The Bible--Part 2
Jan 31, 2009
When Jerome translated the Scriptures into Latin, he knew that the Old Testament had long been reckoned to be just 22 books. In 391 A.D. Jerome wrote in his Preface to Samuel and Kings,
"As, then, there are twenty-two elementary characters by means of which we write in Hebrew all we say, and the compass of the human voice is contained within their limits, so we reckon twenty-two books, by which, as by the alphabet of the doctrine of God, a righteous man is instructed in tender infancy, and, as it were, while still at the breast."
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.vii.iii.iv.html (See end of second paragraph)
The use of the term "we" shows that Jerome himself recognized the validity of the 22 OT books at that time. Yet he broke them up into 39 by the time he finished his translation. Dr. Bullinger also understood this, for he wrote in Appendix 95 of The Companion Bible,
"Our English Bibles follow the order as given in the Latin Vulgate. This order, therefore, depends on the arbitrary judgment of one man, Jerome (A.D. 382-405). All theories based on this order rest on human authority and are thus without any true foundation."
Josephus, the first-century Jewish priest-turned-historian, also recognized 22 books of the Old Testament, for he says in his book, Against Apion, I, viii,
"For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws, and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death."
To his testimony can be added a host of early Christian writers who spoke of the 22 books of the Old Testament. So it is clear from history that the original Old Testament was reckoned to consist of 22 books and arranged in the particular order mentioned earlier. Jerome's arrangement of 39 books follows the order in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew text. It does not appear that the Septuagint's arrangement differed from the original Hebrew order until they began to switch from scrolls to codex (i.e., books).
The use of bound books allowed the people to put multiple books together in a more practical way, allowing easy access to all of the books simply by opening up the book--as we do today. To put ten books together, one after another, in a scroll would involve unrolling the entire scroll to find any book that one wished to read.
And so, when writings began to be put into book form (codex), the Septuagint began to be more useful to people. This was done in the second or third centuries. And in the process, the OT books were broken up into 39 and rearranged. This was the arrangement that Jerome used in his Latin Vulgate, probably because the Greek-speaking Christians were already used to such an arrangement. The Septuagint was, after all, the standard text for non-Hebrew speaking people, including most of the Christians. It was like the King James Version in modern times.
In fact, this same order has been perpetuated into modern times precisely for the same reason. The people are already familiar with this arrangement, and when it comes to selling Bibles, few people would want to buy a Bible where they cannot easily locate a desired text. It really comes down to marketing.
Let me say, too, that it is far more important to understand the text itself than to know the order of the books. I am not trying to advocate that we all return to the original 22-book arrangement. I am teaching you these things so that you might appreciate how the Bible was originally put together and how the biblical use of numbers speaks into this issue. This information has academic importance, but this should in no way be taken to mean that it is a sin to use Jerome's arrangement.
If, however, you want a Bible that does utilize the original arrangement, you can purchase one from Amazon by going to:
There was a standardized copy of the Scriptures in the temple in order that copies might be compared to it for the sake of accuracy. It was revered much like we do our original Declaration of Independence and the original copy of the Constitution signed in 1789. This standard copy of the Scripture was taken by the Romans in 70 A.D., along with the Golden Table and the Candlestick. Josephus mentions this in Wars of the Jews, VII, v, 5 (end of par. 5),
". . . for the other spoils, they were carried in great plenty. But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold . . . and last of all the spoils was carried the Law of the Jews."
The New Testament consisted of 27 books, making a total of 49 books in the Christian Bible. The Christians used this important Jubilee number as proof of inspiration, and so by the second century Jewish authorities divided Joshua from Judges and Samuel from the Kings in order to create 24 books of the Old Testament. This was meant to undermine the Christian argument advocating 49 books, because it artificially raised the number of books in the Christian Bible to 51.
The Jewish authorities of the second century A.D. essentially overruled Ezra, who was the priest after the Babylonian captivity that was called to finalize the Old Testament text of Scripture. Ezra is the one who arranged them in proper order and selected the texts that were considered "inspired."
As we will show later, Peter and Paul were called to select the specific writings in their day that would become most of the New Testament. They did their work during Paul's second imprisonment in Rome just before they were martyred. These selected letters and gospels were given to Mark, who took them to John. He completed the work some decades later at the end of the first century. John then wrote his gospel, wedged it between Luke and Acts, and then put his Book of Revelation as the closing book.
We will discuss this history as we proceed in our study.
This is the second part of a series titled "The Bible." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones