The Original Manuscript Order of the Books of the “New Testament”

The Original Manuscript Order of the Books of the “New Testament”
James Scott Trimm

Most copies of the New Testament today follow the order:

Pauline Epistles
“Catholic”2 Epistles

However the original manuscript order of the books was:

“Catholic” Epistles
Pauline Epistles

This original manuscript order is followed by the Aramaic Peshitta canon, and thus is that which is followed by such well known Peshitta manuscripts as Codex Khaboris and the Yonan Codex (these two are mentioned by name, not because of their age but because they are good examples of complete Peshitta New Testament manuscripts).

This original manuscript order is also followed by the oldest and best ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, such as Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Ephraim.

This original manuscript order was also followed by Westcott & Hort in their 1881 publication of the Greek New Testament (which they mistakenly believed was the “original”) writing:

We have followed recent editors in abandoning the Hieronymic4 order [Jerome’s order], familiar in modern Europe through the influence of the Latin Vulgate, in favor of the order most highly recommended by various Greek authorities of the fourth century; it differs from the Hieronymic order. The Acts are immediately followed by the Catholic Epistles.
(Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, p. 320)

In his Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament Scrivener writes:

Whether copies contain the whole, or a part of the sacred volume, the general order of the books is the following: Gospels, Acts, Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles and Apocalypse.
(Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament Vol. 1 p. 72)

Bullinger writes:

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. 382-429) All theories based on this order rest on human authority, and thus are without any true foundation.
(Companion Bible, Appendix 95, p. 139)

M’Clintock and Strong in their twelve vol. Cyclopedia write:

The Western Church … as represented by Jerome, gave priority of position to the Pauline epistles. The tendency of the Western Church to recognize Rome as the center of authority, may perhaps in part, account for the departure from the custom of the East. The order of the Alexandrian, Vatican and Ephraim manuscripts gives precedence to the Catholic Epistles, and this is also recognized by the Council of Laodicea, Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius,
(CBTEL, vol. 1, p. 800)

The late Dr. Ernest Martin writes:

There can be no doubt whatever, that the actual manuscript arrangement of the New Testament books, should be restored in all modern versions. ….the seven Catholic (“Jewish”) Epistles should be placed in their original position before those of Paul…
(Restoring the Original Bible; by Ernest L. Martin p. 16-17)

This original manuscript order is also testified to by many of the ancient “Church Fathers”. Athanasius (296-373 CE) Bishop of Alexandria gives the order of books as “the four Gospels; the Acts of the Apostles; the seven Catholic Epistles; the fourteen epistles of St. Paul; and the Revelation of John”5 Leonitus of Byzantium also gives this order.6 The fourth century “Church Father” Philastrius also argued that the Catholic Epistles must precede the Pauline epistles because Gal. 1:17 has Paul referring to the Emissaries of the Jewish Epistles as coming before him.7 Cyril Bishop of Jerusalem also maintained the original manuscript order8 as did the Council of Laodicea.

Just as the manuscript order of the books of the Tanak (OT), (followed by Judaism) does not agree with the ordering of the same books in the Christian “Old Testament” as printed today, so also does the manuscript order of the NT differ. The ancient manuscript order of the books of the so-called “New Testament” has first the “Gospels” then “Acts” followed by the Jewish Epistles (Ya’akov (James); 1 & 2 Kefa (Peter); 1, 2, & 3, Yochanan (John); and Y’hudah (Jude); followed by the Pauline epistles which are followed by Revelation. This order was rearranged by Rome in the Latin Vulgate, in which the Pauline epistles were given first place and the Jewish epistles given second place. The original manuscript order had an important significance. It agreed with the precept that the message was to the Jews first and then to the Goyim (Gentiles). It also agrees with the concept that Ya’akov, Kefa, and Yochanan, were emissaries that come BEFORE Paul (Gal. 1:17) and with the concept that Kefa, Ya’akov, and Yochanan, served as three pillars which lend authority upon which Paul’s message was built, (Gal. 2:9) and not vice-versa. The reader of the NT was intended to read the “Jewish” epistles FIRST and then to read the Pauline epistles already having understood the Jewish epistles. The NT reader was intended to read Ya’akov’s (James’) admonition concerning faith and works (Ya’akov 2), as well as Kefa’s warnings about Paul being difficult to understand and often twisted (2Kefa 3:15-16) etc., before ever attempting to understand the writings of Paul.

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