Old Testament

OLD TESTAMENT. The OT is composed of thirty-nine books—five of law, twelve of history, five of poetry, five of major prophets, and twelve of minor prophets. The classification of the present Hebrew Bible is different—five of law, eight of prophets, and eleven of miscellaneous writings. These twenty-four in various combinations contain all of our thirty-nine books. Neither of these classifications exhibits the fact that much of the Pentateuch is history, nor do they show the chronological relation of the books. A logical survey of the OT literature may approach the subject chronologically.

I. Before Abraham. The first eleven chapters of Genesis give a brief outline of major events from the creation to the origin of the Jewish people in Abraham. Gen.1.1-Gen.1.31 is a majestic revelation of God creating all the material and organic universe, climaxing in man. This picture is not given in the categories of modern science and yet is in general agreement with much modern scientific theory. A prominent contemporary theory declares that all matter had a beginning in the distant but measurable past with a vast nuclear explosion, from which the universes have been differentiated. Creation of the universe or of man is not dated in Genesis. The creation of plants, animals, and human beings is spread over six “days.” Gen.2.1-Gen.2.25 and Gen.3.1-Gen.3.24 detail the special creation of human beings and God’s dealing with them in Eden. Adam and Eve on probation fell into sin, and the race was involved in sin and misery. God, however, promised a Redeemer (Gen.3.15) and instituted sacrifice as a type that redemption.

II. The Flood. As people multiplied, sin increased, and God sent a flood to destroy all mankind (Gen.6.1-Gen.6.22-Gen.8.1-Gen.8.22). Evidence is accumulating that about 8000 b.c. some catastrophe associated with increased sedimentation on ocean floors occurred, perhaps having to do with glacial formation and with the change of polar climates, resulting in the destruction and freezing of great numbers of mammoths, notably in Siberia, and other animals. Many widely separated cultures, including the old Babylonian, preserve legends of a great flood.

III. Early Genealogies. Preflood and postflood genealogies seem to be schematic and incomplete, as are other biblical genealogies. If Gen.11.10-Gen.11.26 has no gaps, Shem outlived Abraham, but no other hint of this is given in the biblical picture.

IV. Abraham and the Patriarchs. As sin again increased, God chose Abraham to found a new nation, which God would protect, isolate to a degree, and through whom he would reveal himself at last as Savior. Abraham left polytheistic Mesopotamia and lived in Canaan, where God instructed and blessed him, his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob. From Jacob came the twelve sons who fathered the tribes of Israel. The midpoint of Genesis, Gen.25.1-Gen.25.34, records the death of Abraham, who lived in the Middle Bronze Age, about 1900 b.c. His main characteristic was faith. To the sacrifices God now added infant circumcision as a sign of his covenant. Although circumcision was practiced elsewhere in antiquity, infant circumcision seems to have been unique. It was to be a sign both of the material and spiritual aspects of the covenant.

V. Bondage and Exodus (Exod.1.1-Exod.1.22-Exod.19.1-Exod.19.25). Through providential circumstances of famine and through Joseph’s exaltation, God took Jacob’s family to Egypt for a period of growth. At first it was sheltered under Joseph’s viziership. Later Israel was enslaved. God saw their bitter bondage and through Moses delivered Israel by an outstretched hand. Ever since, Israel has remembered the deliverance from Pharaoh’s army when the Lord brought them through the Red Sea (actually, one of the lakes through which the Suez Canal now passes). God led Israel to Mount Sinai, where the company of slaves became a nation under Moses, the great lawgiver, and where the Ten Commandments and other legislation were received.

The date of the Exodus has been much discussed. The biblical data (1Kgs.6.1; Judg.11.26; Acts.13.20) appears to favor a date of 1440 or 1400 b.c. (lxx) and a conquest of Palestine in the Amarna Age. Some of the archaeological evidence favors this, but some is interpreted to favor an invasion at about 1230. There was indeed a general desolation of Palestinian cities at that time, but was it by Joshua’s conquest or because of other conflicts in the troubled period at the beginning of the Iron Age? The cities of Palestine also changed hands in the Amarna Age—about 1360—and this date for Joshua’s conquest is preferable.

VII. The Wilderness (Num.11.1-Num.11.35-Num.36.1-Num.36.13). Numbers adds some laws to Leviticus but mainly records the abortive attempt to invade Canaan from the south and the experiences during the forty years of wilderness wanderings. The first numbering is not a mere census but a mustering of the ranks for the invasion. In Num.14.1-Num.14.45 Israel at Kadesh Barnea hears the reports of the spies and, in little faith, fails to conquer. Condemned to wander, they live as nomads at the edge of the arable land in Sinai until the “generation of wrath” dies. Several of the rebellions of these years are given in Numbers. At the end of the book a new mustering of the people provides 600,000 fighting men for Joshua’s army. These numbers seem large, but in those days they allowed for no exemptions from the army for physical or other reasons. The numbers compare favorably with David’s manpower of 1,300,000 and Saul’s army of 330,000 and the figures in Judg.20.2, Judg.20.15 of 426,000.

VIII. Deuteronomy. Moses conquered Transjordan and allowed two and a half tribes to settle there. In Deuteronomy Moses records this campaign and recounts much of the history and regulations of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

IX. Job. The date of Job is uncertain. As it seems to speak of a time before the Levitical legislation and names descendants of Uz, Buz, and others of Abraham’s kin, it may be placed in the general time of Moses and in the area east of Palestine. It poses the problem of the suffering of the righteous and answers that the sovereign God has his own purposes, for which he is not answerable to people. It suggests a further answer that apparent injustices in the treatment of people are to be adjusted in a future life.

X. The Conquest. Joshua’s invasion of Canaan is detailed in the first half of his book, Josh.1.1-Josh.1.18-Josh.12.1-Josh.12.24. In a whirlwind campaign, after the miracles of the crossing of Jordan and the fall of Jericho, he gained possession of the middle of the country. At Aijalon he conquered the army of the southern confederacy and, thanks to the extended day of the battle, demolished the enemy before it took refuge in its cities. The deserted cities were then easily taken. Shortly, he turned north to Hazor and its confederates and won a signal victory, burning it to the ground. But Israel did not at once effectively occupy the area. The Canaanites reestablished themselves in many cities. Key fortresses like Beth Shan, Megiddo, and Jerusalem were not subdued. The land was allocated to the tribes in the last half of the Book of Joshua, but the period of the judges witnessed various battles, with the Israelites restricted mainly to the central mountain section.

XI. The Judges and Ruth. For some 350 years the Israelites lived disorganized and to an extent disunited. Frequently falling into apostasy, they were punished by God. Then a leader arose for military deliverance and often for spiritual reviving as well. Sketches of six of these twelve judgeships are given. The rest are barely named. The beautiful account of Ruth, the Moabite convert, belongs in this time.

XII. The Early Monarchy. The last judge was Samuel. In his days Philistine expansion became a great threat to Israel. The sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed, as excavations also attest, at about 1050 b.c. The nation was laid low. Yet under the leadership of four great men, Israel in one hundred years attained its peak of greatness. Samuel, the first of these men, was a prophet of power. His preaching, prayers, and policies led to an evangelical revival that was the basis for much of Israel’s later successes. He was followed by Saul, who was capable but not good. Condemned in the records for his disobedience, he nevertheless seems to have made a real military contribution to Israel’s unity. His army numbered 330,000 men. He gained important victories in the south and east and had some limited successes against the Philistines. His strength was sapped by disobedience to God and insane jealousy of David. He made a pitiable spectacle at the house of the witch of Endor before his final failure, in which he dragged down his fine son Jonathan and all Israel with him to defeat.

XIII. The Golden Age. David’s history as king begins in 2 Samuel, which parallels 1 Chronicles after the first nine chapters of genealogies in the latter book. God had schooled David the hard way. Highly emotional, and consecrated to God as a child, he had gone through deep waters. Military lessons had been learned in repeated dangers when he was exiled by Saul. Faith was begotten and tested in adversity. Eventually God used this background to make David Israel’s greatest conqueror and best-loved poet, the founder of the royal house and reestablisher of the Lord’s worship. Family troubles resulting from David’s grievous sin with Bathsheba marred his later days, but the greatness of the man was shown in the depth of his repentance. He was a man after God’s own heart.

In David’s day people would probably have honored him mostly for his military successes, his power, and his wealth; but actually, his greatest blessing to mankind has doubtless been his work in the establishing of psalmody. David composed at least half of the psalms and arranged for the temple choirs and for Israel’s liturgy. 1Chr.15.1-1Chr.15.29-1Chr.16.1-1Chr.16.43 and 1Chr.25.1-1Chr.25.31 tell something of this work. Amos.6.5 mentions his lasting fame as an inventor of musical instruments. David’s psalms of praise have lifted up the hearts of millions in godly worship. His psalms of trust in the midst of trouble have for centuries comforted those in sorrow and in despair. Ps.23.1-Ps.23.6 is perhaps the best-loved of the OT. In the hour of death and in times of deliverance alike, it has expressed the faith of untold multitudes of God’s people. Associated with David in song were the prophets Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and others.

Solomon inherited David’s vast kingdom, which reached from the Euphrates in Syria to the border of Egypt and from the desert to the sea. To these large possessions Solomon added the natural resources of the copper mines south of the Dead Sea. He built a famous foundry at Ezion Geber, using the force of the prevailing winds to increase the temperature of his fires. For the first time people had harnessed the forces of nature in industrial processes. The products of his industry he exported in lucrative trade that drenched Jerusalem in opulence. His building program was extensive and is illustrated by many excavations, especially at Megiddo. It is best remembered in his construction of the temple, described in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. This remarkable building was so engineered that the stones were cut at a distance and the sound of a hammer was not heard on the spot. It was double the dimensions of the wilderness tabernacle and more lavishly adorned. Its two rooms repeated the tabernacle plan with the inner shrine, a suitable type of the holiness of God, who is unapproachable except through atoning blood. In the outer room the priests maintained the light of the seven-branched candelabra, symbolic of the Holy Spirit; the bread of the Presence, typical of the communion of persons with God; and the altar of incense, representing the prayers of saints. The building was about thirty feet (nine m.) high and wide, and ninety feet (twenty-eight m.) long. A porch in front was also thirty feet (nine m.) high (according to some texts), and the building was flanked on each side with three stories of rooms for priests’ quarters and storage. In the front court was the great altar where Israel declared its faith that there is remission of sin through the blood of a substitute. Nearer the temple was the large and ornate laver or “sea” for the cleansing of the priests. Near the end of his reign Solomon and his kingdom decayed. Solomon probably did not marry his many women because of lust, but because of his extensive political alliances. They proved his undoing, however. He had married these foreign women (“outlandish women,” Neh.13.26 kjv) and joined them to some extent in their heathen worship. For this compromise he was rejected.

XIV. Divided Monarchy to Ahab. Solomon’s sins bore bitter fruit. Rehoboam attempted to maintain the old glory without returning to the old sources of power. God punished him and all Israel by allowing division. Jeroboam I took ten tribes and established the northern kingdom about 920 b.c. Ahijah promised him God’s blessing if he would do God’s will, but for political reasons he at once broke with the worship of the Lord at Jerusalem. He set up golden calves at Dan and Bethel in the north and south of his realm, instituted a new priesthood and counterfeit feasts. He thus sealed his doom. Following kings did not depart from Jeroboam’s sins. In the next two hundred years of its existence the northern kingdom had nine dynasties and many revolutions, and they sank deeply into idolatry. The southern kingdom, Judah, had its troubles, but many of its kings, such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah were great and good men.

The north fell most deeply into the worship of Baal of Phoenicia in the reign of Ahab. He was faced with the threat of the Assyrian Empire expanding to the west. His policy was to form a western coalition. Thus he married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Tyre. He united with Jehoshaphat of Judah, marrying his daughter to Jehoshaphat’s son. Politically he was successful, and his coalition at the battle of Qarqar in 854 b.c. stopped the Assyrians. The Assyrian records tells us that Ahab was their principal opponent.

Religiously, Ahab was a failure. The Bible, being more interested in character than in conquest, shows the unvarnished sins of Ahab and his queen, Jezebel. At this time the great prophets Elijah and Elisha ministered in the north. Their deeds are graphically told (1Kgs.17.1-1Kgs.17.24-2Kgs.13.1-2Kgs.13.25). Only a passing reference is made to them in Chronicles, which is a book more interested in Judah. Elijah, the fearless prophet who stood alone on Mount Carmel, was one of two men in all history taken to heaven without death. Encouraged by Elisha, Jehu revolted, exterminated the dynasty of Ahab, slaughtered the devotees of Baal, and even killed Ahaziah of Jerusalem who was in Samaria at the time.

XV. The Kingdoms to Hezekiah. For the chronology of the kingdoms, a reliable guide is E. R. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (rev. ed., 1983). The dynasty of Jehu began about 840 b.c. and lasted a century, its chief king being Jeroboam II, 793 to 753. The kings of Judah included some good men, but from about 740 to 722 both kingdoms were evil and felt the scourge of the great Assyrian monarchs—Tiglath-Pileser, Shalmaneser, Sargon, and Sennacherib. This was the time of Isaiah and the first six minor prophets. Their messages in the north went unheeded, and Samaria was destroyed in 722. In Judah there was a revival under Hezekiah, and God wonderfully delivered him.

XVI. Isaiah and His Contemporaries. Hosea, Amos, and Micah prophesied especially to Israel; Obadiah and Joel preached to the southern kingdom; Jonah, the disobedient prophet, finally ministered in Nineveh. His experiences in the fish’s belly—miraculous, of course—may well have affected his skin and compelled attention from the Ninevites. And quite likely the repentance of the Ninevites may well have delayed their invasion of Israel for a generation. However, their repentance did not have lasting results in the Assyrian Empire. Amos and Micah forthrightly denounced the sins of the court and of the rich men of Israel. At the same time, Amos and Hosea, especially, denounced the idolatry of Bethel and of Samaria. Against the background of rebuke, these prophets announced Israel’s and Judah’s hope—the coming of the child from David’s city, Bethlehem, and the reestablishing of the fallen tabernacle of David. To Isaiah, the evangelical prophet, it was given to condemn Ahaz for his idolatry, to encourage Hezekiah in his reforms, and to see beyond his day the threat of Babylon, the liberation of the exiles by Cyrus, and the coming of the Messiah in future suffering and glory. We think instinctively of the prediction of the virgin birth of Christ in Isa.7.14, of the atonement in Isa.53.1-Isa.53.12 and of the portrayal of the new Jerusalem in Isa.60.1-Isa.60.22.

XVII. Judah’s Fall. The reforms of Hezekiah were engulfed in the long and wicked reign of his son Manasseh. Further decline followed in Amon’s two years. Then in 640 b.c. the good king Josiah came to the throne. In Josiah’s thirteenth year, Jeremiah began his ministry; and in five more years Josiah, in a real revival, invited all Judah and the remnant of Israel to a great Passover. But, as a reading of Jeremiah shows, the mass of the people were not changed. Josiah’s successors again did evil.

In 612 b.c. Babylon conquered Nineveh, and the Assyrian government fled west. Egypt assisted Assyria, attempting to keep the old balance of power. On Egypt’s first march north against Babylon, Josiah attempted to prevent Pharaoh Neco’s passage at Megiddo and was killed. His son Jehoahaz succeeded him, but when Neco returned southward in three months, he took Jehoahaz to Egypt as a hostage and set his brother Jehoiakim on the throne. In 605 Nebuchadnezzar in his first year conquered the Assyrian and Egyptian forces at Carchemish on the Euphrates and proceeded south to Judah. He received Jehoiakim’s submission and carried Daniel and others into captivity. In 597 Jehoiakim died, perhaps by assassination, and his son Jehoiachin took the throne, revolting against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar came and on March 15, 597 (see tablets published by D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldean Kings, 1956, p. 33), destroyed Jerusalem and took Ezekiel and others captive. He put a third son of Josiah, Zedekiah, on the throne. Zedekiah continued the wicked policies of the others. In 586 he too rebelled, and Nebuchadnezzar returned in a final thrust, devastating Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. Palestine never fully recovered.

Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah were early contemporaries of Jeremiah. Nahum predicted the downfall of Nineveh. Habakkuk is famous for contrasting the wicked Babylonian invader with the just person who lives by faith.

In Jeremiah’s ministry to his people, he rebuked them for sin and idolatry. The Assyrian and Babylonian gods had filtered into Judah until Judah’s idols were as numerous as the streets in Jerusalem. When some Jews had gone to Babylon, Jeremiah counseled the later kings to submit. Resistance was futile and would make it hard for those Jews already in exile. God would care for Israel in captivity and in seventy years would bring them back (Jer.25.11-Jer.25.12).

XVIII. The Exile. For seventy years, from about 605 b.c. to about 538, the Jews were slaves in Babylon. Some Jews were left in Judah, and Jeremiah at first ministered to them. Many Jews had fled to Egypt, and finally Jeremiah was taken to Egypt by some of these men. In Babylon God blessed the Jews and kept them in the faith through the witness of Ezekiel, Daniel, and others.

Ezekiel prophesied to his people in exile, being still greatly concerned with Jerusalem before its final fall. Like Jeremiah, he used many object lessons in his preaching. Finally came the word that the city had fallen (Ezek.33.1-Ezek.33.33). Thereafter Ezekiel emphasized more the coming of the Davidic king, the Messiah. His final chapters picture in schematic form the reestablishment of the temple, a prophecy held by many to apply to millennial times. Daniel was a towering figure of those days. Beloved of God and granted many remarkable visions of the future times, he maintained his faith while he held an important position at court. His prophecies accurately depict the future kingdoms of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome and tell of both Christ’s first coming and his return. Christ’s own designation for himself, “Son of Man,” likely comes from this book. The book has been heavily attacked by criticism, but there is no good reason to deny the authorship by Daniel.

XIX. Postexilic Times. When Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon, his policy was to allow captive peoples to go home. Thus he befriended the Jews. Ezra and Nehemiah tell about these returns. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi prophesied in this period. Zerubbabel led back the first contingent of about 50,000 men shortly after Cyrus gave them permission. His work is detailed in Ezra.1.1-Ezra.1.11-Ezra.6.1-Ezra.6.22. He laid the foundation of the temple at once, but did not finish the temple until 516 b.c. under the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. A second contingent returned in 456 under Ezra, as is related in Ezra.7.1-Ezra.7.28-Ezra.10.1-Ezra.10.44. Nehemiah returned with various royal pledges in 444, and these two together did much work in restoring Jerusalem. Nehemiah organized the work and carried through the rebuilding of the wall. Ezra, a knowledgeable scribe in the law of Moses, instructed the people in the faith. Malachi, the final book of the OT, was written around 400. It reveals the problems of the day caused by insincerity among some of the priests themselves. But it also, like so many of the other prophets, pointed forward to messianic times. The OT closes with the annunciation of the rise of a new and greater prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah who would precede the Messiah of Israel.——RLH

“Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). This question, raised early in the church's history, has been the key issue in OT study. Dispute over the contents of the OT canon was not sparked until the Reformation. The need for vernacular translations was acknowledged in the early centuries when missionaries turned the Greek* and Hebrew* into Syriac,* Coptic,* Latin,* Ethiopic,* Georgian,* Armenian,* Gothic,* and a host of other tongues. Only during the Middle Ages was such translation proscribed. Then John Wycliffe's* work presaged an era which has seen parts of the Bible rendered into some 2,000 languages. Higher criticism,* with its queries into date, background, composition, and authorship, has been prominent only in the past two centuries. Not “which books nor what languages nor who wrote them,” but “how do we interpret them” is the continuing question.

(1) From the apostles to Augustine.

The Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip about the meaning of Isaiah 53; “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Following their Lord's example (“These are the Scriptures that testify about me,” John 5:39) the apostles began to read their Scriptures through eyes opened to deeper meanings.

In the OT they found prophecies which Jesus fulfilled, types which He completed, shadows of which He is the substance. Without questioning the factual character of the earlier events, they saw in them pointers to the fullness of time. What God had done in limited fashion in rescuing Israel from Egypt and settling her in the Promised Land, He was now doing for the church in lavish measure through Jesus, the Messiah. (a) Alexandria. Almost immediately the postapostolic generation found in the OT, not only pointers, but full charts of the future and detailed guides to holiness. Clement of Rome* (fl.c.90-100) used lives of individual Israelites as examples of waywardness and righteousness, and Rahab's scarlet cord as a picture of Jesus' blood.

The roots of the allegorizing technique adopted and exported by scholars like Clement of Alexandria* (155-c.220) and Origen* (c.185-c.254) were at least three: (i) rabbinic exegesis which allows a text great elasticity; (ii) OT studies of Philo,* who allegorized the Scriptures to find in them eternal verities akin to those of Greek philosophy; (iii) Plato's* teachings which separated what we know with our senses from eternal, real truths.

Planted in Christian soil, these roots were nourished by three convictions: (i) every word in Scripture was divinely inspired and, therefore, charged with hidden meaning; (ii) the OT everywhere spoke of Christ; (iii) where Christ was mentioned, His body, the church, was also in view.

Attempting to snatch the OT from his Jewish countrymen to protect it against the assaults of Marcion's* (second century) followers, Origen (whose comparisons of Greek and Hebrew versions made him a pioneer in textual criticism) devoted his monumental talents to the task of allegorizing it. Where the literal sense seemed absurd, unworthy, or immoral, he virtually disowned it in favor of the spiritual. As man is body, soul, and spirit, so Scripture has three senses: literal, moral, spiritual. The greatest of these is spiritual. The width of the gap between Origen's use of allegory* and the apostles' use of typology* is seen in the fact that Origen regularly allegorized the New Testament as well as the Old, setting a pattern that persisted through the Middle Ages. (b) Antioch. Here Jewish tradition had interpreted the OT quite literally, and the influence of Plato and Philo was not dominant. Like Diodore of Tarsus* (d. c.392), the men of Antioch (including the gifted preacher, John Chrysostom,* d.407) distinguished between “theory” (theoria) and allegory, “theory” being the true meaning of the text. The Antiochenes, especially Theodore of Mopsuestia* (c.350-428), correctly sensed the importance of history as a foundation for theology and severely chided Origen for undermining this foundation: if Adam is not Adam, created and fallen, how can Christ be Last Adam, redeeming mankind from a fall that in allegorical exegesis did not really take place? When the Reformers sought to find a way back to apostolic methods of interpreting the OT, they took the road that passed near Antioch. (c) The West. By allegorizing, Origen had sought to repel Marcion's attack on the OT as an unworthy Jewish book. Irenaeus* (fl.c.175-c.195), by contrast, answered Marcion by a system of typology in which the NT recapitulated and fulfilled the Old: Christ is the new Adam; Mary, the new Eve; the Cross, the new tree in the garden. Had the church-at-large adopted Irenaeus's scheme of progressive revelation, of continuity yet contrast between the two Testaments, the whole history of her understanding of the faith would have been altered for the better.

Tertullian* (c.160-c.220) tried to counter the Marcionites, Valentinians, and other heretics by depriving them of their right to the Bible, which he viewed as the legal possession of churches that remained true to apostolic teachings. He also gave to the church final authority in interpretation, anticipating the pattern of authority in Roman Catholicism. While not enthusiastic about allegories, Tertullian did not hesitate to use them in the service of orthodoxy's struggle with heresy or philosophy.

Jerome's* (c.345-c.419) knowledge of Hebrew (which set him apart from most of the Fathers), his familiarity with the geography of Palestine, his recognition of a Palestinian canon not containing the Apocrypha, his massive accomplishments in translation and revision of earlier Latin versions, his substantial commentaries on OT books-all indicate that, as philologist and biblical scholar, he had no peer for a thousand years. Although with Origen Jerome speaks of three senses of interpretation, most of the time he deals with only two-literal and spiritual. His insistence that the spiritual must be based on the literal, and his attention to the Hebrew text, gradually widened the gulf between him and Origen who, however, was not without his Western disciples like Hilary of Poitiers* and Ambrose.*

Augustine* (354-430) combined in his exegesis and preaching the approaches of a number of his predecessors. From Tyconius* the Donatist he borrowed rules for interpreting Scripture, especially OT prophecies, which had been carefully catalogued as to whether they referred to Christ or to His church or to both. Like Tertullian he stressed the church's authority in canon and interpretation. Holding that the OT was to be read both literally and figuratively, he frequently followed Ambrose's use of allegory as a weapon to resist the Manichaeans who derided the OT anthropomorphisms of God and accounts of patriarchal immoralities.

(2) From Gregory the Great to Nicholas of Lyra (a) Gregory I and his successors. Gregory's (d.604) commentaries on Job, Ezekiel, Kings, and parts of the gospels became a channel through which the knowledge and methods of the Fathers (especially allegorical interpretation) were conveyed to the Middle Ages, stripped of the polemics which had dominated much of patristic exegesis.

During the following centuries, the monasteries of Europe and England were beehives of literary activity, almost all of which consisted of fanciful applications or topical collections of patristic exegesis. Accomplishing more than this were Isidore of Seville* (d.636)-who compiled handbooks explaining difficult passages, proper names, dates, etc., based on material from Jerome-and the Venerable Bede* (d.735)-who sought to interpret figures of speech.

Charlemagne's* educational reforms (late eighth century) resulted in a number of commentaries, e.g., by Alcuin* (d.804) and Rabanus Maurus* (c.776-856). “The common characteristic in all this use of Scripture in the period from the seventh to the eleventh century was the constant link between the Bible and prayer, both public and private” (Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 188). (b) Monasticism. Bernard of Clairvaux,* a Cistercian (1090-1153), wrote sermons on the Song of Songs and magnificent hymns which breathe with his mystical understanding of Scripture. Questions of history, chronology, and philology were largely beyond the monks' reach. Following Origen, they sought the NT's saving message of Christ in the OT, without clear agreement as to the number of senses a passage or word had: frequently four (literal or historical, typical, moral or allegorical, analogical or eschatological); sometimes three (historical, typical, moral). (c) Scholasticism.* The Schoolmen taught from copies of the Scripture with explanatory comments (usually from the Fathers) in the margins or between the lines. The best of these glosses (used, e.g., by Peter Lombard,* c.1095-1169) had been produced by Anselm* (d.1117) and Ralph of Laon. Hugh of St.- Victor (1096-1141), an abbey in Paris, gave great impetus to the teaching of the whole Bible by placing it at the heart of the curriculum and developing guidelines for exegesis, a work nobly advanced by his pupil, Andrew. A secular teacher, Peter Comestor* (whose title indicates that he had “eaten” the Scriptures, d.c.1180), produced his Historia Scholastica (a summary of sacred history), which joined the gloss as a required textbook.

Some of the later doctors (e.g., Bonaventure,* 1221-74; Thomas Aquinas,* 1224-74; and Albertus Magnus,* 1193-1280), though largely devoted to the relationship between Aristotle's* philosophy and their theology, did produce commentaries, particularly on the wisdom literature, whose ethics fascinated them. More than his fellows, Thomas Aquinas labored to bring system to exegesis by clarifying the ways in which the senses of Scripture were to be defined and discovered.

If Thomas's preference of the literal sense in proving doctrines (despite his frequent use of allegory) left the door slightly ajar for later reformers, it was Nicholas of Lyra* (c.1265-1349) who opened it wide. A Franciscan, Nicholas produced a commentary on the whole Bible which paved the way for hermeneutical reform by stressing the literal meaning of the text. Ironically, it was Jewish commentators like Ibn Ezra (c.1055-1135), Rashi (1040-1105), and the Kimchis (Joseph, c.1105- 70; Moses, d. c.1190; David, c.1160-1235) who pointed Nicholas away from the fourfold formula which had hobbled medieval exegesis. Attempting to rescue their faith from Christians bent only on allegorizing the law and finding Christ in the prophets, these Spanish Jews moved away from kabbalistic and Talmudic exegesis and sought the plain sense of the Hebrew words and sentences. The allegorical method had developed in Alexandria to save the OT from its Jewishness. Now it was Jews who provided the means to save the OT from the church for the church.

(3) The Reformers (a) Luther. Martin Luther's* (1483-1546) vernacular translation opened the Bible to the common people, established the order in which books of the OT have been generally published since (history, devotion, prophecy), separated the Apocrypha* from the canonical books, and paved the way for the critical investigation of Scripture. More important, his exegesis of the OT, especially Genesis and Psalms, moved away (notably after 1525) from the fourfold medieval pattern and emphasized the history of God's dealings with His people. Luther stressed the unity, the diversity, and the clarity of the Scriptures: unity, because the one God spoke the Word of Christ in both Testaments; diversity, because of the sharp antithesis between Law (both ceremonial and moral) and Gospel; clarity, because the plain truth of justification could be read by all, even in parts of the OT. Books that did not ring with the Gospel or sound the stern warnings of Law—e.g., Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah-he relegated to secondary importance without removing them from the Bible. (b) Calvin. Like Luther, John Calvin* (1509-64) stressed the plain meaning of the OT although he played down the disjunction between Law and Gospel and (in the later editions of his Institutes) stressed the unity of the two Testaments by viewing the moral law (not the ceremonial) as an eternal statement of divine demands and by finding one major covenant of grace from the Fall through the Incarnation. Calvin's commentaries on the OT are models of scholarly exegesis, honoring every part of Scripture, while refusing to gloss over critical problems. His strong attachment to the OT was encouraged both by his desire to find Christian guidelines for Geneva's government and by his opposition to Anabaptists,* who treated the OT as a Jewish book with only limited Christian value. Calvin's doctrine of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit as the chief argument for Scripture's authority sprang from his desire to refute the Roman Catholic claim that Scripture's authority is derived from the church.

(4) From the Reformers to Schleiermacher

After the Reformation,* theological positions both Catholic and Protestant hardened into systems in which matters of inspiration, authority, and canon were precisely determined. (a) The Council of Trent.* The council (8 April 1546) decreed that (i) unwritten traditions of the church be received with an authority equal to the Bible's; (ii) the Apocrypha have canonical status; (iii) the Vulgate* be the official version for public teaching or preaching; (iv) a definitive edition of the Vulgate be produced to settle the questions of textual variants; (v) all biblical books, in view of their divine inspiration, be accorded equal authority; (vi) the church have final say in interpretation. (b) Eastern Churches. In 1672 a synod in Jerusalem defined the OT to include the Apocrypha, while forbidding unqualified lay people to read certain OT books. (c) The Reformed Creeds (e.g., French, 1559; Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles, 1562; Belgic, 1566; Second Helvetic, 1566; Westminster, 1648). These set up their counter positions: (i) a fixed canon, excluding the Apocrypha (the reading of which was still permitted); (ii) the Spirit's inner witness, not ecclesiastical verdict, as the basis of Scripture's authority.

Lutherans who, in the Formula of Concord (1577), had affirmed Scripture's sole authority against the Catholic claims for tradition gradually moved closer to Calvinistic views of the Spirit's inner testimony and of the unity of Testaments, as Anglicans had already done. (d) Seventeenth-Century Orthodoxy. Theological positions here were so minutely defined that the results have been labeled “Protestant Scholasticism.” Dogmaticians like Johann Gerhard* (1582-1637), J.A. Quenstedt (1617-88), Leon Hütter (1563-1616), J.B. Carpzov (1607-57), and Abraham Calovius* (1612-86) used the OT as a collection of proof- texts to oppose groups like the Socinians who valued the OT historically but rejected its doctrine. Meanwhile, free churches, especially in England, found comfort in the prophets' indictments of Israel's political and religious establishments. “The Old Testament influence . . . helped to make the Anglo-Saxon mentality different from any other Western European mentality” (E.G. Kraeling, p. 42). (e) Reactions to Orthodoxy. Both textual (“lower”) and historical (“higher”) criticism began to chip away at the orthodox opinions that the inspiration of Scripture was a process of divine dictation. J. Cocceius* (1603- 69) derived a scheme of progressive revelation from the OT and questioned its normative role for dogmatics. Philip Spener* (1635- 1705) and J.A. Bengel* (1687-1752) and other Pietists sought to turn orthodoxy's attention from polemic debate to the teaching of the Scriptures which alone could produce true love and holiness.

Rejecting the Bible's revelatory claims, rationalistic philosophers like Thomas Hobbes* (1588-1679) and Benedict de Spinoza* (1632-77) sought to build systems of truth and morality on reason alone. Spinoza, though a Jew, rejected the doctrine of Israel's election. G.E. Lessing* (1729-81) further undercut the OT's uniqueness by distinguishing between the eternal truths of Christianity and their temporal contingent foundation in history, and by propounding that through reason God had educated other peoples even more than the Jews.

Though Immanuel Kant* (1724-1804) refuted the rationalists, he continued their attack on the OT, branding its laws as inferior to conscience because they were imposed from without. In academic circles, the philosophers won the day. Intellectually the church is still recovering from their victory. (f) Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). He gave little more importance to the OT than to Greek wisdom, which he also saw as part of the preparation for Christianity. Defining true religion as the “feeling of absolute dependence on God,” Schleiermacher treasured only parts of the OT that spoke of this new relationship (e.g., New Covenant in Jer. 31:31-34). For the first time since Marcion, a persuasive spokesman of the church encouraged her to close her first Scriptures.

(5) From Wellhausen to the Present

In the vast range of OT higher critics stretching back to J. Astruc* (1684-1766) and J.G. Eichhorn* (1752-1827), the highest peak is Julius Wellhausen* (1844-1918). Applying evolutionary canons stemming from Hegel* and Darwin,* Wellhausen reconstructed Israel's religious history as a naturalistic process that gradually matured from primitive animism and polytheism to the ethical monotheism of the prophets. The patriarchs had little historical basis; the Mosaic legislation was largely a product of the postexilic period; the prophets, not Moses, were the true pioneers; the Pentateuch, compiled from four main sources, was assembled only after the Exile.

Immediately a rash of critical studies broke out in the universities of Great Britain, Germany, and America, some of which led to sharp confrontation with churchly authorities. Scurrying to the aid of laymen and clergy who felt that higher criticism had snatched more than half the Bible from their hands came a flock of critical scholars who sought to point out the abiding relevance of the OT, e.g., G.A. Smith,* The Higher Criticism and the Preaching of the Old Testament (1901); A.S. Peake,* The Bible, its Origin, its Significance and its Abiding Worth (1913); H. Gunkel,* What Remains of the Old Testament? (1928).

Among the conservatives who sought to dull the impact of higher criticism by attacking its naturalistic presuppositions and by exposing weaknesses in its methods were William Henry Green (The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, 1895) and James Orr* (The Problem of the Old Testament, 1906).

In the decades since World War I some factors have combined to increase Christian understanding of the Old Testament: (a) Archeology has confirmed the Bible's historical character and illuminated the setting and context of life in Bible times-cf. W.F. Albright, Archeology and the Religion of Israel (1942); G.E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1957); D. Winton Thomas (ed.), Archeology and Old Testament Study (1967). John Bright (A History of Israel, 1959) and Martin Noth (The History of Israel, 1958) represent respectively the more confident and the more skeptical approaches toward OT archeology, particularly in the period before David. (b) Philology has opened a window through which we can look at the thought processes, value systems, and religious beliefs of Israel's neighbors, e.g., the Egyptians, the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians, the Syrians (especially in Ugarit), the Moabites, the Hurrians and the Hittites, and the Arameans. As no other generation in history, ours has the tools and skills to confront antiquity on its own terms.

While pioneers in comparative studies were impressed by the parallels between Israel's religious practice and thought and her neighbors', their successors have appreciated the contrasts which point to the uniqueness of Israel's revealed, historical, convenantal, moral faith-cf. G.E. Wright's The Old Testament Against Its Environment (1950) and W.F. Albright's From the Stone Age to Christianity (1940). (c) The behavioral sciences-anthropology, sociology, psychology-have provided entrée to the sociopolitical systems and to the inner life of Israel. Customs and relationships puzzling to our Western modernity are beginning to become clear-cf. J. Pedersen's Israel: Its Life and Culture (2 vols., 1926, 1940) and R. DeVaux's Ancient Israel (1961). (d) The study of literary forms (e.g., by H. Gunkel, S. Mowinckel,* C. Westermann, B. Childs) has pointed out the varieties of literary genre and the emotional connotations that they brought to the Israelite who heard them from priest or prophet: hymn, complaint, instruction; proverb, fable, parable, riddle; work song, love song, battle cry; defendant's plea, plaintiff's argument, judge's verdict, king's commission to a messenger. (e) In theology, for the first time since Calvin, a major theologian, Karl Barth,* stressed the unity of the Testaments and the way in which the OT is a unique witness to revelation as it anticipates history's pivotal revelatory event-the Incarnation. Conservatives have, with good reason, criticized Barth's view of Scripture, which restricts revelation to divine encounter rather than extending it also to the inspired record of that encounter, the biblical texts; but they should be grateful for his emphasis on the creating, redeeming God of the OT in an era when that picture of God was much maligned.

Heartened by these recent insights and sobered by two world wars and a great depression, a distinguished company of scholars have tackled the massive task of writing OT theologies, where most of their predecessors had shied away from the very term “theology,” daring to speak only of Israel's “religion.” Writers who have been keenly conscious of the OT's contribution to the Christian faith include W. Vischer (The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ), O. Procksch (Theology of the Old Testament), Th. Vriezen (An Outline of Old Testament Theology), H.H. Rowley (The Unity of the Theology), H.H. Rowley (The Unity of the Bible), G.A.F. Knight (A Christian Theology of the Old Testament), F.F. Bruce (This is That: The New Testament Development of Some Old Testament Themes), and especially G. von Rad (Old Testament Theology).

The debate continues. The teachers of the church struggle to examine the ties that unite and the uniqueness that separates the Testaments. Final resolution is probably out of reach. But the most promising approaches seem to combine a commitment of the reality of God's revelation in His words and deeds to Israel, a progress in that revelation through which more and more of God's ways and will are understood by His people, and a consummation of that revelation in the Incarnation of Christ, God's final Word to man. History and theology-event and the meaning of the event-must both be taken with full seriousness. We can be hopeful in the midst of the struggle: the Lord of the Testaments and of the church does not await scholarly consensus to get His speaking done.

F.W. Farrar, History of Interpretation, Bampton Lectures (1886); B. Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (1952); R.E. Brown, The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture (1955); E.G. Kraeling, The Old Testament Since the Reformation (1955); R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event (1959); A.S. Wood, Luther's Principles of Biblical Interpretation (1960); a.d.R. Polman, The Word of God According to Saint Augustine (ET 1961); R.M. Grant, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible (rev. 1963); J. Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (1967); H. Bornkamm, Luther and the Old Testament (ET 1969); G.W.H. Lampe (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. II: The West from the Fathers to the Reformation (1969); J.S. Preus, From Shadow to Promise (1969); P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. I: From the Beginnings to Jerome (1970).

Old Testament









1 Sam—1 Samuel

2 Sam—2 Samuel

1 Ki—1 Kings

2 Ki—2 Kings

1 Chr—1 Chronicles

2 Chr—2 Chronicles





Ps. (Pss.)—Psalms



Cant—Song of Solomon (Canticles)



Lam—Lamentations of Jeremiah
















The relationship of the OT to the NT

The Christian Church regards the OT as authoritative Holy Scripture because its Founder and Savior so regarded it. Jesus taught His disciples that Moses, the OT prophets, and the Psalms all testified to Himself (Luke 24:44) as the promised Redeemer of God’s people. His apostles understood the entire Heb. Scripture to constitute a composite unity ultimately authored by God and infallibly setting forth the divine will and plan for man’s salvation. Christ and the NT authors assert that when the OT spoke, it was God who spoke through it, and its words could not fail because God could not fail—or be mistaken, or impart falsehood. Therefore the human authors divinely used for the composition of the OT wrote under the infallible guidance of God the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:8; 2 Pet 1:20), and faithfully recorded what God planned for them to write, even though they themselves did not always fully understand the import of what they wrote. (1 Pet 1:10, 11 declares that they did not know about the time or the circumstances of the Advent of Christ, but kept searching [ereunōntes] for a more adequate comprehension of what the Holy Spirit within them signified by the prophetic disclosures He guided them to impart.)

In general, the NT authors viewed the entire OT as a testimony to Jesus Christ. The pentateuch and the poetical books set forth for them the perfect man who fulfilled all the law (a pattern uniquely fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth alone). In the sacrificial and priestly provisions of the law, they saw Christ as the antitype, the Messianic Priest, and the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. In the Davidic kingdom they saw a type of the perfect King, appointed forever “after the order of Melchizedek,” the priest-king who once bestowed God’s blessing on Abraham, the “father of the faithful.” Not only was Christ the Messianic Prophet, Priest, and King portrayed in symbol and type by the OT, but He was also the ultimate Judge of all mankind. Even the historical events of the OT record were invested with prophetic significance. The crossing of the Red Sea by Israel under Moses prefigured Christian baptism and all that it spiritually implies (1 Cor 10:1, 2). Joshua’s conquest of Canaan typified the spiritual rest into which NT believers enter by faith (Heb 3:4). The calling of Israel out of Egypt typified the return of the child Jesus from Egypt after the death of Herod (Matt 2:15). The OT presented the preparation of which the NT was the fulfillment; it was the seed of which the achievement of Christ and the apostles was the glorious fruit. Precisely because Jesus Christ fulfilled what the OT predicted, His life and deeds were demonstrated to be the work of God and thus invested with absolute finality. The OT demonstrated that Christ and His Church were of supernatural origin and validity, and entirely set apart from man-made religion or human genius of any sort. As the OT furnished proof that Jesus was the embodiment of God’s purpose, and God manifested in the flesh, so also the NT showed that the Heb. Scriptures constituted an organic unity, focused upon a single great theme and setting forth a single, but all-comprehensive, program of redemption.

The main divisions of the Old Testament

The books composing the authoritative OT were unquestionably the same as the thirty-nine transmitted in the Heb. Scriptures. (There is no evidence whatever that the NT authors regarded any of the books in the Apoc. as the authoritative word of God, even though a few Pseudepigraphical books were occasionally quoted.) Although the same text that Christ used and certified to be God’s infallible truth is the authoritative OT used today, nevertheless there is some divergence between the order of the books in the Heb. canon and the order adopted by the LXX and Lat. Vulgate. The MT follows a three-part canon, of which the pentateuch constitutes the first unit (the Torah), the prophets (Nebi’īm) the second, and the writings (Kethubîm) the third. The prophets are subdivided into the former prophets (including Josh., Judg., 1 and 2 Sam, 1 and 2 Kings) and the latter prophets (the major prophets, Isa, Jer, and Ezek, and the twelve minor prophets as in the Eng. Bible). The writings included the rest of the OT, but in the following order: (i) poetry: Psalms, Proverbs, Job (in the Leningrad MS: Pss, Job, Prov); (ii) the Megilloth, or rolls: Canticles (S of Sol), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther (according to the order of their use in the great feast days of the Heb. religious year; the Leningrad MS orders them as: Ruth, S of Sol, Eccl. Lam, Esth); (iii) the historical: Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and 1 and 2 Chronicles. This Massoretic order may not have been the original, for the NT references seem to view the Psalms in a class by itself, rather than included in a larger category of “writings.” The Septuagint order, dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries b.c., adopted the sequence followed in the Lat. Bible (with Apocryphal additions or books interspersed among them), namely: books of law (Gen through Deut), books of history (Josh through Esth), books of poetry and wisdom (Job through S of Sol), books of prophecy (the twelve minor prophets, and the major prophets, Isa. through Dan, including Lam. The LXX appends 1 and 2 Maccabees at the very end. This would seem to have been the approved order, then, in the Alexandrian Jewish community during the intertestamental period; the Palestinian order during this same time is less certain, although from the evidence cited above, it was somewhat different from the final Massoretic order.

Regardless of these minor variations in sequence, the organic function of each section of the OT canon in relationship to the other sections is perfectly clear. The pentateuch contains the charter of salvation by grace, based upon God’s sovereign choice of Abraham and his seed, with whom He entered into special fellowship by His gracious covenant. This covenant relationship was later extended to Israel as a nation, delivered from bondage in Egypt, commissioned to take possession of Canaan as the inheritance promised to Abraham. Theirs was the responsibility of maintaining a holy, virtuous life, based upon obedience to the revealed will of God, and maintained by worship, sacrifice for sins, and grateful, loving communion with their divine Sovereign.

The historical books (Josh through Esth) contain the record of how the nation prospered when it kept faith with God and maintained its covenant commitments, and how it suffered affliction and defeat when it forsook its trust and tried to live like the pagan world around it. The poetical books (Job through S of Sol) give expression to the personal response of OT believers to God’s truth and love, and make clear the practical implications of living to please the Lord. The prophetical books contain the proclamation of God’s will to the Israelite nation in the light of the spiritual, political, and economic problems confronting them in the course of their history from the divided monarchy to the establishment of the second commonwealth. These prophets show Yahweh’s unchangeable purpose to keep His hand upon this wayward, willful people, employing whatever admonition, rebuke, or chastisement necessary to keep them a godly nation, devoted to Himself. Through these prophets runs the theme of ultimate deliverance, not by the efforts of the people themselves, but by the atoning work of a divine-human Messiah, who is the hope of Israel. In a very profound sense, the entire OT, in all its parts and divisions, points to Jesus Christ. The law and the books of wisdom present Him as the perfect man and blameless Priest who fulfills all righteousness and loves God with pure sincerity. The historical books set forth through David and those of his descendants who were godly, the pattern of the theocratic King, who subdues and rules the earth for the glory of God. The poetical books (esp. the Psalms) portray Christ as the One who delights to do God’s will and is ready to suffer cheerfully whatever His Father’s will entails. The prophetic books present Him as the Teacher of all righteousness and truth, and the tender Shepherd who devotedly cares for His flock. From this perspective, the OT not only contains individual predictions concerning the person and work of Christ, but also focuses upon Him as its basic pattern, motivation, and glorious goal. It is this essentially Christocentric quality of the OT that is brought out and emphasized in the NT itself—an emphasis that its authors received from their divine Lord during His earthly ministry, both before and after His resurrection.

A survey of the contents and message of the Old Testament

The pentateuch


Genesis sets forth Yahweh as the only true God, the creator of the entire universe, in sovereign control of all the forces of nature. Man is His crowning work of creation, for he alone was made in the image of God and granted the privilege of personal fellowship with Him. Though Adam lost his privileged status through sin by putting his own will above the will of God, he became the object of forgiveness and grace, and the broken fellowship was partially restored on the basis of the redeeming work of the future Messiah, “the seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15). This heritage of faith was passed on through Seth (though rejected by Adam’s oldest son, Cain), and reached to Noah and his family, who alone survived the universal judgment of the Flood. The torch of testimony passed on to Abraham, the pioneer of faith, who was willing to leave his home and security behind him to obey God’s call to the land of promise. There he was content to live as a stranger and foreigner, awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise to His descendants. His son Isaac, whose wife was chosen for him by the Lord, handed on this heritage to Jacob, that crafty self-server who ultimately was won by hardship and danger to true submission to God. His twelve sons, despite their grievous sins and faults, maintained an awareness of belonging to Yahweh under the covenant of grace made with Abraham and his seed. It is preeminently in Joseph that true godliness again finds expression; through successive testings God prepared him for greatness and used him to deliver his family from extinction and welcome them into a refuge in Egypt where they could grow into a great nation.


The second book relates how God prepared His servant Moses for the task of leading Israel out of oppressive bondage in Egypt. After forty years of education in the Egyp. court, he had forty more as an exile in the Sinai desert where he was summoned at the burning bush and commissioned for his task. After the ten plagues compelled Pharaoh to let the Israelites depart, Pharaoh made an attempt to recapture them, but lost his chariotry in the sea. By manna from heaven and water from the rock, God sustained the multitude, and He met with them as a nation for solemn covenant renewal at Mt. Sinai where He gave the Decalogue, the Book of the Covenant, and the specifications for the Tabernacle and its priesthood. After the rupture caused by the apostasy of the golden calf, Moses prevailed on Yahweh to renew fellowship with a chastened Israel. God then warned against future idolatry, ordained the Sabbath observances and the consecration of the Tabernacle with its altars and ark, and at the dedication ceremony descended upon it with the glory cloud.


Leviticus spells out the regulations that governed the meal offering and the six types of blood sacrifice, each of which brought out an aspect of the atonement: burnt offering (for sinfulness in general), sin offering (for individual overt transgressions), trespass offering (for offenses resulting in damages to be repaid 120 percent), and peace offerings (thank-offering, votive offering, freewill offering) that involved a communion meal with God. After Aaron and his sons were solemnly consecrated for the priesthood, the two oldest (Nadab and Abihu) died because of impiety in the Tabernacle. Lists of clean and unclean foods, and laws concerning purification (of mothers after childbirth, of lepers who have been cured, of victims of boils or running sores) are followed by regulations for the Day of Atonement and for preserving the sanctity of sacrifices. Holiness involved complete separation from all levels of sexual immorality, uncleanness, and idolatry. Only holy men could carry out priestly duties and supervise the holy convocations, the celebration of the Sabbath, of Passover and Unleavened Bread, of Pentecost, the Feasts of Trumpets and of Tabernacles. Following the warnings against desecration, are the ordinances for the sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee. Chapter 26 foretells the Babylonian captivity (although not by name) and the return to Pal., and the final chap. deals with vows and tithes.


The fourth book continues with the journey of Israel from Sinai to the borders of Canaan at Kadesh-barnea, and then after the chastisement of the forty years wandering, the arrival at the Plains of Moab and the encounter with King Balak and the prophet Balaam (who was hired to curse Israel but was compelled by God to bless them instead). There was a census at the beginning (chs. 3; 4) and another at the end (ch. 26), each totaling a little over 600,000 men at arms. After the twelve tribes dedicated offerings to the Lord, the Levites were officially installed, and the host headed toward Kadesh. From time to time they complained and rebelled, esp. after the unfavorable report of the ten spies concerning the impregnability of Canaan. Aaron and Miriam rebelled against Moses, as did some of the Levites under Korah. All were subdued by miraculous judgments from God. Various laws concerning holiness are interspersed. The conquest of Trans-Jordan was secured by the defeat of Sihon and Og, but in Moab the Israelites were temporarily ensnared by idolatry and religious prostitution, which was followed by a plague and the execution of some of the leading offenders.


The fifth book contains the closing admonitions of the aged Moses, on the threshold of conquest of the Promised Land. Its form follows a structure observed in second millennium Anatolian suzerainty treaties: (i) preamble (1:1-5); (ii) historical prologue (1:6-4:49), reciting God’s gracious treatment of His people; (iii) stipulations listing the special provisions of the covenant (the selective summary of the law, chs. 5-26); (iv) curses for violation of the covenant, and blessings for its observance (chs. 27-30); (v) arrangements for continuing the sanctions of the covenant by public reading, and the solemn invocation of witnesses to its validity; also provisions for the custody of both copies of the covenant for each contractual party (in the case of Leviticus both copies were to be kept in the Ark of the covenant)—cf. chs. 31-33. This earnest admonition to the nation as a whole to keep true to its divine trust was in the nature of a constitution for the new theocracy to be established in conquered Canaan.

The historical books


The Book of Joshua records the conquest of the Promised Land, and the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and Moses in effecting victory over the tribes of Canaan. Joshua’s total personal commitment to the Lord made him an irresistible weapon in God’s hand, as he crossed the dry bed of the Jordan at flood tide, and after six days’ march around the walls of Jericho, he saw them toppled by God’s power. The setback at Ai prompted him to ferret out the offender who secreted plunder from the accursed Jericho in his tent; by Achan’s execution Joshua insured perfect obedience among his troops from that time on. The law was publicly read and its covenant engagements solemnly accepted by the victorious army up by Mt. Gerizim. In support of their unsought allies of the Hivite League, the Israelites won a tremendous victory over a hostile coalition at the battle of Gibeon, during which great numbers of the foe were killed by huge hailstones, and the sun was retarded from setting so that the victors could catch their fugitives before nightfall. After an equally victorious campaign in the N against Hazor, Joshua distributed the territory of Pal. to the ten W Bank tribes by lot, and their boundaries were described. Within them the cities of refuge were appointed for fugitive manslayers, and also cities for the Levites to dwell in. At the close of his career Joshua challenged the nation to renew its exclusive loyalty to Yahweh.


The Book of Judges picks up the narrative at that point, relating how later generations failed to complete the conquest of the land, and after falling into moral laxity and idolatry became prey to six or more oppressing nations, beginning with Cushanrishathaim from Syrian Mesopotamia, then Moab, then the North Canaanites under Jabin of Hazor, then the Midianites, the Ammonites, and the Philistines. Of the twelve “judges,” or national leaders, raised up to repel these oppressors, the most prominent were Barak (who with Deborah crushed the army of Hazor), Gideon (the conqueror of the Midianites), Jephthah (who repelled the Ammonites), and Samson, who as a one-man army held the Philistines at bay until his betrayal by his mistress, Delilah. Despite periods of repentance and revival, the general trend among the twelve tribes in this period was to do whatever was pleasing in their own eyes and ignore the Scriptures (i.e. the Pentateuch). The abduction of a local priest employed by Micah the Ephraimite when a migrating band of Danites passed through on their way up to the northern city of Laish presents an example of the ruthlessness of these times, but even more shocking was the murder of a Levite’s concubine in Gibeah, which ultimately led to a civil war against the whole tribe of Benjamin, and their near extinction.


In contrast to these troubles, the Book of Ruth narrates a tender and romantic episode during the time of the Judges when a Moabitess loyally moved to Bethlehem with her destitute Judean mother-in-law, Naomi, to help support her there. Attracting the favor of a wealthy bachelor named Boaz, a cousin of Naomi, she is eventually claimed by him as her kinsman-redeemer, and becomes the ancestress of King David.

1 and 2 Samuel.

These books open with the closing days of the high priest Eli, who received as his protégé little Samuel, whom his mother had devoted to the Lord. After the Philistines crushed Israel at Shiloh and carried off the Ark of the covenant as spoil, they were compelled by a plague to return it to the Hebrews. Samuel eventually led a successful revolt against Philistia, and was guided to crown Saul as the first king of Israel (in response to Israel’s demand to become a monarchy like her neighbors). Saul valiantly delivered Jabesh-gilead from the besieging Ammonites, and sparked by a daring raid on the part of his son Jonathan, routed the Philistines as well. But the challenge of the Philistine giant, Goliath, could only be met by the daring young David, who vaulted into prominence by felling him with a slingstone. Saul’s sin in sparing some of the Amalekites he had been ordered to exterminate led to his rejection by God, who had directed Samuel previously to anoint David as king. Despite David’s services as a harpist and his new status as son-in-law through the marriage of Michal, Saul became insanely jealous of David and pursued him as a fugitive outlaw, a pursuit he continued until he was forced to fight the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa, where he and his sons fell in battle. Second Samuel opens with David’s lament over this disaster and follows through his entire reign as king first of Judah alone, and then, after the assassination of Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, of the entire twelve tribes. David’s desire to build a Temple for Yahweh was denied, but his son was to have that privilege (ch. 7), which included a promise of everlasting rule to David’s Messianic descendant. He finally conquered all the territory from Egypt to the Euphrates, as God promised Abraham (Gen 15:18). David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the contrived murder of her husband, Uriah, brought the curse of strife into David’s home. His eldest son, Amnon, after raping Absalom’s sister, was finally assassinated by Absalom in revenge; and ultimately Absalom rebelled against David, his father, and sent him fleeing across the Jordan. Absalom finally met defeat at the hands of Joab, David’s commander, who personally slew him in the forest. David was restored to supreme power, a saddened man, and had to deal with a major famine, and further wars with the Philistines (all of whose giants were slain). His psalm of praise is recorded in ch. 22 (cf. Ps 18), which was followed by a list of his thirty battle champions. His national census was punished by a plague, which stopped only when he offered sacrifice on the site of the future Temple, purchased from Araunah the Jebusite.

1 and 2 Kings.

This narrative continues the history of the Heb. monarchy, from Solomon to Zedekiah; 1 Kings closes with the death of Ahab (853 b.c.). In David’s dotage, his oldest surviving son, Adonijah, laid claim to the succession, until Bathsheba reminded David of his promise to Solomon, who was thereupon installed as king. Solomon’s request for wisdom to govern well was granted by God, along with wealth and victory. After marrying Pharaoh’s daughter (a match that brought on toleration of idol-worship), Solomon built a magnificent Temple to God and solemnly dedicated it with prayer and lavish sacrifices. His wealth and glory amazed the Queen of Sheba, and science and lit. flourished under his encouragement. But his gross polygamy and toleration of the cults of his foreign wives led the nation to spiritual decline and political unrest. After Damascus gained independence (after Solomon’s death in 931), a permanent separation occurred between Judah and the ten tribes, who chose Jeroboam I as ruler over the northern kingdom rather than remain under Solomon’s tyrannical son, Rehoboam. Intermittent warfare between the two kingdoms was matched by religious schism, for Jeroboam established new temples for calf worship at Bethel and Dan. Pharaoh Shishak stormed Jerusalem and plundered the Temple; the Edomites revolted from Judah.

When Baasha threatened Judah by building a new fortress at Ramah, Asa (though a godly king) resorted to bribing Damascus to fall upon the northern tribes. Later, the capital of the northern kingdom was transferred to Samaria by Omri, whose son Ahab was married to Baal-worshiping Jezebel of Tyre. Elijah called down three years of drought upon Ahab’s realm until the contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, after which the rains returned. To escape Jezebel’s wrath, Elijah fled to Mt. Sinai, where he received new directions from God. After Ahab’s judicial murder of Naboth, his doom was foretold by Elijah, and Ahab finally met his end at Ramoth-gilead, shot by a Syrian archer.

Second Kings relates the early death of Ahab’s son, as Elijah had foretold. Elisha was anointed by Elijah, and stayed with him until his departure heavenward by the Jordan. Judah, under King Jehoshaphat (who had been Ahab’s ally), assisted Jehoram ben Ahab against the revolting Moabites. Elisha assisted Jehoram against Syrian invaders, after healing Naaman of his leprosy during a time of peace with Damascus. Jehu, commander of the Israelite army was secretly anointed king by a messenger of Elisha, at Ramoth-gilead. Jehu then secured the support of the army and slew Jehoram at Jezreel, and shortly afterward the defiant Jezebel also. Though he massacred all the Israelite Baal-worshipers, he did not abolish the calf cult, and both he and his successors suffered defeats from the Syrians until Joash defeated them in accordance with Elisha’s dying prophecy. His son, Jeroboam II, regained the former boundaries of N Israel and subdued Damascus, but anarchy and a series of weak kings ensued after his death, until the final collapse of Samaria to Assyrian besiegers in 722.

Uzziah of Judah, a godly king, restored the borders of the southern kingdom and prospered economically until his arrogance in the Temple led to leprosy and the shift of power to his good son, Jotham (751 b.c.). Jotham’s wicked son Ahaz led Judah to disaster, despite his alliance with Assyria, and only the restoration under godly Hezekiah deferred Judah’s doom and made deliverance possible from Sennacherib’s irresistible army (701). His display of wealth to Chaldean envoys resulted in Isaiah’s prediction of the Babylonian Captivity 125 years later. The idolatry and depravity of Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, ensured this downfall, although it was deferred until after the death of his godly grandson Josiah, who prompted Judah’s final revival. Josiah’s incompetent sons unsuccessfully played off Egypt against Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar burned Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground. After Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, was murdered by a guerilla leader named Ishmael, the last remnants of Jewish population took refuge in Egypt.

1 and 2 Chronicles.

Here is reviewed Israel’s history from the perspective of the nation’s covenant relationship to God as a worshiping community, following the prescribed forms of divine service as administered by the divinely ordained priesthood and under the rule of the divinely authorized dynasty of David. The northern kingdom is treated only incidentally, since it represented political and religious schism. Emphasis is laid upon Israel’s rich spiritual heritage going back to the time of the patriarchs (hence the prominence given to genealogical lists), and also upon the distinctive institutions of worship added to the cultus by David and Solomon. The high moments of faith and trust in the lives of kings like Rehoboam, Asa and Jehoshaphat, which are not recorded in 1 and 2 Kings reflect this interest of the historian (who may well have been Ezra himself). On the other hand, some of the tragic lapses of faith, like David’s sin with Bathsheba and Solomon’s gross polygamy and permissiveness toward idolatry, are passed over in silence. The narrative continues until the fall of Babylon and the release from captivity by Cyrus of Persia.


This book relates how the first group of 42,000 Jews migrated from Babylonia to Palestine (537 b.c.), and founded the “second commonwealth,” laying the foundations of the Temple and resuming sacrificial worship at the restored altar. Pressure from hostile neighboring states hindered further work on the Temple until Haggai and Zechariah stirred up the people to complete the sanctuary even without a building permit (519 b.c.). Some decades later, Ezra came from Babylon with the emperor’s blessing to aid in the spiritual restoration of the discouraged little province of Judah (457). He persuaded them to obey the Torah by separating themselves from their pagan wives and to abandon the permissive attitude toward paganism, which then prevailed.


Nehemiah, the emperor’s cupbearer, tells how he was authorized to serve as governor in Judah (beginning in 446) until he could have the city walls of Jerusalem rebuilt and his countrymen restored to a posture of defense and self-respect in the face of their hostile neighbors. The Samaritans and their allies at first ridiculed, then threatened, and then sought to entice Nehemiah from the work by threat of slander to the court. Not only did he organize them for successful defense; but he also led them to revival at the Feast of Tabernacles under Ezra’s Scriptureteaching campaign (ch. 8). As the nation renewed its covenant with God, the most pressing reforms were carried through, i.e. the settling of a sufficient population in Jerusalem to insure its proper defense (ch. 11), the restoration of mortgaged farms to their owners, foregoing usury (ch. 5). During Nehemiah’s second term as governor (433 b.c.), Ezra also enforced the exclusion of foreigners from the Temple precinct (which the high priest had neglected) and insisted on the payment of tithes for support of the clergy. He also forbade all business and labor on the Sabbath and compelled those who had married foreign wives to put them away (ch. 13).


This is a thrilling account of the deliverance of the Jewish nation from genocide. This threat of extinction came by order of the emperor’s prime minister, Haman, who hated the race of the Jew Mordecai because he refused to do obeisance to him. Unbeknown to him, however, the beautiful young queen of Xerxes (Ahashuerus) was Mordecai’s niece, and she was willing to risk her life to save her people. Though she entered the throne room without invitation, the king saved her from the death penalty by extending his scepter, and she put into effect a plan to expose Haman as plotting against her life. In a rage, Xerxes ordered him to be hanged on the very gallows he had erected for Mordecai, and a counter decree was issued empowering the Jews throughout the empire to slay their enemies on the day appointed for the extermination of the Jews. This was commemorated by the Feast of Purim ever after.

The poetical books


This episode took place in N Arabia, prob. before the Mosaic period, and it is composed in the form of a poetic dialogue, a species of “wisdom literature.” The prose prologue discloses God’s reason for permitting Satan to subject Job to the loss of his wealth, his children and his health: namely, to prove to Satan that a sincere believer can love God even apart from the blessings He bestows. After his wife left him in disgust, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to comfort him, but also to ferret out some secret sin to account for this apparently undeserved calamity. Job stoutly maintained that there was no such secret sin to confess, and alternated between humble trust in the Lord and bitter complaint that he could not plead his cause before Him—a vehemence that Elihu rebuked, even as he rebuked the dogmatism of the other three in assuming Job’s culpability. Jehovah spoke to Job through the whirlwind, challenging him to explain the mighty forces of nature, if he ventured to question His wisdom and justice. After Job expressed abject repentance for his presumptuousness, God rebuked the three “comforters” and restored Job to fame, fortune, and the joys of parenthood on an even higher level than before.



This collection contains several groups of maxims and warnings concerning the laws that govern life and human relations, with a view to instructing young people in the art of successful living. Most of these were compiled by Solomon from a long practiced genre in the ancient Near E, but were adapted to a high moral standard based upon strict monotheistic convictions. Respect for parents, faithfulness to marriage vows and contract commitments, the contrasting behavior of the wise man and the fool, the tragic end of the wicked and the presumptuous, and the eventual success and satisfaction of the prudent, the godly and the industrious—all of these are recurrent themes in this book. The most earnest and extended warnings are directed against fornication and adultery, and the seductions of the “strange woman,” in an age when moral relativism was on the rise. The dangers of intoxication and alcoholism also are frequently referred to. All these moral choices are so presented to the reader as to compel him to a clear-cut decision, rather than resorting to compromise or vacillation.


This solemn testimony, by Solomon, concerns the emptiness and futility of all human endeavor that is directed toward this-worldly goals; “all is vanity” apart from a thankful acceptance of God’s providences and sincere obedience to His will. Although unlimited wealth and power make possible the obtaining of every material object of desire, yet they all turn to dust and ashes, and leave the soul altogether empty, unless that soul is bent on pleasing God.

Song of Solomon.

A dialogue, the principal speakers are King Solomon—the lover, and the beautiful Shulammite country girl with whom he falls in love. They express their admiration for each other in the most glowing terms, and despite temporary separation or misunderstanding they are completely reconciled and come together again. The “chorus” of this love drama is the harem in Jerusalem, and there are scenes of regal splendor in the palace grounds; but the covenant of love is ultimately ratified in her rural home in a pastoral setting. By her radiant loveliness and ardent devotion the Shulammite taught Solomon the meaning of a single, all-absorbing love—even though he personally did not remain true to this insight. Interpreted typically, these two lovers have been seen to represent the warm devotion that binds Christ to His bride, the Church.

The major prophets


These sixty-six chapters contain more teaching concerning Christ than is to be found anywhere in the OT—“the Gospel according to Isaiah.” Isaiah’s ministry extended from 739 b.c. (“the year that King Uzziah died”—6:1), until the late 680s (the death of Sennacherib). He lived through the degenerate age of Ahaz, the revival under Hezekiah, and the hopeless apostasy of the reign of Manasseh. His central theme was salvation bestowed only by the grace and power of God, “the Holy One of Israel”; it could not be won or deserved by the efforts of man or by the good works of human flesh. Yahweh of hosts could not tolerate unholiness in His covenant people, and would therefore purge them and bring them back to repentance and usefulness in fulfilling their missionary role to the heathen nations. They were to look to Him for deliverance from their human foes, rather than to Egypt or Assyria, and their ultimate salvation would come to them through a God-Man, the virginborn Immanuel, their Messianic King. After the agony of the Babylonian captivity, the guilty nation would be restored to the Promised Land to resume their mission of testimony to the one true God before the idolworshiping Gentiles, and their final Deliverer would be the Servant of Jehovah, who was to offer up His life as an atonement for their sin—a sacrifice by which He would win complete victory and supreme glory as the Savior of God’s remnant of true believers.


The prophecy spans the career of Jeremiah, as a youth in the reign of Josiah (c. 626 b.c.), to the fall of Jerusalem to the Chaldeans in 587 with the migration of the survivors to Egypt a few years later. God commissioned him to denounce the idolatry, immorality and self-complacency that had such a strong hold on his countrymen, and to assure them that their nation would go down to utter ruin if they did not repent. Politically they were advised to submit to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, God’s instrument for their discipline, and not to hope for deliverance through alliance with Egypt. Every class of Heb. society, including the priests and prophets were guilty before God for flagrant violation of Scripture and their doom was inevitable. After seventy years of captivity, they would be restored to the land of promise and ultimately be delivered by the Messiah, a descendant of David (the “Righteous Branch”). All of the heathen nations around who opposed and defied the Lord, would fall into irrevocable doom. By nature tender and compassionate Jeremiah was nevertheless compelled by God to proclaim a stern message of irreversible doom and thus to endure the slander of treason and the hatred of all his countrymen including his closest kinsmen.


Here, Jeremiah eloquently expressed his anguish over the utter depravity of his people and their tragic loss of honor, liberty and all material possessions. Yet he found comfort in the untarnished holiness and love of God: “Great is thy faithfulness.”


The first of this prophecy begins with the vision of God’s glory in 592 b.c.; the last dated prophecy is 570, but Ezekiel may have continued for some years thereafter ministering to the captive Jews in Babylonia. The first twenty-four chs. contain warnings of the approaching fall of Jerusalem to the Chaldeans rendered inevitable by the flagrant idolatry and depravity of the Jews back in Judah; for they have followed the shameful example of adulterous Samaria. Chapters 25-32 contain prophecies against Phoenicia, Egypt, and the other neighboring countries. Chapters 33-39 foretell the restoration and spiritual renewal of captive Israel, governed by the true Shepherd, and ultimately vanquishing the latter-day world powers (Gog, Magog, Rosh, et al.). Most striking is the vision of the resurrection of the dry bones in the desolate valley, so as to become a mighty army for the Lord. Chapters 40-48 describe the Temple to be erected during the millennium—its ordinances of worship, its new distribution of land to the tribes, and its river of blessing flowing from it to the Dead Sea, which will teem with new life.


As in Ezekiel, the setting is among the captivity of Judah during the Exile. Young Daniel and his three godly friends excelled all others in the royal academy and were promoted to high office in the government. Danger of execution for charlatanry was averted when Daniel by revelation recalled Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream of the four empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome), which would succeed each other in God’s plan for the ages. The three Hebrew friends of Daniel were later miraculously delivered from harm in the fiery furnace into which they were cast for refusing to worship the golden image of the king (who himself was later punished by seven years of insanity for his overweening pride). Years later, Daniel interpreted to King Belshazzar the grim message of judgment miraculously inscribed on the wall of the banquet hall. In Dan. 6, Daniel escaped death from the lions to which he was cast for his piety in continuing to pray to God during a thirty-day ban upon all prayer to any other besides King Darius. The last six chs. contain visions concerning the future empires, and esp. the coming crisis of the persecution of the Jewish faith by Antiochus Epiphanes (in 168 b.c.), who in turn would serve as a type of the last world dictator (the “Beast”) during the Great Tribulation. (Chapters 2 through 7 are in Aram.; the rest is in Heb.)

The minor prophets


Hosea was a citizen of the northern kingdom who prophesied there between 755 and the 720s, prior to the fall of Samaria in 722. The adultery of Hosea’s wife, Gomer, corresponded to Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh and his three children by her were given prophetic names. “Jezreel” predicted the destruction of the dynasty of Jehu; “Lo-Ruhamah” signified that there would be no national restoration of the ten tribes after Sargon took them off into slavery; “Lo-Ammi” (Hos 1:9) implied a warning that they would never as a nation be restored to covenant status with God. The idolatrous shrines were denounced and the sins of prevalent adultery, of cruelty to the poor, of drunkenness and corruption sealed the sentence of bondage and exile. Yet the love of Yahweh was not to be permanently thwarted and there was yet to be a remnant of true believers to inherit His promises of grace.


This was prob. composed c. 830, when King Joash was still a minor and a regency was in charge of the government; Judah’s enemies were still the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Edomites, and the Egyptians (3:4, 19). A terrible locust plague had blighted the land as a warning of a more terrible invasion by human foes (the Assyrians and Chaldeans) that could be averted only by wholehearted repentance on the part of every class of society. God some day would destroy their foes and shower an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all—men, women and children (2:28-32), as at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). Judgment was predicted for Phoenicia and Philistia, and for the future Seleucid oppressors (3:4-16), and ultimate triumph and peace is promised for the millennial Jerusalem.


This prophet was a layman from Judah who was sent to warn the northern kingdom c. 760-755 b.c. After declaring God’s purpose to punish the neighboring nations (such as Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, and Edom) for their crimes against humanity, he announced judgment upon Judah for turning from the Scriptures to false teachers. He denounced Israel for their heartless exploitation of the poor and persecution of true believers, their crass immorality and neglect of God. Their pursuit of carnal pleasure and their empty formalism in worship spelled their doom. Though destructive forces of locust plague and fiery drought might be restrained, the cities would be leveled and their idolatrous temple utterly destroyed (9:1-10). But eventually the new age will come, followed by the millennial consummation (7:10-17 records a colorful clash between Amos and the priest of the royal sanctuary at Bethel, Amaziah).


The whole book consists of just a single ch.; it seems to have been composed earliest of all, in the reign of Jehoram (848-841) when the invading Philistines and Arabs were apparently assisted by the Edomites in their pillaging of Jerusalem (v. 11). God however, warned Edom that its capital city would be captured and destroyed because of their pride and bitter hatred of God’s people—unless they heeded the warning of v. 13 (“Enter not into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity...”—ASV).


Jonah, the disobedient prophet from Gath-hepher in Zebulun, refused to go to Nineveh and warn of coming judgment, but chose rather to take ship for Tarshish, in the western Mediterranean. A terrible storm threatened to sink the ship, and at Jonah’s own insistence the sailors saved their lives by throwing Jonah overboard. He was rescued by a great fish, who kept him safe in its belly. After three days Jonah was ejected on the shore. Obedient at last, Jonah preached to the Ninevites so earnestly that the entire population repented and mourned before the Lord. Piqued because this dangerous foe of Israel was spared, Jonah sulked and grieved until God taught him a lesson in compassion by means of a quickly-withering gourd plant, which had afforded him some welcome shade.


This prophet was a contemporary of Isaiah, in the 8th cent., sent to announce God’s judgment upon both kingdoms because of their idolatry and violation of Scripture. After foretelling the inexorable advance of the Assyrian invaders, he denounced the rich for exploiting the poor, the government for devouring its citizens, and the corrupt clergy for abandoning their duties toward God. But after their suffering, exile and restoration to Pal., there would be judgment upon their heathen foes as well. The divine-human Messiah, born in Bethlehem, would defend His flock and subdue the world, triumphing in the new age and in the millennium. First, however, Israel must learn that valid worship must be accompanied by holy living and a sincere trust in God’s mercy and grace.


Living sometime between 650 and 625 b.c., he proclaimed God’s vengeance upon the brutally oppressive city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire. Foretelling the manner of its capture, he described the coming siege and destruction of the city (as later carried out by the Chaldeans and Medes). For God’s covenant people there will be restoration to favor and blessing upon those who repent.


Habakkuk gave his message about 607, in the interval between the Battle of Megiddo (609) and that of Carchemish (605). It consists of a dialogue between him and God concerning His providential dealings with Israel in the light of divine justice. Each anguished question was answered by God: the oppressive ruling classes of Judah would be punished by the Chaldeans; the proud Chaldeans in turn would be crushed because of their ruthless cruelty. But the “righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4), and regardless of circumstances he will rejoice in the Lord, even though all material blessings are stripped away from him.


His message, delivered early in the reign of Josiah (c. 625), concerned the coming Day of Yahweh. The recent invasion of the Scythians, who overran the Middle and Near E c. 630, warned of God’s coming judgment upon sinful Judah, Jerusalem, and all the nations surrounding Pal. So surely as the humble, sincere believers sought the Lord and maintained a godly life (2:3), God’s blessed kingdom would come, and a godly remnant of true believers would inherit the earth in peace and plenty, and all surviving Gentiles would learn the same language of faith (3:9, 10).


He was perhaps the only completely successful prophet whose message has been preserved in the OT. After the return from Babylonian captivity, at a time when discouragements had arrested the rebuilding of the Temple, Haggai roused his countrymen to resume this holy project, even though they lacked an up-to-date building permit and were hampered by straitened finances. Though less pretentious, this second Temple would become more glorious than the first, for the Messiah (the “Desire of Nations”) would some day enter it. Therefore Jews were to abjure all unholiness and selfishness (which thus far had led to crop failure and recession) and complete their center of worship to the glory of God. Within three years (i.e., 516 b.c.), the new Temple was solemnly dedicated.


A younger prophet, he aided Haggai in this effort (beginning in 519), and related a series of eight encouraging visions the Lord had given him foretelling God’s intervention on behalf of Israel and the successive destruction of their oppressors (Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome). Half desolate Jerusalem was to become large and populous, Israel would be forgiven and purged of sin and serve as a lampstand of witness to the Gentiles. As a symbol of the coming Priest-King, the high priest Joshua was solemnly crowned. The Palm Sunday entrance of Christ into Jerusalem (9:9, 10) would usher in His program of redemption, even though He would at first be rejected as Israel’s Good Shepherd in favor of the foolish shepherd (the false leaders of Judah). In the last days, Israel will be converted to faith in the Christ whom their forefathers “pierced” (12:10), as their heathen attackers go down in defeat before the miraculous strength of God’s people. Idolatry shall forever be removed from Israel and false prophets will be silenced. In the midst of their storming of Jerusalem, the godless invaders will suddenly be overwhelmed by divine intervention, and the millennial kingdom will be ushered in to dominate the entire world.


The last of the writing prophets, he was sent to Judah c. 435 b.c. to summon Judah back to sincere piety and a loving response to the grace of God. The careless priests were no longer to permit blemished sacrifices on God’s altar or to teach the law corruptly. Marriage with unbelievers was to be abjured and men were to return to their first wives. All tithes were to be rendered faithfully to the Lord (as a necessary prerequisite for His blessing on their crops), and the godly would be vindicated against the sneers of the cynical. After the ministry of Christ’s forerunner (John the Baptist), the Lord Himself would come and execute judgment upon all the ungodly in perfect justice.

The above summarizes the contents and message of each of the thirty-nine books of the OT. Through the thousand years of its composition, the OT books revolved about the same redemptive theme—from the first promise to Eve (Gen 3:15) to the final announcement (Mal 3:1-3) of the coming of Christ—to bring to pass the covenant promises of God to believing Israel. The same exalted concept of one, true, sovereign God is maintained throughout, and in a very profound sense the OT contains the portrait of the Son of God. Its many predictions of future events subsequently fulfilled demonstrate its divine origin and authority and prepared the way for the NT ministry of Christ and His Church. To Jesus and the apostles, it represented the infallible voice of God, and no word of the Heb. Scripture could ever be broken.

See also

  • Text of the Old Testament
  • Additional Material

    CHRONOLOGY, OLD TESTAMENT. This topic presents many complex and difficult problems. The data are not always adequate or clear; they are, at times, almost completely lacking. Because of insufficient data, many of the problems are at present insoluble. Even where the data are abundant, the exact meaning is often not immediately apparent, leaving room for considerable difference of opinion and giving rise to many variant chronological reconstructions. The chronological problem is thus one of the availability of evidence, of the correct evaluation and interpretation of that evidence, and of its proper application. Only the most careful study of all the data, both biblical and extrabiblical, can hope to provide a satisfactory solution.

    I. From the Creation to the Flood. In this period the only biblical data are the ages of the patriarchs in Gen.7.11 and the genealogical tables of Gen.5.1-Gen.5.32. Calculations of the years from Adam to the Flood vary: 1,656 (Masoretic Text), 1,307 (Samaritan Pentateuch), and 2,242 (LXX). The numbers of the MT (Masoretic Text) are in agreement with the Samaritan except in the cases of Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech, where the numbers of the MT are higher by 100, 120, and 129 years respectively. For the eight patriarchs from Adam to Methuselah, the numbers of the LXX are a century higher in each instance than those of the Samaritan Pentateuch, while for Lamech the number is 135 years higher.

    Extrabiblical sources for this period are almost completely lacking. The early Sumerian king list names eight kings with a total of 241,200 years from the time when “the kingship was lowered from heaven” to the time when “the Flood swept” over the land and once more “the kingship was lowered from heaven” (Thorkild Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List, 1939, pp. 71, 77). Such a statement, however, makes no practical contribution to the solution of this phase of OT chronology. Nor is modern science in a position to supply a detailed and final solution.

    II. The Flood to Abraham. For this period we are again dependent on the genealogical data in the Greek and Hebrew texts and the Samaritan Pentateuch. Reckoning the age of Terah at the birth of Abraham as 70 (Gen.11.26), the years from the Flood to Abraham would be 292 according to the MT, 942 according to the Samaritan Pentateuch, and 1,172 according to the LXX. But if the age of Terah at Abraham’s birth is reckoned as 130 years (on the basis of Gen.11.32; Gen.12.4; Acts.7.4), the above totals would be raised by 60 years. On this basis, the Hebrew text would give 352 years from the Flood to Abraham, and the Greek would be 1,232.

    In this area the testimony of the MT stands alone against the LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch, where the numbers are 100 years higher than those of the MT for Arphaxad, Salah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, and Serug, while for Nahor, the grandfather of Abraham, the Samaritan is 50 years higher and the LXX 150 years higher than the MT.

    Serious chronological difficulties are thus encountered in the period immediately beyond Abraham. Abraham was 86 years old at the birth of Ishmael (Gen.16.16) and 100 at the birth of Isaac (Gen.21.5). But how old was Terah at the birth of Abraham—70, 130, or some number not revealed? And how old was Nahor at the birth of Terah—29, 79, or 179? If Terah was 130 years old at the birth of Abraham, as seems to be indicated by the biblical evidence, it must be admitted that the numbers of the LXX for this period (135, 130, 130, 134, 130, 132, 130, 179, 130), are much more consistent with each other than the numbers of the Hebrew (35, 30, 34, 30, 32, 30, 29, 130). But notice that in the case of nine patriarchs in the LXX, five of them were 130 years old when their sons were born, while in the Hebrew three out of eight were 30, one was 130, while the others were all in their thirties with the exception of Nahor, who was 29—one year from 30. And if Terah was 130 years old when Abraham was born, why was it regarded as so very unusual for Abraham to have a son at the age of 100 (Gen.17.17; Gen.18.11; Gen.21.2, Gen.21.5)?

    An endeavor to assess the relative values of the three sources involved accomplishes little, for the indications are that none is complete. Certainly the LXX had great weight in NT times, for in Luke’s table of the ancestors of Christ, there is listed a second Cainan—son of Arphaxad (Luke.3.36), in harmony with the LXX of Gen.11.12-Gen.11.13—a Cainan not found in the MT. If the LXX is here to be followed rather than the MT, another 130 years should be added to the years of the Flood and Creation, for that is the age of Cainan in the LXX at the time of the birth of Salah.

    The omission of the names of known individuals is frequent in biblical genealogical records. Thus, Matthew’s table of the ancestors of Christ omits the names of three Judean kings—Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah—with the statement that “Jehoram [was] the father of Uzziah” (Matt.1.8), whereas Uzziah was actually the great-great-grandson of Jehoram. A comparison of Ezra.7.1-Ezra.7.5 with 1Chr.6.4-1Chr.6.15 shows a block of six names missing in Ezra’s tabulation.

    Extrabiblical materials from the Flood to Abraham are of little assistance in the establishment of an absolute chronology for this period. No exact synchronisms exist between biblical and secular chronology of this period, and the exact chronology of Mesopotamia and Egypt has not yet been established.

    Because of the difficulties involved, it must be admitted that the construction of an absolute chronology from Adam to Abraham is not now possible on the basis of the available data.

    III. Abraham to Moses. From Abraham to Joseph the detailed patriarchal narratives provide more data than are available for the preceding periods, and we have the certainty that there are no missing links. There are also a number of correlations with later and better-known periods. Since Abraham was 75 years old at the time of his entrance into Canaan (Gen.12.4), and since he was 100 at the birth of Isaac (Gen.21.5), there were 25 years from the entry into Canaan to Isaac. Isaac was 60 at the birth of Jacob (Gen.25.26), and Jacob was 130 at his entrance into Egypt (Gen.47.9, Gen.47.28), making 215 years from the beginning of the sojourn in Canaan to the beginning of the sojourn in Egypt. The total length of the sojourn was 430 years (Exod.12.40). Did this involve only the sojourn in Egypt or did it include also the sojourn in Canaan? If Israel was in Egypt 430 years, there were 645 years from the entrance into Canaan to Moses’ departure from Egypt. However, if the 430 years includes the time spent by the patriarchs in Canaan, the length of the Egyptian sojourn would have been only 215 years.

    According to 1Kgs.6.1, the temple was founded in the 480th year after the Exodus, which was the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. On the basis of a 40-year reign for Solomon (1Kgs.11.42) and in accord with the established chronology of the kings, that was 966 b.c. This would provide 1445 as the date of the Exodus and 1525 as the year of Moses’ birth (Exod.7.7). If the 430-year sojourn involved only the period in Egypt, Abraham entered Canaan in 2090. If it included the years in Canaan, the date was 1875. The answer depends on the meaning of the prophecy of Gen.15.13-Gen.15.16 and the reconstruction of the details from Abraham to Moses. From Abraham to Joseph the details are known, but from Joseph to Moses there is only genealogical evidence.

    Due to omissions, repetitions, and other variations in the genealogical lists, the endeavor to establish times by the evidence of such lists must be regarded as highly precarious. Compare, for instance, the line of descent of Samuel and his sons from Levi and Kohath as recorded in 1Chr.6.22-1Chr.6.28 and in 1Chr.6.33-1Chr.6.38, and see 1Sam.8.2 for the names of these sons. Compare also the various lists of the sons of Benjamin and their descendants as found in Gen.46.21; Num.26.38-Num.26.40; 1Chr.7.6-1Chr.7.12; 1Chr.8.1-1Chr.8.40. The variations in existence here and in many other lists indicate the dangers involved in dogmatic reconstructions based only on genealogical evidence.

    We should also notice that if the sojourn in Egypt was 215 years and if there were only four generations from Jacob to Moses, then Levi must have been about 100 at the birth of Jochebed, and Jochebed 84 at the birth of Moses. Since the birth of Isaac to Sarah when she was 90 and to Abraham when he was 100 was regarded as in the nature of a miracle (Gen.17.17; Gen.18.11-Gen.18.14; Rom.4.19), these ages are hardly probable.

    On the basis of the OT data it is impossible to give a categorical answer as to exactly what was involved in the 430-year sojourn, nor is it possible to give an absolute date for Abraham’s entry into Canaan. Paul regarded the 430 years as beginning at the time when the promises were made to Abraham (Gen.12.1-Gen.12.4) and terminating with the giving of the law at Sinai (Gal.3.16-Gal.3.17). On this basis the date of the entry into Canaan and the beginning of the sojourn was 1875 b.c.

    An Exodus date of 1445 calls for 1405 as the beginning of the conquest (Num.33.38; Deut.1.3; Josh.5.6). According to these dates the Exodus took place during the reigns of the famous rulers of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1570-1325). This fits in well with the Habiru inroads of the Amarna period and with the evidence of Israel’s presence in Palestine during the Nineteenth Dynasty (c. 1325-1200). In view of recent evidence of a sedentary occupation of Trans-Jordan from the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1550) to the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1250; see G. Lankester Harding, “Recent Discoveries in Jordan,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, January-June, 1958, pp. 10-12), the view is no longer tenable that nonoccupation of that area from the eighteenth to the thirteenth centuries b.c. makes a fifteenth-century date for the Exodus impossible.

    IV. The Conquest to the Kingdom. The establishment of absolute dates from Moses through Joshua and the judges to the setting up of the monarchy is again not possible with the available data. With the date 1405 b.c. for the beginning of the conquest, we secure 1399 as the year when Caleb received his inheritance, since he was 40 when he was sent as a spy from Kadesh-barnea (Josh.14.7) in the second year after the departure from Egypt (Num.10.11-Num.10.12; Deut.2.14), and he was 85 when he received his inheritance 45 years later (Josh.14.10). The date of Joshua’s death cannot be given, for we do not know how old he was when he was sent as a spy, although he was 110 when he died (Josh.24.29).

    Many attempts have been made to set dates for the judges, but, with the data now available, absolute certainty regarding the chronology for this period is impossible. Here are the data:

    Reference Years

    Oppression under Cushan-Rishathaim Judg.3.8 8

    Deliverance under Othniel; peace Judg.3.11 40

    Oppression under Eglon of Moab Judg.3.14 18

    Deliverance by Ehud; peace Judg.3.30 80

    Oppression under Jabin of Hazor Judg.4.3 20

    Deliverance under Deborah; peace Judg.5.31 40

    Oppression under Midian Judg.6.1 7

    Deliverance under Gideon; peace Judg.8.28 40

    Reign of Abimelech Judg.9.22 3

    Judgeship of Tola Judg.10.2 23

    Judgeship of Jair Judg.10.3 22

    Oppression of Gilead by Ammon Judg.10.8 18

    Judgeship of Jephthah Judg.12.7 6

    Judgeship of Ibzan Judg.12.9 7

    Judgeship of Elon Judg.12.11 10

    Judgeship of Abdon Judg.12.14 8

    Oppression under the Philistines Judg.13.1 40

    Judgeship of Samson Judg.15.20; Judg.16.31 20

    Judgeship of Eli 1Sam.4.18 40

    Judgeship of Samuel 1Sam.7.2 20

    The sum of the above numbers is 470 years. However, it seems clear that we can subtract the 20 years of Samson’s judgship, because that period is included in the 40 years of oppression under the Philistines—he “led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines” (Judg.15.20). This results in the grand total of 450 years for the period of the judges, the same number given by the apostle Paul when he spoke of this period in his speech in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts.13.20). On the other hand, some speculate that the judges were local rulers, exercising control over limited areas while others held office in other parts of the land—e.g., Jephthah, who ruled over Gilead (Judg.10.18; Judg.11.5-Judg.11.11; Judg.12.4). They argue that the judgeships and oppressions at times overlapped (as with Samson); two oppressions might have been simultaneous in different parts of the land, as with the Ammonites in the NE and the Philistines in the SW (Judg.10.6-Judg.10.7). Furthermore, they say, the numerous 40s or multiples and submultiples of 40 (40, 80, 20, 40, 40, 10, 40, 20, 40) and Jephthah’s 300 years after the conquest (Judg.11.26) are to be understood as merely approximate.

    V. The United Monarchy. Because of a number of uncertainties the absolute date for the establishment of the United Monarchy cannot be given. The OT does not give the length of the reign of Saul, but Paul in a sermon at Antioch referred to it as forty years (Acts.13.21). If Saul reigned a full forty years, David was not born until ten years after Saul began his reign, for he was thirty when he took the throne (2Sam.5.4). The battle with the Philistines at Micmash, with Jonathan in command of a large part of the army, presumably took place early in Saul’s reign, perhaps even in his second year (1Sam.13.1-1Sam.13.2). In such a case Jonathan would have been well advanced in years when David was a mere youth, which is out of harmony with the picture in the biblical record. Other difficulties are also involved, all making it clear that Saul either did not reign a full forty years or that he must have been very young when he took the throne.

    The reign of David, on the other hand, may be regarded as a full forty years, for he reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem (2Sam.5.4-2Sam.5.5; 1Kgs.2.11; 1Chr.3.4), and one event is dated in the fortieth year (1Chr.26.31).

    Solomon began his reign before the death of David (1Kgs.1.32-1Kgs.1.48), but how long is not recorded. Presumably it was only a short time, but the indefiniteness of this period must be taken into consideration in any endeavor to establish an absolute chronology. And the forty years of his reign (1Kgs.11.42) might have been intended as a round number. Going back to the Exodus the recorded periods are as follows: 40, 8, 40, 18, 80, 20, 40, 7, 40, 3, 23, 22, 18, 6, 7, 10, 8, 40, 20, 40, 40, 40, 40. Unless we can be certain that all these numbers are absolute, we cannot be certain of an absolute chronology for the periods involved.

    VI. The Divided Monarchy. For the period of the Divided Monarchy an entirely different situation is found. Here there are an abundance of data that may be checked against each other and the numbers are no longer round. Four biblical yardsticks are here provided—the lengths of reign of the rulers of Judah and those of Israel, and the synchronisms of Judah with Israel and of Israel with Judah. Furthermore, a number of synchronisms with the fixed years of contemporary Assyria make possible a check with an exact chronological yardstick and make possible the establishment of absolute years b.c. for the period of the kings.

    Various methods were used in the ancient East for reckoning the official years of kings. During the Divided Monarchy, Judah used the method that the year when a ruler took the throne was his “accession year.” Israel, on the other hand, followed those nations where a king termed his initial year his “first year.” According to this latter method, the year when a king began to reign was always counted twice—as the last year of his predecessor and his own first official year. Thus, reigns reckoned according to this method were always one year longer in official length than those reckoned according to the former method, and for every reign there was always a gain of one year over absolute time. The following tables will make these two methods of reckoning clear and will show how for every reign the totals of Israel for this period increase by one year over those of Judah:

    The following table shows how the totals of both nations from the division to the death of Ahaziah in Israel in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat in Judah (omitting the seven-day reign of Zimri) are identical and perfectly correct when properly understood:


    King Official years Actual years King Years

    Jeroboam 22 21 Rehoboam 17

    Nadab 2 1 Abijam 3

    Baasha 24 23 Asa 41

    Elah 2 1 Jehoshaphat 18

    Omri 12 11

    Ahab 22 21

    Ahaziah 2 1

    Total 86 79 79

    The following are the conditions that make possible the construction of a chronological pattern of the kings based on the biblical data that possess internal harmony and are in accord with the years of contemporary Assyria and Babylon: Tishri regnal years for Judah and Nisan years for Israel; accession-year reckoning for Judah except for Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, and Joash, who followed the nonaccession-year system then employed in Israel; nonaccession-year reckoning in Israel for the early period, and from Jehoash to the end, accession-year reckoning; synchronisms of each nation in accord with its own current system of reckoning; a number of coregencies or of overlapping reigns when rival rulers exercised control; a double chronological pattern for both Israel and Judah involving the closing years of Israel’s history.

    The years of the kings based on the above principles are as follows:

    VII. The Exile and Return. The Book of Kings closes with the notice of the release of Jehoiachin from captivity on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month, in the thirty-seventh year of his captivity and the accession year of Evil-Merodach (2Kgs.25.27). That was April 2, 561 b.c.

    Babylon fell to the Persians October 12, 539 b.c., and Cyrus in the first year of his reign issued a decree permitting the Jews to return and rebuild the temple (2Chr.36.22; Ezra.1.1). On the basis of Nisan regnal years, this would have been 538 b.c. However, Neh.1.1 and Neh.2.1 give evidence that the author of Nehemiah reckoned the years of the Persian kings not from Nisan as was the Persian custom, but from Tishri, in accord with the Jewish custom. The Aramaic papyri from Elephantine in Egypt give evidence that the same custom was followed by the Jewish colony there in the fifth century b.c. Inasmuch as Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah were originally one and came from the same author, the indications are that the first year of Cyrus referred to in Ezra.1.1 was reckoned on a Tishri basis, and that it was, therefore, in 537 that Cyrus issued his decree.

    Haggai began his ministry on the first day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius (Hag.1.1), August 29, 520 b.c.; and Zechariah commenced his work in the eighth month of the same year (Zech.1.1), in October or November 520. The temple was completed on the third of Adar, the sixth year of Darius (Ezra.6.15), March 12, 515.

    The return of Ezra from Babylon was begun the first day of the first month, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra.7.7, Ezra.7.9). Artaxerxes came to the throne in December, 465 b.c., and this would bring the first of Nisan of his seventh year on April 8, 458, according to Persian reckoning, but on March 27, 457, according to Judean years. The evidence that this was the custom then employed has already been given above.

    Word was brought to Nehemiah of the sad state of affairs at Jerusalem in the month Kislev of the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (Neh.1.1), and in Nisan of that same twentieth year Nehemiah stood before the king and received permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city (Neh.2.1-Neh.2.8). That was April, 444 b.c. With Nehemiah’s return to Babylon in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes (Neh.13.6), 433/32 b.c., the chronology of the OT proper comes to a close.

    Bibliography: W. F. Albright, “The Chronology of the Divided Monarchy of Israel,” BASOR, No. 100 (December 1945), pp. 16-22; P. Van der Meer, The Ancient Chronology of Western Asia and Egypt, 1955; R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 b.c.-a.d. 75, 1956; E. R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1965; W. R. Wifall, Jr., “The Chronology of the Divided Monarchy of Israel,” ZAW 80 (1968), pp. 319-37; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1969, pp. 145-98.——ERT

    Texts and Versions

    TEXTS AND VERSIONS (OLD TESTAMENT). The OT is a book of sacred literature for Jews and Christians and has no rival in quality or scope of influence among other sacred writings of the world today. It is the focal unit of Judaism and the foundation of Christianity’s sacred literature. In Jesus’ time it was called “the Scriptures,” though Jesus himself often referred to it by its divisional terminology. On the day of his resurrection, for example, Jesus declared to the disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke.24.44). It was also the Bible of Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul, and the other early Christians (Acts.2.7; Acts.8.13).

    I. Origin of the Old Testament

    A. General discussion. The English OT today is identical with the Hebrew Bible but is arranged differently. The customary divisions of the thirty-nine books books in the English version are (1) seventeen historical books, (2) five poetical books, and (3) seventeen (major and minor) prophetical books. The Hebrew Bible was divided into (1) Law (Torah, i.e., the Pentateuch), (2) Prophets (Nebhiim, including Joshua, Judges, Kings, and Later Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets), and (3) Writings (Kethuvim, composed of the eleven remaining books). The Hebrew OT—combining certain books that are separate in English—numbered only twenty-four books. Josephus reduced the number to twenty-two by further combinations.

    B. Canonization. The final confirmation of the books of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings as exclusively canonical by Jewish scholars cannot be placed later than 400, 200, and 100 b.c. respectively. However, the writing and adoption by consensus doubtless antedated these dates by centuries. Since some contemporary writings were accepted and some rejected during the periods mentioned above, some basis for discrimination was necessary. The critical term for this process is “Canon,” derived from the Greek word Kānon, “rod,” which came from the Hebrew and Old Babylonian words for “reed,” meaning “measure.” There were no canonical decrees governing selection, but scriptural authority seems to have been derived from usage by devout Jews, and any pronouncements of measuring methods were only confirmations of that authority. Some critics think that the formation of the Canon began in 621 b.c. during Josiah’s reign and ended in the Council of Jamnia, a.d. 90. Actually the Council only confirmed the established authority of the books composing our present OT, recognized and accepted before the time of Jesus. The need for some criterion, however, for standardization to protect and preserve Holy Writ was doubtless long in the minds of the rabbis. Probably the first to sense keenly this need were the scribes, the Sopherim, who elaborated a theory of inspiration. They said that inspiration belonged to the prophetic office, and the range of prophetic activity began with Moses and ceased with Ezra (though according to rabbinical writings it ended in the time of Alexander the Great). According to these limitations, any writings before Moses or after the prophets would automatically be apocryphal. Consequently the books of the OT were all inspired writings of men chosen by God, spanning a period of approximately a thousand years, embraced within the traditional dates of 1450 to 444 b.c.

    Internal and external evidences combine to give a provisional view of biblical authorship. The cultural development of the Hebrews in correlation with that of their contemporaries may be seen through the eyes of the archaeologists. First, however, the scriptural record should be reviewed.

    In Exod.24.7 we read concerning Moses, “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.” The Book of the Covenant (Exod.20.1-Exod.20.26-Exod.23.1-Exod.23.33) is probably the oldest writing in the OT. It is the nucleus around which the framework of the Pentateuch was built.

    II. Texts

    A. Fragmentary scripts. No autograph texts of any OT writings are known to exist today, but the textual critic tries with all available means to reconstruct texts as nearly like the originals as possible. Until a.d. 1947, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the earliest complete extant manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible were dated about 1000. There were, however, fragmentary evidences of considerable value, brought to light from time to time by archaeologists, contributing to the validity of the Bible claims.

    B. The art of writing. Writing was known as early as 3000 b.c. among the old civilizations of the Near East. Temple inscriptions; the Code of Hammurabi; and the Gilgamesh Epic, with accounts of Creation, original sin, and the Flood, antedate Moses by several centuries. There are numerous examples of early writing that support the claim that Moses, who “was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts.7.22), could have and did write the passages claimed for him in the Bible.

    C. Antecedents of the Hebrew language. These may be found in Old Phoenicia, a land on the Mediterranean coast north of Palestine settled by an early wave of Semites. These precocious seafaring people are credited with giving the world its first alphabet. As early as the sixteenth century b.c., evidences of a Hebrew-Phoenician alphabet are found, from which a standarized script emerged about the tenth century. This is the cursive script, used in Old Hebrew and for the original writing of the OT books. This script was replaced by the Hebrew-Aramaic square script probably a century before Christ. However, since the Samaritan Pentateuch is in the old cursive script, the square letters must not have been used until after the schism between Judea and Samaria about 432 (Neh.13.28). Modern scholarship dates the Samaritan Pentateuch at 128 or 122 b.c. Furthermore, the transition seems not to have preceded the Septuagint, though the Aramaic square letters were in use centuries before by the Jews in Egypt. Seemingly, the square Aramaic script was gradually adopted by the Jews after the Exile (536-538 b.c.) and used latest in sacred writing. The letter from Arsham (the Persian satrap of Egypt c. 410 b.c.) is nonbiblical and was written in the square Hebrew letters. Jesus’ reference to the “jot” in the law indicates that this type of script was in biblical use in his time (Matt.5.18 kjv).

    Other writings discovered in Phoenicia have had valuable bearing on Hebrew philology. Excavations in a mound at Ras Shamra, ancient Ugarit, unearthed a small temple with a library underneath. Among the finds were tablets containing a script of only twenty-seven different characters. This proved to be archaic Hebrew, dated about 1400 b.c., hence one of the earliest alphabetic writings yet known. Another important discovery on the Phoenician coast was made at Byblos, OT Gebal (Ezek.27.9). It was a remarkable alphabetical inscription on the Ahirams sarcophagus (stone coffin), dated about 100. Byblos is the name from which our term Bible is derived.

    D. Fragments of the Hebrew language. From Palestine, the mound of Old Lachish (Josh.10.31-Josh.10.32) yielded a bowl, a jar, and a dagger containing brief inscriptions in alphabetic script similar to that found in Sinai and dating probably between 1750 and 1550 b.c. Similar characters inscribed in ink on a potsherd were found at Beth Shemesh from about the tenth century. Twenty-one letters found at Lachish consisted of broken pieces of pottery on which were inscribed archaic Hebrew by a military commander during the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar in 588. To these may be added fragmentary inscriptions from the Gezer Calendar, c. 900; Moabite Stone, c. 800; Siloam Tunnel, c. 700; and numerous others. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the small sheet known as the Nash Papyrus, dated second to first century b.c., was our earliest biblical Hebrew document. It contains the Ten Commandments and the Shema (Deut.6.4).

    E. The Bible in the Hebrew language. The OT was originally written in Hebrew, with the exception of a few chapters and verses in the later books. These were written in Aramaic, a kindred language, and are found in Dan.2.4-Dan.7.28; Ezra.4.8-Ezra.6.18; Ezra.7.12-Ezra.7.26; and Jer.10.11.

    The Scriptures were written on animal skins, called vellum or parchment, or on papyrus. Papyrus comes from a water plant of that name from the marshes of the Nile. The glutinous pith was sliced and the stripes laid at right angles and pressed together, making a very smooth and durable paper.

    The Hebrew Bible is the work of many authors over a period of more than a thousand years, roughly between the fifteenth and fifth centuries b.c. As it grew in size it also grew in sacredness and authority for the Jews.

    F. Preservation of the texts. Two obvious factors have militated against the preservation of original autograph writings and archaic texts. First, when transcriptions were made onto new scrolls, the old deteriorating ones were destroyed lest they fall into the hands of profane and unscrupulous men. Second, attempts were made at different times by the enemies of the Jews to destroy their sacred literature. Antiochus Epiphanes (c. 167 b.c.) burned all the copies he could find, and many rolls were destroyed during the Roman wars (c. a.d. 70).

    Another hazard that threatened accurate transmission of the Scriptures was the repeated copying by hand. Scribal errors and explanatory marginal notes doubtless resulted in slight deviations from the original, but the fidelity of the copyist is amazing. Ezra and his school of scribes, the Great Synagogue, and subsequent rabbinical schools and priests and scribes worked diligently to perpetuate the original Scriptures. It was the Masoretic scholars who devised the present vowel system and accentual marks. Before this the consonantal Hebrew Scripture was not vocalized. Chapter divisions came much later, appearing first in the Vulgate, a.d. 1227 or 1248, and transferred to the Hebrew Bible about 1440. Verses were marked in the Vulgate as early as 1558.

    G. The Dead Sea Scrolls. In a.d. 1947 some Palestinian herdsmen accidentally discovered a cave in the Judean hills that proved to be a veritable treasure house of ancient Scriptures. The discovery of these scrolls was acclaimed by biblical scholars as the greatest manuscript discovery in modern times. From this and other caves by the Wadi Qumran, NW of the Dead Sea, came a hoard of OT parchments dated 200 b.c. to the first century a.d.

    The first major find comprised four scrolls. One of the first documents was a copy of the Book of Isaiah in Hebrew, and another a copy of the first two chapters of the Book of Habakkuk in Hebrew, with added commentary. Later discoveries yielded fragments with portions of other biblical books in Hebrew. The Deuteronomy fragments were written in archaic script. Altogether, the manuscript fragments constitute over four hundred books, a few almost intact, and more than forty thousand fragments. Ninety of these books were parts of the Bible, with every OT book except Esther being represented among them.

    These scrolls are of great critical value on the basis of such factors as antiquity and authenticity. The scroll of Isaiah A is dated near 200 b.c., while that of Ecclesiastes and the fragments of Exodus and Samuel are estimated by some to be as old as 250 and 225 b.c. respectively.

    One valuable contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls is their provision of a critical basis for the study of the three main lines of transmission by which the text of the OT has come down to us. The first of these, and probably the most trustworthy, is the Masoretic Hebrew text of the eighth and ninth century a.d. The second is the Greek Septuagint, and the third is the Samaritan Pentateuch. The antecedents of these three forms of Hebrew texts seem to have been varying types of texts used by the people of Israel in general in the closing centuries of the Second Jewish Commonwealth, and were in no sense confined to or used by a particular sect. It may be that the Masoretic text was derived from a Babylonian revision, the Septuagint from Egyptian Hebrew, and the Samaritan from a Palestinian text; but it seems obvious that all were used in Judea.

    III. Versions of the Old Testament

    A. Greek versions.

    1. The Septuagint, whose value can hardly be overestimated, was in popular use in Jesus’ time and is often quoted by NT writers. It is a translation of Hebrew into Greek by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. The Pentateuch was translated about 250 b.c. and the entire OT completed a hundred years later. The term Septuagint is the Latin word for seventy, representing the seventy-two rabbis who did the translating, probably under orders of Ptolemy Philadelphus. The Greek used was not the classical idiom but rather anticipated that of the NT, the Koinē. It was designed to preserve the old religion among the dispersed Jews in a language they commonly used. The oldest extant fragments of the Septuagint today are from a papyrus roll of Deuteronomy, dated about a.d. 150, found on an Egyptian mummy, and now in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England. (See also Septuagint)

    2. Other Greek versions. Three Greek translations from the Hebrew were made in the second century a.d., but only fragments of them have survived. Aquila, a proselyte Jew, made a very literal translation that became the official Greek version for the Jews. Theodotion, a Christian of Pontus, made a translation between 180 and 192 that seemed to be partially a revision of the Septuagint. It was a free rendering of the idiomatic Greek and became popular in the early Christian churches. In about 200, Symmachus faithfully translated the Hebrew into good, smooth Greek, though it was somewhat a paraphrase. Jerome’s commentary on these versions was that “Aquila translates word for word, Symmachus follows the sense, and Theodotion differs slightly from the Septuagint.”

    3. The Hexapla was a translation and six-column arrangement by Origen in Caesarea about a.d. 240. This was a kind of harmony of the translations of Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus, and the Septuagint. It became the authoritative Greek OT for some churches. Only fragments of this work remain.

    4. Several Greek manuscripts containing excerpts from the OT have been discovered. The oldest were written on papyrus; and those after the fourth century a.d., on vellum. The script of the latter is in “uncials,” capital letters written separately, used generally from the third to the tenth century, and in “cursives,” from about the ninth to the sixteenth century.

    A papyrus manuscript of the minor prophets, in uncials, dated the latter part of the third century a.d., was found in Egypt and is now in the Freer collection, Washington, D.C.

    Codex Vaticanus, “B,” dated about the middle of the fourth century a.d., contains most of the OT and NT. It is in the Vatican Library, where it was known as early as the fifteenth century.

    Codex Sinaiticus, א (or Aleph), contains a limited fragment of the OT of equal age with “B.” It was discovered in 1844 by Tischendorf in the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai and placed in the royal library at St. Petersburg (Leningrad). It was later purchased from the Soviet government and placed in the British Museum in 1933.

    Codex Alexandrinus, “A,” a manuscript in uncials, dated in the fifth century a.d., was a gift to King James I and was brought to England in 1628 and placed in the British Museum.

    Codex Ephraemi, “C,” contains sixty-four leaves of the OT dated from the fifth century a.d. and is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

    B. Aramaic versions. The Targums were probably oral translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic after the latter replaced the Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jews. The Targums contain religious instructions along with interpretations, which accompanied the reading of Scripture in the synagogues. Compare the procedure followed when Jesus was in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke.4.16-Luke.4.27). Besides the Targum of Jonathan on the Prophets, there are three on the Pentateuch, all of which were put into written form from about the first to the ninth century a.d. The three are the Onkelos (Babylonian), the Jerusalem Targum, and the Fragmentary Palestinian Targum.

    C. Syriac versions. The Peshitta is the Syriac Bible of the OT translated in the second or third century a.d. for the benefit of Christians whose language was Syriac. Many manuscripts survive. The earliest data known on any manuscript of the Bible is found on one containing Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, in the British Museum, dating to a.d. 464.

    D. Latin versions.

    1. The Old Latin versions probably originated among the Latin-speaking Jews of Carthage and were adopted by the Christians. An entire Bible in “Old Latin” circulated in Carthage by a.d. 250. There were a variety of Latin versions before Jerome’s day, representing three types of Old Latin text: African, European, and Italian.

    2. The Vulgate was produced by the scholarly Jerome in a cave in Bethlehem adjacent to what he believed was the Grotto of the Nativity. Jerome translated directly from the Hebrew with references to the Septuagint and Origen’s Hexapla. He was commissioned in a.d. 382 by Pope Damasus to make an official revision of the Old Latin Bible. His work was completed in 405. The Vulgate is a creditable work, though not an infallibly accurate translation of the original text. Rather, it was an interpretation of thought put into idiomatic, graceful Latin. It was virtually without a rival for a thousand years. The Douay Version, translated from the Vulgate, was until recently the only authorized Roman Catholic Bible in English.

    E. Other Eastern versions. The Coptic versions were made for Christians in Egypt in the second or third century a.d. The Ethiopic version was made in the fourth or fifth century. The Gothic version was prepared by Ulfilas about 350. The Armenian version, beautiful and accurate, was made for Christians of eastern Asia Minor about 400. A twin to the latter was the Georgian version of the fifth or sixth century. The Slavonic version of the ninth century is preserved in the oldest manuscript of the whole Bible in existence today. It is dated 1499 and is known as Codex Gennadius, now in Moscow. The Arabic version, necessitated by the Arabic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries, was begun by Saadya in the tenth century.

    These ancient versions aid the critic in trying to restore the original text and in interpretations. For data on English versions, see Bible, English Versions.

    For bibliography, see next article.——GBF