The Bible As Jesus Read It

The Bible Jesus read (sometimes called the Hebrew Bible) was identical to our modern Old Testament in every respect, except one. Rather than beginning with Genesis and ending with Malachi, his Bible began with Genesis and ended with Chronicles. And many of the books in between were also arranged in a different order. This particular arrangement of the books is important because it helps readers understand the message of the Hebrew Bible.

Jesus alluded to the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible when he walked with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. There he explained to them everything the Old Testament taught about him as Messiah. And then notice how Jesus describes this message (Luke 24:44): "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Here Jesus is referring to the three-part structure of the Hebrew Bible:

  • Law of Moses ("Torah" in Hebrew) refers to the first 5 books of the Bible
  • The Prophets includes Joshua, Judges, Samuel & Kings, along with most of the prophets we traditionally recognize
  • The Writings (called here "the Psalms" since this section begins with the book of Psalms) includes everything else in the Old Testament.
But it's not just that there are three sections. It's the deliberate way those sections are attached to one another. They were put together with intentionality, to send the message God wants to send. It's almost as if they are sewn together. And the text in the "seams" where these sections come together emphasizes the dual themes of trust in God's Word and the coming Messiah (which I blogged about below).

So the structure of whole Hebrew Bible looks something like this (click for a larger view):

OK, so... what's the point?
The point is that this is the Bible as Jesus and the apostles read it. And this is HOW they read it. It turns out that the Old Testament is not about law and works while the New testament is about faith and grace. No! The New Testament writers got their understanding of faith and grace from the Old Testament. They recognized that the entire Hebrew Bible was about God's plan to redeem all of creation through the coming Messiah. That's why Jesus said, referring to Deuteronomy, "Moses wrote about me." (John 5:46) He learned what his role as the Messiah was all about by reading the Hebrew Bible.

And so did the apostles. As they were preaching the gospel, writing the New Testament to explain Christian doctrine, and laying their lives down for the kingdom of God, it was this understanding of the Old Testament that informed their theology and inflamed their hearts. And it still does so today.

The way we've changed the order of the Old Testament books masks its overall message to a degree. But the more I learn about how clearly and consistently the Old Testament teaches about the importance of faith in Jesus for ultimate redemption, the more in awe I am of what God has done. I have literally been brought to tears numerous times these past couple weeks of studying these things more closely, as I think about my love for my Savior: the Messiah who was talked about all the way back in Genesis.

We're going to look at these things more closely this Fall at Harvest, so for those of you who attend or who listen to our sermon series online we're going to have a great time! I hope you'll let me know as the series progresses if the material we're teaching makes sense, and if it has the same effect on you as it does on me.


Glenn Sunshine said...

An interesting sideline: chronologically, the last book of the OT is Malachi. In the NT, the first revelation from God is the announcement of John the Baptist's birth to Zechariah. Compare the last paragraph of Malachi to that announcement. I don't see how anyone can miss the point that God was picking up where He left off!

Matt Guerino said...

Glenn, you're right. The last paragraph of Malachi is one of these "seams" I referred to and it very clearly urges followers of God to wait for the coming prophet/king/redeemer - Messiah. Then along comes Jesus, and his birth is VERY CLEARLY connected to that OT message. It's really quite remarkable!

I'm about 3/4 through your book "Why You Think The Way You Do" and I'm loving it. Intellectual history has always been an interest of mine and this has only increased as I've studied and taught worldview concepts. So often what's needed is a layman-friendly explanation of big ideas, and this book provides it. Well done. I'm mulling over a similar project with respect to how the Bible is put together, and I may pick your brain on it at some point if you have the time.

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