I was recently reading the article on an introduction to the epistles (“Introduction to the Epistolary Literature,” by Robert W. Wall in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X.), and he made some interesting observations about the epistles that I had never considered. It’s a good read.
One of the points he made is that there is intentionality in the placement of the books within the canon. I had always just sang the books of the NT Song as a child and memorized them in order. It never occurred to me that there was reason along with the rhyme for their placement.
The author stated that there was a “canon logic” that could be seen in the four sections of the NT, which are the Gospels, History, Epistles, and Prophecy.
- Gospels. The gospels come first, serving as the foundation for the New Testament. The four accounts of the life of Jesus record his birth, ministry, death, burial and resurrection. Everything else builds upon the story of Jesus.
- History. The book of the Acts of the Apostles records the spread of the gospel message of Jesus. It is the history of the fledgling Christian religion that spreads throughout the entire world. Acts provides a historical and theological introduction to the letters in the NT.
- Epistles. The epistles are letters sent to churches and individuals, usually in response to a particular need or situation. These letters flesh out the details of living the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the natural consequence of what happens in Acts as Christianity spreads throughout the world and encounters the problems and disputes in the world.
- Prophecy. The book of Revelation provides a fitting end to the NT and the Bible in general. It provides a picture of the ongoing battle between the spiritual forces of God and Satan. The apocalypse reveals a vision of how this battle eventually turns out. The entire NT is continually looking back to the Gospels for their foundation and forward to Revelation for the “end of the story.”