Should Protestants Go Back to the Hebrew Order of Books In the OT?

I have often thought about the difference in the order of the books of the Old Testament. What we have in the English Bible does not follow the order of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible follows the order of Torah (law), Nebiim (prophets early and late), and Ketubim (writings). The two distinct orders of the OT books can be clearly seen side by side here. In the same post, Greg references a very stimulating argument by Jim Hamilton (a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) that English Bibles should follow the order of the Hebrew Bible. He even answers the argument from the Septuagint, saying that there is no uniform Septuagintal order of books. Therefore, if we followed the Hebrew Bible in discerning which books were part of the canon, rejecting the Septuagintal extra books of the Apocrypha, then why not follow the Hebrew Bible’s ordering of books? As Hamilton notes, David Noel Freedman has argued that Ezra and Nehemiah were responsible for the ordering of the Hebrew canon. Hamilton also notes that certain New Testament passages seem to assume the TNK ordering of the OT books. Very stimulating. Maybe the ESV will consider printing such a Bible. It would certainly take some getting used to!

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26 Comments

  1. K. H. Acton said,

    February 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I don’t think the “Hebrew” order is that cut and dry. Brevard Childs and others discuss differences even within the Tanak order. Also the LXX order is NOT just a Greek ordering. The Dead Sea Scrolls give some evidence of similar (if not the same) orders. The canonical orderings are both somewhat late and great care should be used in assigning any significance to an order that came to be solidified within a group AFTER they became an apostate church.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    February 12, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Hmm, interesting. So you’re not convinced that Ezra and Nehemiah put together the ordering of the Tanakh?

  3. Steven Carr said,

    February 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Lane,

    A couple of thougts:

    1) There is no theological significance to the Hebrew ordering, so why use it?
    2) Suppose it was Ezra (Nehemiah was not a scribe) that put together the order of the Tanak, does that automatically make it an “inspired” order?
    3) Well, Mr. Acton already got to my #3.

  4. February 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    It would be somewhat difficult for Ezra to put together “the” ordering of the Hebrew Bible (of which you speak?) since not all of it had been written by his time (whenever that was)…most notably the book of Daniel.

    It has long been recognized that “the” ordering of the Hebrew Bible displays an editorial framing on numerous levels. Thus multiple redactions of the Minor Prophets gave us the editorially-unified “Book of the Twelve.” On a larger level, numerous significances of “the” Hebrew Bible order are frequently noted. The most common is that it ends with Chronicles and the final passage of Chronicles.

  5. David Gadbois said,

    February 13, 2009 at 1:42 am

    It would be somewhat difficult for Ezra to put together “the” ordering of the Hebrew Bible (of which you speak?) since not all of it had been written by his time (whenever that was)…most notably the book of Daniel.

    This assertion is characteristically pompous and lazy of FTH. He acts as if such a late dating of Daniel is not disputed, even though his conclusion hinges on that very premise, and that he does not need to bother to establish or argue for his premise. He’s such a learned and erudite guy, he’ll just tell us what we need to know.

  6. Matt said,

    February 13, 2009 at 8:17 am

    It is definitely a problem that we do not have a uniform Hebrew order to the canon. That said it does seem like several NT authors do give us some hermeneutical hints in reading the three major sections of the OT canon in light of Christ. I think it’s probably more helpful to use these than to just start publishing the Bibles in different order. Miles Van Pelt from RTS Jackson has some helpful charts where he argues that the NT canonical order of Gospel-History-Epistles was intentionally patterned after the Law-Prophets-Writings structure in the Hebrew OT order before the OT was rearranged in a combination of genre, author, and chronological settings. Not sure if he has them published anywhere though.

    Stephen Dempster’s book [i]Dominion and Dynasty[/i] is an OT BT that uses a Hebrew canonical order to trace kingship and people through the OT. It is a very good book. Waltke also makes references to canonical placement throughout his OT Theology.

  7. Rob said,

    February 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Lane,
    John Sailhamer is a fairly significant evangelical OT scholar who has argued for a canonical structure for OT theology in terms the canonical shape of the Hebrew canon in which precedence is given to “text” over and against “event” that is typically expressed in terms of redemptive history. As has already been pointed out, the status of Hebrew order vs. the LXX is a problem. Though the idea of structure and center of OT Theology is a ongoing problem, the historical nature of the biblical text to referential and historical concerns would seem to weighted to the structure that is expressed in textual or literary concerns alone.

  8. Richard said,

    February 13, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Lane, what evidence is there that Ezra and Nehemiah put together the ordering of the Tanakh? Are we even sure that the Jewish canon was closed by Ezra, was it not still fluid up until AD90? I know that Wilson argues for the Psalter being ‘closed’ in 50CE.

  9. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    February 13, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    One striking thing about the Hebrew order is that it includes Daniel in a different section: that of the “Writings,” rather than the “Prophets.” That might have some impact on how we read the book…

  10. greenbaggins said,

    February 13, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Richard, your question is answered by David Noel Freedman in the article that Jim Hamilton references. I don’t have the info personally.

    I think the exegetical ramifications are also answered by Jim’s arguments. I put it out there because it is interesting.

  11. revkev1967 said,

    February 13, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    3 reasons:

    1. Marketing–no one will buy it.
    2. Ignorance–the average Joe doesn’t know the current order; why muddy the waters?
    3. Does it really matter?–The order isn’t inspired…though I admit I do like the HOT order.

  12. revkev1967 said,

    February 13, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Matt,

    Miles Van Pelt from RTS Jackson has some helpful charts where he argues that the NT canonical order of Gospel-History-Epistles was intentionally patterned after the Law-Prophets-Writings structure in the Hebrew OT order before the OT was rearranged in a combination of genre, author, and chronological settings. Not sure if he has them published anywhere though.

    Last time I spoke with him he was planning on publising the theory. Right now it is in lecture form. He calls it “Canon and Covenant.” It’s pretty good.

  13. Richard said,

    February 14, 2009 at 4:28 am

    Thanks Lane, I do like the work by D. N. Freedman’s colleague F. M. Cross. I will check it out.

  14. K. H. Acton said,

    February 14, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    I don’t get to my computer every day so this is kinda late. I DO think canonical order would be important IF it could be established that there was one before the separation of the church from synagogue. It is not a question of Hebrew verses LXX order. There is evidence that first century Hebrew order IN Palestine could be quite flexible (as I mentioned earlier, the Dead Sea scrolls seem to trend in the “LXX” order). I admit that the NT does give evidence (not all of it conclusive) of following the Hebrew canonical order. However, is it a case of an authorized (canonical) order or just a local arrangement? Of course, the issue of order was probably less of an issue when the books were separate scrolls and not bound together in a codex. This may be an issue created by advanced media delivery.

  15. Rod Saville said,

    February 16, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Interesting article by Dr. Hamilton and discusion. This is a subject I’m a little rusty on, but it has been of interest to me over the years. Here are a few thoughts:
    1) There are schools of thought or presuppositions to this subject in terms of text criticism that need to be discovered as these determine what facts are to be considered as evidence to a position and weights given to each.
    2) H.B. Swete, INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT GREEK, has charts for the variant OT book orders: Hebrew, Septuagint and early church fathers
    3) There is not only the question of OT book order, but also the OT book titles – the English follows the Septuaignt titles
    4) One influence for regard of the Septuagint is that the writers of the NT quote from both the OT Masoretic Hebrew and the OT Septuagint (verbatum in many instances) and they mix or paraphrase. See Archer and Chirichigno, OLD TESTAMENT QUOTATIONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: A COMPLETE SURVEY.
    5) Lane wrote,”There is no theological significance to the Hebrew ordering, so why use it?”
    I’m not convinced this is correct. It may not have significance, say, to the doctrine of the Godhead in terms of a Systematic theology, but it might in terms of eschatology, which is a category of systematics, if we see a prefiguring of the Church age in the historical events of the OT, then Chronicles, bundled with Ezra and Nehemiah, if it is the last book of OT (I hold that it is) becomes very significant in much the same way that Revelations does for the NT – this of course would be a Post-Millenialist thesis. I would also assert that it would have significance for Covenant and Narrative theologies in other ways. But maybe more important it does have a subjective affect upon the reader as it clusters themes and concepts in different arrangements to the Septuagint order of books – consider the theme and concept of covenanting in Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles if bundled together at the end of the OT as opposed to them being in their slightly different order and in the middle of the OT as we have in our English. text.

  16. February 16, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Even though the Hebrew order is Law-Prophets-Writings, the order of the books in Writings is not set in stone. For example, some printed texts have the order Psalms, Job, Proverbs. Others have the order Psalms, Proverbs, Job. This diversity is found in modern printed editions. Likewise, there is inconsistency is the ordering of the 5 Scrolls in modern printed editions (Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes). So if we follow “the Hebrew order,” which “Hebrew order” do we follow?

  17. Rod Saville said,

    February 18, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Benjamin asked, “So if we follow ‘the Hebrew order,’ which ‘Hebrew order’ do we follow?” I’d like to drop a few thoughts on this, but before doing so I want to note that under the Prophets there are variant orders for Isaiah, Jerimiah and Ezekiel, as no one has mentioned this yet. These thoughts are not an answer but an attempt to narrow things down a bit (maybe it will broaden it).
    1) I think the answer to your question revolves around the processes of canonization which is to say the least is a huge subject and to my knowledge has not been done by the Church to this day in an official canonizing. I would add that today the means of this being done does not exist in any biblical sense – this would be an issue of biblical economic order in Church governance versus todays state of denominationalism
    2) In the meantime we seem left to go with what we are relatively certain of or is uncontroverted. OT is tripartate, the books in those divisions are not known to be vairiant or found in more than one division, there are subdivisions within the Prophets and Writings (5 scrolls being one of 3 subdivisions in the Writings), within the Hebrew text, codexed MSS, there seems to be only 3 variant orders with a Talmud witness and we have what is called the Printed variant (this comes to us through the work of Christian David Ginsburg and others)
    3) There are also schools of thought to be considered and worked through as to what each has to offer if anything: Higher Criticism, Majority Text and Recieved Text
    4) Now some speculation on my part. If Dr. Hamilton’s point about Abel-
    Zachariah points authoritatively to Chronicles as the last book of the Writings, then it is of note that only one of the codexed variants of MSS offers Chronicles as the last book. If we add Luke 24:44 where in Christ’s words the Writings are represented by the Psalter, an argument might be made for it as the first book and collective noun for the whole of the Writings. If this holds then it would confirm the same variant MSS list that Chronicles ends. If this were to hold this then might narrow the 5 scrolls question (the purpose of the 5scrolls subdivision, if memory serves me, was reading of the particular books at the annual appointed celebrations, might they not then be in order to the celebrations they were to be read at? [personally I have not done this, it is just a thought, but maybe someone has the time to try and blow this out of the water] If that order holds to the variant list we might have with Psalms and Chronicles, then we have an interesting argument for that particualar variant list)

  18. February 18, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    This lovely gem from David Gadbois, in reference to my earlier comment, was just brought to my attention, “This assertion is characteristically pompous and lazy of FTH. He acts as if such a late dating of Daniel is not disputed, even though his conclusion hinges on that very premise, and that he does not need to bother to establish or argue for his premise. He’s such a learned and erudite guy, he’ll just tell us what we need to know.”

    Most of us here know that I disagree with many of you, strongly, on many points. We argue forcefully and likely often in ways that might dishonor our Lord at times. That said, I am unclear on why the moderators here tolerate this. It is one thing to disagree with someone, even to disagree strongly and to think the other is holding ridiculous positions possibly for nefarious reasons. It is another to just start hurling comments like this. Again, I know many of you disagree with me. Does that render it acceptable for someone to channel this level of invective? Is this how you want Christians to think disagreements in the church should be handled?

    As to the other parts of David’s comment, it sort of goes without saying that the Greenbaggins audience disputes the standard-accepted dating of Daniel to the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE. Perhaps Lane Keister will correct me, but I think me posting a series of arguments for the date of Daniel here would be out of place on this thread. If people here actually want to discuss Daniel, I would be happy to participate. I will add the caveat. For some of you here I detest the thought of doing your homework for you on this issue. I have read and know the conservative-evangelical arguments for the early-traditional dating of Daniel. I used to hold that position and found it theologically significant. Eventually I started reading ancient Mediterranean sources more broadly as well as (in relation to Daniel) work within the majority of scholarship on Daniel (which holds to the standard-accepted 3rd-2nd century BCE date) and found it infinitely more convincing and honest with the text. If you want to know why the entirety of modern Biblical scholarship (aside from a tiny minority of conservative-evangelicals, mostly in North America) understands Daniel as a 3rd-2nd century book, pick up something about Daniel not written by a specific type of conservative-evangelical and read.

    I hope this does not come across too nasty…but I have done my “homework” on this issue. I would encourage others to do the same before dismissing me as pompous and lazy, especially for representing a standard position within modern scholarship. Lastly, keep in mind that some conservative-evangelicals comprise this modern-scholarship majority on Daniel. Apparently a 3rd-2nd century BCE date does not stem from anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions and/or a denial of the possibility of predictive prophecy. Perhaps you would disagree, however, and claim to know us better than we know ourselves?

    I know the authority of modern Biblical scholarship does not carry much weight around here. This is where we simply differ. I think different parts of modern Biblical scholarship greatly contribute to our understanding of the Bible, often in ways greatly differing from traditional approaches. I do not see this detracting from the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but rather helping us better understand what that means and how God gave us His Word. This is old news here about me.

    If you want to convince me that you have “done your homework” and have a truly critical approach to modern biblical scholarship, perhaps dazzle me and produce a cogent outline of why most understand Daniel the way they do, especially as a 3rd-2nd century BCE Jewish writing. Perhaps outline some of the stronger arguments, with specific textual examples, in such a way that it makes sense how a thinking and intelligent student of ancient history would find the “critical” position quite plausible. Perhaps do this without recourse primarily to said person’s “presuppositions.” Or you can just call me lazy and pompous…

  19. Ron Henzel said,

    February 18, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Stephen, a.k.a. Foolish Tar Heel,

    You wrote:

    Most of us here know that I disagree with many of you, strongly, on many points. We argue forcefully and likely often in ways that might dishonor our Lord at times. That said, I am unclear on why the moderators here tolerate this. It is one thing to disagree with someone, even to disagree strongly and to think the other is holding ridiculous positions possibly for nefarious reasons. It is another to just start hurling comments like this. Again, I know many of you disagree with me. Does that render it acceptable for someone to channel this level of invective? Is this how you want Christians to think disagreements in the church should be handled?

    “Unclear on why the moderators tolerate this?” “Level of invective?” Is this the same person who wrote,

    I happily admit that I hold Beale’s work on these matters in utter derision and consider it pseudo-scholarship and distorted historical work. When I want to read superficially sophisticated-sounding apologetics masquerading as Biblical scholarship I go to Greg Beale’s work, along with that of DA Carson, Meredith Kline, and others. If Tipton could claim any status as a recognized (evangelical) ’scholar,’ I would put him in the above category as well.

    and then a short time later launched into a very condescending extended tirade against Lane’s Ph.D. project?

    G.K. Berkeley was wrong. Based on your behavior on this blog, you don’t put the “foolish” in “Foolish Tar Heel;” you put the “heel” in it. And, as Groucho Marx said, “Time wounds all heels.”

  20. February 18, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Ron,

    You argument is that I sinned therefore it is acceptable for others to sin against me?

  21. Ron Henzel said,

    February 18, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Stephen,

    My argument is, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:7).

  22. David Chen said,

    February 19, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I don’t remember all the details now and I will dug into my OTHTII class notes for the exact comments. But I remember the late Al Groves made the comment that the Hebrew order DO have theological reasons behind them (thought he didn’t explicitly say Christian Bible should be reorder), and one that sticks in my head is the placing of the Books of Chronicles last – it is meant to be read as a book of hope for the people of God. Currently Christians barely touch the book Chronicles because it is merely being looked at as supplements to Samuels-Kings, which totally misses the point of those books.

  23. K. H. Acton said,

    February 19, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    In regard to #17, the Talmud is a post-1st century document and therefore enters into the question of whether Christians should defer to it in establishing an official Hebrew canonical order. Obviously its sources reach back before the 1st century and represents authentic tradition, but it also suppressed other traditions. The LXX order does have early Hebrew precedent as well. It seems to me also that the common Law/Prophets division in the NT can work with both LXX and Talmud orders. In short, the evidence is inconclusive and therefore rearrangement does not seem prudent. Any theological significance might have an anti-christian bias anyway.
    By the way, the early canonical order of the NT put Hebrews in the midst of the Pauline letters and the Pauline letters after the General Epistles. I think that the Gospels were in a slightly different order too. Of the two Testaments, a change in the NT would have the greater impact b/c of the implications for the authorship o the Epistle to the Hebrews.

  24. David Gadbois said,

    February 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    FTH said That said, I am unclear on why the moderators here tolerate this…. It is another to just start hurling comments like this

    First off, I am one of the moderators (look in the left hand column toward the bottom). Second, you don’t have to be around Greenbaggins too long to know that we do allow sparks to fly around here, including pointed expressions of contempt. We don’t allow abusive language (‘your mother wears army boots’). But to characterize your posts as pompous and lazy, and giving reasons for that characterization, is well within bounds.

    If you want to convince me that you have “done your homework”

    I don’t know why anyone should be compelled to (or care about) such an exercise in convincing you. You are the one who made a statement premised on a claim we reject, yet you still offer us no substantiation other than giving us guarantees about your own learning. At the end of the day, we are still left wondering why we should share your beliefs.

    I consider any case in which I’ve interacted with those I don’t agree with – whether it be atheists, Muslims, or Arminians. I don’t just swoop into the middle of discussions and make assertions based on claims that I know they reject without presenting any logical or evidentiary argument. I don’t walk up to Muslims and say ‘well, how can Mohammed be a prophet and moral exemplar when he was a child molester?’ Well, I’d better back that sort of claim instead of just assuming it. Or else I’m just being, at best, a clanging gong and crashing cymbal to my audience, and have given them no reason to change their minds about anything, and at worst I’m just being an old-fashioned jerk.

    Granted, claiming a late date for Daniel is not as emotionally inflammatory as calling Mohammed a child molester to a Muslim, but in their respective contexts both statements are, by themselves, just as intellectually vacuous methods of discourse. It is just rhetorical eye-poking, even if true.

    Perhaps outline some of the stronger arguments, with specific textual examples

    It is hard for any of us to work up the motivation to meet demands which you, yourself, haven’t bothered to fulfill in defense of a claim that *you* originally made. You seem to think that flashing your academic credentials (and subsequently demanding that we ‘impress you’) is a substitute for substantive reasoning with your audience. This forum doesn’t exist for us to baldly state our opinions and vent disagreement (‘cuz, gosh, I’ve already done my homework and convinced myself’), but to reason with each other. Consider this, next time, before you hit the ‘submit comment’ button.

    Perhaps outline some of the stronger arguments, with specific textual examples, in such a way that it makes sense how a thinking and intelligent student of ancient history would find the “critical” position quite plausible. Perhaps do this without recourse primarily to said person’s “presuppositions.”

    First off, I have both agreement and disagreement with pressupositionalism (of course, depending on how it is defined). I don’t believe that all issues can be decided through worldview or presuppositional critique. Nor do I believe Christianity can be proved through a master transcendental argument.

    Having said that, I’m not sure folks here would deny that thinking and intelligent students of ancient history could find the liberal position plausible. We are saying that it simply is not a Christian position. Lots of things in life that, from a limited perspective, are plausible often become less plausible or even impossible when new data come to light, or when loyalties, frameworks, perspectives, and, yes, presuppositions shift. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God raised from the dead, then He really is a relevant – indeed the most relevant – historical authority we have on matters of which he speaks. It is relevant to our view of Daniel that Jesus views the Law, Prophets, and Writings as historically authentic and not pious forgeries, and it is relevant that Jesus ascribes the prophet Daniel as being the author of the book of Daniel (Matthew 24:15) in particular.

  25. Rod Saville said,

    February 23, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    With respect to #23
    1) “the Talmud is a post-1st century document and therefore enters into the question of whether Christians should defer to it in establishing an official Hebrew canonical order. Obviously its sources reach back before the 1st century and represents authentic tradition, but it also suppressed other traditions.”
    Sorry about that – I was thinking, without checking, that I had mentioned the names of the variant Hebrew orders when I cited Swete’s charts in #15 point 2.
    Yes, the Talmud order is listed there and is assumed as considered in light of my speculation in #17 point 4. The Talmud order for the Writings starts with Ruth, not Psalms. So, if my speculation holds, then the Talmudic order appears problematic.
    Again, if my speculation holds #17 point 4, as is, and we add another premise form the Received Text canonical theory that, Christ is the absolute ‘canon’ confirming the OT canon, then the Talmudic order is problematic being in conflict with Luke 24:44 putting Ruth before Psalms (see EERDMANS BIBLE DICTIONARY 1987. “Canon” sec. III New Testament. for detailed explanation of Christ is the absolute ‘canon’).
    2) I do not agree that “the evidence is inconclusive.” The evidence seems heavily weighted against the Septuigant book order (in its past and present forms – Swete lists 20+ orders). If scripture itself is authoritative and indicates a tripartate Hebrew ordering of which the known lists are about 5 and have very little variation between them and if my speculations hold then the lists can be reduce to 2 and the sticking point between them is the Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel order – I personally have not looked into how this might be sorted out, but maybe someone reading in might speak to this.
    3) I would add that in the history of canonization in the protestant west the move has been away from the Septuigant as authoritative for a number of reasons (its authority was controversial in the early Church but the Hebrew text was not so readily available). We have seen the move of dropping its Apocrypha and a move to the Hebrew text as the basis for translations since the Reformation and we have also seen that the Reformation moved to establish the Hebrew text as the basis for determing all controversies of religion (see WCF ch 1 sec viii), it seems then that OT book order and names is next in God’s providence.

  26. Reformed Sinner said,

    February 24, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Someone probably already did a study on this, but has anyone know why the Reformers adopted the Hebrew Bible but not it’s canonical order? I’m sure they must have discussed it or maybe they were so busy with everything else they didn’t talk about it. Sounds like a good research paper to do if that is the case.


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