The Books of the Old Testament: Explaining the Classifications

“Reading the Old Testament is like reading any other ancient history book,” commented a young man who had just joined our Bible study group. After he had read and studied some of the Old Testament, however, he changed his mind.

Although the Old Testament contains some history, such as Creation and stories of the Jewish nation, there is much more. Sometimes a story is repeated or told from another viewpoint. Prophecies have been carefully recorded, some with their fulfillment and others yet to take place. The books also contain love stories, poems, songs, and proverbs in rich variety.

We can count on history books to tell us about their heroes, but the Old Testament includes the common folk of their day. These stories are no less important, for they give us a clear picture of God’s dealings with His people.

The books of the Old Testament can be divided into five major themes. In Lesson 3, we learned about the smaller divisions of the books—the chapters and verses. Now we will look at the major divisions or classifications.

Explaining the Classifications

The first five books of the Bible are known as the books of the Law or the Books of Moses. They are also called the Pentateuch, which means “five books.” The Pentateuch was written by Moses, the great leader and liberator of the Jewish people.

Genesis means “beginning” or “origin.” The book of Genesis tells of the Creation, the origin of humankind, the Flood, and the call of Abraham.

Leviticus takes its name from Levi, the priestly tribe. This book gives instruction for the priests and the offering of sacrifices—looking forward to Christ who would become the sin offering for the whole world.

Numbers records the numbering of the people. Recording the census was important to the young nation about to possess the land that was promised to their father Abraham.

Deuteronomy means “second law.” The book contains further instructions for God’s people, Moses’ farewell address, and his commission to Joshua who would assume leadership after Moses’ death.

The Pentateuch highlights God’s dealings with humanity for an estimated period of twenty-five hundred years. It lays the foundation for the story of redemption.

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