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Revelation and the back of the Bible

Have you ever wondered why the books of the Bible are in the order they are?  The location of some books is a no brainer. After all, it would be hard for Genesis to be anywhere other than at the beginning, right? The Gospels being located at the start of the New Testament make similar sense.

It’s good to keep in mind that the arrangement of the books is of human origin rather than divine since Scripture was originally on scrolls capable of holding a limited amount of writing. For instance, when the Old Testament was translated from its original Hebrew into Greek, single scrolls like Samuel became 1 and 2 Samuel because Greek writing involved significantly more characters than Hebrew (due to the lack of written vowels in Hebrew). This was also true for Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, while the Minor Prophets were on a single scroll and referred to as “The Twelve.” The point in all of this was there was no way you could put all of the Old Testament on a single scroll so there wasn’t any inherent order to its writings. Unlike our Bible today, you simply had a collection of different scrolls.

Humans being the organizers that they are, the scrolls began to be organized just as libraries organize their books. Jesus’ reference to “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44), reflects the popular arrangement of the scrolls. Although this sounds close to the arrangement we have today, it was actually quite different. Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings were part of the Prophets, while the Psalms (or “Writings” as they were also referred to), included such scrolls as Ruth, Chronicles, and Daniel. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), arranged the scrolls closer to what is found in our Old Testament today.

And that brings us to the book of Revelation. How did it get in the back of the Bible? Probably the most important thing to realize is that God didn’t put it there. That doesn’t mean it’s not okay for it to be there—only that we tend to read things into its location that we shouldn’t. We think things like, “Revelation is the last book in the Bible because it deals with the last times.” (If that’s the case, what are we to make of Maps?). Or, the way to the tree of life is closed in Genesis 3 and it’s opened again in Revelation 22 and that completes God’s revelation to man. Even writing this now that sounds impressive, but this approach fails to take into consideration anything concerning the context of Revelation 22. Instead, it’s kind of a real estate approach to interpretation (location, location, location).

There are a least of couple of reasons why Revelation is in the back of the Bible and neither has anything to do with what we tend to read into its location. In general, the books of the Bible are organized according to their nature. So we have in the New Testament the Gospels and Acts (history), followed by Paul’s letters, general letters, and Revelation (prophecy). Because it is such a singular book in nature and style (although the gospels contain the same kind of speech in Mathew 24; Mark 13; and Luke 21), there were some who questioned its place in the canon. What do you do with a book like that? You place it in the back.

 Four times John tells the seven first century churches he is writing to that the things he has seen will take place soon (1:1,1:3,22:6,22:10). In understanding Revelation, this is the kind of information we need to allow to shape our interpreting of it—not its location in the back of the Bible!

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