What is the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is the part of the Bible that was written prior to the time of Jesus Christ.

However, if you had been around to ask the apostles John, Peter or Paul about the “Old Testament” they would have had no idea what you meant. The terms Old Testament and New Testament were coined long after the books of the Bible were written. In 2 Tim 3:15-16, the apostle Paul referred to the Old Testament writings as the holy scriptures, given by the inspiration of God. (For more information, click here).

In fact, the modern English word 'testament' as used in the term, Old Testament, can be misleading, as many people associate a 'testament' with a dying person's last 'will and testament', rather than a testimony of some kind.

So how did the word Testament come to be used in reference to the holy Scriptures?

The use of the word 'testament' was based on a poor translation of 2 Corinthians 3:14, where the Greek diathēkē should better have been rendered 'covenant', as it is in some modern translations.  However, the context of the verse is not the body of writings we today call the Old Testament, but a reference to the actual covenant between God and the nation of Israel.

What we today call the Old Testament is the older part of the body of evidence claimed to be God's works and His communications to mankind as written down by its mostly Israelite authors. The Old Testament books were written in Hebrew with the exception of some parts of the books of Ezra and Daniel that were written in Aramaic, a language close to Hebrew. The Aramaic portions in the Old Testament include Daniel 2:4b to 7:28 and Ezra 4:8—6:18, 7:12-26.

The canon of Old Testament books, as recognised by western Protestant churches, consists of 39 books. Most Protestant churches recognise only the same Old Testament books that Judaism recognises as part of their scriptural canon. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches recognise additional apocryphal books.

The Jews combined a number of the Old Testament books and recognised 22 books within their three-fold division of the Old Testament which they refer to as the Tanakh (derived from a Hebrew acronym of the three divisions).

The Jews grouped the Old Testament books into 3 divisions referred to as the 1) Law of Moses (or the Torah), 2) the Prophets and 3) the Writings (or the Psalms). Jesus Christ referred to this three-fold division in Luke 24:44. The books of their three-fold division are as follows:


1)   Genesis

2)   Exodus

3)   Leviticus

4)   Numbers

5)   Deuteronomy


6)   Joshua and Judges

7)   The Book of Kingdoms (1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings)

8)   Isaiah

9)   Jeremiah

10)  Ezekiel

11)  The Twelve (Hosea to Malachi)

      [always reckoned as one book by the Jews]


      (or THE PSALMS because it was the first book in the collection in this “Royal Division”)

12)  The Psalms

13)  The Proverbs

14)  Job

15)  Song of Songs

16)  Ruth

17)  Lamentations

18)  Ecclesiastes

19)  Esther

20)  Daniel

21)  Ezra-Nehemiah [reckoned as one book by the Jews]

22)  The Book of Chronicles [reckoned as one book by the Jews]


This order above is quite different from the order that has been handed down in the western Christian world.  Jerome (347-420 AD), when translating the Bible into Latin, chose to follow the order found in the Septuagint's early Greek translation of the 3rd century B.C. His choice for the order in the Latin Vulgate is the primary reason the order handed down in the western Christian world follows a different order than that of Judaism.

The order of Old Testament books (excluding apocryphal books) that is followed in the western Christian world today is as follows:



1)  Genesis

2)  Exodus

3)  Leviticus

4)  Numbers

5)  Deuteronomy

6)  Joshua

7)  Judges

8)  Ruth

9)  1 Samuel

10) 2 Samuel

11) 1 Kings

12) 2 Kings

13) 1 Chronicles

14) 2 Chronicles

15) Ezra

16) Nehemiah

17) Esther



18) Job

19) Psalms

20) Proverbs

21) Ecclesiastes

22) Song of Solomon



23) Isaiah

24) Jeremiah

25) Lamentations

26) Ezekiel

27) Daniel

28) Hosea

29) Joel

30) Amos

31) Obadiah

32) Jonah

33) Micah

34) Nahum

35) Habakkuk

36) Zephaniah

37) Haggai

38) Zechariah

39) Malachi


The above 39 books are those recognised by most Protestant churches. The Roman Catholic Church recognises 7 additional apocryphal books - Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Baruch. These additional apocryphal books are also found in the Septuagint among others which are included in the Eastern Orthodox canon of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox Church recognises even more apocryphal books.


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