As we conclude our Old Testament (OT) portion of C2C here in 2020 there are a couple important questions that we might consider.
Why does the Jewish OT or Bible (called the Tanak), differ in its arrangement of the books from the Christian OT?
When was the Old Testament canon (rule of faith) finalized and how?
Though somewhat technical questions it is hoped that in answering them believer’s will be strengthened in their knowledge of the Scriptures and thus their faith.
Here is the order and books of the Christian OT and Hebrew Bible (the TaNaK, see Bible Project). Essentially the OT is broken into four sections, whereas the Tanak is divided into three. (It is interesting to note Jesus referred to this trifold division in Lk 24:44):
Notice they are the same number of books (39) but in a very different order. Why the difference, especially if this was the accepted order of the Hebrew Bible in Jesus day?
Sometime in the 3rd and 2nd centuries there arose a large Jewish community in Greek speaking Alexandria (Egypt) who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It is called the Septuagint or LXX (both mean 70) after the legend that 72 independent translators (6 from each of the 12 tribes) translated the entire project identically (thus giving evidence of Divine oversight). What is true is that they re-ordered the Hebrew Bible so the Hebrew and Greek versions, though containing the same books, were ordered differently. The Greeks, ever the masters of logic, categorized the books under headings, and many books under those according to length. As this video explores, the Hebrew Bible had other historic and theological reasons for how it was arranged. It is also interesting how the arrangements end, the Hebrew with Chronicles (itself a summary of the Tanak; a return to the Promised Land and a prefiguring of Christ) and the Greek with Malachi (the promised day of the Lord).
Though Jesus would have known the Hebrew order, most of the early Christians spoke Greek and so followed the Greek version. When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin by AD 405 he followed this tradition and so the Greek pattern was all but established as the Christian ordering.
Canon is Greek for rule. What books are recognized as inspired and authoritative? The Jewish community, guided by the Holy Spirit, came to recognize the above list as canonical some 200 years before Christ, who affirmed the same in Lk 24:44 (along with multiple other sources).
Regardless of the order, as Christians we can be confident that our OT books have come to us under God’s sovereign hand, and that these books, and these alone, constitute our rule of faith as the Old Testament; or as 2 Tim 3:16b puts it are therefore the “inspired word of God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Now you know!
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.