Having completed the study of the New Testament books of the Bible, we now turn to the Old Testament for a brief analysis of each of the books, especially seeking to understand the unique place of each book within the collection of all sixty-six. In this article we begin by way of introduction to summarize a few of the unique features of the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Old Testament is made up of thirty-nine books which, joined with the twenty-seven of the New Testament, make up the total of sixty-six books of the Bible. The name Bible is derived from the wordbyblus, a reference to the reed by that name which was used extensively in making scrolls. Hence, the Greek word biblios became descriptive of the collection of the sacred writings known as The Books, The Bible.
The unifying principle of the whole of the Scriptures is that they are the revelation of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ His Son. It bears repeating that God has chosen to save His people through the death of His own Son. The Bible sets forth the glory of that salvation in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Already in the beginning, we learn of the need for the covering of His blood because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, a sinful act which the righteousness of God punished with everlasting death. The whole human race was plunged into the condemnation of that death. The Old Testament is a distinctive contribution to the message of salvation in Jesus. Christ. From the mother promise, “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15, to the closing promise of “the Sun of righteousness” of Malachi 4:2, the good news is that God is a God of salvation in Christ His Son.
Keeping this in mind, we can understand the basic distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word “testament” was popularized by the Latin church fathers. Testament is another word for covenant, the covenant which God establishes with His people in Christ. God laid down the basis for His loving favor, namely, His perfect righteousness. God made man righteous through creation. Man, however, turned to evil and chose sin. God could justly have cast the entire human race into the judgment of hell. Instead, He graciously saves His people through the promise of the coming of Jesus whose blood is the satisfaction for sin. The righteousness of Christ is the foundation for the covenant of God with His people. The difference between the old and new covenant is the administration of the good-news of this covenant. The old looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ, the new explains His presence and work. We sometimes say, “The new is in the old contained, the old is in the new explained,” or “The New Testament is enfolded in the Old and the Old is unfolded in the New.” Both Testaments belong together as one whole.
We also conclude from this that the Old Testament is not a message limited to the Jews or for God’s people confined to a certain period of time and of no use to the church today. Rather, God speaks eternal truth both in the Old and New Testaments. We are able to learn gospel truth as we follow the unfolding of the covenant in the Old Testament. By means of such history, and the distinctiveness of the Hebrew language, God conveys to us today the message of hope and salvation. We profit greatly from the study of the Old Testament Scripture.
In the midst of many attacks upon the Bible as God’s Word, we do well to emphasize that we believe that the Old Testament is God’s Word, come to us by inspiration. The Holy Spirit places this conviction within our hearts, so that we assume by faith that the Bible is God’s Word. This controls our dealings with the Bible. We do not set out to prove that each book is inspired and reason from the Scriptures that it is such. We believe through the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our hearts (see I Cor. 2:14, 15), and confess with the church of all ages (see Netherlands Confession Articles 3-7), that God wrote His own Word. We ‘seek to instruct God’s people in the importance of each book and how the Holy Spirit speaks to us distinctly in each one.
We make a distinction between revelation, inspiration, and illumination. Revelation describes the work of the Holy Spirit in which He conveyed to the authors the knowledge of the truth that He wanted them to write down. This revelation came in different forms, by direct speech from God, by dreams, through events themselves, etc. The authors of the Bible frequently acknowledged that the message they brought was from God, not man. Hence they used such expressions as, “Thus saith the Lord” (Ex. 4:22), and “Hear the word of the Lord” (Isaiah 1:10). God often commanded them to write down His words (Jer. 30:1, 2). By inspiration we refer to that work of the Holy Spirit as He overruled the actual writing so that in the process the authors were able to write that revelation accurately. Here we see how God used the agency of men for this purpose. It is not correct to say that the Bible is the product of God and man, it is God’s Word conveyed to us through. living instruments. God planned the entire Bible from eternity, He planned who would be the authors and governed their lives that they would be exactly the men He wanted. At the proper time, He moved them to desire to write what He revealed to them. The Holy Spirit controlled their writing and used their own personality and vocabulary so that each contributed in his own individual way exactly as God wanted it. By illumination we refer to the Spirit’s guidance of the readers of the Word that they receive it as the Word of God and believe and follow it.
Surely the Holy Scriptures’ claim to be inspired includes the Old Testament. The classical passages for inspiration refer first of all to the Old Testament. The passage, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16, 17) refers first of all to the Old Testament writings. Similarly, in II Peter 1:20, 21we read, “Knowing this first that no prophecy of scripture is of any private- interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” This, too, is first of all a reference to the prophecy of the Old Testament. The warning is given, “But the prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods even that prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:20). Hence, we read that the prophets often prefaced their words with such divine authorship, “The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel” (Ezekiel 1:3). Similarly, Moses wrote, “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord” (Exodus 24:4). Jesus recognized the authority of the Old Testament in different ways. He declared, “heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). And why? “And Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Repeatedly Christ quoted from the Old Testament and thus yielded to its authority, “It is written” (see Matt. 4:4-10). We conclude that the authors of the Old Testament were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write their books.
By the term “canon” we have in mind the final selection of each of the thirty-nine books as being part of the inspired collection. The term canon is derived from the Hebrew qanah, meaning reed or measuring rod. The books that measured up to the standards were included. We believe that the same Holy Spirit Who guided the authors to write, also guided the people of God in selecting the books He wanted in the completed Scripture. This included preserving the original writing long enough so that copies could be made of them, and guiding the church to recognize the true Scripture over against spurious writings. There were more writings than those included in the canon of the Old Testament. Examples: Book of the wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14); The book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13); The Book of the acts of Solomon (I Kings 11:41); and the Book of Samuel and seer, the Book of Nathan the prophet, the Book of Gad the seer (I Chron. 29:29). There is a large group of books called the apocrypha, which our Netherlands Confession designates as worthy of reading for its history and instruction, but not to be considered inspired (see Art. 6).
If we would take our Hebrew Bible in hand and follow the order of books given in the Massoretic test, we would discover that there are only twenty-four books. The “discrepancy” is easily explained, our KJV follows the division of the books and the order presented in the Septuagint Bible, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament Bible which was made around 250-160 B.C. The differences are as follows: Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah are divided into two books each. The minor prophets are divided into twelve books instead of being counted as one. This accounts for fifteen additional books. Hence the material content is exactly the same.
The Hebrew Bible also follows a different order. Not only does the student of Hebrew have to learn to open his Bible at the back and read from right to left, he has to be familiar with a different arrangement of the books. The Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections as follows: the first is the law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The second is titled the Prophets, first the former prophets including Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, then the later prophets, being further divided into major: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and minor: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. The third are called the writings and are divided into Poetical: Psalms, Proverbs, Job; the Five Rolls: Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentation, Ecclesiastes, Esther; and finally the Historical: Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
According to Unger in his Introductory Guide to the Old Testament the reason for the three-fold division is that the law is identical with our pentateuch, the prophets are former and latter in relation to the time period covered by each, the minor and major are determined by length. The writings are mixed in character by writers who had the prophetic gift but not the office. The rolls are called that because they were written on separate scrolls to facilitate reading at the feasts. The third section is unclassified mostly as historical. Note Chronicles is called Paralipomenon meaning “the remainder” in the Septuagint and in our Netherlands Confession, Art. 4.