In the previous chapter it was observed that the Bible is a book of covenants. Though we read about multiple covenants established between God and man in the Bible, two of these covenants predominate; an older covenant established by Moses at Mount Sinai, and a new covenant established by Yahshua on Mount Calvary. F.F. Bruce, in his book The Canon of Scripture, affirms the covenantal aspect of the Bible.
In the earliest books of the Old Testament God makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants (Gen. 9:8-17), and again with Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 15:18; 17:1-4). The external token of the covenant with Noah was the rainbow; the external token of the covenant with Abraham was the rite of circumcision. Later, when Abraham’s descendants (or at least one important group of them) had migrated to Egypt and were drafted into forced labour gangs there, God remembered his covenant with Abraham and brought about their deliverance.
Having left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they were constituted a nation in the wilderness of Sinai. Their national constitution took the form of a covenant into which the God of their fathers entered with them, making himself known to them by his name Yahweh. The terms of this covenant were very simple, ‘I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ Yahweh undertook to make various kinds of provision for them; they undertook to worship him exclusively and to obey his commandments. These undertakings were recorded in a document called ‘the book of the covenant.’ According to the narrative of Exodus 24:4-8,
“Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to Yahweh. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and he read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”
This narrative is summarized in the New Testament, in Hebrews 9:18-20, where the covenant thus ratified is qualified as ‘the first covenant.’ This is because the writer to the Hebrews sets it in contrast with the ‘new covenant’ promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Over six hundred years after the ratification of the covenant of Moses’ day at the foot of Mount Sinai, the prophet Jeremiah announced that, in the days to come, the God of Israel would establish a new covenant with his people to replace that which he had made with the Exodus generation when he ‘took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt’ (Jer. 31:31-34). That ancient covenant made the divine will plain to them, but did not impart the power to carry it out; for lack of that power they broke the covenant. Under the new covenant, however, not only the desire but the power to do the will of God would be imparted to his people: his law would be put within them and written on their hearts. ‘In speaking of a new covenant,’ says the writer to the Hebrews, ‘he treats the first as obsolete’ (Hebrews 8:13). And he leaves no doubt that the new covenant has already been established, ratified not by the blood of sacrificed animals but by the blood of Christ, a sacrifice which effects not merely external purification from ritual defilement but the inward cleansing of the conscience from guilt.
This interpretation of the promise of the new covenant is fully in line with Jesus’ own words. During the evening before his death, sitting with his disciples round the supper-table, he gave them bread and wine as memorials of himself. When he gave them the wine, according to Mark’s record, he said, ‘This is my blood of the covenant (my covenant blood), which is poured out for many’ (Mark 14:24). The echo of Moses’ words, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant…,’ can scarcely be missed…
Each of these covenants – the ancient covenant of Sinai and the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus – launched a great spiritual movement. Each of these movements gave rise to a special body of literature, and these bodies of literature came to be known in the Christian church as ‘the books of the ancient covenant’ and ‘the books of the new covenant.’ The former collection came into being over a period of a thousand years or more; the latter collection has a more inaugural character. Its various parts were written within a century from the establishment of the new covenant; they may be regarded as the foundation documents of Christianity. It was not until the end of the second century AD that the two collections began to be described, briefly, as the Old Covenant (or Testament) and the New Covenant (or Testament). These short titles attested in both Greek and Latin almost simultaneously – in Greek, in the works of Clement of Alexandria; in Latin, in the works of Tertullian of Carthage.
[The Canon of Scripture, F.F. Bruce; Emphasis Added]
Many parallels can be observed between the covenant established by Moses and the covenant established by Yahshua. Even as Moses took the blood of the sacrifice and threw it upon the people, sealing the covenant in blood, we find a parallel event in the establishment of Christ’s covenant.
And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children!“
Moses described the words that Yahweh has entrusted to him as “the book of the covenant.” Today, we can aptly describe the Bible as “the book of the covenants.” The Bible is divided into two sections of writings. It contains the books of the ancient covenant (The Old Testament), and the books of the new covenant (The New Testament).
In this chapter, I want to pay particular attention to the books of the ancient covenant, that which Christians today commonly call the Old Testament. These books were delivered to the descendants of Abraham, the Hebrew people. Many Christians are surprised to learn that the Scriptures used by the Hebrews in the time of Christ did not contain 39 books as are found in the Old Testament of our Bibles today. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian writing in the first century A.D. stated that the Jews had only 22 books of sacred writings.
For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.
[Flavius Josephus, Against Apion]
The Scriptures that Yahshua and His disciples used in their day included only 22 books. Christians should not be alarmed at this, however, for these 22 books contained all of the writings that comprise the Old Testament of their Bibles today. The books were simply arranged differently. This was no doubt in part due to the fact that writing at the time was done primarily on scrolls of animal skin, or papyrus. Many of the Old Testament books are small, and it would have been prohibitively expensive to create an individual scroll for each prophet’s writing. Therefore, certain books were combined into a single scroll. Following is a listing of how the Jews of Yahshua’s day divided their holy writings.
• The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: 5 books
• The Prophets: Joshua, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations, Ezekiel,
The book of the twelve (Hosea to Malachi): 7 books
• The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth-Judges, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles: 10 books
You can see by this list, that many books that are listed separately in Bibles today were formerly combined. I and II Samuel were one book. I and II Kings were one book. I and II Chronicles were one book. Jeremiah and Lamentations were combined as one book. Ruth and Judges were one book. Ezra and Nehemiah were one book. Then there were the twelve books of the minor prophets (Hosea to Malachi) which were all combined into one book which was referred to as “The Twelve.”
There were other reasons that the Jews numbered their holy writings as 22, besides cost and the convenience of combining multiple books on a single scroll. In a writing titled The Book of Jubilees, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, some Jewish teachers set forth the theological underpinning for this number. They wrote:
God made 22 things on the six days of creation. These 22 events paralleled the 22 generations from Adam to Jacob, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the 22 books of the Holy Scripture.
Jewish scholar Sixtus Senensis, who lived in the 16th century, emphasized the importance of this matter.
As with the Hebrew there are twenty-two letters, in which all that can be said and written is comprehended, so there are twenty-two books in which are contained all that can be known and uttered of divine things.
It should be noted that modern copies of the Tanakh usually contain 24 books. This number has been arrived at by separating Jeremiah and Lamentations into two books, and dividing Ruth and Judges into separate books.
The Hebrews also arranged their books differently than the order found in a modern Bible. The Jews organized their sacred writings as:
The Law – Torah
The Prophets – Neviim
The Writings – Kethuvim
The first letter of the words Torah, Neviim, and Kethuvim (TNK) are combined to form the word Tanakh, which is the name employed by the Jews to refer to the Old Testament.
The Hebrew Tanakh begins the same way as the Christian Old Testament, placing the five books of Moses at the front, and in chronological order. As we see in the anagram Tanakh, these five books are referred to as the Torah. The word Torah is often translated as “Law,” but it may more accurately be defined as “teaching,” or “instruction.” The word Torah is used inconsistently as a reference to divine writings. At times just the Law of Moses is referred to as the Torah. Sometimes the entire Hebrew Old Testament is referred to as the Torah. Its more specific application however, is when it is used in reference to the five books of Moses.
Christian scholars often prefer the Greek word Pentateuch over the word Torah. Pentateuch literally means “five books.” This term may have first been used in Alexandria, Egypt, among Hellenistic Jews (Jews who had embraced the Greek culture and language).
Another difference between the Hebrew Scriptures, and their Christian counterparts is the names assigned to the books. The Jews do not refer to the books of Moses as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Instead, they are called Bereshith (Bereshit), Shemoth (Shemot), Wayyiqra (Vayikra), Bemidbar, and Debarim (Devarim). Each of these book names in the Hebrew Scriptures are derived from the opening statement of their corresponding writings.
In the beginning (bereshith) Elohim created the heavens and the earth.
The Hebrew word bereshith means “in the beginning.”
And these are the names (shemoth) of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each one with his household.
The Hebrew word shemoth means “names.”
And Yahweh spoke unto Moses, and he called (wayyiqra) to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying,
The Hebrew word wayyiqra means “and he called.”
And Yahweh spoke to Moses in the Wilderness (bemidbar) of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
The Hebrew word bemidbar means “ in the wilderness.”
These are the words (debarim) which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the desert plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.
The Hebrew word debarim means “words.”
If we were to literally carry the Hebrew names for these books into English, we would refer to the first five books of the Old Testament as:
In the Beginning
And He Called
In the Wilderness
The English word Genesis associated with the first book of the Bible means “Beginning.” We can therefore see some correspondence between the Hebrew and Christian naming conventions for the first book of the Bible. We see no correspondence between Names/Exodus, And He Called/Leviticus, In the Wilderness/Numbers, or Words/Deuteronomy. How then did our Bibles come to bear these book names?
The Christian names for these books are derived from the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. A group of 72 Jewish scholars translated their Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in the 2nd century B.C.. These Jewish scholars, working in Alexandria, Egypt where there was a large community of Jewish believers, chose names for the five books of Moses that reflected the theme of each book. In the Greek Septuagint, the first five books were titled as follows:
Exodos: “going out”
Leuitikos: “relating to the Levites”
Arithmoi: contains a record of the numbering of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai and later on the plain of Moab.
Deuteronomion: “second law,” refers to the fifth book’s recitation of the commandments reviewed by Moses before his death.
It is easy to see in these Greek names how the English titles of the five books of Moses were arrived at in our Christian Bibles today.
The Tanakh follows the five books of Moses, the Torah, with the Neviim, or the Prophets. Included in these books are Ruth-Judges, Samuel (which includes I Samuel and II Samuel as a single book), and Kings (I and II Kings as one book). We may not think of these books as belonging to the prophets, though Samuel was certainly a prophet. Yet, the ancient Hebrews categorized them this way.
In modern versions of the Tanakh, the Neviim contains 8 books, often informally divided into two subdivisions; the Earlier Prophets, and the Later Prophets. The first four prophetic books lean more toward historical accounts, and the latter prophetic books are characterized by the declaration of numerous prophecies. Joshua, Judges-Ruth, Samuel, and Kings comprise the four early Prophetic books, while Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve (the twelve minor prophets) comprise the latter group of four.
One may wonder why Kings is in the group known as Neviim, but Chronicles is not, for both of these books are very similar in content and cover the same time period. One of the widely accepted theories on this peculiarity is that Chronicles was adopted into the canon of Hebrew Scripture much later than the other books of the Prophets. Therefore, it was placed as the very last book of the Tanakh. This was evidently the arrangement of the books in Christ’s day. F.F. Bruce provides the following argument in support of this view.
There is evidence that Chronicles was the last book in the Hebrew Bible as Jesus knew it. When he said that the generation he addressed would be answerable for ‘the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world,’ he added, ‘from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary’ (Luke 11:50f.). Abel is the first martyr in the Bible (Gen. 4:8); Zechariah is most probably the son of Jehoiada, who was stoned to death ‘in the court of Yahweh’s house’ because, speaking by the Spirit of God, he rebuked the king and people of Judah for transgressing the divine commandments (2 Chron. 24:20-22). Zechariah (c 800 BC) was not chronologically the last faithful prophet to die as a martyr; some two centuries later a prophet named Uriah was put to death in Jerusalem because his witness was unacceptable to king Jehoiakim (Jer. 26:20-23). But Zechariah is canonically the last faithful prophet to die as a martyr, because his death is recorded in Chronicles, the last book of the Hebrew Bible.
[The Canon of Scripture, F.F. Bruce]
That Chronicles was adopted into the canon of Hebrew Scripture last of all the books, explains why it appears at the end of the Tanakh where it is chronologically out of order, as well as providing some explanation of why it does not appear in the same group as Samuel and Kings.
Another oddity is that Daniel, who was surely one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, is not listed among the Neviim – the Prophets. Instead, the book of Daniel is found among the Kethubim – The writings. It would seem that Daniel has far more in common with writings such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah than with Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. Nevertheless, the ancient Hebrews placed Daniel among these latter books.
Some have observed a parallel between the divisions of the Tanakh and the New Testament. The New Testament begins with five historical books that correspond to the Pentateuch. These are the four gospels and the book of Acts. These are followed by the apostolic epistles which can be compared to the writings of the Old Testament prophets. Closing out the New Testament is the book of Revelation, which forms a parallel to The Writings. Indeed, there is great similarity between the book of Daniel in The Writings and the John’s apocalyptic vision.
The number three is full of divine importance. It seems fitting that both the Old and New Testaments lend themselves so naturally to three divisions. E. W. Bullinger, in his insightful book Number in Scripture, shares the following about the number three.
In this number we have quite a new set of phenomena. We come to the first geometrical figure. Two straight lines cannot possibly enclose any space, or form a plane figure; neither can two plan surfaces form a solid. Three lines are necessary to form a plan figure; and three dimensions of length, breadth, and height, are necessary to form a solid. Hence three is the symbol of the cube–the simplest form of solid figure. As two is the symbol of the square, or plane contents (x2), so three is the symbol of the cube, or solid contents (x3).
Three, therefore, stands for that which is solid, real, substantial, complete, and entire.
All things that are specially complete are stamped with this number three.
God’s attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
There are three great divisions completing time–past, present, and future.
Three persons, in grammar, express and include all the relationships of mankind.
Thought, word, and deed, complete the sum of human capability.
Three degrees of comparison complete our knowledge of qualities.
The simplest proposition requires three things to complete it; viz., the subject, the predicate, and the copula.
Three propositions are necessary to complete the simplest form of argument–the major premiss, the minor, and the conclusion.
Three kingdoms embrace our ideas of matter–mineral, vegetable, and animal.
When we turn to the Scriptures, this completion becomes Divine, and marks Divine completeness or perfection.
Three is the first of four perfect numbers (see p. 23).
Three denotes divine perfection;
Seven denotes spiritual perfection;
Ten denotes ordinal perfection; and
Twelve denotes governmental perfection.
Hence the number three points us to what is real, essential, perfect, substantial, complete, and Divine.
The Bible is a divine book. God is the author of the Scriptures. It is difficult to imagine a perfect, all-wise and all-powerful God delivering to mankind anything that was not perfect and complete. The Jews traditionally numbered the divine writings as 22 in total, while the Christian Bible contains 66 books (3 times 22).
Though the ancient Jews had reasons to defend their sacred books as 22 in total, the Christian Bible contains the same material divided into 39 books. Some Christians have remarked on the symmetry found in the Christian divisions of the Old Testament.
We see once more the stamp of the number three. There are 17 books of history, 5 books of wisdom, and 17 books of prophecy. Whether one embraces the Christian divisions of the writings of the Old Testament, or the Hebrew divisions of the Tanakh, it is a book of divine perfection.