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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Restoring the Jewish Order to the Books of the Old Testament

Translation Principle 14 brings us to a decision that our Theology Team felt strongly about: Restoring the Jewish Order to the Books of the Old Testament.

A decidedly Jewish work, we keep the book order employed in classical Jewish culture. Traditionally, the Jewish canon of Scripture begins in Genesis and extends through Second Chronicles. The Christian version, by comparison, begins in Genesis but ends in Malachi. Are Jews and Christians working with different Old Testaments? No.

They are, however, working with different orderings of books in their testaments. The Jewish ordering was the order employed in Yeshua’s day. Beyond wanting to ground our stories in Jewish sediment and sentiment, we figured if it was good enough for Jesus it should be good enough for us. 

The book we call the Bible isn’t really a book in the classical sense, much as it is a collection of books–with the Old(er) Testament written over a thousand year period, by dozens of authors, dealing with issues and Israelites on three continents. Some of the Bible’s collections, themselves, are actually collections of collections–as is the case with Psalms and Proverbs. The Five Books of Moses (the Torah) serves as its core. The various prophetic books can be likened to planets, with the Torah likened to the sun–around which everything revolves. The Hebrew prophets shed light from the Mosaic literature and point Hebrews back to the terms of endearment attested within it.

Unlike the Christian arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish version of the Old Testament begins in Genesis and ends with Second Chronicles–not Malachi. That Yeshua/Jesus worked with the standard Jewish reckoning is evidenced when He once commented “from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berechiah.” (Matt. 23:35b). These two very infamous murders bookend the Jewish Old Testament narrative: Cain’s slaying of Abel comes at the start of the Bible, in Genesis; Zachariah’s murder is the last at the end of the Hebrew Bible, in 2 Chronicles.Yeshua, in effect is saying, “from one of the Bible to the other” you did such and such. His acknowledgement of the storyline and the contours of the Hebrew Bible gives a credence to it that wouldn’t otherwise be there. So, too, does the New Testament’s attestation of Jewish Scripture practices in the first century.

Yeshua’s visit to the synagogue in Nazareth was punctuated by reference to His having been spontaneously handed a scroll, in Lk. 4:16-20. This presupposes a system of scheduled readings—another example of there being sacred text and a “tradition” of reading it for all to hear. Similarly, with Tabernacles as the backdrop, in John 7:2ff, Yeshua’sstatement on the “last day”—or eighth day of the Feast—in v. 38, saying “as the scripture has said,” tacitly underscores the Jewish practice of celebrating the Torah at the end of the reading cycle, i.e. at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, or on Simchat Torah. Here, too, we see an example of an accepted, authoritative employment of the Hebrew Bible, attested in the New Testament.

It may surprise some that the New Testament gives such an excellent window into first century Jewish life and practices, and sheds light on ancient Jewish experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be as amply supported. With you, we on the TLV team are laboring to help people see that the “greatest story ever told” is a Jewish story. How the respective Biblical Testaments compliment each other–as noted above–is but one such example.

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