THE OLD TESTAMENT
In the past we have tended to think of the books of the Bible as historical (such as Genesis, Exodus, Kings, and Maccabees); legal (Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc.); prophetic (predicting the future); and so on.
An appreciation of the Jewish method of dividing the books (given on the previous page) may be a more helpful method. The ﬁrst ﬁve books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) were consideredthe books central to their faith. They were called Torah in Hebrew. The word Torah means an “instruction” not just a lesson but the kind of instruction a parent gives to a child when he wants him to obey.
Many of the books which we think of as historical (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) were considered “prophetic” by the Jews. By prophetic they meant an inspired sermon. These books recounted events from their history in order to moralize. They were sermons from history. In these books we may find prophets appearing but they are prophets who act. They leave us no long sermons. They are part of the rough and tumble of life. Important Kings may hardly be mentioned simply because they offered few examples to be imitated. Unimportant kings may receive more attention because they were good men. This is not our modern way of writing history, of course. Even for them it was not primarily history. It was rather religious editorializing. We may err by thinking of them as history. They are that but they much more. The Jews called them the “former” prophets not because they came earlier in time but because they were bound into the Bible ﬁrst.
The Prophetical books, the “latter prophets,” whether written by the prophet himself or by a disciple, are inspired sermons. A prophet is a man who speaks for God and to his own times. He is a man concerned about his own world. He sometimes predicts the future. More frequently it is the immediate future. When he does so he is exercising a power that is not, strictly speaking, prophetic. It is an additional power from God. We tend to be led astray if we think of them primarily as predictors of the future.
The “Writings” are a catch-all for other books. Chronicles, which we think of as history, is a many-faceted book. To call it history is to miss many of its qualities. The poetry of Psalms and Wisdom-literature such as Proverbs is also included in this section. Daniel, which is a special kind of literature known as “apocalyptic” is included here though in the past we thought of it as among the Prophetic books.
Those books accepted by the Septuagint or Greek version of the Hebrew Bible but which the Jews rejected after the time of Christ are called “Deutero-Canonical” books. They, together with parts of Daniel and Esther, are not accepted as part of the Bible by Protestants or Jews. Catholics have always revered them as such since the earliest days of the church.