Did you know that the order of the books of the New Testament has changed over the centuries? Almost every conceivable order is found, with two constants: the Gospels always come first and Revelation always comes last. But within each group, the order has varied. Take the Gospels for example. Most of us are familiar with the order Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. But there’s another popular arrangement, known as the ‘Western’ order: Matthew, John, Luke, Mark. That’s the apostles first followed by the associates of apostles. Many scholars think that the ‘Western’ order was the very first one used—once the codex form of the book was invented (our modern book form, invented in the late first century AD), which was large enough to include more than one Gospel within its covers.
And Paul’s letters have had an interesting history of arrangement. For the most part, they are arranged from the largest to the smallest, with the Pastoral Epistles and Philemon treated separately because they are Paul’s only letters written to individuals. Hebrews has always been included with Paul’s letters in the manuscripts. Sometimes it comes right after Romans, other times before the Pastorals and Philemon, and in some manuscripts it is located in other places. What seems significant is that although the ancient church wrestled with the authorship of Hebrews, by including it in the collection of Paul’s letters they put their stamp of approval on it as scripture—regardless of who wrote it. The arrangement of the New Testament books in the ancient manuscripts is a window on how Christians have thought about scripture. Just as important, the order of these books affects how one interprets them.