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The Order of Scripture

Why is it that the Bible was written in the order in which it was written? At first glance, this question seems rather innocuous, and perhaps a bit uninteresting. Maybe we’d do better to contemplate how many angels can dance on pins. But I think that there is a genuine reason to think about this particular question.

Since we have established in our previous chapter the belief that God is the ultimate source for Scripture, then He is in control of when He reveals Himself to man. To think of it another way, it is certainly possible that God could have given Adam a copy of every word that would eventually be in our current Bibles—a task such as that would not be difficult for Him. More fully, there is no reason intrinsic to His being that would have required Him to hold off on Jesus’ incarnation for at least three thousand years, if not longer. Yet God did delay. He instead revealed Himself slowly over many thousands of years. He took His time.

Perhaps there is no underlying deep purpose for this. Perhaps this is a mere fluke in God’s thinking, some seemingly random aspect of His character. Yet given the drastic impact such a delay has had on the course of human history, I believe that there is most likely a very good reason for why God reveled Himself in the manner in which He did.

Of course, I need to interrupt myself for just one moment. Clearly, there are several aspects about the nature of God that I am taking for granted in the above paragraphs. This is where we run into the problem I mentioned in the introduction, about how in order to understand the beginning of this book you must be able to understand the ending. I will soon get to the questions about the attributes of God, but for now the order of Scripture is a more pressing need because God revealed certain truths about Himself at various different times. Therefore, this chapter will focus on exploring, to the best of my knowledge, the order in which Scripture was revealed to mankind, since that will allow us to learn Who God is based on His order.

To be precise, this is not about the order of the events in Scripture, for clearly Genesis 1:1 would be the first event chronologically—at least in respect to our existence. Instead, what I seek to examine can be viewed from the position of a hypothetical time traveler. Suppose you were to travel back in time to the Ancient Near East (ANE), starting with Adam. For this hypothetical, you will not die of old age. Instead, you will be able to see the unfolding of God’s revelation as it occurs. So, what is the first text of Scripture that you will be able to read?

Unfortunately, especially when it comes to Old Testament data, it can be difficult to pin down an exact date for individual books. The good news is that we have fairly reliable data that give us a good range, which still allows us to know with a high probability the chronological order of books. One exception to this is the book of Job. It is very difficult to know for certain exactly when it was penned, although the grammar of the Hebrew would indicate it was written at some point after 1500 BC. Therefore, if Moses lived around 1400 BC (as is probable), then Job could have been written up to a century before any other text of Scripture. We can additionally conclude that if Job was the author of the book, and since the events of Job take place before even the time of Abraham, then Job would be the first book of the Bible revealed to man.

The authorship of Job is not that certain however, since it is also possible that Moses was the author of Job. Under that scenario, Job would have been written around the same time as the other books of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) also written by Moses and we’d have no way to tell which came first. This scenario would explain why the Hebrew in Job would be closer to the type of Hebrew around the time of Moses than it was to the dialect in use before the time of Abraham.

Personally, I find it likely that Job is the original author and Moses discovered this work when he (Moses) fled to Midian after killing the Egyptian, events described in the second chapter of Exodus. Moses recognized it as having been inspired by God and, when including the text in Scripture, could have edited it to update the Hebrew—a practice that we know happened with other books of the Bible. There is some circumstantial evidence for the Job-authorship view, such as the fact that the land of Midian is near the ancient land of Uz, where Job was from and where the events of the book take place. But obviously this is not direct proof.

To summarize my claim then, it is one of my weaker beliefs, but I believe that the book of Job was written by the man Job or one of his contemporaries, before the time of Abraham, and that the book was circulated through the surrounding region. For that reason, I’ve put Job as the first book in Scripture.

Of course, an argument could be made that just as Job may have been edited by Moses from existing sources, so too the events described in Genesis may have been written down by people preceding even Job. That is, perhaps the events leading up to Abraham were written by various individuals—possibly even by Abraham—which Moses merely inserted into his book. Therefore, those parts of Genesis would still rightly precede the book of Job.

I cannot deny that. However, if this is the case, it would only cover the first half of Genesis. For that reason, I feel confident putting Job before Genesis, even if it’s possible some of the beginning of Genesis may have been written before Job. Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to get more knowledge on that aspect at this point in time, but we will continue rather than paralyzing ourselves with doubt.

At the other end of the spectrum, another point of contention regarding the dates of other books in the Bible is the question of when Revelation was written. Most Biblical scholars put it late in the first century, around 90 – 95 AD. However, due to internal textual considerations, I believe that it was likely written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. While there is no data to contradict this conclusion, there is also little aside from those internal textual considerations to support it. As such, while I am putting the early date of Revelation in this list, by no means am I arguing strenuously for Revelation’s position there.

I have given several rough dates for when the texts were written in the list. Some dates have more evidence than other dates, especially for the New Testament books. However, none of these dates should be relied upon as anything other than a relative or approximate guide.

So with that as the introduction, here is the Chronological List of the Books of the Bible. Please note that the tilde character (~) is used to indicate the dates are approximate. I do this for every date listed to help solidify the fact that there is great uncertainty on these points, and you should not take the dates as Gospel (if you pardon the expression).

Old Testament

Job: Before ~1500 BC, possibly written or edited by Moses.
Genesis: ~1400 BC
Exodus: ~1400 BC
Psalm 90: ~1400 BC, written by Moses.
Leviticus: ~1400 BC
Numbers: ~1400 BC
Deuteronomy: ~1400 BC
Joshua: Sometime before ~1050 BC
Judges: Sometime after ~1050 BC (the book ends with Sampson, a contemporary of Samuel).
The Davidic Psalms: Before ~1000 BC
Ruth: ~1000 BC
1 & 2 Samuel: ~950 BC
Proverbs: ~950 BC (Solomon’s portion), before ~500 BC for the rest
Ecclesiastes: ~950 BC (if Solomon), ~500s BC (if not Solomon)
Song of Solomon: ~950 BC
Jonah: ~800 BC
Hosea: ~750 BC
Amos: ~750 BC
Isaiah: ~700 BC
Micah: ~700 BC
Nahum: ~650 BC
Zephaniah: ~625 BC (certainly before ~612 BC)
Habakkuk: ~600 BC
Jeremiah: ~600 BC
Ezekiel: ~600 BC
Obadiah: ~600 BC
Lamentations: ~580 BC
1 & 2 Kings: ~550 BC
Daniel: ~540 BC
Haggai: ~520 BC
Zechariah: ~520 BC
Joel: ~500 BC (completely uncertain, possibly impossible to ever determine with specificity)
Esther: ~500 BC
1 & 2 Chronicles: ~400 BC
Ezra: ~400 BC
Psalm 66: ~400 BC
Psalm 1: ~400 BC
Nehemiah: ~400 BC
Malachi: ~400 BC

New Testament

James: ~49 AD
1 Thessalonians: ~50 AD
Mark: ~50 AD
2 Thessalonians: ~51 AD
Galatians: ~54 AD
1 Corinthians: ~55 AD
Romans: ~55 AD
2 Corinthians: ~57 AD
Matthew: ~60 AD
Philemon: ~60 AD
Philippians: ~61 AD
Ephesians: ~62 AD
Colossians: ~62 AD
Luke: ~62 AD
Acts: ~62 AD
1 Peter: ~63 AD (certainly before 68 AD)
1 Timothy: ~64 AD
Titus: ~64 AD
Hebrews: ~64 AD (certainly before 90 AD)
Jude: ~65 AD
2 Peter: ~67 AD
2 Timothy: ~68 AD
John: ~70 AD
Revelation: ~70 AD is my belief, but most scholars believe it was ~95 AD
3 John: ~80s AD
1 John: ~90 AD
2 John: ~90 AD

If you are familiar with your Bible, you’ll notice that the chronological order is vastly different from the order that the books appear in the Bible. This is especially true of the epistles of Paul, which were put into Scripture in order of longest to shortest rather than in order of when Paul wrote the books. Since we live after all of these books have been written, in some sense it’s not important at all for us to know which order they actually arrived. On the other hand, I think that the way that books have been ordered in Scripture can sometimes cause us to miss certain aspects of revelation. This is especially true in the case of the Minor Prophets which are all lumped together at the end of the Old Testament, despite the fact that they covered approximately a 400 year time span with the Major Prophets intermixed.

It is certainly possible for us to have a deep and rich spiritual walk with God without comprehending the order of Scripture. We might mistakenly believe that the book of Jonah takes place after the Babylonian captivity because Jonah appears after Jeremiah, and that error will not affect much doctrine at all. Indeed, I liken understanding the order of Scripture to the analogy of watching a movie at an Imax theater as opposed to watching that same video on your iPhone. You will get the same plot, the same overall structure, the same general information in both. On the other hand, the Imax view will allow you to see more details than you can pick up with your phone. In both cases, you can claim you have watched the film and be correct. In the same way, I maintain that not understanding the chronology of Scripture will not cause you to miss out on the overall scope of the Bible, but that understanding the chronology will give you more detail than you would otherwise have. (Indeed, to be clear, the Imax comparison is vastly too strong but I don't really have a better one.)

With that in mind, let us continue with our hypothetical time traveler who is discovering the written revelation in the order which God has revealed it. We will do a quick pass to look at the basic structure of Scripture, and then we will return and do a detailed pass. In so doing, we will try to imagine our hypothetical time traveler as having no information from the future. This will be similar to asking ourselves, “What did the people of God know about Him in 1500 BC?” and comparing it to “What did the people of God know about Him in 1400 BC?” This will give us the progressive unfolding of Scripture so that, at the end, we can re-examine the question asked at the beginning of this chapter: Why is it that the Bible was written in the order in which it was written?

<- The Scope and Overall Structure of Scripture
Table of Contents
The Outpouring of Scripture ->