The “Old” or ‘First’ Testament

The first five books of the Bible are called the Torah by Jewish people who consider these the most sacred of all texts. Christians refer to these books as the Pentateuch (Gk ‘Five scrolls’). Muslims also regard these books as sacred. With the Pentateuch, there are 46 books in the ‘Old’ or ‘First’ Testament:

Pentateuch – first 5 books, the Torah. These books introduce the important them of ‘Covenant’, a relationship between God and God’s chosen people. God initiates the covenant, a mutual commitment between God and people, of enduring fidelity and love. The relationship between God and the people is not separable from relationships among people themselves and with foreigners and strangers.

Historical – 16 books of religious ‘history’. These books are not ‘history’ in the sense we usually understand the term, although many stories have their origins in events of history. The stories are really about relationships between God and people.

Wisdom – 7 books of ‘wisdom’ concerned with what it means to live a good life. These books include poetry and wise sayings such as proverbs. The Book of Job addresses the problem of suffering, by telling the story of Job, a man who experiences great misfortune. Job’s friends, wanting easy answers, try to tell him his suffering is caused by his sin. Job’s refuses to accept this answer. Centuries later, Jesus will also refuse to accept society’s willingness to condemn those who suffer as ‘sinners.’ Instead he will undergo suffering himself– revealing new life and hope are possible beyond all suffering and death.

Prophets – 18 books including the promises and warnings of prophets who spoke for God. The prophets called people back to faithful living of their covenant with God. The prophets continually reminded their hearers that justice and care for all, including society’s poorest and most vulnerable were expressions of covenant living, and worship was empty without it. The prophets told the people they would bring disaster upon themselves if they did not remain true to this covenant with God.

Catholic bibles include several books originally written in Greek, rather than Hebrew, naming these ‘Deuterocanonical’ (Gk ‘second canon’). Jewish people regard the Greek texts as very special, but not part of sacred Scripture.

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