Canonical History Question

(Posted by Paige)

Investigating some “paratext” issues prior to teaching this weekend — perhaps some of my historically-minded brethren can save me some steps and answer this question:

How old is the order of New Testament books that we have in our (Protestant) Bibles?



  1. Adam Parker said,

    September 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Isn’t Josephus the first that we know of to list the books of the Old Testament in the order we now know? As I understand it, he was listing them for a Greek audience.

  2. Andrew Barnes said,

    September 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Jesus was the first on the Hebrew Old Testament: “Law, Prophets, Psalms”.

    Paige’s question is NEW Testament Adam.

  3. Phil D. said,

    September 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    IIRC, the order we are familiar with goes back at least as far as some of the Old Latin Bibles of the third century. Jerome followed suite in the Vulgate. (Many of the Eastern traditions have always had varied orders.) Some of the early Protestant versions mixed things up a little as well (e.g. Luther, Tyndall). Most early English Translations after Tyndall returned to the traditional Western order (Bishops, Geneva, KJV).

  4. Andrew McCallum said,

    September 22, 2012 at 9:14 am


    I believe the order goes back to Eusebius. He lists the gospels first followed in order by the Pauline epistles, the “catholic” epistles, and finally Revelation. Theologians of the Early Church (at least those who held unquestionably to its canonicity) were generally convinced that Hebrews had been written by Paul so this was likely the only book that would be out of order from the modern perspective. Eusebius is writing some years earlier than Athanasius and some of the non-Pauline epistles are still “disputed” at Eusebius’ time. But Eusebius still lists them as canonical in the order we know them.

    Not sure about the exact order before Eusebius.

    Interestingly Athanasius lists the “catholic” epistles before the Pauline ones in his compilation.

  5. Adam Parker said,

    September 24, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks, Andrew. Oops. Well, consider it free, unsolicited information.

  6. paigebritton said,

    September 25, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Thanks, all. Good help there, Andrew M., with Eusebius — though it’s Hebrews that I am now wondering about: When did it stop wandering in and out of the Pauline corpus?

  7. Cris Dickason said,

    September 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Paige @ 6: When did Epistle of Hebrews stop wandering in and out of the Pauline corpus?

    Ha, Ha, it hasn’t. There are still some who hold to Paul’s authorship of Hebrews (but being away from my library, can’t name names). The Belgic Confession lists Hebrews as Paul’s. I don’t think any Reformed Church Federations have ever modified that article!

    It is interesting that once the various genres or sub-sets of NT writings began to circulate together, that Paul’s Epistles were generally listed in the sequence we know in modern Bibles. That sequence is basically by size, descending, starting from Romans as longest to Philemon as shortest. Hebrews sometimes sits as 14th and last Pauline (as one born out of size?).

    The great Codex Sinaiticus has Hebrews ahead of the Pastorals: thus
    Matt, Mk, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal, Eph, Phil, Col, 1 Thess, 2 Thess, HEBREWS, 1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus, Phlm, Acts, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-2-3 John, Jude, Rev.


  8. Andrew McCallum said,

    September 25, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Paige – I agree with Cris. And there still are Protestants today who hold to a Pauline authorship but I think most who do would admit the case is not obvious. The Catholics stick to Pauline authorship because this is ancient tradition, but then the Early Church lacked the kinds of textual tools we have today. IMO we just cannot say. Is this uncertainty of authorship at least partly why Hebrews has landed between the Pauline and non-Pauline books? Don’t know.

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