A modern reader who opens a printed bible has a good idea of what to expect. The canon, that is, the list of books considered authoritative by the Christian Church, is fixed, and there is very little variation in the order of books within the Bible. Admittedly, there are some differences between Catholic and Protestant bibles: Catholic bibles have a longer canon, because they include the so-called apocryphal, or deutero-canonical, books. Some Anglican (Episcopalian) bibles, steering a middle way between the Catholic and Protestant traditions, contain these books in a separate section, wedged between the Old and New Testaments. Of course, a Hebrew Bible (called a Tanakh), or an English translation thereof, does not include the New Testament, and the reader might also note some differences in the book order between a Tanakh and a Christian Old Testament.
These differences, however, pale in comparison to the bewilderment that can confront a modern student who opens a medieval bible. For a start, some books may appear “out of order.” In the New Testament, the book of Acts may not appear where one expects it. The Old Testament books show an even greater variety in order and organization. Books may have unfamiliar and varying names, or a different numbering. We commonly find the Old Testament Apocrypha in medieval Bibles (but not always), and in some bibles we find apocryphal books that are completely unfamiliar to any modern bible, such as 3 and 4 Ezra, the Letter of Paul to the Laodiceans, or even 3 Corinthians. Some books may appear to be invisible, such as Lamentations (often treated as part of the book of Jeremiah), and some biblical books have verses or entire chapters that cannot be found in modern bibles. For instance, some might contain a Psalm 151. And, finally, like their modern counterparts, medieval bibles contained a hefty portion of “extra-biblical text” in the form of prefaces, commentary, and chapter headings. These could also vary from one bible to the next. All this variety, of course, makes sense if one recognizes that bibles were not books but collections of sacred writings, and that many pandect bibles were copied from multivolume collections. It is the intention of this chapter to bring some order in this bewildering variety and to explain some of the history behind it.