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What is the Old Testament in the Books of the Bible?

The Old Testament in the books of the Bible is the Hebrew Septuagint of the Jews. It was also the only Holy Scripture for Christians at first. With the stories about Jesus, a second volume of the Bible was later added for them. They called the two parts the Old and New Testaments. However, this formulation sounds like the Hebrew Bible is outdated and perhaps no longer valid. Today, therefore, more and more people speak of the First and Second Testaments out of respect. That is also more correct for the Second Testament because this part of the Christian Bible is no longer new.

Because the earlier names were used for centuries, it is not easy to get used to them. Many people today still speak of the Old and New Testaments out of habit or old tradition.

The structure of the Old Testament

It is not easy to get an overview of the structure of the Old Testament and, thus, the order of the 39 Old Testament writings. Within the Protestant churches, there is one structure and version of the Old Testament in the books of the Bible. Also, within the Catholic Church, another, and within Judaism, a third. Within the Catholic Church, the Old Testament canon also includes the writings that Protestants refer to as the Old Testament Apocrypha. The Catholic name for these writings is, therefore, the Deuterocanonical Scriptures.

But the major Christian denominations agree to let the Old Testament in the books of the Bible end with the text of the prophet Malachi. It is a small book of prophets, which ends with a prediction of the coming of the prophet Elias. He will come to turn the hearts of fathers and sons to each other. It is interpreted in a Christian context as a prophecy that points toward the New Testament. And which is thus a prediction of the coming of Christ. On the whole, Christians have read parts of the Old Testament as a promise of Christ from the very beginning.

Within Judaism, there are 39 books in the Old Testament, as in the Protestant canon, but in a different order. Among other things, the last writing is not the Book of Malachi, but the First Chronicles and Second Chronicles, whose last words are about rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Jewish tradition, this points forward to the Messiah, who is waited for and hoped for, and to what he will do. With these different endings to the Old Testament within Judaism and Christianity, you get a clear impression of what the two religions emphasise and look forward to.

old testament in the books of the bible

The content of the Old Testament

Traditionally, the Old Testament’s 39 writings are divided into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This makes many Old Testament writings easier to understand.

The law

The law is the term for the books of Moses. Genesis begins with the story of the world’s creation and the first people, the so-called primordial history. It extends over the first eleven chapters, where you hear about all of humanity.

From chapter 12, the perspective narrows, continuing with the more specific story of God’s selection of Abraham and his family, which is then followed. After Abraham came to Isaac and after Isaac, Jacob, who is named Israel, is how the Jewish people came into being. The 12 sons of the man Israel become the ancestors of the 12 tribes of the people of Israel, followed both through the books of Moses and in the following scriptures.

In Exodus, you have the story of Moses, the deliverance from Egypt, and the covenant between God and the people on Mount Sinai. In this connection, the people are given the ten commandments on two tablets of the law. But they are given many more commandments and ordinances, which you hear about in large parts of the other bog books. But even if the five bog books are generally, and with good reason, called the Law, they also contain a lot of narrative material.

The prophets

The part of the Old Testament, called the Prophets, consists of several so-called “early prophets.” “So-called” because you could also consider them as narrative material. These are the Book of Joshua, the Book of Judges, and the Book of First Kings. And the Book of Second Kings and the Book of First Samuel and Second Samuel.

In addition, the prophetic books also belong to the Prophets. These are the “great prophets,” the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Jeremiah, and the Book of Ezekiel. As well as the “Book of the Twelve Prophets,” which are the twelve minor prophetic writings:

  1. the Book of Hosea
  2. the Book of Joel
  3. Book of Amos
  4. the Book of Obadiah
  5. the Book of Jonah
  6. Book of Micah
  7. the Book of Nahum
  8. Book of Habakkuk
  9. the Book of Zephaniah
  10. Book of Haggai
  11. the Book of Zechariah
  12. Book of Malachi

As mentioned, the book of the prophet Isaiah is one of the best-known and most used prophetic writings in the Christian tradition. This is due, among other things, to the fact that it contains prophecies about a figure who is usually called the ‘Suffering Servant of the Lord (Book of Isaiah ch.53). Whose suffering means that all other people go free. Christians have read this prophecy at all times as a prediction of Jesus Christ and his death for the sake of mankind.

The Scriptures

The writings are the remaining writings of the Old Testament in the Books of the Bible, namely the Book of Psalms, the Book of Job, the Book of Proverbs, the Book of Ruth, the Song of Songs, the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Lamentations the Book of Esther, the Book of Daniel, the Book of Ezra, the Book of Nehemiah,  and First Chronicles and Second Chronicles.

The writings are primarily a collection of philosophical and poetic books, but with widely different content and style. The prophetic writings and most of the books of Moses are primarily about the Israelite people; for example, the Book of Ecclesiastes and the Book of Proverbs contain what can be called general wisdom that can apply to all people. But there are also books in the Scriptures that tell about Israel’s history, including the First and Second Chronicles.

Among the Scriptures, it is probably the Book of Psalms that is the best known. The Psalms, or Psalms of David, as they are also called, are used extensively in Christian churches. It is a collection of prayers and hymns traditionally attributed to King David – hence the name.

The Old Testament as the scriptures of the Jews

As it was said, the Old Testament is also the holy scripture of the Jews. On the other hand, it is only if you are a Christian that you call it the Old Testament. This presupposes that you have a new one. For Jews, the New Testament is not part of the Bible because, as a Jew, one does not regard Jesus as the Son of God or the Messiah.

Therefore, Jews do not use the term “Old Testament.” Instead,” they use the word TaNaKh, which is a combination of the initial letters of the Hebrew words for Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi’im), and Scriptures (Ketuvim).

Representation of the Old Testament in the books of the Bible

old testament in the books of the bible


Genres of The Old Testament

Within the Old Testament’s 39 writings, there are several different genres, including poetry, prophetic literature, and law.


The Book of Psalms, the Book of Job, and the Song of Songs are examples of poetic texts in the Old Testament. The poetic texts in the Old Testament and the books of the Bible are shaped differently than we know poetry in our part of the world. For example, rhyme and rhythm are not used. But the verses are built on phenomena such as the parallelism of the joints and the acrostic.

The parallelism of the clauses means that the clauses or the meaning of a sentence are repeated in several consecutive lines or verses – this is seen in Psalm 1,1. Acrostic implies that the first line of a text begins with the first letter of the alphabet, the second line with the second letter, and so on. This poetic feature is used in Psalm 119 but is lost in the Danish translation.

In general, however, poetry can be defined in the same way as the poetry we know from our time and culture: These are texts that are structured in a certain way. And that often use images to convey what might otherwise be difficult to describe.

Prophetic literature

We meet the Old Testament prophets in part of the narrative texts in the Old Testament (for example, First and Second Kings) and in whole books with prophetic statements which bear their name (for example, the Book of Isaiah). They can address the entire Israelite/Jewish people or, more specifically, the political rulers. The prophetic writings can also contain so-called random oracles and unlucky ones, promises of salvation and judgment.

But the writings of the prophets are also built mainly on religious criticism of social inequality. Just as the prophets often stand as a counter to political power.

The prophetic literature, therefore, not only contains predictions about something in the future. But it is just as much a statement about the times in which prophetic literature was written. This is connected to the fact that a prophet’s most important task is not to predict the future but to speak in God’s language for half of the present. The word ‘prophet’ comes from the Latin ‘profemi,’ which means ‘to recite.’

Legislation of the Old Testament in the Books of the Bible

The background for all types of rules in the Old Testament is religious, but the laws deal with very different parts of life. Thus, the law in the Old Testament in the Books of the Bible can be both actual legal and cultic/religious rules and guidelines for civil life.

Most laws are found in the books of Moses, and the most prominent part of the law is the Ten Commandments ( Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 ).

You might also want to know.

1. What is the difference between the New and Old Testaments?

The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that the Old Testament is described the story of the affirmation of the God-human covenant. With the blessing of the newly created humans, with the covenant with Noah, the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Law at Sinai, the covenant with the house of David. The New Testament describes the story of the affirmation of a new God-human covenant in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

2. Who uses the Old Testament?

The Old Testament has been sacred scripture for Judaism and Christianity since ancient times. For Christianity, the Old Testament is the first part of the Bible.

3. Who wrote the Bible?

The Bible’s texts were written from around 600 BC to 200 AD by different biblical characters. In other words, several generations of authors are behind biblical texts, and their identity is mainly lost in the distant past. One of the few biblical authors who can be identified with certainty is Paul.

4. How long is the Old Testament?

The Old Testament consisted of 39 different writings written in Persian-Hellenistic times. That is, from about 539 to about 160 BC.

5. How many books are there in the Old Testament?

The Bible consists of 66 books and letters, divided into the Old Testament with 39 books and the New Testament with 27.

6. What is the Old Testament about?

The Old Testament consists of many writings with very different contents: myths, legends, historical accounts, poetry, philosophy, prophecies, etc. The reports are in Hebrew with a few passages, especially in the Book of Daniel, in Aramaic.

7. Which Bible should I buy?

In English, the best-known Bible is the 1992 Authorised Translation (DO92), the Bible in Everyday English (BPH), and the Bible 2020 (DO20). And then some swear by the “old translation,” usually the 1948 Authorised Translation. Looking into the English-speaking world, the range is even more comprehensive.

Primary Takeaways

  • The Old Testament in the Books of the Bible consists of 39 writings;
  • The Old Testament can be divided into three text categories: Poetry, prophetic literature, and law;
  • The first five books of the Old Testament in the Books of the Bible are referred to by Jews as ‘Torah,’ meaning ‘the law’;
  • The Old Testament is also called the Hebrew Bible.


The Old Testament is mainly about the creation of humans and the world and God and the people of Israel.

The Old Testament does not constitute any actual unity but is a composite and edited version of the Bible, containing different writings that vary significantly in length and content.