The Hebrew Bible is the name given to the Jewish scriptures. The Old Testament is the name used to describe the section of the Christian cannon outside of the New Testament. You may be thinking, aren’t the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament the same thing? But the answer to this question may be a little more complicated than you think.
The Hebrew Bible is standard. It’s the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. It consists of 24 books and it is divided into three sections:
- Torah – which means “teaching.”
- Nevi’im – which means “prophets.”
- Ketuvim – which means “writings.”
Now you may read this and be confused why the Hebrew Bible only has 24 books when your Christian Old Testament has more. The difference lies in the way that the Nevi’im is divided. In the Hebrew Bible, you have the following the Nevi’im Rishonim (Former Prophets), which consists of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; the Nevi’im Aharonim (Latter Prophets), which consists of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; and Trei Asar (The Twelve), which includes Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
The Twelve, which are known as the Minor Prophets in the Christian Old Testament, are only considered one book. Also, books like 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Samuel, are only counted once. This accounts for the conclusion that there are only 24 books in the Hebrew Bible.
Besides the numbering difference, most Christians would consider the prophetic texts of the Old Testament to be broken down by Major and Minor Prophets and would not even include the book of Judges, although they would consider the book of Daniel which is categorized in the Ketuvim in the Hebrew Bible.
But these are not the only differences between the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. In fact, there are many differences among the Old Testament depending on your religious tradition. For example, the Protestant Old Testament consists of 39 books, whereas, the Catholic Old Testament basically has 46 books; the Greek Orthodox church holds to the entire Septuagint. Unlike comparisons to the Hebrew Bible, the difference between the two is not based on how books are divided, but instead, which books are included.
Now this becomes a rather complicated subject, especially for Protestants who blatantly reject the Catholic Bible even though the Old Testament that they use was canonized by the Catholic Church. The only difference is the Catholics later included additional ancient texts. Nevertheless, this becomes a conversation for scholars and a topic for theologians to argue and debate over. I only mention it to point out the term “Old Testament” could mean different things to different people depending on their Christian tradition. The term “Old Testament” isn’t concrete like the term “Hebrew Bible.”
Still, this is not the only difference between the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. The word “testament” comes from the Greek work for “covenant.” So, when you use the phrase “Old Testament” you are basically saying “Old Covenant.” Therefore, the term also has theological implications. Now you may be reading this and realize that this means the “New Testament” means “New Covenant.” And you’re right. But in what way does using the term “Old Covenant” affect the way in which the text is approached?
It is no secret that I hold very conservative views on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. I believe that every word of the Bible is given and inspired by God. Most Evangelicals would agree with that statement as well. Yet, I would ask, “Do God’s Words have an expiration date?” In other words, do the words which have been given by God lose their inspiration and inerrancy over time? Or was the Psalmist right when he wrote, “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89 ESV)?
By using the term “old” you are saying that the words are just that –– old. It implies that they are outdated, expired, and no longer inspired. By using the term “testament” or “covenant” you are not only saying that they are outdated, but that they are no longer valid and have been replaced. I would argue that this is one of the major reasons why people think that the “Old Testament” is something that is boring and not relevant to their lives today, which is why they don’t read it.
As you can see, while the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament have some similarities, they have many differences. The number of differences really depends on the Christian tradition. Nevertheless, using the term “Old Testament” also has theological implications which demonstrate the value and significance the individual has placed on this body of texts. The Hebrew Bible is much more standardized and, since it is the textual source for the Christian Old Testament, it should be studied and compared with the Old Testament text by anyone who desires to understand God’s Word.