Why are the books of the Bible in the current order? Are they in chronological order?
The question we are concerned with is, “How is the Bible organized?” or “What is the order of the books of the Bible?” Or, we could ask, “Why are the books of the Bible in their current order?” The answer to these questions is given for both the Old Testament and New Testament in the Protestant Bible. The Bible is arranged both chronologically and topically.
Why Are the Books of the Bible in the Current Order?
There is not universal agreement for the rationale used in determining the order of the books of the Protestant Bible. No historical statements from ancient writers and early church fathers exist that explain why the books of the Bible were put in their current order. However, a careful investigation into the question, “Why are the books of the Bible in their current order?” reveals that the books of the Bible are primarily arranged chronologically and then topically. What follows is an explanation of the Old Testament order and the New Testament order. Historical data will provide us some insight.
Old Testament Order
The order of the Old Testament books in the Protestant Bible follows the order of the books in the Greek Septuagint (LXX). But why the LXX did not follow the order of the Hebrew or Jewish Bible is not clear. For an explanation of the order of the Hebrew Bible, also called The Tanakh, visit “How is the Jewish Bible or Tanakh different from the Bible?” In summary, the Old Testament books primarily follow a topical order (history, poetry and prophecy) and each topical section follows a chronological order.
Books of History — Genesis to Esther
What is clear is that the Old Testament books in the Protestant Bible follow both a chronological and a topical order starting with the book of Genesis—the Creation. The first five books (Genesis-Deuteronomy) are called the Pentateuch. Moses was the author. Genesis starts with the creation and ends with the twelve sons of Jacob in Egypt. Exodus through Deuteronomy explain the exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt to the month before the nation entered the Promised Land. The Pentateuch also contains the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.
The next books in the Old Testament, Joshua through 2 Chronicles, provide the history of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land. By the end of 2 Chronicles, the northern nation of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah have been defeated by the invading Assyrian and Babylonian armies. The next group of books are Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. They recount the return of the nation to the land. In summary, Genesis through Esther are primarily historical and chronological in order.
Books of Poetry — Job to Song of Solomon
The books of Job through the Song of Solomon are chronological in order, but are also topical as they are primarily poetry in form. The book of Job is about the devil’s temptation of the patriarch Job. Psalms through the Song of Solomon were primarily written by King David and King Solomon. The time frame in which these books were written overlaps the same period of time in which the books of history were written.
Books of Prophecy — Isaiah to Malachi
The major and minor prophets capture the warnings and prophesies to the nation of Israel as well as other nations. The major prophets are called major because they are the lengthiest of the books written by prophets. The minor prophets refer to the shorter books. The time these books were written overlaps the time frame for the books of history and poetry.
New Testament Order
The New Testament books reflects the Western order found in the Vulgate translated by Jerome.  The historical books of the New Testament books are ordered chronologically. The epistles are ordered topically and by the length of the book. The book of Revelation closes the New Testament and is the last book of the Bible.
Books of History — Gospels to Acts
The Gospels occur at the beginning of the New Testament in virtually every arrangement of the NT found in the early historical documents. They record the life of Christ. It is logical because without Jesus Christ the New Testament does not make any sense. The book of Acts records the ministry of the apostles and the growth of the church after Christ’s ascension back to heaven. Thus, the Gospels and the book of Acts are historical.
Books of Epistles — Romans to Jude
The Pauline epistles (Romans to Philemon) and the general epistles (Hebrews-Jude) were primarily written in the middle of the first century. The Pauline epistles appear to be ordered by the length of the book. The same is true for the General Epistles.
Books of Prophecy — Revelation
The book of Revelation was written at the end of the first century in A.D. 95 and it looks to the future.
The Old Testament books primarily follow a topical order (history, poetry and prophecy) and in each topical section follow a chronological order. The historical books of the New Testament books are ordered chronologically. The epistles are ordered topically and by length of the book and the book of Revelation closes the New Testament and is the last book of the Bible.
1. Kostenberger, et al. The Cradle, The Cross and the Crown. B&H Publishing. 2016. p. 28-29.
2. Ibid. p. 30-31.
Suggested Links:How is the Jewish Bible or Tanakh different from the Bible?
When were the Bible books written?