Why the order of tribes in NT is different than the OT?

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By BibleAsk Team


The order of tribes as presented in the New Testament differs from the Old Testament listing, prompting questions about the reasons behind this variation and its spiritual significance. While the discrepancy may seem perplexing at first glance, a deeper examination reveals profound theological insights and symbolism. In this exploration, we will delve into the reasons for the difference in the order of clans between the Old and New Testaments, drawing upon relevant passages from the Bible to illuminate its significance.

Old Testament Order of Tribes:

  1. The Tribal Structure: In the Old Testament, the twelve tribes of Israel were organized according to the lineage of the patriarchs Jacob’s sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin (Genesis 49:1-28; Numbers 1:1-54).
  2. Symbolism and Historical Context: Each tribe had its designated territory, role, and significance within the nation of Israel. The tribal structure reflected the covenantal relationship between God and His chosen people, as well as the fulfillment of promises made to the patriarchs.

New Testament Variation:

  1. The Book of Revelation: In Revelation 7:4-8 (NKJV), John receives a vision of a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue standing before the throne of God. The passage lists twelve clans, but the order differs from the traditional arrangement found in the Old Testament:
    • Judah
    • Reuben
    • Gad
    • Asher
    • Naphtali
    • Manasseh
    • Simeon
    • Levi
    • Issachar
    • Zebulun
    • Joseph
    • Benjamin
  2. Spiritual Symbolism: The variation in the order of clans in Revelation carries symbolic significance, representing spiritual truths and realities rather than a literal genealogical listing. The rearrangement of the clans underscores the redemptive work of Christ and the inclusion of Gentile believers in the covenant community.

Reasons for the Variation:

The order of tribes in NT (Revelation 7: 5–8) is not identical with the ones found in the OT (Numbers 1:5–15; Deuteronomy 27:12, 13; Genesis 35:22–26; 49:3–28; 1 Chronicles 2:1, 2). This is because the Lord wanted to communicate a special message to the NT believers.

  1. Christological Emphasis: The placement of Judah as the first clan in Revelation’s list highlights its Messianic significance. Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, is the central figure of redemption and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Revelation 5:5).
  2. Inclusion of Gentiles: The inclusion of Gentile believers in the twelve tribes reflects the universal scope of God’s salvation plan. Through faith in Christ, believers from every nation and ethnicity are grafted into the spiritual lineage of Israel and become heirs of the promises made to Abraham (Romans 11:17-24).
  3. Levi Not Included: In the OT, Levi is sometimes not counted as a tribe, even though he was listed as a son of Jacob. This is because Levi got no inheritance among the tribes. “Only to the tribe of Levi he had given no inheritance; the sacrifices of the LORD God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as He said to them” (Joshua 13:14). The Levites were the priests of God who dispersed among the tribes to minister to them. In Revelation 7, the tribe of Levi is added. To calculate Levi and yet hold the number 12 it was necessary to delete one of the tribes, inasmuch as Joseph was counted as two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh.
  4. The deletion of Dan: Ephraim and Dan were left out in Revelation 7 because of the evil actions of the clans. Dan was excluded because of the tribe’s apostasy in following idols (Judges 18:30, 31). “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, A viper by the path” (Genesis 49:17). Also, “Ephraim is joined to idols, Let him alone” (Hosea 4:17).
  5. Symbolic Representation: The order of tribes in Revelation symbolically conveys spiritual truths about the redemptive work of Christ and the composition of the Church as the new covenant community. Each tribe represents different facets of the redeemed people of God, united in their worship of the Lamb.
  6. Variations in Translation: The names of some of the clans are not spelled the same as in the OT. This is because the NT names are translated from the Greek, whereas the OT names are translated from the Hebrew. Greek translations of Hebrew names are often inaccurate because the Greek alphabet don’t have certain sounds common in Hebrew.

Theological Reflections:

  1. Fulfillment of Prophecy: The variation in the order of tribes reflects the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and the inauguration of the new covenant era through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  2. Unity in Diversity: The diverse composition of the redeemed community, represented by the twelve tribes in Revelation, underscores the unity and diversity of God’s people from every nation and culture.

Practical Implications:

  1. Identity in Christ: Believers find their identity and inheritance in Christ, rather than in their genealogical lineage or tribal affiliation. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Him (Galatians 3:28).
  2. Global Mission: The inclusion of Gentiles in the spiritual lineage of Israel underscores the universal mission of the Church to proclaim the gospel to all nations and peoples, inviting them to become part of God’s covenant family.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the variation in the order of tribes between the Old and New Testaments reflects profound theological truths about the redemptive work of Christ and the composition of the Church as the new covenant community. While the tribal structure in the Old Testament had historical and territorial significance for the nation of Israel, the rearrangement of tribes in Revelation symbolizes the spiritual realities of redemption, inclusion, and unity in Christ. As believers, may we embrace our identity as heirs of the promises of God, united in our worship of the Lamb who was slain for our salvation.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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