Old Testament

first division of the Christian biblical canon

In Christianity, the Old Testament is the name of the first part of the Bible which was completed before Jesus Christ was born. Scholars prefer the term Hebrew Bible.

Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law is a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn

Tertullian was probably the first person to call these books the "Old Testament." He used the Latin name vetus testamentum in the 2nd century.

The collection contains different texts, called "books", about God, and the people of Israel. It can be divided into several sections: the Torah, the History of Israel, the Prophets and Wisdom books. In Judaism, this collection of books is known as Tanakh because it is divided into three parts (Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim). Most Jews and many Christians believe these texts to be holy. According to them, God inspired people to write them.

Different religious communities include (or leave out) certain books from the Old Testament. The Catholic Church uses Saint Jerome's Latin translation of the Old Testament called Vulgate. The Eastern Orthodox church uses the ancient Greek translation of Jewish sacred writings called the Septuagint. The Eastern Orthodox list of sacred books has a few more books than the Roman Catholic list. Protestant Bibles stick more closely to the books in the Tanakh but list them in a different order.



In the Old Testament, Almighty God is the one who created the world. The God of the Old Testament is not always presented as the only God who exists, even though there may be other gods, the God of the Old Testament is always shown as the only God whom Israel is to worship. The God of the Old Testament is the one "true God"; only Yahweh is Almighty. Both Jews and Christians have always interpreted the Bible (both the "Old" and "New" Testaments) as an affirmation of the oneness of Almighty God.[1]

The Old Testament stresses the special relationship between God and his chosen people, Israel, but includes instructions for proselytes as well. This relationship is expressed in the biblical covenant (contract)[2][3][4][5][6][7] between the two, received by Moses. The law codes in books such as Exodus and especially Deuteronomy are the terms of the contract: Israel swears faithfulness to God, and God swears to be Israel's special protector and supporter.[8] The Jewish Study Bible denies that covenant means contract.[9]

Other themes in the Old Testament include salvation, redemption, divine judgment, obedience and disobedience, faith and faithfulness. Throughout there is a strong emphasis on ethics and ritual purity. God demands both.

According to the Old Testament, it is important to be fair and to help those who are vulnerable. Those in power should not be biased when they judge people. The Old Testament forbids corruption, deceiving people when trading. It is also against some sexual practices, which are seen as sinful. All morality is traced back to God, who is the source of all goodness.[10]

The problem of evil plays a large part in the Old Testament. The problem the Old Testament authors faced was that a good God must have had just reason for bringing disaster (meaning notably, but not only, the Babylonian exile) upon his people. The theme is played out, with many variations, in books as different as the histories of Kings and Chronicles, the prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and in the wisdom books like Job and Ecclesiastes.[10]

Books in the Old Testament


The Torah, or "Books of Moses"

  1. Genesis (50 Chapters)
  2. Exodus (40 Chapters)
  3. Leviticus (27 Chapters)
  4. Numbers (36 Chapters)
  5. Deuteronomy (34 Chapters)

Historical books

  1. Joshua (24 Chapters)
  2. Judges (21 Chapters)
  3. Ruth (4 chapters)
  4. 1 Samuel (31 Chapters)
  5. 2 Samuel (24 Chapters)
  6. 1 Kings (22 Chapters)
  7. 2 Kings (25 Chapters)
  8. 1 Chronicles (29 Chapters)
  9. 2 Chronicles (36 Chapters)
  10. Ezra (10 Chapters)[a]
  11. Nehemiah (13 Chapters)[a]
  12. Esther (10 Chapters)

Wisdom books

  1. Job (42 Chapters)
  2. Psalms (150 Chapters)
  3. Proverbs (31 Chapters)
  4. Ecclesiastes (12 Chapters)
  5. Song of Solomon (8 Chapters)

Major prophets

  1. Isaiah (66 Chapters)
  2. Jeremiah (52 Chapters)
  3. Lamentations (5 Chapters)
  4. Ezekiel (48 Chapters)
  5. Daniel (12 Chapters)[b]

Minor prophets

  1. Hosea (14 Chapters)
  2. Joel (3 Chapters)
  3. Amos (9 Chapters)
  4. Obadiah (1 Chapter)
  5. Jonah (4 Chapters)
  6. Micah (7 Chapters)
  7. Nahum (3 Chapters)
  8. Habakkuk (3 Chapters)
  9. Zephaniah (3 Chapters)
  10. Haggai (2 Chapters)
  11. Zechariah (14 Chapters)
  12. Malachi (4 Chapters)
  1. 1.0 1.1 In Eastern Orthodoxy, the Book of Ezra called 2 Esdras. The Book of Nehemiah is also a part of 2 Esdras. Eastern Orthodox bibles also have a book called 1 Esdras. Protestant and Catholic bibles do not have this book.
  2. This book has 14 chapters in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.


  1. Barton, John 1997. How the Bible came to be. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 978-0-664-25785-9, p=9
  2. Coogan 2008, p. 106.
  3. Ferguson 1996, p. 2.
  4. Ska 2009, p. 213.
  5. Berman 2006, p. unpaginated: "At this juncture, however, God is entering into a “treaty” with the Israelites, and hence the formal need within the written contract for the grace of the sovereign to be documented.30 30. Mendenhall and Herion, “Covenant,” p. 1183."
  6. Levine 2001, p. 46.
  7. Hayes 2006.
  8. Barton 2001, p. 9: "4. Covenant and Redemption. It is a central point in many OT texts that the creator God YHWH is also in some sense Israel's special god, who at some point in history entered into a relationship with his people that had something of the nature of a contract. Classically this contract or covenant was entered into at Sinai, and Moses was its mediator."
  9. Berlin & Brettler 2014, p. PT194: 6.17-22: Further introduction and a pledge. 18: This v. records the first mention of covenant ("berit") in the Tanakh. In the ancient Near East, a covenant was an agreement that the parties swore before the gods, and expected the gods to enforce. In this case, God is Himself a party to the covenant, which is more like a pledge than an agreement or contract (this was sometimes the case in the ancient Near East as well). The covenant with Noah will receive longer treatment in 9.1-17.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Barton 2001, p. 10.