New Testament: Organization

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The purpose of this page is to explain the logic behind each book's place in the King James Bible. Each book's place in history is instead explored at Historical Overview of the Gospels and Historical Overview of the Apostolic Church. This page should remain short enough to read in about fifteen minutes.


Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four gospels, occupy half the pages in the New Testament. With Acts and Revelation you are up to three quarters.

The remaining quarter of the New Testament consists of 21 letters written by five church leaders, 14 of them by Paul. Paul’s letters fall neatly into four groups as to both topic and general order of composition:

• Letters to new converts:
1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians
• Letters resisting false teachings by Jewish converts
Galatians, Romans, Hebrews
• Letters resisting false teachings by Greek converts
Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
(Philemon is to a Colossian member)
• Letters to new church leaders
1-2 Timothy, Titus

The compilers of the New Testament canon did not place Paul’s letters in order by topic or date of composition, but by length. Romans is first simply because it is longest, and Titus is last because it is shortest. Hebrews is very last because there were doubts about its authorship. I have never tried to remember the order in which Paul’s letters appear in the Bible. The order listed above is much easier because it is also more helpful.

The other 7 letters were written by Peter, James and John. Well, one letter was actually written by Jude. But Jude’s letter is so similar to 2 Peter 2 that one of them obviously borrowed from the other. So the letters by Peter and Jude are usually lumped together.

And James is not really the same as in “Peter, James & John.” The James who wrote the letter we now have in the Bible was not the apostle James, brother of the apostle John and son of Zebedee. The Biblical author James was instead a brother of Jesus who spoke at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:13, became the first bishop of Jerusalem, and is generally known as either James the brother of Jesus or James the Just.

You should get comfortable with what the New Testament contains much more quickly by thinking not of 27 books, but of the 8 book groups shown on the facing chart: (1) Matthew, (2) Mark, (3) Luke, (4) John, (5) Acts, (6) Revelation, (7) Letters by Paul in four groups, and (8) Letters by Peter (and Jude), James (the other James), and John.

These eight groups can be shrunk to only five by instead thinking of the following author groups: (1) Mark-Peter-Jude. Mark is associated with Peter, the presumed source of the information in his gospel. It is generally believed that Mark wrote his gospel first and that Luke and Matthew then borrowed much of his material. Again, Jude is very similar to 2 Peter 2. (2) Luke-Paul. Luke wrote his gospel and Acts as a pair. It is thought that he also accompanied Paul at the points in Acts where it says that “we” traveled rather than “they” traveled. Luke is thought to have researched the information in his gospel while Paul was imprisoned at Jerusalem. (3) John. The apostle John wrote his gospel, the book of Revelation, and his three letters. That leaves only (4) Matthew the apostle, who wrote his gospel, and (5) James the brother of Jesus, who wrote his letter. The chart on the facing page is shaded to show these five groups.

The relationships between the gospels and Acts are discussed in Chapter 3. The date of composition of each book is addressed in Chapter 9. Paul’s letters are discussed as a group in Chapter 10.


This section is for listing links and print resources, including those cited in the notes. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link to the right to add a resource. →


Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.

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