The Tanakh vs. The Old Testament
The Jewish and Christian Bibles do not contain the same books and they are not arranged in the same order. There is a different “canon,” a different listing of the biblical books in the collections that Jews call Tanakh (after the first letters of its three parts in the Jewish tradition) and Christians call the Old Testament. The Tanakh is the same books as the Protestant Old Testament, but in a different order, and with books such as 1&2 Kings, Chronicles and Samuel being in one book. So, while there are 24 books in the Hebrew Bible to the Old Testament’s 39, they are, in fact all there.
- Torah, the Teachings of Moses: The Books of Genesis (Bereshit), Exodus (Shemot), Leviticus (Vayikrah), Numbers (Bamidbar)and Deuteronomy (Devarim).
- Nevi’im, the books of the Prophets: The Books of Joshua, Judges, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habukkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. (The last twelve are sometimes grouped together as “Trei Asar” ["Twelve"].)
- Ketuvim, for the Writings, which include psalms and wisdom literature: The Books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel , Ezra and Nehemiah, I Chronicles, and II Chronicles.
The major thing in terms of differences is not simply numbers of books, but the ordering. So that Tanakh ends with second book of Chronicles, it ends with a historical book. Christians end the Old Testament with a prophetic book. And there’s a real theological point to that. It has been argued that the Bible of the church is the same thing as the Bible of the synagogue – at least the church’s Bible: part one, the Old Testament. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The two texts have different orders, with the church’s canon, at least the Old Testament part of it, ending with the prophet Malachi, predicting the return of Elijah, which gives you a very nice segue into John Baptist in the Elijah role. The synagogue’s canon ends with Second Chronicles, the Edict of King Cyrus of Persia saying, “okay, you Jews who were in Babylon: go back home to Judea, let whoever among you is able go up. Let him make aliyah [return up to Israel] and then go build a temple to God.”
By contrasting the last books in the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament it can be shown that a significant difference in perspective exists. Christian readers of the Old Testament are directed to the coming of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew, the next book in the Christian Bible.
“But also look ahead: I’m sending Elijah the prophet to clear the way for the Big Day of God—the decisive Judgment Day! He will convince parents to look after their children and children to look up to their parents. If they refuse, I’ll come and put the land under a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).
On the other hand, Jewish readers of the Tanakh end their Bible with the hopeful news of reestablishment and renewal in the land of Israel.
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—this fulfilled the message of God preached by Jeremiah—God moved Cyrus king of Persia to make an official announcement throughout his kingdom; he wrote it out as follows: “From Cyrus king of Persia a proclamation: God, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has also assigned me to build him a Temple of worship at Jerusalem in Judah. All who belong to God’s people are urged to return—and may your God be with you! Move forward!”” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
As you can plainly see, the ordering of scriptures becomes important as to the interpretation thereof. A simple change in ordering has resulted in a whole new meaning to the same passages.