Read the Bible in a New Configuration
An Ancient Presentation of Scripture
Three aspects about the organization of the Bible must be understood from the start:
- The books that comprise the Bible weren’t assigned designated places in the table of contents.
- While all 66 books are sacred, the order in which they’re organized is not.
- There are multiple ways of organizing the individual books of the Bible depending on the type of reading experience desired.
The traditional configuration of the Bible—the one you probably grew up with—has its roots in scrolls. In early biblical times, the text of the Bible was written on scrolls. One book per scroll was the general practice. When some of the longer books proved to be too unwieldy to be copied onto single scrolls, they were divided in half—and sometimes into thirds and quarters—to make them more scroll-friendly.
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Because there was no universal cataloging system for Bible scrolls in those days, those people responsible for overseeing the scrolls in various synagogues and temples would arrange them in the ways that worked best for them. Some scroll-keepers preferred to group them according to genre:
- prophetic and
- wisdom writings.
Within those groupings, they would organize individual scrolls chronologically; according to the frequency they read from them; or, in some cases, by the length of the scroll. Whatever the case, their organizational decisions sprang from individual preferences and matters of practicality.
The invention of the printing press meant that the Bible text that was spread across dozens of scrolls could now be condensed into a single volume. In several cases, the books that were divided for the sake of the scrolls remained divided.
Religious leaders and printers saw the wisdom of establishing a continuity in the Bibles that were published. A “standard” version eventually emerged—and has dominated the Christian landscape for centuries.
The Books of the Bible Approach
The Books of the Bible (Zondervan, 2017)—in the New International Version (NIV) and New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) Bible translations—opts for a different approach. This unique reorganization of the Bible is an effort to reflect the inherent structure, showing the contours of each book in a fresh—yet authentically ancient—way.
At the center of that effort is the organization and presentation of the individual books. The Books of the Bible—also available in reader’s editions for each of the four books for children ages 6–12, including an abridgment of the full text and using the NIrV—rearranges the running order, in both the Old and New Testaments, to provide a seamless reading experience.
There are four volumes in The Books of the Bible, that comprise the Community Bible Experience (website).
The first volume of The Books of the Bible centers on God’s original plan for his people and his rules for living in the land he provided for them. The volume covers the first dozen books of the traditional Bible, which are left largely in their current order, with one notable exception: the books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings and 2 Kings, which were divided by scroll makers centuries ago, are restored to a single volume, Samuel-Kings.
The second volume of The Books of the Bible explores the break in fellowship between God and his people. As a consequence of their disobedience, God’s people suffered at the hands of their enemies. To ensure that there would be no mistaking their predicament, God sent prophets to call the people to repentance and warn them of impending judgment.
The traditional order of the books of prophecy was based more on their length than on their chronology or subject matter. The “major” prophets appear first; the “minor” prophets close out the First (Old) Testament. The Books of the Bible arranges them in chronological order, beginning with Jonah and ending with Malachi. This lineup allows readers to follow the progression—or regression—of the relationship between God and his people.
Traditionally the books of wisdom—which use stories, poetry and songs to convey God’s message of hope for his people in the midst of their suffering—are scattered throughout the Old Testament. The result can be confusion on the part of readers.
In the third volume of The Books of the Bible, the books of Psalms, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, the restored single volume Chronicles–Ezra–Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel are grouped together so that readers can experience the full impact of their words.
The New Testament
The fourth volume of The Books of the Bible is the most extensively reorganized of all. Using the central story of Jesus as its foundation, the books of the New Testament are arranged to offer four different perspectives on, or “witnesses” to, Jesus’ life and work.
Paul’s Witness gathers the works of the apostle Paul and his companions. The section restores the writing of Luke (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) to its original single-volume form. Luke-Acts is followed by the letters of Paul, arranged in chronological order. Readers can trace the arc of Paul’s ministry as he lays the groundwork for Christian theology and guides his fellow Christians through the growing pains and existential threats of the first century C.E.
John’s Witness gathers together the Gospel of John; the letters of 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John; and the book of Revelation. John’s perspective differs from the others in that it comes some 60 years after the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The Books of the Bible for Kids is a 4-volume Bible without chapter and verse numbers, headings, and special formatting so that it’s easier to read. Kids ages 6–12 read through the Bible and experience the true story of God’s love. Little ones can follow along with the same stories in the My Bible Story Coloring Book, which pairs perfectly with The Books of the Bible for Kids. This series can be read on its own or as a part of a comprehensive church campaign.
The Books of the Bible series is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
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January 25, 2021
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