The Bible--Part 3
Feb 02, 2009
Jerome's Latin Vulgate followed the Old Testament order of books from the Septuagint, the Greek translation that had been put together in the centuries before Christ. The Septuagint was the standard translation of the Bible in those days, used by all those who could not read Hebrew.
Obviously, Jerome's Latin-speaking readers had been using the Septuagint for centuries already, and so to change it back to the original Hebrew order might have made his translation less accepted in the market place. So he followed that established order.
Even so, his motive for re-arranging the New Testament books is more political. The established order of New Testament books was to put the Gospels first (with Acts acting like the fifth gospel to parallel the five books of the Torah). The General Epistles followed Acts; then the Pauline Epistles; and the book of Revelation ended the New Testament.
In Appendix 2 of Chapter 1, Restoring the Original Bible, by Dr. Ernest Martin, he quotes from Professor R. Gregory in A.D. 1907, who wrote a book called Canon and Text of the New Testament. The quotation is from page 467-469 of Gregory's book:
"The order in which we place the books of the New Testament is not a matter of indifference. Every Christian should be familiar with these books, and should know precisely where to find each book. Every New Testament should have the books in precisely the same order, the order of the Greek Church, which in this case is of right the guardian of this ancient literature [see Romans 3:1, 21]."
Prof. Gregory then gives us the order of books as follows:
The Acts of the Apostles
The General Epistles
The Pauline Epistles
The Book of Revelation
This is the order followed by Dr. Ivan Panin in his Numeric New Testament, published first in 1914. Since there are some differences in the various ancient texts at our disposal, it has always been difficult for scholars to choose which text to use in our English translations. Dr. Panin discovered that gematria (numerical patterns) proved which texts were "inspired," because only the correct text retained the numeric patterns built into the text itself.
Dr. Panin found numerics useful also in determining the proper order of New Testament books, as listed above. Whenever I run across a difference in the Greek texts and need to know if certain verses or passages ore "inspired," I turn to Ivan Panin's Numeric New Testament. Having studied gematria for decades, I am sure of its validity and usefulness in such matters. And so I find that Panin's order of NT books is authoritative, not only by early Church usage but also by gematria.
This order of NT books was not universal in the early Church, but it was the most common and established order. Jerome reversed the order by putting Paul's epistles first. It was done to give Paul primacy, and since Romans was first in the order of Paul's epistles, Jerome was giving Rome the place of prestige in the New Testament. It was obviously a political decision to please the Roman bishops and thereby gain more acceptance of his translation.
In the first century, James (the brother of Jesus) was the first bishop of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was the center of Christianity. Even Paul himself went to Jerusalem to present his case against the circumcision of non-Jewish Christians (Acts 15). He won his case, and thereafter he was able to present the official letter that James had given him, whenever he found opposition to his gospel.
Neither James nor his brother Jude were believers during the time of Jesus' ministry, for we read in John 7:5, "For not even His brothers were believing in Him." Yet they came to believe after His resurrection from the dead. Keep in mind that it must have been difficult for them to develop an entirely new relationship with Jesus, after knowing him as their brother for so many years.
James was made the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem in 44 A.D., shortly after Herod executed the other James (one of the sons of Zebedee). That James had just returned from a missionary journey from Spain. Herod killed him with the sword (Acts 12:2), and when it pleased the temple leaders, he arrested Peter as well. But since it was Passover, he had to wait until after the feast to execute him. Acts 12 tells us that the angel of the Lord broke him out of prison.
Peter escaped to Caesarea, which was a Roman city on the coast, and no doubt he stayed with Philip, who had taken residence there (Acts 8:40; 21:8, 9), along with his four prophet-daughters. Peter eventually fled north to Antioch, where he began a ministry of building a branch office for the Church.
But getting back to our story, the apostles had formed a collective rule at the Church in Jerusalem. Some of them, of course, had gone to other parts of the world as missionaries, but Jerusalem was their home Church. When Peter fled to Caesarea and then to Antioch, it must have seemed unlikely that he would be able to return any time soon--at least not as long as that Herod was alive. So they anointed James, the brother of Jesus, as the first Bishop of the Church.
The point is that James was recognized throughout the Church world as the head of the Church. If Peter had been the recognized leader of the Church (i.e., the "first pope"), he would have been the first pope of Jerusalem, not Rome. This would have made James the second pope, and when he was martyred in 62 A.D. on the temple grounds, Symeon (his cousin) would have been the third pope in Jerusalem.
In those days, respect for elders was very important. In the New Testament, whenever apostles are named, they are always named by rank and authority, depending on the situation. Hence, in the gospels, during the time of Jesus' ministry, it is always "Peter, James, and John" (as in Matt. 17:1). In those days Peter was the leader. But later, Paul speaks of "James, Cephas (Peter), and John" (Gal. 2:9).
Hence, James' letter was given first place after Acts, followed by Peter's and John's, with Jude taking the rear.
Paul had 14 epistles, the tenth being the book of Hebrews. Jerome removed it and placed it farther back next to James, in order to downgrade the "Jewish" writings behind the writings of Paul. But in doing this, he elevated "the least [in rank] of the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:9) to the place of primacy, as if to make Paul's writings more inspired than those of James--and even Peter, who was called to preach to the circumcision (Gal. 2:7).
This re-arrangement of the NT books in the late 4th century showed that there was already a move to de-legitimize the Jerusalem Church and to elevate Rome in its place. This was the political effect of the anti-Jewish thinking of the day. James and Paul were placed in opposition, instead of in a harmonious relationship, as shown in Acts 15:25.
The apostles recognized cultural differences in those days, and they adapted to those realities. I do NOT believe that the apostles established two different methods of justification--one for Jews and one for non-Jews. Yet justification could be garbed in the clothing of any cultural practice.
This is the third part of a series titled "The Bible." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones