Introduction

Chapter 1.
Some Beginning Questions

Most of us are vitally interested in answers to the big questions of life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What makes us tick or what is the nature of human beings? How did we get in the predicament we are in? What is our future? We avidly read all kinds of literature on human beginnings, human psychological makeup, the present state of human affairs, and human destiny. We consider any literature that deals with these questions relevant and timely.

Preeminent among all literature about the big questions of life is the Old Testament. Not only does it report human opinions, but it gives divine insights into all the issues of life. Thus, it gives perspectives and answers available nowhere else. Viewed from this standpoint, the Old Testament is not some book out of the musty past that has only antiquarian interests for a few with a nostalgic bent; but it has a vital, contemporary relevance.

What Is the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is the first part of the Bible and is a collection of thirty-nine documents written by prophets, priests, kings, and other leaders in Israel. All evidence points to the fact that: the authors were Hebrews. Originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, these books have been widely translated into many languages of the world. Although portions of the Old Testament appeared in English earlier, the entire Old Testament was not available to English readers until John Wyclif's translation of 1388; and it was not printed until Miles Coverdale's edition of 1535.

Even after the Old Testament collection was completed, there were not always thirty-nine books in it. For example, Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first Century A.D., spoke of twenty-two books in his day. This does not mean, however, that contents of the collection were different then. The twelve Minor Prophets appeared as one book, as did 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and other books now divided. The Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), produced in Alexandria during the third and second centuries b.c., and Jerome's fourth century a.d. Latin translation have been especially important in influencing current division and placement of books in the Old Testament.

Chapter and verse divisions familiar to modern readers did not always appear in the text either. The custom of dividing parts of the Hebrew Old Testament into verses occurred at least as early as a.d. 200 and probably earlier. But verse divisions varied considerably until the tenth century, when the great Jewish scholar Ben Asher edited the Hebrew text with current verse divisions. Chapter divisions in the Hebrew text were adopted from the Latin Bible in the thirteenth century. Probably it was Stephen Langton (d. 1228), archbishop of Canterbury, who worked out these chapter divisions. The first English Bible with present chapter and verse divisions was the Geneva Bible of 1560.

Of course, there were no Old and New Testaments before the coming of Christ. There was only one collection of sacred writings. But after the apostles and their associates produced another body of sacred literature, the church began to refer to Old and New Testaments. Actually Testament is the translation of the Greek word diathēkē, which might better be rendered covenant. It denotes an arrangement made by God for human spiritual guidance and benefit. This arrangement is unalterable; human beings may accept it or reject it but cannot change it. Covenant is a common Old Testament word, and several covenants are described in the Old Testament, the most prominent being the Mosaic. While Israel chafed and failed under the Mosaic covenant, God promised them a "new covenant" (Jeremiah 31:31).

The term new covenant appears several times in the New Testament. Jesus first used it when He instituted the ordinance we call the Lord's Supper; by it He sought to call attention to the new basis of communion with God that He intended to establish by His death (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). The apostle Paul spoke of this new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6, 14), as did the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 8:8; 9:11-15). The detailed description of God's new method of dealing with humanity (on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the cross) is the subject of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. God's dealing with people in a fashion anticipatory of the coming of Christ is certainly the major theme of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, though admittedly, the Old Testament concerns much more than that. Perhaps it should be noted that Latin Church writers rendered the Greek diathēkē by testamentum, and from them the use passed into English; so old and new covenants became Old and New Testaments.

From what has already been said, it should be clear that the Old Testament is not just a collection of religious essays that inspire antiquarian interest. It is a book that answers many of the big questions of life—where the earth and human beings came from, how sin entered the human race, and especially how the sin problem has been dealt with. It is a record of God's revelation of Himself to humanity, and thus is a revelation of the very nature of God. It discloses the divine plan for humanity's future (see especially the prophecies of Daniel and Isaiah). It details many facets of God's plan of salvation. And it provides examples of God's dealing with unbelievers and believers alike that are relevant for us today. In speaking of numerous Old Testament events and personalities, the apostle Paul said, "Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians 10:11, RSV).

How Can a Reader Make Sense Out of the Old Testament?

On the whole, the Old Testament follows a logical and easily understood arrangement. In fact, the first sixteen books appear in chronological order. Genesis records the creation of the universe and humanity, the fall of the human race into sin, the beginnings of civilization, and God's decision to call out from a debauched society Abraham, who was to be the father of a people especially destined to stand for the truth. Through Abraham a Messiah would come. The rest of Genesis concerns the activities of the patriarchs in Palestine and, finally, in Egypt where they migrated to escape a famine. The book of Exodus tells how the Hebrews became enslaved in Egypt, dramatically escaped in the Exodus under the leadership of Moses, and began their wilderness wanderings. En route they received the law and the plan for the tabernacle at Mount Sinai. Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy detail the priesthood and the legal system, continued wanderings of the people, and the conquest of land east of the Jordan River. At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses departed the scene, and Joshua assumed leadership of the Hebrews. The book of Joshua narrates the Hebrew conquest of Palestine. The book of Judges describes events during a subsequent, long period of time when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" and there was no king in Israel. The story of Ruth takes place during that era (Ruth 1:1) and notes the genealogy of David, the ancestor of the Messiah.

At the end of the period of the Judges, the Hebrews demanded a king like the nations surrounding them. In response, Samuel the prophet, under God's direction, anointed Saul as king. When Saul failed God and was rejected, Samuel anointed David. The books of Samuel tell of these two anointings, the conflict between Saul and David, and David's building of the Hebrew kingdom. The books of 1 and 2 Kings describe the glories of Solomon's reign, the split of the kingdom into the separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the fall of Israel to the Assyrians, and the fall of Judah to the Babylonians. Then 1 and 2 Chronicles recapitulate much of this history, beginning with the reign of David and concluding with not only the destruction of the northern and southern kingdoms but also a brief note about the return from captivity under Cyrus the Great of Persia. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther detail aspects of Hebrew restoration to Palestine under Persian auspices. Then follows a group of poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) written to a large degree by David and Solomon, but some authorship is uncertain.

The Old Testament closes with a collection of prophetic works divided into writings of the so-called Major and Minor Prophets. These writing prophets all date to the eras of the divided monarchy and the restoration but are not arranged chronologically. Nine wrote during the days of the Assyrian Empire (c. 900-612 b.c.): Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah. Four wrote during the Chaldean or Babylonian Empire period (612-539 b.c.): Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Daniel. And three wrote during the sixth and fifth centuries when Persians ruled the Middle East: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Generally speaking, the prophets preached moral and ethical conduct in the present and warned the Hebrews and their neighbors of impending judgment for their waywardness. But sometimes they did predict the future in general or very specific terms.

What Does Inspiration Mean?

The concept of inspiration is especially related to 2 Timothy 3:16 which should be translated, "All scripture is God-breathed." When Paul refers to "scripture" here, he has in mind primarily the Old Testament, because several New Testament books had not yet been written and many of those that were transcribed had not yet been widely circulated. If all Scripture is God-breathed, it is exactly what God wanted to say. If it is exactly what He wanted to say, nothing is lacking that He wished to include and nothing is added that He might wish left out. Moreover, the very words He wanted used are there, with all their intimations and innuendoes and implications. Above all, if Scripture is God-breathed, it is completely accurate; for God is the God of all truth and cannot commit error.

In saying that the very words are what God wanted used, we do not mean that He merely dictated to a penman. The fact that there is such a variety of style and vocabulary in the books of the Old Testament and that the personality of the writer shines through so often should be evidence enough that God did not destroy the individuality of the writers. Thus, the Old Testament is a divine-human book; divine truth is passed through the personality and experience of the authors of Scripture. Therefore, we may think of inspiration as a work of God in which He guided the writers of Scripture to pen the exact words He wished recorded. This guidance did not violate the personality of these writers; yet it guaranteed accuracy of doctrine, judgment, and historical and scientific fact.

This view of inspiration is the only one that takes into account all the claims of the numerous biblical references on the subject. We must reject all other theories of inspiration as inadequate. For instance, it is not enough to say that writers of Scripture possessed some special genius or insight, such as that demonstrated by a Milton or a Bunyan or a Shakespeare. Too much that appears in Scripture is infinitely beyond the comprehension or imagination of the most brilliant or even the most spiritual of men. Nor is it sufficient to say that inspiration is partial—applying only to truths unknowable by human reason and not to the historical sections of the Old Testament. How can we trust the Bible at all if such portions are shot through with error? How can we know that the doctrinal sections are not also unreliable? Neither can we be satisfied that inspiration is merely conceptual-extending to the ideas, but not to the words. Ill-chosen words may mute the force of a concept, change the nature of its impact, or alter the whole direction of its argument. We cannot settle for less than some sort of control over the very words of Scripture and the guarantee of their accuracy.

The Witness of the Authors

It is one thing to assert inspiration of the Old Testament; it is quite another to demonstrate it. Although there is no comprehensive claim of inspiration in the Old Testament, everywhere it is assumed and even asserted. Moses is said to have written down what God had revealed to him: "And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord" (Exodus 24:4; cf. Deuteronomy 27:8, NKJV). Isaiah (Isaiah 30:8) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 30:2) were commanded to do the same. Several writers were very sure that their pronouncements were God's Word. Moses declared, "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2, NASB).

Jeremiah claimed, "Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth" (Jeremiah 1:9). David asserted, "The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was in my tongue" (2 Samuel 23:2). Such expressions as "the Lord spoke" and "the word of the Lord came" are sprinkled liberally throughout the Old Testament. In fact, the claim is made that such expressions actually occur 3,808 times in the Old Testament. These examples of Old Testament claims of its own inspiration must be added to references that indicate God occasionally wrote by His own hand what He wanted to say (see, for example, Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:16; 1 Chronicles 28:19).

The Witness of Prophecy

One of the most remarkable witnesses to Old Testament inspiration is the fulfillment of prophecy. In most cases, hundreds of years before the events, the prophets predicted specific fulfillment. Details concerning the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the captivity and restoration of Israel, and judgment on numerous cities and empires surrounding Israel are all included in the extensive list of prophetic pronouncements that have been fulfilled. The cumulative effect of these predictions is tremendous. They had to come by divine inspiration; no seer with purely human resources could peer so perceptively, specifically, and accurately into the future.

The Witness of Jesus

The testimony of Jesus Christ is another powerful witness to the inspiration of the Old Testament. One of His most direct statements appears in Matthew 5:17, 18: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." In the larger context of chapter 5, it is clear that He was claiming the Old Testament to be of divine origin and binding on the Jews to whom He was speaking. Apparently He was using "the law" here to stand for the whole Old Testament. In verse 17 He mentioned "law and prophets" but: in verse 18 presumably found it unnecessary to repeat "prophets." Elsewhere He used "law" to refer to passages outside the first five books of the Old Testament (called the Law or Torah). See, for instance, John 10:34 where He quoted Psalm 82:6. The Matthew 5:17, 18 reference is especially significant because it appears in the Sermon on the Mount, which even the more severe textural critics acknowledge as a true statement of Jesus Christ. This passage is not an isolated indication, however, because Christ always supported the full truthfulness of Scripture in His parables, miracles, and comments on them, and in His numerous conversations. Hundreds of New Testament passages attest the fact. On occasion He spoke directly of divine inspiration of individual portions of the Old Testament, as for instance in Mark 12:36, where He referred to Psalm 110:1. Three times during His great temptation experience, He made appeal to the authority of the Old Testament to rout the tempter (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). And He very pointedly remarked that "scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35); that is, it cannot be annulled or abrogated. Even Jesus' enemies among the Pharisees and Sadducees never accused Him of disrespect toward or questioning of their sacred Scriptures.

The New Testament Witness

Jesus' testimony to divine inspiration of the Old Testament is corroborated and supplemented throughout the rest of the New Testament. Paul, as a good Pharisee, would be expected to support the accuracy and validity of the Old Testament at all times. The writer to the Hebrews likewise subscribed to God's involvement in the process of revelation and inspiration: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Hebrews 1:1, 2, NIV). One of the most significant New Testament passages on Old Testament inspiration is 2 Peter 1:20, 21, "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (NIV). The clear teaching of this passage is that the revelation of God did not come when great religious leaders of the past sought to make some religious pronouncement, but when certain holy men, chosen instruments, spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

The Witness in Judaism

What the Old Testament claimed for itself in terms of inspiration and what Jesus and the New Testament writers supported in this regard was further attested to in Judaism. The very high regard of Jews for the Old Testament is evident from many passages in the Talmud (a sort of encyclopedia of Jewish tradition), but it is especially spelled out in the forthright statement of the first century historian Flavius Josephus:

How firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed no one hath been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change; but it is become natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and if occasion be, willingly to die for them.

Before leaving this subject, it is necessary to distinguish inspiration from two other terms. "Inspiration" has to do with accurate reception and recording of God's truth. "Revelation" involves communication of God's message, and "illumination" concerns the Holy Spirit's ministry of giving understanding of truth already revealed (John 14:26).

Are the Text and History of the Old Testament Reliable?

Some have argued that it does not matter if the Old Testament was inspired in the original writings. They observe that those writings no longer exist and that copyists have made thousands of mistakes as they have reproduced the books of the Old Testament during the almost three thousand years (in some cases) before the advent of printing. As may be suspected, the editing and evaluation of Hebrew texts is a tedious and technical task. It is quite impossible even to provide an introduction to the subject here. We must make generalizations and draw on the conclusions of others.

Until after World War II the only Hebrew text of the Old Testament known was the one standardized between a.d. 500 and 900 by Jewish scholars called Masoretes. The oldest copies of that text in our possession were no older than about a.d. 900. By comparing this text with Greek and Latin and other Old Testament translations dating to a much earlier time, it could be shown that copying of the Hebrew text had been faithfully performed at least since around a.d. 200-300. All of our copies of the Hebrew text coming from a.d. 900 and later are in remarkably close agreement. In this regard, the late William Henry Green of Princeton commented, "The Hebrew manuscripts cannot compare with those of the New Testament either in antiquity or number, but they have been written with greater care and exhibit fewer various readings." Robert Dick Wilson, of the same generation at Princeton, supplemented Green's assertion: "An examination of the Hebrew manuscripts now in existence shows that in the whole Old Testament there are scarcely any variants supported by more than one manuscript out of 200 to 400, in which each book is found.... The Masoretes have left to us the variants which they gathered and we find that they amount altogether to about 1,200, less than one for each page of the printed Hebrew Bible." Moreover, "The various readings are for the most part of a trivial character, not materially affecting the sense."

While it is significant that there are few variations among Old Testament manuscripts dating since a.d. 900, one must wonder what happened during the previous two thousand three hundred years (in some cases) of transmission of the text. Something of an answer to such a query is provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the first of which were found in 1947. These manuscripts contain much more than biblical texts, but the biblical manuscripts include parts of every Old Testament book except Esther. Especially lengthy portions consist of a complete Isaiah, almost complete Leviticus and Psalms, and an Isaiah manuscript that includes most of chapters 35 through 66 and parts of earlier chapters. The scrolls date between about 250 b.c. and a.d. 70, thus pushing back the history of the Old Testament text about a millennium.

Remarkably, there are very few differences of any significance between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the previously existent Masoretic text. The incomplete scroll of Isaiah is almost letter for letter the same as the Masoretic Isaiah. For instance, in Isaiah 53 there are differences of only seventeen letters, most of which are merely variations in spelling; three letters introduce a word in the scroll copy of verse 11 which does not appear in the Masoretic text; however, this does not change the meaning of the passage. On the basis of the complete Isaiah from the scroll caves, thirteen minor changes were made in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible; but several of these were later thought unnecessary. Admittedly there are passages (notably in 1 Samuel) where some corruption of text seems to have occurred, but in general, it may be said that the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls is essentially that which we have possessed all along. No doctrine has been affected by copyists' changes, inadvertent or otherwise. R. Laird Harris concludes, "Indeed it would be rash skepticism that would now deny we have our Old Testament in a form very close to that used by Ezra when he taught the law to those who had returned from Babylonian captivity." Harris goes on to show that archaeology tends to confirm the accuracy of the text of even earlier centuries than when the scrolls were produced, for instance, in the faithful transmission of names of persons and peoples. He also notes that there is evidence of faithful copying in the transmission of parallel texts in the Old Testament. For example, large parts of Chronicles are found in Samuel and Kings and elsewhere and several Psalms occur twice in that book; such passages can be checked against each other to demonstrate accuracy in transmission.

Historical Accuracy of the Text

But conceivably, even incorrect information may be faithfully copied for a long period of time. Questions are often asked about the historical accuracy of the contents of the Old Testament. Many of these questions arose during the nineteenth century when little specific knowledge about the ancient Near East existed. As rationalistic critics increasingly investigated the Bible, they concluded that it was full of historical errors because history books had nothing to say about most of the peoples and events of the Bible.

But throughout the twentieth century, Near Eastern and classical archaeologists rapidly expanded their efforts. Libraries, palaces, forts, houses, and factories have come to light in increasing numbers. Cities such as Ur, Nineveh, Hazor, and Jericho, which had dropped out of sight, have been at least partially uncovered by excavators. The existence of such ancient peoples as the Hitties or Horites, once doubted, has been confirmed. Likewise, scores of biblical persons and their individual acts have been substantiated by the excavator's pick and trowel. King Ahab did rule over Israel with his wife Jezebel; one may stroll past the ruins of his palace at Samaria. Sargon II of Assyria (Isaiah 20:1) was no figment of the prophet's imagination as once charged; he ruled Assyria 722-705 b.c., built a new capital at Khorsabad, and erected a magnificent palace there. Shishak I of Egypt invaded Judah about 925 b.c. (1 Kings 14:25-28) as his inscriptions on a temple wall at Luxor, Egypt, attest. Babylonian records demonstrate that Belshazzar was in charge in Babylon when it fell to the Persians (Daniel 5), even though critics long claimed the account to be in error. Cyrus the Great of Persia did issue a decree permitting the Jews to return to Palestine from captivity in Babylon, as Ezra 1 says. Any visitor to the British Museum in London may see the inscription in the manuscript room. Moreover, the manuscript room also houses the inscription of Sargon II in which he tells of his invasion of Judah (Isaiah 36).

Of course, the testimony of archaeology is incomplete. Thousands of cities of the ancient world still lie under the sands of the Near East. With new information have come new problems of interpretation because in the fragmentary state of our knowledge the new discoveries do not always seem to jibe with biblical accounts. But to date, archaeological discoveries have not proved the Bible to be in error. New historical and archaeological investigations are constantly providing greater support for the historical accuracy of the Old Testament.

What Books Belong in the Old Testament?

To ask what books belong in the Old Testament is not a purely academic question. No individual believer can decide what a correct religious teaching is or determine God's instructions lor daily living except on the basis of authoritative Scripture. He or she wants to know how the Old Testament was compiled and whether or not all the books should be viewed as mandatory truth. What will we do with the conflicting claims of Protestants and Roman Catholics over the so-called Apocrypha?

The specific and detailed origins of the Old Testament are lost in antiquity, but there seem to be at least four criteria involved in the process of Old Testament formation: inspiration, the writer's official position, human reception, and collection or official ratification. Apparently the Old Testament was formed in a. very simple and natural way. God communicated His truth to and through men to whom He imparted a prophetic gift. The recipients recognized them as men of God with a message from the Most High. Their written messages were received as obligatory on the people and were officially accepted by the populace as a whole and by the religious leaders more specifically.

To begin with, the two tablets of the Law (written by God Himself) were placed in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:21), the most priceless possession of Israel; and all of Moses' Laws (the first five books of the Old Testament, one fourth of the total) were written in a book (scroll) and kept beside the ark (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). The commands of the Law were binding on Joshua, Moses' successor (Joshua 1:7, 8); and they were enjoined on all the people of Israel in a great ceremony in the vicinity of Shechem soon after Joshua led them into the land (Joshua 8:30-35). In the future, when Israel would set up a kingdom, the king was to have a personal copy of the Law and to live by its precepts (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Kings were judged according to obedience to the Law (e.g., 2 Kings 18:6). Both Israel and Judah were carried into captivity because of failure to obey it (2 Kings 17:7-23; 18:11, 12; Daniel 9:11-13). Jews who returned from the captivity fully recognized the Law of Moses as binding upon them (Ezra 3:1, 2; Nehemiah 8:1-8; 10:28, 29). The criteria noted above are clearly evident here. God spoke to Moses on the mount and even wrote on two tablets of stone. The priests and the people as a whole received the five books of Moses as God's Word. A copy of the books was kept near the ark and was supposed to be kept by the king. Moses was God's spokesman, accredited by miracles in the court of Pharaoh and in the wilderness and vindicated against those who disputed his divinely appointed leadership by judgment direct from the hand of God (see Numbers 16 and 12:6-8). All this adds up to a public and an official adoption of the five books of Moses as sacred Scripture.

God promised Moses that He would raise up a whole line of prophets after him in Israel, culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). The primary function of these men was to proclaim the truth of God; and of course, they would also predict the future. Joshua may qualify as a prophetic successor of Moses. The early Jewish work Ecclesiasticus (composed about 180 b.c.) calls Joshua the "successor of Moses in prophecies." His leadership in Israel was attested by miracles (crossing of the Jordan and fall of the walls of Jericho), and he did predict at least one event that came true (Joshua 6:26; cf. 1 Kings 16:34). In any case, Joshua 24:26 says he "wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God" (NKJV), presumably referring to our book of Joshua. Since he wrote in "the Book of the Law of God," it would appear that he simply added to the already officially recognized writings of Moses. Possibly Samuel the prophet wrote Judges and 1 Samuel down to 25:1, when he died. Presumably the prophets Nathan and Gad took up the account there (1 Chronicles 29:29), and the prophets Abijah and Iddo continued the narrative later (2 Chronicles 9:29). Other prophets apparently contributed to the writing of Kings and Chronicles. Actually the Hebrew Bible calls Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings "the former prophets." Of course, writers of the many books of Old Testament prophecies were men who had official positions as prophets and whose messages were recognized as coming from God. We know less about the poetic books. David (a prophet according to Acts 2:30) wrote about half the Psalms. Other writers of Psalms—Heman, Jeduthun, and Asaph—are also called prophets (1 Chronicles 25:1-5). Presumably Solomon wrote Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes; and God spoke to him in visions and dreams like the other prophets.

While we do not have information on how all the Old Testament books were accepted by the Hebrews into their sacred collection (and there is not space here to discuss what we surmise), we do know that by New Testament times the Hebrews recognized as Scripture only our present thirty-nine books. The order in which they placed them was somewhat different from ours, however. After the Law and the prophets, they listed a group of writings that began with the Psalms and ended with 2 Chronicles. Luke 24:44 seems to refer to the entire Old Testament in this arrangement when it speaks of law, prophets, and psalms (which headed the last section of the Hebrew Bible).

Corroboration and Disputes

An especially valuable statement on the contents of the Old Testament appears in the writings of Flavius Josephus about a.d. 90. After referring to the contents of the sacred collection (the thirty-nine books we now have), he says no one had dared to add anything to them since the days of King Artaxerxes I of Persia (465-425 b.c.). In other words, nothing had been added since the writing of Malachi around the end of Artaxerxes' reign. The testimony of this learned Jew is important not only for the date of the close of the Old Testament but also in answering the late date that liberal critics assign to such books as Daniel and Ecclesiastes.

It should not be assumed from what has been said that there was no debate among the Hebrews over whether or not some books should be included in the Old Testament. However, this discussion did not reflect any general opposition to any one of the books and did not delay their acceptance as Scripture. Individual Jewish rabbis and their followers expressed these doubts. Questions arose particularly over Esther, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. Though questioned because it did not mention the name of God, Esther was seen to reflect everywhere the provident hand of God in human affairs. The Song of Solomon was opposed because some passages bordered on the erotic if taken literally. When interpreted allegorically to refer to God's love for Israel, it was no longer questioned. Inclusion of Ecclesiastes was disputed because of alleged pessimism and Epicureanism; but as the author's special technique and purpose became more fully understood, opposition declined.

In more recent centuries there has been a continuing debate between Protestants and Roman Catholics over whether or not the apocryphal books are part of the Old Testament. The fourteen books in question are 1, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Remainder of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Song of the Three Children, History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, and 1, 2 Maccabees. While these books do help to fill in the gap between the Old and New Testaments, especially as they reflect religious viewpoints and provide some knowledge of the history of the times (notably 1 Maccabees), they have no real claim to being part of authoritative Scripture. They do not claim to be Scripture, were not considered to be so by Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate, and were not even officially recognized by the Roman Church until the Council of Trent: (1545-63). The Hebrew Old Testament never included them, nor did Josephus or the great Philo of Alexandria (who lived about the time of Christ). The early lists of the Apocrypha disagree considerably in their contents, and none of them have the exact list that the Roman Church approved. Moreover, they abound in historical, geographical, and chronological inaccuracies, teach doctrines at variance with inspired Scripture, and contain folklore, myth, legend, and fiction.

How Does the Old Testament Relate to the New Testament?

The Old and New Testaments are simply component parts of one divine revelation. The Old Testament describes human beings in the first paradise on the old earth; the New Testament concludes with a vision of them in the new heaven and new earth. The Old Testament sees people as fallen from a sinless condition and separated from God; the New Testament views them as restored to favor through the sacrifice of Christ. The Old Testament predicts a coming Redeemer who will rescue humanity from the pit of condemnation; the New Testament reveals the Christ who makes salvation possible. In most of the Old Testament the spotlight focuses on a sacrificial system in which the blood of animals provides a temporary handling of the sin problem; in the New, Christ appears as the One who came to put an end to all sacrifice—to be Himself the supreme sacrifice. In the Old Testament numerous predictions foretell a coming Messiah who will save His people; in the New, scores of passages detail how those prophecies were minutely fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham and the son of David. As St. Augustine said more than 1500 years ago:


The New is in the Old concealed;

The Old is in the New revealed.

The New is in the Old contained;

The Old is in the New explained.

The New is in the Old enfolded;

The Old is in the New unfolded.