The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings
The terms “Bible” and “Old Testament” are commonly used by non-Jews to describe Judaism’s Scriptures. However, Jewish people typically use the term “Tanach,” which is derived as an acronym from the Hebrew letters of its three components: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). Hence the word TaNaKh.
So when we talk about the inspiration, authority, and historicity of the Bible, we need to be careful in saying that God inspired the 39 Books of the Old Testament. Why? Because in the original Hebrew and Aramaic languages the books of the Old testament, they are divided differently, and there are only 24 Books, rather than 39. On top of this, they are arranged differently. Are the Scriptures inspired? Yes! But it is the original languages that are inspired, whereas God has preserved His truth in the translations that have come down to us throughout history. The fact that the books have been divided and arranged differently in no way affects their authenticity, authority, or historicity. Yet skeptics like to make much of this matter, and Christians need to be aware of it and have an answer for it, according to 1 Peter 3:15.
Now maybe I’m just a freak magnet (I resemble that statement), but I get this question at least once every couple of months or so, and sometimes it comes in groups. I’m not getting it from scholars, as I really don’t hang out in scholarly circles too much anymore. I do occasionally engage in discussions with theological and scholarly friends, but it isn’t my crowd at this time. I get this question and others like it when I’m talking to regular people. People who work in a factory, those who just got our of prison, folks I meet when I’m out and about. I frequently find myself engaging in discussions about salvation in Jesus Christ, the authority and historical accuracy of the Bible, and the relevance of the Bible to the moral issues of the day.
Almost immediately people will challenge the authority of the Bible regarding the great moral, ethical, and spiritual issues of our day. They start attacking the Bible as an ancient book that has no meaning for us today, and they will attack the fact that the Bible in English has a different number of books than in Hebrew and the books have been rearranged. While that assertion is correct regarding the number and arrangement of the books, it is irrelevant. The content of the books is the same.
Although there are many issues relating to the moral authority of the Bible for today, here is a guide to help you when skeptics bring up the fact that the Hebrew Old Testament has a different number of books that are arranged differently. This seems to be a hot button issue for a lot of people today, and you need to have an answer for the skeptics.
Here is the order found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Although the order of the books is different and the books are divided differently, the content is the same as we have in our English Old Testaments.
Torah – The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Nevi’im – The Prophets: Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel
The Twelve: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi,
The Holy Writings or Psalms: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, 1 &2 Chronicles
I hope this little guide to the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures helps you when you run into a skeptic who wants to make an issue of this particular matter.
Rest assured that if you haven’t already had this come up when talking to unbelievers, you will. And you will probably encounter this sooner, rather than later. I have been on Facebook for just over a year now, and I had two people unfriend me during my first six months or so on Facebook over this issue. One of them was a relative. If you don’t think this is an issue, then you’re not talking to any unbelievers, or maybe you’re just not a freak magnet like me.
It is surprising how much unbelievers study to deny the truth of the Scriptures, but their studies are in error. It’s our job to help them find the truth in Jesus Christ.