, a basic overview, and personal application for our lives.

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