The way we conceive of Scripture’s ordering has a lot to do with the way we read Scripture. Context isn’t just something we’re concerned with in terms of verses and paragraphs, but with books as well. To read Scripture humbly, in submission to God, is to read it the way that God has written it. If, as Barth has said, “God is the Lord in the wording of his Word,” then it must also be true that God is the Lord in the ordering of his Word.
Our English Bibles end the Old Testament with the book of Malachi, and there was a reason for that. Malachi most likely was Israel’s last prophet before the advent of Christ, and his book closes with the prophecy that Elijah would come before the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6), which nicely dovetails into John the Baptist’s ministry (Matthew 3).
When the OT was compiled, however, the book of Malachi was not the final book. Jesus’ Bible ended not with the twelve minor prophets, but with Chronicles, which summarizes the Old Testament and looks forward to the New in its own way. Chronicles doesn’t end with a prophecy, but with a king’s edict. Cyrus, the anointed one of Isaiah’s prophecy, gives this command:
The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up (2 Chronicles 36:23).
The Old Testament ends with God as king over all the earth, still active to bring his sovereign purposes to pass through the family of Abraham, the nation of Israel. It ends with a call to all God’s people to go up to worship the Lord. This statement at the end of the Hebrew Bible beautifully sums up the promise of God throughout its history– that, as Tom Schreiner indicates, God would be present with his people, in a place of his choosing.
The New Testament follows this same storyline. Christ came to purchase the reality of this promise with his blood, gives a similar command to his disciples after his resurrection: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go…” (Matthew 28:18). The New Testament picks up the promise and follows it to its grand conclusion, the consummation of God’s presence with his people in a place made for them:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
I don’t think it was a sin for editors in bygone days to rearrange the Bible into a more topical structure (Law, History, Wisdom, Prophecy), but I don’t believe that it has been helpful for our reading of Scripture, overall. When Chronicles is taken out of place as the last book of the Old Testament and put right before Ezra, its final statement is more easily misconstrued merely as history, rather than being the OT-summarizing, NT-anticipating charge that it is. If we in the church would be faithful readers of God’s Word, we must pay attention to its form as well as its content. This may involve the hard work of reeducation, but it will be worthwhile in the end.
“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).