Our English versions of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) contain 39 books, while the Hebrew Scriptures themselves — having the same material — are divided into only 24 books. Josephus (writing near the end of the first century AD) enumerates 22 books, combining Ruth with Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah. This was done, apparently, to correspond with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Jews did not divide the writings in the same manner as later translators divided them. For example: The minor prophets are grouped together as one book: the “Twelve”; Ezra and Nehemiah are taken together; Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are each one book rather than two. These 22 or 24 (or 39) books constitute the “canon” of the Old Testament.
The 22 books (one listing, at least) would be:
|1. Genesis||12. Esther|
|2. Exodus||13. Job|
|3. Leviticus||14. Psalms|
|4. Numbers||15. Proverbs|
|5. Deuteronomy||16. Ecclesiastes|
|6. Joshua||17. Song of Songs|
|7. Judges (and Ruth)||18. Isaiah|
|8. 1 and 2 Samuel||19. Jeremiah (and Lamentations)|
|9. 1 and 2 Kings||20. Ezekiel|
|10. 1 and 2 Chronicles||21. Daniel|
|11. Ezra; Nehemiah||22. The Twelve (Minor Prophets)|
(The common listing of 24 would, of course, separate Lamentations from Jeremiah, and Ruth from Judges.)
The word “canon” is Greek and means a straight rod, rule or measure; or, that which is measured by the “canon”. The canon of the Old Testament as we have it today was set in the time of Josephus; by his time (circa 90 A.D.) the Apocryphal books, which had found their way into the Septuagint, had been rejected. The Old Testament in the days of Josephus was recognized as of ancient authority and divinely inspired.
There is, of course, some uncertainty — or room for different theories — in all this, as the two counts (22 or 24) mentioned above bear out. I, personally, like the “22” version of counting, for the very reason that it does correspond to the number of Hebrew letters… and also for the following:
If we decide to count only 22 books in the Old Testament, then — along with the familiar 27 in the New Testament — we arrive at a total of 49 books. On aesthetic grounds, and bearing in mind the Scriptural significance of numbers, this is very satisfying: 49 is 7 times 7, and seven is the number of the Sabbath and completion and covenant.
On the other hand, and by contrast, the number of books in our English Bibles — 66 (39 in the Old Testament plus 27 in the New) — is far from pleasing. It is, in fact, 2/3 of the number of the “man of sin” (Rev. 13:18)!
So let’s assume the “22” number is correct. This leads to another satisfying arrangement of the books of the Bible:
- 22 books of the Old Testament;
- 5 “bridge”books: the history (four gospels, and the Acts) — which may be seen as the completion of the Old Testament (see, e.g., Matt. 5:17), as well as the beginning of the New Testament (cp. Matt. 1:1; 4:17; Mark 1:1; Luke 1:3; and John 1:1-18); and
- a final 22 books of the New Testament (all the letters, and Revelation).
In this arrangement (22 + 5 + 22), the five “bridge” books can be seen as something like a new “Torah”, or “Law” (the new “Genesis through Deuteronomy”) at the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New.
Now the Book of Revelation, with all its sevens (perhaps even “seven sevens”, by one arrangement!) takes its place as the 49th, and final, book!
Finally, counting 49 books in Scripture at this point leaves room for one more, the 50th (or “Jubilee”: Lev. 25:11,12) book, to complete the cycle. But we do not have that book now. What might it be?
How about the “book” that has been in process of writing all through history?
“He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life” (Rev. 3:5).
“…the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
“Nothing impure will ever enter [the city], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).
A wonderful idea, I think: one day, by God’s grace, all our names (and stories?) will be written in the updated Bible!
Will the Bible of the Millennium (and beyond) include the recently-completed fiftieth book, for the comfort of the immortals, and for the education of the mortals in the Age to come?
If such a thing is imaginable, then think how exciting, but also how sobering: Each of us who believes is — right now — writing his or her own “chapter” in God’s Bible!
Let us each take care how we write.