Keith Hunt - The Canonization of the New Testament - Page Seven   Restitution of All Things

  Home Previous Page Next Page

Canonization of the New Testament #7

The Epistles of Paul - their Order!


by the late Ernest Martin 
(published in 1984)


     The proper manuscript order has the fourteen epistles of
Paul following the seven General Epistles. There is, however, a
major variation that differs from the present arrangement of the
King James' Version (and maintained by virtually every other
version since the invention of the printing press). Modern
editions have placed the Book of Hebrews at the very end of the
Pauline collection of books. This is what some church officials
of the Western Church (Carthage and Rome) did in the late fourth
century contrary to the best manuscripts and the opinions of most
officials in the Eastern Church.
     The proper positioning of the Book of Hebrews is right after
Second Thessalonians - just before First Timothy. Nearly all the
best manuscript evidence supports this. Scrivener writes:

"In the Pauline epistles, that to the Hebrews immediately follows
the second to the Thessalonians in the four great codices
Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Ephraemi" (Introduction,

     In the margin of his work, Prof. Scrivener lists some of the
many manuscripts which position the Book of Hebrews in this
     The evidence for this arrangement is so strong that one
wonders why Hebrews was moved out of its manuscript order and
placed at the back of Paul's works? The reason is not difficult
to discover. Scrivener mentions a major purpose why the Western
Church relegated Hebrews to last position. It was - "an
arrangement which at first, no doubt, originated in the early
scruples prevailing in the Western Church, with respect to the
authorship and canonical authority of that divine epistle."
     The Latin section of the church found it difficult to
believe that the epistle was even from the pen of Paul and
because of this many refused to accept it as belonging in the New
     Most easterners had no major reservations about the book.
Jerome, the great, western scholar and translator of the Latin
Vulgate version (a translation from the Hebrew and Greek into the
Latin language), shows the differences of opinions among the
Eastern and Western sections of the church regarding the Book of
     In his letter to Dardanus, Jerome wrote:

"To our own people [Christians], we must say that this Epistle,
which is inscribed 'To the Hebrews,' is received as the Apostle
Paul's, not only in the churches of the East, but by all the
ecclesiastical writers of former times. But the Latins do not
receive it among the canonical scriptures" (Whytehead, "A
Handbook to the Canon and Inspiration to the Scriptures," p.131).

     There was a belief that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles,
had no reason to be writing to the Jews. This, of course, is not
a proper evaluation. When the apostle Paul was commissioned by
Christ on the road to Damascus, he was told to preach to
Israelites as well as Gentiles (Acts 9:15), and throughout the
history of Paul's ministry he always went to the Jews first.
Indeed, he understood that it was absolutely essential to do
this. Paul said: "It was necessary that the word of God should
first have been spoken to you [the Jews]" (Acts 13:46). Paul's
motto was: "The Jew first, and also the Greek (Gentile)"
     There was every reason for Paul, the finest Christian
intellect of the time who was thoroughly trained in Jewish law
and customs (Acts 22:3), to have written a treatise to Jewish
people (or those with strong Judaistic tendencies) about the
typical nature of the Temple services ordained by Moses. The New
Testament canon would have suffered from a prime deficiency had
not such a work been included! And the Book of Hebrews fits this
to a tee! Most Christians of the East simply accepted it as
Paul's (or written by a secretary of Paul). It certainly had
"Pauline" characteristics associated with it, especially
since the majority of manuscripts placed it in the interior of
Paul's collection of canonical letters. And another point. If
Hebrews is not Paul's, then there are 13 epistles of Paul,
whereas 14 (2 times 7) has a canonical symmetry to it, 7 (or its
multiples) being the symbolic number of completion and finality.
Prof. Bacon comments:

"The anonymous epistle anciently superscribed 'To the Hebrews,'
was connected in the East with the letters of Paul. Even in the
West, where the statements of all the Fathers down to the fourth
century are opposed to Pauline authorship, its position in the
Canon, when admitted, was next to those of Paul" (Introduction to
the New Testament, p.140).

     Moffatt, the translator of the Bible, said, regarding the
manuscript location of Hebrews: "The position of Hebrews within
the Pauline body of letters is usually between the ecclesiastical
and private epistles (Eastern Church) or after the latter
(Western Church)" (Introduction to the Literature of the New
Testament, p.17). The ecclesiastical letters to which Moffatt had
reference are: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians,
Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. The Easterners and the
best manuscripts placed the Book of Hebrews immediately after his
letters to those seven churches, and just before Paul's pastoral
epistles: those to Timothy, Titus and Philemon!

The Design of Paul's Epistles

     The fourteen epistles of Paul are arranged into three parts
in the New Testament canon. The First Section consists of nine
epistles to seven church congregations: (1) Romans, (2)
Corinthians, (3) Galatians, (4) Ephesians, (5) Philippians, (6)
Colossians, (7) Thessalonians. The Second Section is composed of
one general letter, the Book of Hebrews. The Third Section is
called in modern circles the Pastoral Epistles, the private
letters to individual pastors: Timothy, Titus and Philemon.
Look at the first section, which, from ancient times, has been
technically named "Paul's Letters to Seven Churches." In the
Muratorian Canon (written about A.D.180), there is a general
reference to this first section:

"The apostle Paul himself, following the example of John [in the
Book of Revelation], wrote by name to Seven Churches. True, he
wrote twice to the Corinthians and Thessalonians for their
correction, but he shows thereby the unity of the Church; for
John also in Revelation, though he writes to seven churches only,
yet speaks to all" (cf. Bacon, p.52).

     Victorinus, who wrote about A.D.290, also gave an
interesting comment about Paul's seven churches. After observing
that God rested from all his labors on the seventh day,
Victorinus continued to mention the symbolic use of the number
seven in Biblical matters. In the course of his discussion, he

"That in the whole world there are Seven Churches; and that those
churches called seven are one general church as Paul has taught;
and that he might keep to it, he did not exceed the number of
Seven Churches, but wrote to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to
the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the
Colossians, to the Thessalonians. Afterwards, he wrote to
particular persons, that he might not exceed the measure of Seven
Churches: and contracting his doctrine into a little compass, he
says to Timothy: 'That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to
behave thyself in the Church of the living God' " (Lardner,
Credibility, vol.III,p.177).

     Cyprian of Carthage (c. A.D.250) also recognized the
symbolic teaching behind the fact that Paul wrote only to Seven
     In the first book of his Testimonies, having quoted the
words of Hannah "the barren has born seven, and she that has many
sons is waxed feeble," he continued by saying, "the seven sons
represent Seven Churches; for which reason Paul wrote to Seven
Churches; and the Revelation has Seven Churches, that the number
seven may be preserved" (Lardner, vol.III.p.41). In another book,
after having mentioned the seven golden lampstands in the Book of
Revelation and the seven pillars in Solomon's Proverbs upon which
Wisdom built her home, Cyprian added:

"And the Apostle Paul, who was mindful of this authorized and
well-known number, writes to Seven Churches; and in the
Revelation our Lord sends his divine and heavenly instructions
and commands to Seven Churches and their angels" (ibid.).

     Many other ancients took note of the significant number of
churches to which Paul wrote. Among them were Jerome (about
A.D.400) (Horne, Introduction, vol.I,p.75) and Isidore of Seville
(near A.D.600) (Lardner, vo1.V,p.137). More recently, Dr.
E.W.Bullinger made some pertinent remarks showing the symbolic
reasons why Paul wrote to Seven Churches (The Church Epistles,

"Seven Churches [by Paul] were addressed as such by the Holy
Spirit. Seven being the number of spiritual and final perfection.
Is it not remarkable that the Holy Spirit addressed Seven
Churches and no more: exactly the same number as the Lord himself
addressed later from glory [in the Book of Revelation]?"

     This is a proper evaluation! In Paul's epistles to his Seven
Churches there is to be found the main New Testament teaching
concerning doctrinal matters to be taught in the Christian
church. This is why the subjects of repentance, faith, baptisms,
the Holy Spirit, etc. are discussed at length in the letters to
these Seven Churches. It can be no accident that the number was
seven, and no more! The number, as the ancients mentioned, was
also followed by the apostle John when he wrote the Book of
Revelation. Frank W. Beare, Professor of New Testament Studies at
Trinity College, Toronto, goes so far as to say that John in
Revelation followed the example of Paul.

"The device of introducing an apocalypse by a sequence of letters
to seven churches but issued together under cover of a general
letter ... can only be explained as indicating that the author
[of Revelation] had before him a corpus of Pauline letters
similarly constructed" ("Canon of the New Testament," The
Interpreter's Bible„ vo1.I,p.522).

     This appraisal makes perfectly good sense. The number seven
was universally acknowledged in the Biblical world as signifying
completion and perfection, and with many features of the Old and
New Testaments being typically dominated by this number, it would
have been odd for Paul not to have used it in some capacity.
There was a definite reason why the General Epistles were seven
in number; why Paul's came to fourteen in number (but written to
Seven Churches); and why the Old and New Testaments together
amount to seven divisions with 49 (7 times 7) books in the
original enumeration.

The Order of Paul's Epistles

     It is well recognized by scholars that Paul's letters are
not arranged in any chronological order. "It is notorious that
the order of epistles in the book of the New Testament is not
their real, or chronological order" (Davies, "Paul," Dictionary
of the Bible„ p.744). Indeed, the earliest book was no doubt
Galatians but it appears in third position after his epistles to
the Romans and Corinthians which were written some 5 or 6 years
     The seventh church of Paul was represented by the
Thessalonians, but those two epistles were composed about 14
years before Ephesians and Colossians which were positioned
before Thessalonians. This shows that they could not have been
arranged with any chronological factors in mind.
     Some have thought they were placed to indicate the authority
of the various churches since the Book of Romans appears first in
the Pauline corpus of books. But there are problems with this
theory. While it would be easy to infer that the first two areas
of Rome and Corinth might fit this reason, it is not quite the
same with the next epistle, that to the Galatians (unless it
could be maintained that it appears next because Paul was writing
to a number of cities, and not just one). Ephesians however is a
definite difficulty. It wouldn't be a problem if it could be
shown that the epistle was indeed written to the church at
Ephesus. But Biblical (and other) evidence makes it almost
certain that another city was in Paul's mind, and the one with
the best credentials is Laodicea. In no way could that city have
any preeminence over Philippi (a colony city) or Thessalonica
which was the most populous city in Macedonia and the most
significant in the province (which included Philippi). But
Thessalonica is in seventh position (after Philippi) though it
was the provincial capital and a free city which gave it a high
independent rank among Roman cities.

     It is a lame theory that Paul's Seven Churches were arranged
according to a "rank-of-the-cities" order.
     The real reason for Paul's allocation of the letters to his
Seven Churches is based on the principle of progressive teaching.
In any book for teaching a subject, one starts with the simple
and general instruction first and then proceeds in a step-by-step
manner until the advanced and sophisticated teachings are
reached. As stated in the last chapter, the five books of the
Christian Pentateuch give the "Elementary School" of divine
instruction, the seven General Epistles proceed to "High School,"
and the Epistles of Paul present the "College." But even here,
Paul starts out with the "Freshman Year" first, the "Sophomore"
second, etc. All books of instruction even in our modern world
arrange their material in this fashion. It would be absurd to do
otherwise. How could one perceive how to perform calculus without
first knowing simple arithmetic, then algebra, etc.? And so it is
with the various divisions and books of the New Testament. The
elementary teachings are given first and the more advanced come
later. This is the manner in which the epistles of Paul are

     Early Christians were quite aware that this was the reason
for the disposition of the New Testament books. Euthalius
(c.A.D.450) mentioned Paul's epistles in the proper manuscript
order and then proceeded to explain why they were positioned that
way. He said the order was according to the Christian growth that
the readers had to whom they were sent, beginning with the least
mature and proceeding to the more advanced. To Euthalius, in his
comments from the epistle to the Ephesians, he said this was
evident from several points. For one, the epistle to the Romans
was placed first because it contained instructions for those who
had just learned the first principles of the Gospel. But after
Ephesians came Philippians. That epistle was written to the
faithful who had made progress and had brought forth much fruit.
And at the end of his enumeration of Paul's fourteen epistles,
Euthalius expressly said that they were arranged according to the
maturity of the readers (Lardner, vo1.V.p.71). This same opinion
was stated by another Church Father, Theodoret. "The Epistle to
the Romans has been placed first, as containing the most full and
exact representation of Christian doctrine in all its branches"
(ibid.). It comprised the ABC's of Christian doctrinal
discussion, especially to show the basic teachings of repentance,
faith, etc.

The Book of Hebrews Illustrates the First Principles

     The best appraisal showing why the books of the New
Testament canon are arranged the way they are comes from the
apostles themselves. Since they wrote the books, they ought to be
better equipped to explain why they placed them in the order they
     The Book of Hebrews contains information on what the
apostles considered were the step-by-step doctrinal subjects for
Christian growth and understanding. They are found in Hebrews
6:1,2. Paul gave seven steps that lead to a full maturity in the
knowledge of Christ. He called them the principles of the
doctrines of Christ.
     They are: (1) repentance from dead works, (2) faith toward
God, (3) the doctrine of baptisms, (4) the laying on of hands for
the reception of the Holy Spirit and its gifts, (5) the
resurrection of the dead, (6) the judgment of the future, and
then (7) perfection! Paul began his discourse in the Book of
Hebrews on these steps by mentioning perfection first, and then
he gave the six progressive factors which would lead a Christian
to the attainment of that seventh and final phase.
     Remarkably, this is the exact order of doctrinal teaching
which people must master and perform in order to be mature
Christians in Christ (at least, this was the method utilized in
the early history of the church). People were first required to
repent, then express faith, be baptized, obtain the Holy Spirit.
This made it possible for them to share in the resurrection at
Christ's return, be able to receive their rewards in judgment,
and finally reach a perfection in Christ! The apostle Paul called
those seven doctrines the first principles of the Christian

The Book of Romans and the First Principles

     The teaching of those seven doctrinal principles as found in
Hebrews 6:1,2 are progressively followed in Paul's writings and
in the order of his epistles. Notice Paul's instructions in the
Book of Romans. In the first two chapters Paul talked of turning
from sin. He was instructing people to repent of their ways, and
he concluded his first doctrinal discourse by saying: "The
goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Rom.2:4).
     The next three chapters (3,4 and 5) concern the doctrine of
faith just as the Book of Hebrews mentioned the second principle
as also being faith. Paul summed up this doctrinal teaching in
Romans with his classic statement: "Therefore being justified by
faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by
whom also we have access by faith unto His grace wherein we
stand" (Rom.5:1,2).
     The third principle of the Christian doctrines in Hebrews
was baptism. In Romans chapter 6 Paul follows his subject of
faith with a discussion on baptism. "Know ye not, that so many of
us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his
death" (Rom.6:3). Paul was being guided by the step-by-step
principles which he later wrote in the Book of Hebrews.
     The next topic in Hebrews was the laying on of hands to
receive the Holy Spirit. And, true to form, chapters 7 and 8 of
Romans follow the progressive pattern with Paul's discussion on
the need and the work of the Holy Spirit.

"But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that
the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the
Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.... But if the Spirit of him
that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised
up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by
his Spirit that dwelleth in you" (Rom.8:9,10).

     The fifth and sixth principles mentioned in the Book of
Hebrews were the resurrection and the judgment. And chapters 9,
10 and 11 of Romans give a discussion on how God will bless all
Israel and the Gentiles with a resurrection and a righteous
judgment. [The Biblical judgment is not always a punishment for
sin. It can mean, and often does, a judgment to receive righteous
rewards. See Psalm 98.]
     The seventh principle in the Book of Hebrews was perfection.
And the doctrinal portion of Romans ends with Paul's teachings
that a full redemption will come to all Israel and mankind. Man
will become just like God in perfection. "For of Him, and through
Him, and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever"

     The Book of Romans, then, provides the Christian with an
introduction to the essential doctrines of Christianity! And Paul
gave them in the perfect order of the first principles that he
recorded in Hebrews 6:1,2.

First Corinthians

     The same formula of progressive doctrinal teaching is found
in First Corinthians. While the first three principles of
Christian doctrines (repentance, faith and baptism) were
discussed more extensively in the Book of Romans in a technical
sense, the practical side of those subjects is found in the first
eleven chapters of First Corinthians. But more sophisticated
matters dealing with the Holy Spirit and the resurrection are
more fully discussed in First Corinthians. Three chapters (12 to
14) are devoted to the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit,
and a whole chapter (15) is given to the subject of the
resurrection from the dead.
     That First Corinthians is also a basic doctrinal book (like
Romans) illustrating the "first principles," is made clear by
Paul himself. He told those in Corinth because of their newness
in Christ that they were only able to receive the "milk of the
word." "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto
spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I
have fed you with milk, and not meat: for hitherto you were not
able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able" (I Cor.3:1,2).
     The above assessment of Paul shows that he, himself,
considered his teachings to the Corinthians to be for spiritual
     While the Book of Romans was written to people he had never
met before (and those who needed the ABC's of his essential
doctrinal teachings), the Corinthians received more personal
attention (and correction) yet his instructions to them were
still intended for children in the faith. The Corinthians
received teachings which were slightly more advanced than those
to the Romans. Recall that he had never met the Romans face to
face when he wrote them (Rom.1:11; 15:16,20), but he had already
spent some 18 months among the Corinthians before he composed his
two letters to them (Acts 18:11). In spite of that length of time
in personally ministering to them, they still needed the
firrstfruit teachings of Christ. He appealed to them not to be
children any longer (I Cor.14:20), but they still were. In his
second epistle, written just a few months later, he was still
reminding them: "I speak unto you as children" (2 Cor.6:13).

     The next book of Paul in the canonical order is that to the 
Galatians. The Galatian churches had been graced with much more
personal teachings of Paul (than those in Rome or Corinth) when
he wrote them - perhaps as much as four or five years! But they
had become so far removed from the true Christian faith that
Paul reprimanded them for returning to the "schoolmaster" (the
Law of Moses) (Gal.3:24); they had reverted to being a child once
again (Ga1.4:1-6).

     Notice the progression of teaching within the epistles of
these first three churches of Paul. He had never seen the Romans
and presented them with the ABC's of Christian doctrines. The
Corinthians had learned a little more having had Paul in their
midst for 18 months, and the Galatians had been given even more
teaching with four or five years of instruction - but all three
churches were still children in the faith! Hardly any of them was
spiritually mature. But it became a far different story with the
next three churches.

Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians

     When one reaches these three epistles in the canonical order
of the New Testament books the childhood phase of Christian
teaching has finished. The people receiving these teachings were
those who progressed into a mature stage of Christian
development. In those epistles the apostle Paul no longer
instructed them in the basic principles. Nowhere does he discuss
in detail anything about repentance, faith, baptisms, the Holy
Spirit, the resurrection or judgment. His main interest now is
perfection. In the highest sense Paul tells these readers that
they are now "joint heirs, joint bodied, and joint partakers of
Christ in glory." The mature phase had arrived for those who had
advanced to the "Ephesian message" and such people were expected
to act like children no more! Paul stated that God's spiritual
gifts had been given "for the perfecting [maturing] of the
saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the
body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and
of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [mature] man,
unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we
henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried
about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph.4:12-14).

     The doctrines being discussed in these later epistles
represent the fulness of the Gospel of Christ. Paul even said
that such teachings were the full Gospel message.

"Wherefore I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of
God which is given me to fulfill [that is, to fill to the top]
the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages
and from generations, but now [with the writing of Colossians] is
made manifest to his saints" (Col.l:25,26).

     The three epistles of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians
provide mature teachings. If people satisfactorily reach the
capabilities of mastering the information in these epistles, then
they have gone beyond the "milk stage" and into the "meat."
     Romans, Corinthians and Galatians could be reckoned the
"Freshman and Sophomore" stage of "College," while Ephesians,
Philippians and Colossians are the "Junior and Senior" phase.

The Epistles to the Thessalonians

     The Seven Churches of the apostle Paul end with the two to
the Thessalonians. As the number seven symbolically means
completion and finality, so there were two books of instruction
written to this seventh church which deal, primarily, with
end-time events.
     In both, the theme is the coming of the Man of Sin (also
called the Wicked One or the Son of Perdition), the Second Advent
of Christ, and the resurrection from the dead for the righteous
saints. In a word, the seventh church speaks of the conclusion of
the age! And what a fitting place to discuss such issues! If
Christians would progress in their development through the milk
(or children) phase of their spiritual growth (shown in the
First, Second and Third churches) and then succeed in their
advancement through their meat (or mature) phase (shown in the
Fourth, Fifth and Sixth churches), then they would be expected to
obtain their rewards which are described in the two epistles to
the Seventh Church. 
     The reason the epistles to the Thessalonians are positioned
in seventh place (though they are two of the earliest epistles
written) is that no one can procure the rewards of the first
resurrection associated with Christ's return unless the person
has mastered the teachings recorded in the previous six churches!

     It is interesting that the Mosaic holyday which typified the
arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth and the resurrection from
the dead, was the Day of Trumpets. This was a festival which
ushered in the seventh Hebrew month in which the final Mosaic
holydays occurred. There were seven such holydays, and the last
four were ordained to happen in the seventh month (Lev.23).

     The Day of Trumpets which commenced this final, seventh
month of the festival year was introduced by the blowing of
trumpets, hence the name "The Day of Trumpets." Indeed, each
month was proclaimed with the blowing of a trumpet (Num.10:10).
Since the Mosaic festival year was seven months long, the blowing
of the trumpet at the beginning of the seventh month was, in
calendar and prophetic significance, "the last trump." And when
the seventh trumpet sounds in the Book of Revelation, the
kingdoms of this world become the Kingdoms of Christ and He then
begins to reign (Rev.11:15). And what do we find in Paul's
teaching to his seventh church (Thessalonians)? We find that its
central theme concerns this end-time event.

"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout,
with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and
the dead in Christ shall rise first" (I Thess.4:16).

     There could be no better position to place the two epistles
which focus on the time of Christ's advent than in the seventh
station of Paul's letters to the churches. And in the manuscripts
this is precisely where they are found! It was no happenchance
affair that this was the case!

The Book of Hebrews

     In the proper manuscript order of the New Testament books,
Hebrews comes immediately on the heels of the Seventh Church!

     This treatise gives very advanced teaching! In fact, Paul
made the explicit statement in Hebrews 6:1-3 that he would not
speak of the first principles in the Book of Hebrews. He devoted
the entire book to mature doctrinal matters on the typical
meanings behind the Temple services. It was essential for such
subjects to be covered, and who better to do it than the apostle
Paul (who was trained at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel)?
Though the Book of Hebrews, by Paul's own definition, is very
mature instruction, why does it follow the Seventh Church
(Thessalonians)? Why couldn't it, after all, be allotted its
modern position at the very end of Paul's epistles? An analysis
of the contents can show why it should be retained in its proper
order as found in the early manuscripts. Let us look at the
matter closely.

     It is important to note that the first two chapters are
devoted to showing the superiority of Christ over all angels.
This was important for Paul to demonstrate because it was well
recognized in the first century by the Jewish authorities that
the Mosaic law had been given to Israel through the agency of
angels - and Paul mentions this fact in Hebrews 2:2. Indeed, this
present age (until the second advent of Christ) was reckoned as
being in the charge of angels, both good and bad (Dan.10:13-21;
     But Paul, in the Book of Hebrews, was not going to discuss
the kingdoms of this world during the time angels are in a
limited control. He was going to give some advanced spiritual
teaching about the role of the Temple, the priesthood, the
festivals, and the ceremonies in the future millennial Kingdom of
God once Christ Jesus would be back on earth. Paul, then,
introduces the reason for writing the Book of Hebrews in chapter
2, verse 5.

"For it is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come,

     This is the real title to the book! Paul's theme of which he
was speaking was the world to come - the "Sabbath-rest to the
people of God" (4:9). Paul's subject was about the "Millennial
rest," and the whole section from 3:7 to 4:12 is about that
"rest." Paul shows the meaning of the Day of Atonement rituals
which are symbolic introductions to a Millennium theme. Chapter 8
concerns the marriage of the Lamb after Christ's return. In 9:11
and 10:1 he states that Christ is the High Priest "of good things
to come." And there is the eleventh chapter. This is about the
promises which will finally (at the "better resurrection") be
given to the Old Testament saints. He mentions that the New
Jerusalem will be a reality during this future time (11:16).
Thus, the whole Book of Hebrews is symbolic teaching about
rewards to the millennial saints after Christ returns. This is
why the book must be positioned after Paul's two epistles to the
Seventh Church (Thessalonians) which speak about the events
associated with Christ's second advent. And this is exactly where
the best manuscripts position Hebrews! That is where it should

     The apostle Peter may have referred to this epistle of Paul
in his last letter (2 Pet.3:15,16). He mentioned that the people
of Asia Minor had received a technical letter from Paul. Peter
said the writing of Paul concerned matters relating to the time
of the end and the Day of the Lord (as Peter himself was
discussing in his third chapter). It could well be that it was
the Book of Hebrews that Peter had in mind. Recall that Paul had
been commissioned to preach to Israelites as well as Gentiles
(Acts 9:15) and this treatise about the real meaning behind the
Temple services (both those of the past and that one to occur in
the future) is probably the book Peter was referring to.

     From all this, there is a logic to the manuscript order in
which we find the Book of Hebrews. Its major subjects pertain to
the fulfillment of the promises which Christ said he would
perform once he returns to earth as depicted in Paul's Seventh

The Pastoral Epistles of Paul

     The remainder of Paul's letters were personal communications
which he wrote to ministers of churches. The four epistles of
Timothy, Titus and Philemon contain matters on church government
and discipline. They were written from one professional minister
to other ministers! It should be self-evident that instructions
intended solely for practicing ministers would concern very
mature matters. This is why they appear in last position among
Paul's writings. These were letters to those who had already gone
through "College" and had "graduated from a Theological
Seminary"! Within their contexts there is not a shred of
instruction on what the first principles of Christian doctrine
represent. The reason for this is because those doctrinal
principles had adequately been covered in the previous books
positioned in the canonical order of Paul's writings. On the
other hand, the Pastoral Epistles have information on how to
maintain a proper government, a pure doctrine, and a correct
discipline in established church congregations! It would have
been daft indeed to position such books at the beginning of (or
distribute them among) the former epistles of Paul. This is why
they must be left in their position (following the Book of
Hebrews) as shown in the early manuscripts.

     But there is more! Why do we find the four Pastoral Epistles
in the order that we do? There can be little question here. Just
as James, Peter, John and Jude were positioned in their order of
rank within the seven General Epistles, so it is with these three
men. Timothy had the superior distinction (and given two
epistles) because he was the minister in charge of the churches
under Paul in Western Asia Minor. Titus was in the lesser
responsibility of managing the churches in the island of Crete, a
smaller and less significant area. As to Philemon, we are not
told in what region he ministered (or even if he was a
fullfledged minister), though it seems that he was a resident of
the eastern part of the province of Asia. Surely, the greater
responibility of Timothy gave him first position, and it must be
the same of Titus over Philemon. We might even recognize a degree
of prominence among these three men by the length of Paul's
letters to them. Timothy was given two epistles in ten chapters.
Titus one epistle in three chapters. And Philemon received only a
very short letter from Paul. On this point, the scholar Lardner,
who spent considerable time surveying the literature of early
Christian writers in the first centuries of Christianity, came to
this conclusion:

"Among these epistles to particular persons those to Timothy have
the precedence, as he was the favorite disciple of Paul, and
those epistles are the largest and the fullest. The epistle to
Titus comes next, as he was an evangelist. And that to Philemon
is last, as he was supposed by many to be only a private
Christian. Undoubtedly Titus was a person of greater eminence,
and in a higher station than Philemon. Moreover, by many, the
design of that epistle was thought to be of no importance"
(Credibility, vol.VI,pp.338,339).

     There may even be a nationality order maintained in the four
Pastoral Epistles. Paul always held to the concept that the
Gospel should go to the Jew first, and then to the Gentiles. It
is well known that Timothy was half Jewish (Acts 16:1), which
rendered him a "full Jew" in the eyes of the Jewish people
because his mother was Jewish! We know that Titus was a Greek
(Gal.2:3) and since Philemon follows him, this no doubt
indicates he was also a Gentile.

     From the foregoing discussion, we have seen some clear
internal evidence from Paul's epistles why the early manuscript
order of his books must be retained in all versions of the New
     The theological and social teachings found in the New
Testament which dominated the pyschological thinking patterns of
the apostles demand that the manuscript arrangement of the books
be maintained. And though we later find a few manuscripts which
show some differences of arrangement, these can be recognized as
exceptions to the rule. And indeed, these exceptions (which can
normally be explained as sectarian variations) help to prove the
rule rather than the establishment of another. Thus, even the
Sinaiticus manuscript which places Paul's letters between the
Gospels and Acts (an oddity if there ever was one) would not
encourage anyone to believe that its order of books should be
preferred over the vast majority of other manuscripts.

(I guess not as the Sinaiticus MSS was found by Tristendorf in a
Roman Catholic monestary in the GARBAGE basket, to be thrown out
as rubbish - even the Catholic monks thought it to be rubbish -
Keith Hunt)
     There are other variations in a few isolated manuscripts.
The order of the Gospels or that of the General Epistles are on
rare occasions different from the normal manuscripts, and the
Book of Hebrews has been rarely found next to Galatians (no doubt
because Hebrews was thought in some circles to have been written
to the people in the Galatian area). Again, these are clear
exceptions to the rule and could never be seriously considered as
having apostolic approbation.

     The prime difference in the arrangement of the Biblical
books (which has dominated all modern versions of the Bible) is
that which Jerome established in the fifth century when he
produced his Latin Vulgate version. The influence of Jerome (the
theological dispositions and opinions of one man) has been the
main reason that all modern versions of the Bible have been so
topsy-turvey in their order of books. But Prof.Gregory (the
great textual scholar) has made it clear that the Greek
manuscript order should be retained in all Bibles. It "is the
order to which we should hold" (CTNT p.469).


To be continued

Entered on this Website June 2008


The order that Martin says Paul's 14 letters should be in, makes
good logical correctness from the point he makes about the one,
two, three, of Christian learning from Grade school basic
theology, to High school theology, as Paul went through the first
stage of REPENTANCE and FAITH to the FINAL eternity in the
Kingdom of God at the second advent of Christ. Then for the
mature Christian leader we have at the end the letters to
Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.

So far we have seen the Gospels and Acts should be first read by
the NEW Christian, then James, Peter, and the letters of John.
after that the Epistles of Paul in the order Ernest Martin writes
about, with the letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, coming
last. The book of Revelation will be discussed in another chapter
to follow. 

Keith Hunt

  Home Previous Page Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: