Today I would like to ponder an issue of the organization of scripture. How do we see the connections between parts of the Bible. For example, if you open most Bibles (typically I tend to use the New King James Version myself, though I am fond of other translations also) you will see scripture divided between the Old and New Testament often with the implication that the “Old” testament is obsolete and that the New Testament is all that matters. And yet the sensitive and aware reader of the “New” Testament will see that there are numerous echoes, quotes, and affirmations of the Hebrew scriptures within its pages, and even the application of obscure laws (such as not muzzling a ox) to the Christian experience.
Even if we examine the scriptures themselves, the order in which we place scriptures tends to make a subtle commentary on their importance. In the contemporary usage, the twelve “minor” prophets are usually placed at the end of the Hebrew scriptures, where they may be safely neglected by many. Likewise, in the Renewed Covenant scripture, the books of Paul are placed before the “Jewish” books of James, Peter, John, and Jude (as well as the “odd” book of Revelation), allowing the supposedly antinomian sentiments of Paul to overwhelm the clearly pro-law commentary of other notable apostles in the minds of those who wish to disobey God and ignore His commandments while covering themselves with the fig leaf of fallacious scriptural reasoning (see 2 Peter 3:14-16, Jude :12-19).
To my knowledge, the only attempt within the Church of God to compile the scriptures has been the flawed but serious KJV-based version of Fred Coulter. Unpleasant family business has led me to think more poorly of him than many others do, so I do not claim to be an unbiased observer, but his somewhat overwritten version of the Bible (based on the Textus Receptus and not the M-text, though it does correct the egregious Johanine Pericope of 1 John 5:7-8) does contain some interesting features. For one, he places the General Epistles before the Pauline epistles, and for another he considers Hebrews as a Pauline epistle without any question or debate or discussion of the matter, except to say that Paul “must” have written the Book of Romans at a particular time because of what the book does not mention, failing to note that the book does not “mention” its author.
Nonetheless, this particular “faithful” version of the scriptures does at least raise some valid points about the early canonization and finalization of scripture. As it happens, there are some very useful (and often ignored) Eastern traditions recorded in the Sabbatarian and pro-law Church of the East that record that the only books admitted into the canon were those of known and verified apostolic origin. Consequently, the Church of the East had a closed canon in the first century AD and was not subject to three centuries of dealing with fraudulent books like the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, or the Didache that held authority over the debased and heretical churches of the West that later slid into the authoritarian gnostic evil of vile popery. We shall return to this point shortly.
First, though, let us examine the question of why there is a difference in the organization of scripture between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Septuagint. Clearly, the originals of the scriptures were in Hebrew and Aramaic, two closely related Semitic languages still spoken in the Middle East. Though the NT does not itself quote the Semitic, the so-called Greek original NT and the Septuagint are closely related texts because they are both written in “Semitic-translation Greek,” which accounts also for the fact that divergences between the Byzantine and Alexandrian text (on the whole, I prefer the Byzantine M-text as a better translation) point to an original that allows for both variants in the Aramaic. I refer the reader interested in a longer examination of these points to the work of Andrew Gabriel Roth.
The Hebrew scriptures are divided into three parts: torah (law, instruction), nevi’im (prophets), and kethuvim (writings). This division of scripture is attested to within the renewed covenant scriptures and also accounts for the fact that there are no Hebrew scriptures after the 5th century BC (when Ezra, Nehemiah, and the last of the minor prophets like Haggai, Zehariah, and Malachi were written). Likewise, all of the renewed covenant scriptures were written in the first century AD, possibly before 70AD. It appears there were very rare “times” of righteous leadership where inspired scriptures were complied and written. The time of Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah make an overwhelmingly large percentage of the biblical writings. As the exception that proves the rule, we find that the prophetic warnings of the Hebrew scriptures occurred overwhelmingly during time of compromise or corruption among the wayward people of God.
In the Peshitta, when you include the so-called “Western five” books of 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, and Revelation, the Aramaic-English New Testament has four divisions of the renewed covenant scriptures: the gospels and emissaries (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts), the Major Testimonies (letters) (Hebrews, James, Jude, 1 & 2 Peter, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians), the Minor Testimonies (letters) (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, & Philemon). The fourth section is the second testimony of John (1, 2 & 3 John, Revelation). The fact that this order is similar to that of the more-or-less chronological “faithful” version of Fred Coulter at least points out some unrecognized similarities between the two works. Both put “Jewish” general epistles before the bulk of the Pauline epistles. Both come from a pro-law perspective. Surely that is not coincidence.