How We Got Our Bible: The Hebrew Old Testament
The Two Testaments
The word “testament” in the designations “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” goes back through the Latin testament to the Greek diatheke, which in most of its occurrences in the Greek Bible means “covenant” rather than “testament.” In Jeremiah 31:31, a new covenant is foretold which will supersede that which God made with Israel in the wilderness (cf. Exod. 24:7ff). “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). The NT writers see the fulfillment of the prophecy of the new covenant in the new order inaugurated by the work of Christ; His own words of institution (1 Cor. 11:25) give the authority for this interpretation. The OT books, then, are so called because of their close association with the history of the “old covenant”; the NT books are so called because they are the foundation documents of the “new covenant.” The terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” for the two collections of books came into general Christian use in the latter part of the second century.
The Old Testament
The Hebrew OT is arranged in three divisions. First is The Law, also known as the Pentateuch. It includes the “Books of Moses” (i.e., first five books of the OT). It was the first section of the OT to be recognized as canonical. It is generally accepted that it was both complete and canonical by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th Century B.C.–may have been so considerably earlier.
Second is The Prophets. It includes four books of earlier Prophets and four books of later Prophets. These eight books include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets (counted as one book).
The third division is The Sacred Writings (Hagiographa). It includes the books of Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Solomon), Lamentations, and Daniel.
These three divisions total 24 books. In the first century these three divisions were differently arranged into twenty-two books. Two of the smaller books were combined with others. Regardless of the arrangement, the included books contain all of the 39 books incorporated into the Bibles we use today.
- Our next article looks at how the Septuagint came to be.
- Return to our Introduction Post to see a list of all posts in this series.