Anyone who has read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation understands the Scriptures jump back and forth chronologically because the books are arranged topically. The Old Testament carries us through the historical, then poetic, and lastly prophetic writings. To the Western mind, this appears logical. After all, we love to categorize. Unfortunately, the order of the Bible has been altered from the original Hebrew canon. Our Western restructuring blurs the relations of the books and interrupts the flow of Scripture. After you see the Hebrew ordering, you will recognize this.
The Hebrew Canon
To begin, Keehner presented the Hebrew canon. Like the Western Old Testament, it consists of three sections: the Torah (teaching), the Nevi’im (prophets), and the Ketuvim (writings). The Torah is the five books of Moses. They are:
The Nevi’im contains historical as well as prophetic writings. These books are:
The Ketuvim hosts the remaining books of:
Such an order may not appear significant at first; therefore, Keehner examined each book’s content.
According to Keehner, Genesis serves as an introduction. The other four books of Moses contain a cohesive story line, with Genesis as the prologue necessary to understand the first traumatic event in the tale: why God had to free the Israelites. The journey to the promised land, the fulfilling of the covenant, all of which would be meaningless without the context provided in Genesis.
The following four books use Mose’s life to reveal God’s covenant. They present the laws and statues and demonstrate the blessing of obedience and the cursing of disobedience. These books are the “what” of the law; God states what He expects of us, as well as puts forth the consequences of accepting or rejecting Him.
Keehner observed that the next section of the Bible, the prophetic collection, teaches how people responded to the covenant using historical events. I add that in these books, God’s law comes alive; we behold the victory associated with obedience and the destruction of disobedience. We delight in God’s glory dwelling among men, and we mourn its leaving men. I believe these works generate a precise vision of how humanity has responded to God, and that trend has been to reject His ways.
Keehner identifies the final section of the Old Testament as transitioning from the what has happened of the Nevi’im into the what you, personally, can do; he correctly states these writings demonstrate how an individual can live a covenant life. Divided into two portions, the first explains how to live a life pleasing to God while in the promised land (in a culture susceptible to God’s laws and blessings). It opens with Psalms to teach us how to worship (I believe implying that our first priority is to worship our Creator). The next book, Job, provides an example of a person who correctly worshiped. Then we learn principles of godly living in Proverbs, ending with the characteristics of a virtuous woman. Ruth immediately follows to provide the desired example of a godly woman. The thread connections continue as Ruth concludes with a wedding to lead us into the Song of Solomon where we learn the passion and common mistakes of marriage. Finalizing this section is Ecclesiastes, which demonstrates a misuse of blessings; it reminds us of what not to do.
The second section of the Ketuvim displays how to live a covenant life while in exile (in a culture contrary to God’s laws and blessings). These books are Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. Keehner noted how Lamentation reveals that God’s mercies are still present amid destruction; Esther and Daniel provide examples for a godly woman and man in an ungodly society; Ezra-Nehemiah teaches how to respond as God begins the redeeming process; and Chronicles provides a summary of the complete story, beginning with Adam and taking us to the promise of restoration given through Cyrus. Keehner said that Like Genesis, Chronicles performs a unique role in Scripture; it is an epilogue, reminding us of what has happened since the creation and looking forward to the day God’s people live in peace under God’s rule. It leaves the reader anxious for the next chapter, anxious for the day the Messiah will redeem Israel.
As we have witnessed from Keener’s examination of the Bible, the ordering of the books alters the overall picture of Scripture. Instead of being categorized according to type of writings, the Hebrew canon forms a more coherent story, complete with an introduction and conclusion. The flow is pleasant, with one book naturally leading to the other. In this way, we can see the beauty of God’s authorship; we see how well He constructs His teachings to humanity.
The New Testament
Keehner also noted that the New Testament mirrors this structure. The four gospels tell us the “what” of the new covenant. Acts teaches how the apostles and society responded to the covenant, and the epistles teach us how to live in the new covenant. Lastly, Revelation summarizes man’s relation to the covenant (the letters to the churches) and concludes looking forward to the day Christ will redeem His church. We are left with the same, wonderful expectation as the Old Testament: Messiah is coming!
I believe that when we read the Bible, God is taking us on a wondrous journey to reveal Himself, teach how others have reacted to Him, and finally demonstrate how we as individuals can respond to Him. God’s classroom is rich with information and examples, all of which conclude with the expectation of redemption. Consider this beautiful picture. The Bible is not a random collection of writings on God but is instead God’s education textbook, masterfully designed to instruct us while engaging our imagination and desire for cohesion and purpose. Let God’s teaching method dictate your own class structure and shape your responses to children’s enquiries and desire to learn. Guide your students to perceive how masterfully God tells a story, steering them to fall in love with the greatest Author and Teacher of all time.
I thank Jerry Keehner for permission to use his presentation. He thanks Miles Van Pelt for his work on this topic, from which Jerry derived most of his content. You can find the original information in the introductory essay of Pelt’s book A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised, available for purchase on Amazon.