Thrust Statement: Jesus verified the number of books in the Hebrew Bible as twenty-two.

            An analysis of the structure, or categorization, of the Old Testament writings will enhance one’s grasp of the sacred writings. This essay compares the English order of the books of the Old Testament with the Hebrew order. The English listing of the books amounts to thirty-nine books; on the other hand, the Hebrew Bible gives twenty-two books. The Catholic Bible lists fourteen additional books. Luke calls attention to Jesus’ three divisions within the Old Testament Canon[1]—the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). Did Jesus give testimony as to the number of books found in the Hebrew Bible? These are issues this paper seeks to explore. If one possesses a basic understanding of the arrangement of the books of the Old Testament, this, too, will increase one’s ability to comprehend more clearly the coming of the Messiah promised in Genesis 3:15, which promise is peppered throughout the writings of the thirty-nine books.

            For many Christians, the Old Testament is an enigma. But an elementary awareness of the structure, or categorization, of the books will unravel the difficulties that so many believers share in reading the Old Testament. The average believer reads Genesis through Deuteronomy without problems. On the other hand, the reading of the Book of Ruth is not as obvious as to the time frame of its writing. The three books following the Pentateuch are: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. The events that transpire in the Book of Ruth take place during the time of the Judges. As one reads through Samuel and Kings and Chronicles, one discovers, upon close scrutiny, that the books of Chronicles throw one back in time to a previous period of history. After Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, one is introduced to the books of poetry, which books transport one back in time—times of Job (about 2000 BC), David (1010-970 BC, reign), and Solomon (970-931 BC, reign). The prophetical books carry one back into the books of Kings, which books cover the era of the various rulers in Israel and Judah.

A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

            The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Pentateuch,[2] or the Torah, which books include: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Following these five books, one discovers twelve books of history: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Sandwiched between the historical books and the major and minor prophets are five books of poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. One then encounters, what is known as, the Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentation (written by Jeremiah), Ezekiel, and Daniel, which books total five by four different authors. Following these prophets, one then observes the last twelve books of the Old Testament known as the Minor Prophets, which includes: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. In actuality, there are seventeen books of history—five books of Moses,  twelve books of history, five books of poetry, and seventeen books of prophecy (5 + 12 + 5 + 17 = 39 books).

            Unfortunately, many Christians do not reflect upon the older Testamental writings as frequently as they should. When one approaches the New Testament writings, one realizes that God designed the Old Testament writings as a guide for faith and practice. Paul, an Apostle of God, writes to the Romans about the relevancy of the Old Testament: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).[3] In Paul’s last letter to one of his co-workers, he draws attention to the relevancy of the Old Testament writings in the life of God’s children:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

            The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament disclose what God expects of men and women. These books unfold the various ways that humanity responded to God’s grace and mercy and love—Genesis through Malachi. Under the five headings, or five divisions, of the Old Testament—Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets—the history of Israel and Judah are presented. These books cover a time of period of eternity past (creation—possibly 8,000 to 12,000 years ago) to Malachi (about 400 BC). The history of the Jewish people begins with Abraham (2166—1991 BC) through the times when Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem following the return of the Jews from the seventy-years of Babylonian captivity, which history is contained in the books of Law and the books of history.  The last of the Old Testament prophets—Malachi—was written after the time of Nehemiah. Possibly, the Book of Job may have preceded the time of Abraham or, at least, during the time of Abraham.

            Beginning with the Book of Genesis through Nehemiah, one witnesses the period of history from the Creation (Genesis 1:1) to 432 BC.  When one begins with the Book of Esther and the books of poetry as well as the books of prophecy, one enters the same period of time that is covered in the books of history (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther). Just a cursory reading of the books of Law and history, one discovers that these writings present the historical aspects of God’s program of redemption for the nations of Israel and Judah as well as the Gentile nations that would be brought into covenant relationship with God through the finished work of Christ upon Calvary.  As one approaches the writings of the prophets, one is conscious that one is reading after individuals who were on the scene as the events transpired. The prophets reveal the histories of the various nations with its impact upon the nations of Israel and Judah. One’s reading of the prophets is like watching the current events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, and Israel. The prophets, like news reporters, report the events as they were transpiring in the political arena. But, at the same time, the prophets did more than report the cultural climate of their day; they also foretold future events as well as the ultimate downfall of the nation of Judah in AD 70.

IS THE OLD TESTAMENT COMPLETE?

            Some Bibles contain more than thirty-nine books. The Catholic Bible includes books from the Apocryphal writings,[4] which is a collection of fourteen (or fifteen, depending on numerations) composed between 200 BC and AD 100.[5] These books were not recognized as canonical by Jesus or the Apostles. They were not included in the Hebrew Bible, which catalog totals only twenty-two books; these twenty-two books are equivalent to the thirty-nine books in the English translations of the Old Testament. Since the Septuagint (LXX—Greek translation of the Old Testament[6]) included the Apocryphal writings, many Christians during the early centuries of Christianity adopted these writings as Scripture—Irenaeus (last quarter of the second century), Tertullian (AD 160-220), and Clement of Alexander (AD 150-215).[7] Other writers—Eusebius (AD 263-339) and Athanasius (AD 296-373)—distinguished the Apocrypha from the Old Testament.[8] During the Reformation, the Reformers discovered that the Apocryphal writings were not in the Hebrew Bible. The Puritans are credited with the removal of the Apocryphal writings from the Old Testament canon. The Roman Catholic Church[9] makes appeal to the Apocryphal books to substantiate their concepts of Purgatory, merit for good works, and the practice of prayers for the dead. The following chart lists the fifteen Apocryphal books:


The Books of the Apocrypha[10]

 

Type of Book

Revised Standard Version

Catholic Versions

 

Didactic

  1.

The Wisdom of Solomon (c. 30 BC)

Book of Wisdom

 

  2.

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach (132 BC)

Ecclesiasticus

 

Religious

  3.

Tobit (c. 200 BC)

Tobias

 

Romance

  4.

Judith (c. 150 BC)

Judith

 

Historic

  5.

1 Esdras (c. 150—100 BC)

3 Esdras

 

 

  6.

1 Maccabees (c. 100 BC)

1 Machabees

 

 

  7.

2 Maccabees (c. 110—70 BC)

2 Machabees

 

Prophetic

  8.

Baruch (c. 150-50 BC)

Baruch chaps. 1-5

 

 

  9.

The Letter of Jeremiah (c. 300—100 BC)

Baruch chap. 6

 

 

10.

2 Esdras (c. AD 100)

4 Esdras

 

Legendary

11.

Additions to Esther (140-130 BC)

Esther 10:4—16-24

 

 

12.

The Prayer of Azariah (second or first century BC) (Song of Three Young Men)

Daniel 3:24--90

 

 

13.

Susanna (second or first century BC)

Daniel 13

 

 

14.

Bell and the Dragon (c. 100 BC)

Daniel 14

 

 

15.

The Prayer of Manasseh (second or first century BC)

Prayer of Manasseh

 

            Is it possible for one to establish with any certainty that the thirty-nine books found in English Bibles are equivalent to the twenty-two books found in the Hebrew Bible?  Yes! One can determine the answer to this question by consulting Scripture found in the New Testament writings. For example, Jesus opens His disciples understanding concerning the Hebrew Bible about His coming by unfolding the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament with its threefold division. It is significant that Luke records Jesus’ reference to the Jew’s division of the Old Testament into three categories: The Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Listen to Jesus as he addresses His disciples: This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 22:44). In order to grasp the significance of this statement, the following chart of the Old Testament writings listed in the English Bible alongside of the Hebrew Bible will enhance one’s insight into the words of Jesus.

OLD TESTAMENT STRUCTURE

ENGLISH

HEBREW

LAW—5

LAW—5

Genesis

Genesis

Exodus

Exodus

Leviticus

Leviticus

Numbers

Numbers

Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy

HISTORY—12

PROPHETS--8

Joshua

      FORMER PROPHETS—4

Judges

Joshua

Ruth

Judges -- Ruth

I Samuel

I & II Samuel

II Samuel

I & II Kings

I Kings

      LATTER PROPHETS—3

II Kings

Isaiah

I Chronicles

Jeremiah -- Lamentations

II Chronicles

Ezekiel

Ezra

 The Twelve—1 book    

Nehemiah

Hosea

Esther

Joel

POETRY—5

Amos

Job

Obadiah

Psalms

Jonah

Proverbs

Micah

Ecclesiastes

Nahum

Song of Solomon

Habakkuk

MAJOR PROPHETS—4; 5 Books

Zephaniah

Isaiah

Haggai

Jeremiah

Zechariah

Lamentations (written by Jeremiah)

Malachi

Ezekiel

WRITINGS/PSALMS—9

Daniel

Psalms

MINOR PROPHETS—12

Proverbs

Hosea

Job

Joel

Song of Solomon

Amos

Ecclesiastes

Obadiah

Esther

Jonah

Daniel

Micah

Ezra -- Nehemiah

Nahum

I & II Chronicles

Habakkuk

 

Zephaniah

 

Haggai

 

Zechariah

 

Malachi

 

 

 

TOTAL BOOKS   39

TOTAL BOOKS   22

            As stated above, Jesus divided the Hebrew Scriptures into three categories: the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The reason for the title “Psalms” rather than “Writings” is that Psalms is the first in this category. The testimony of Josephus (37—100 AD), Jewish historian, strengthens the Jewish counting of their holy books. Listen to him as he writes against Apion:

We do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time. Of these, five are the books of Moses, comprising the laws and the traditional history from the birth of man down to the death of the lawgiver. This period falls only a little short of three thousand years. From the death of Moses until Artaxerxes, who succeeded Xerxes as king of Persia, the prophets of their own times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and the precepts for the conduct of human life.[11]

            Josephus recognized twenty-two books as comprising the Old Testament canon. The Jews recognized the first five as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The second grouping comprises the Prophets, which is divided into two groups—the former prophets and the latter prophets. The first consists of: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth (one book), I and II Samuel (one book), and I and II Kings (one book), which is counted as four books. The second section known as the latter prophets and includes Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations (one book), Ezekiel, and the Twelve minor prophets (one book), a total of four books. The third grouping is called the Writings, or the Psalms.  This section includes Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel (not considered a prophet by the Jews, but a statesman), Ezra-Nehemiah (one book), I and II Chronicles (one book), which totals nine books. This Jewish reckoning of counting amounts to twenty-two books, which agrees also with Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century. The number twenty-two rules out the Apocryphal books as divine (5 + 4 + 4 + 9 = 22 books).

            Another point that disproves the Apocryphal writings as belonging to the Old Testament canon is found in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Jesus issues a stinging rebuke of condemnation against these leaders:

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (Luke 11:50-51)

This statement by Jesus nails the coffin shut on the Apocryphal writings as inspired by God. Jesus gave credence, or weight, to the twenty-two books in the Old Testament canon. The martyrdom of Zechariah is found in 2 Chron 24:20-23. The text reads:

Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’ ” 21 But they plotted against him, and by order of the king they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. 22 King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, “May the Lord see this and call you to account.” 23 At the turn of the year,a the army of Aram marched against Joash; it invaded Judah and Jerusalem and killed all the leaders of the people. They sent all the plunder to their king in Damascus.

            Joash (832-803 BC), king of Judah, killed Zechariah about 800 BC. Yet, one realizes a problem from strictly a chronological viewpoint when viewing another prophet’s death that occurred later than Zechariah’s death.  Zechariah was not the last prophet killed as listed in the Old Testament from a strictly chronological perspective. For, a case in point, Jeremiah relates that Jehoiakim (608-598 BC), king of Judah, killed Uriah, a prophet of God, about 600 BC, which date occurred two-hundred years after Zechariah. Jeremiah records this tragic event of the Prophet Uriah’s death:

Now Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath Jearim was another man who prophesied in the name of the Lord; he prophesied the same things against this city and this land as Jeremiah did. 21 When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and officials heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But Uriah heard of it and fled in fear to Egypt. 22 King Jehoiakim, however, sent Elnathan son of Acbor to Egypt, along with some other men. 23 They brought Uriah out of Egypt and took him to King Jehoiakim, who had him struck down with a sword and his body thrown into the burial place of the common people.) 24 Furthermore, Ahikam son of Shaphan supported Jeremiah, and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death. (Jeremiah 26:20-24)

            The answer to this supposed dilemma is found in the structure of the Jewish Old Testament. The first book according to the Hebrew Bible structure, or classification, is Genesis and the last book is Chronicles. In the English Bible, the layout, or arrangements, of the books of the Old Testament begin with Genesis and ends with Malachi. The murder of Uriah occurred in the Book of Jeremiah, which is place two hundred years later than the death of Zechariah. The English classification of the books clarifies this seemingly contradiction. Thus, the statement by Jesus was not a true chronological statement meaning from creation to 800 BC. This statement by Jesus was a literary statement meaning from the first death in Genesis (Able) to the last death recorded in Chronicles. In other words, Jesus is simply saying that from the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the Old Testament, which statement, seals and confirms the Old Testament canon to be twenty-two books.

            Again, Jesus’ reference to the blood shed has reference to the blood shed against the prophets in Scripture from Genesis to Chronicles that shall be required of Jesus’ generation, which had its fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In this way, the Lord Jesus affirmed the number of books in the Hebrew Bible—twenty-two books. The English Bible of thirty-nine books is equivalent to the twenty-two books in the Hebrew canon. One can safely rely upon the English Bible of thirty-nine books as the full canon of Holy Scripture as contained in the formation of the Old Testament writings. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles cited from any of the Apocryphal books. The Old Testament is still relevant in the life of God’s church today. The Old Testament sets forth in graphic details the events surrounding the coming of the Messiah to redeem humanity. The structure, or organization, of the Old Testament canon consists of twenty-two books in the Hebrew Bible and thirty-nine in the English Bible. The next chapter (Chapter 2) in this series will develop the relevancy of the Old Testament in the life of the Christian community.



[1] The word canon is used to denote the collection of books deemed authoritative by the church. The word canon is a transliteration of the Greek word kanon meaning rule. Again, the canon is simply the books of the Bible that have been accepted as inspired and authoritative. The Old Testament is the Jewish canon, The Old Testament and the New Testament together form the Christian canon.

[2] The English word Pentateuch comes from the Greek word πεντάτευχος (pentateucos), which literally signifies five volumes. The Pentateuch is also referred to as the “Torah,”   which means “Law.

[3]All Scripture citations are from the New International Version, unless stated otherwise.

[4] See Terry L. Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1988), 31, 32, where he writes:

 

Apocrypha ■ From the Greek ta apocrypha, “the hidden things.” In  regard to the OT, this refers to thirteen books dating from the period between the Old and New Testaments: 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirach), Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, additions to Daniel, the Prayer of Manasses, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. The books were included after the canonical OT books in the Septuagint (LXX), a third-century B.C. Greek translation of the OT. The Jews, however, did not regard the books as canonical (inspired, authoritative Scripture) and so did not include them in the Hebrew bible, nor did the early Church accept them.

 

The Roman Catholic Church recognized the Apocrypha as an unquestioned part of the canon or text of the Bible (excluding 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses) at the Council of Trent in 1548. The Reformers rejected the Apocrypha, though Luther said that they were “profitable and good to read.” As noncanonical literature, the Apocrypha has no more authority than any other human writing. Among Protestant churches today, only the Anglican Church uses the Apocrypha.

[5] For a more detailed analysis, see Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 22-24. Also, see Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Apocrypha: An American Translation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1938).

[6] See F. B. Huey, Jr. and Bruce Conley, A Student’s Dictionary for Biblical & Theological Studies (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1983), 173, where they explain:

SEPTUAGINT. From the Latin Septuaginta. “seventy.” Greek translation of the OT that (according to the Letter of Aristeas) was made by Jews of Alexandria, Egypt, around 250 B.C.; the word frequently written as K LXX. Strictly speaking, the term should apply only to the KPentateuch, but the name came to be used of the entire Greek translation of the OT.

[7] Hill and Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 22.

[8] Ibid.

[9] See Terry L. Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1988), 54, where he writes:

Canon of the Old Testament ● The genuine, authoritative, and inspired books of the OT. Protestants accept 39 books. The Roman Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), officially accepted the books of the apocrypha as authored by God and included in the canon.

[10] Ibid., 23.

[11] Josephus, Josephus: The Life Against Apion,. Books I, 8 (37-42), Loeb Classical Library, vol., 186, translated by H. St. J. Thackeray (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1926, 1997), 179.

 

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