Introduction to the Book Chain

Discovery story with examples from Proverbs-Ruth.

The Lecture

The discovery that the books of the Bible connect sequentially began several years ago while attending a college lecture. One of my favorite Bible professors took what seemed to be a rabbit trail from the lecture. What I learned that day stuck and grew into this study on the Book Chain.

My professor described a Hebrew manuscript that is noteworthy because it diverges from the most common Jewish book order by placing the book of Ruth after the book of Proverbs. [1] He said this arrangement may be better because it reveals a thematic connection between Proverbs and Ruth.

He reminded us that Proverbs ends with the search for a virtuous woman.

FE Alef 1|22 10Who can find a virtuous woman, P Ruth 3:11 for her price is far above precious stones. Proverbs 31:10-31 (Proverbs 31:10 BRB)

Then he took us to Ruth, and quoting Boaz, showed us that Ruth is a virtuous woman.

11Now, my daughter, do not fear for I will do for you all that you ask of me, for all the family of our people know that you are a virtuous woman. P Proverbs 31:10 (Ruth 3:11 BRB)

Then he said the book of Ruth may be the virtuous woman sought by the book of Proverbs. Other women in the Bible are virtuous, but only Ruth is called a virtuous woman.

Having studied the connection between Proverbs and Ruth since that time it's clear the synergy between the two enhances their meaning and smooths the reader's transition between them. In essence context is no longer broken even though the reader ends one book and begins the next. Like a well written movie series, where any movie can stand alone, but is enhanced by first watching the earlier movies, the books can stand alone, but the context, or backstory, is actually the previous book(s). For example, there's more in Proverbs that helps the reader think about Ruth than the description of the virtuous woman at the end. Think about the contrast between Ruth and the woman described in the early chapters of Proverbs. They are as opposit as you'll find. Ruth can stand alone, but with Proverbs as the backdrop she really pops.

I found the Proverbs-Ruth example in class to be so compelling that I set off in the days following to find connections between all the books in the Bible. I assumed if it worked so well in one place then it was part of the design of the Bible as a whole and would work everywhere. I couldn't believe this wasn't already a class at Bible College and thought how fortunate I was to be able to do the legwork on this simple and exciting study. Ha. I had so much trouble finding more connections that I gave up after just a couple days.

A New Book Order

A few years later, when I stumbled into a new book order based upon the book of Isaiah, I remembered the failed attempt to find connections between books and it finally dawned on me that the failure was at least because some books were badly arranged, or at least badly arranged relative to this system. There's thought into the modern book order, but it's just a convention someone came up with and only lightly based on scripture, whereas the book order in Isaiah is part and parcel to the Bible.

As I pondered looking for connections between books in this new book order I realized, if this worked, it would be the second system in scripture that revealed, or used, what I was beginning to see as the high-level design of the Bible, the Bible's book order.

I resumed the search for connections in the new book order. Proverbs was already in slot 29, followed by Ruth in slot 30, so that connection was free thanks to the lecture years earlier. As I worked through other book pairs I had a lot more success with a lot less effort. Some did not make sense at the time and some still need more thought, but many made sense quickly and gave me confidence that this system is working.