The Old Testament is an assemblage of books about people. It was written to record how the Hebrew people became a nation and how that nation viewed itself. It was designed to include books of poetry, prophecy, history and wisdom arranged in a chronological order. Genesis is the first book of the Old Testament and deals with the beginning of the world and the human race.

Malachi, on the other hand, is the last book written just 400 years before Jesus’ birth; it predicted some significant events that would change history. Due to its complexity, few people are well-versed in the meanings behind the words; they fail to recognize that the Old Testament is the foundation for understanding the whole Bible.

When Was the Old Testament Written?

The books of the Old Testament were divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (including the Psalms and Proverbs). It is estimated to have been written between the 1500’s B.C. and the 400’s B.C. It was not written in a single year, location or by a single author. For example, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible that are called the Pentateuch or five scrolls. He lived between 1500 and 1300 B.C. so it is believed that the five scrolls were written during that time.

It’s important to remember that prior to written language, early societies passed on the histories and stories of their people through oral accounts. Fortunately, such accounts remained very detailed and accurate. By the time Moses came along, Egypt had created hieroglyphics. Since the Bible tells us that Moses was “educated in all the learning of the Egyptians”, we know he would be able to write down the oral accounts passed on through prior generations. We also know that God gave Moses the two inscribed tablets containing the laws.

As far as the other contributors go, the Old Testament was written over the course of thousands of years. Writers not only recounted the messages Moses passed on through oral accounts but also began to write about the messages and events they personally experienced. As such, the last book of the Old Testament written by Malachi is estimated to have been penned around 450 B.C. Even so, there was a 500 year period when no writings were contributed.

How Many Books Are in the Old Testament?

There were 39 books of the Old Testament written originally in Hebrew, before it was translated into Aramaic, Greek, Latin and many other languages. Some Bibles also contain additional written works that are called the Apocrypha or the Deuterocanonical books. They are a collection of ancient Christian and Jewish writings that are related and even add to some of the books in the Bible. They were never authorized by the majority of Christians so are not included in all Bibles.

The name, Old Testament, stands for the promise God made to the people before Jesus came (or new promise) as reflected in the New Testament. The Old Testament deals with creation and the rise of man, the laws of Moses, the history of the patriarchs, the escape from Egypt, the formation of the nation of Israel, the decline and fall of that nation, the prophecies (from the prophets that spoke for God) and the books of Wisdom. Both Christians and Jews believe the books of the Old Testament are Holy, as in that God inspired men to write them.

Books of the Old Testament

Table of the books of the Old Testament

  1. Genesis – reflected a series of beginnings starting with the creation of the universe and narrowing down to how Israel became a nation. It dealt with the relationships between God and His creations, God and humans and human beings with each other.
  2. Exodus – was the story of how God rescued his people from Egypt where they had been enslaved. It was where the first Passover, Ten Commandments, Ten Plagues and parting of the Red Sea occurred.
  3. Leviticus – was a book of laws and worship. It detailed how the people of God should eat, live, celebrate, sacrifice and much more.
  4. Numbers – told the story of when the Israelites wandered through the wilderness on their way to the land of Canaan. It started and ended with Moses counting all the people. That’s where the book got its name.
  5. Deuteronomy – recounted the experiences of the Israelites just before they entered Canaan when Moses had to remind the people of God’s laws and why they should obey Him. Deuteronomy literally means “the second giving” of God’s laws.
  6. Joshua – told the story of what happened right after the Israelites moved into the land of Canaan. The book recounted how the people established treaties and split up land between the two groups.
  7. Judges – dealt with the period between the death of Joshua and the leadership of a king when the Israelites lost faith and started worshiping idols.
  8. Ruth – took place at the same time as Judges but viewed that dark period in Israel’s political and spiritual history optimistically.

9/10. 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel – reflected the turning point in the Israelites lives when they switched from theocracy to a monarchy. Because crying to God wasn’t working, they insisted Samuel appoint a king but got the ungodly Saul instead. Then God provided an alternative who could deliver and lead the people.

11/12. 1 Kings and 2 Kings – demonstrated the faithfulness of God toward his people. The curses and blessing they received from God were prophesied in Deuteronomy.

13/14. 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles – recounted the entire history of the Israeli nation including the kings and how God keeps his promises.

15/16. Ezra and Nehemiah – were thought to be two parts of the same book. They recounted the story of how God restored the Israelites in the land promised to them.

  1. Esther – was a book of drama about how two individuals risked it all to save their people.
  2. Job – was the first book of wisdom that talked about the problems innocent people suffer. It demonstrated that God’s judgments were based on wisdom rather than emotions.
  3. Psalms – was a series of poems many of which were actually songs that were used in the temples to praise God.
  4. Proverbs – contained wise sayings from Solomon and others. It served to motivate readers to make decisions based on justice, wisdom, and righteousness as well as direct instructions.
  5. Ecclesiastes – recounted the wisdom of “the Preacher” who advanced the notion that people should fear God, and keep the commandments yet enjoy life to the fullest.
  6. Song of Solomon – was a collection of songs that celebrated sex, love, and marriage.
  7. Isaiah – foretold the coming of a special Servant of God who would fulfill Israel’s duties and bear the Israelites’ sins.
  8. Jeremiah – was called the “weeping prophet.” The book warned Judah of the people’s upcoming captivity by Babylon.
  9. Lamentations – was an accumulation of poems that celebrate God’s fidelity to his people but also warned of the fall of Jerusalem.
  10. Ezekiel – warned about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem as well as the judgment that was about to befall Judah who was rebellious. It also hinted at the new relationship God intended to have with his people.
  11. Daniel – contained stories and visions that demonstrated that God’s kingdom would dominate over violent world regimes.

28/39. The Minor Prophets – were a collection of smaller books that, when grouped together, made up a bigger book called “the Twelve”. It contained some really important prophecies.

Who Wrote the Old Testament?

The first answer is that God wrote the Bible by moving prophets like Moses and apostles like Paul with the Holy Spirit instructing them to communicate about God’s relationship with the world. The second answer is that there were many authors over centuries that lived in many places and were sharing information with many different groups of people. Both answers are correct but following is a little more information about the latter answer. Keep in mind, however, that there are some books that remain anonymous.

  • The first five books of the Old Testament were written by Moses and include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
  • Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings were anonymous.
  • 1 & 2 Chronicles and Ezra were written by Ezra.
  • Nehemiah wrote Nehemiah.
  • Esther and Job were anonymous.
  • The Psalms were written by many people including, but not limited to, David, Asaph, Sons of Korah, Solomon, etc.
  • Proverbs were probably written by Solomon, Agur and Lemuel although others may have helped.
  • Ecclesiastes and Song of Soloman were written by Soloman.
  • Isaiah was written by Isaiah.
  • Jeremiah and Lamentations were written by Jeremiah.
  • The books of Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were named for their authors.

The Old Testament Timeline

Timeline of the Old Testament

According to John 1, “In the beginning was the word…” which can be dated “before time”. Scholars have determined that if God created the world 6,000 years ago, then the following would be true:

  • 4000 B.C. – 2350 B.C. – Creation to the flood.
  • 2350 B.C. – 1990 B.C. – The flood to Abraham.
  • 2165 B.C. – 1450 B.C. – Abraham to the Exile.
  • 1870 B.C. – 1045 B.C. – The exile to the monarchy.
  • 1095 B.C. – 930 B.C. – The unified monarchy.
  • 930 B.C. – 725 B.C. – Israel.
  • 930 B.C. – 590 B.C. – Judah.
  • 336 B.C. – 4 B.C. – The Intertestamental Period.

Where Is Jesus in the Old Testament?

Actually, Jesus answered this question himself in John 5:39 when he spoke to the Pharisees. He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me”. In Luke 24:27, it also states, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”. Jesus made it perfectly clear that the Scriptures, at the time the Old Testament, were all about him.

Here are six categories that will help reveal where Jesus is in all of the Scriptures, old and new:

  1. Christophanies were the appearance of Jesus as mentioned in the Old Testament where he revealed Himself as “The Angel of the Lord”. This is different than “an angel of the Lord” which can be found in some sections.
  2. Types are the places and people that foretold the coming of Jesus. Those included the prophets, priests, kings, sacrificial system, and tabernacle.
  3. Analogous service were the people that do things that Jesus does. Later, only He does it perfectly and completely in the New Testament.
  4. There are many events that prophesy the coming of Jesus such as the Passover in Exodus where the Israelites were released from slavery in Egypt. Actually, the entire book of Exodus suggested the role Christ would play later. Just as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea moving from death to life, so do we cross from the death of our sins to life ever after with Him.
  5. There were many titles found in the Old Testament that referred to Jesus. Some included Redeemer, Savior, Light, Rock, Son of Man, Lord of Glory and many others.
  6. Unlike the events that prophesied the coming of Jesus, there were prophecies about Jesus Himself made as well.

Although the aforementioned categories are broad, they may help you see that Jesus has been with man since the beginning. This can be found in the Old Testament, not just the New.

The Old Testament vs New Testament

Old Testament vs New Testament comparison

The Bible is one book in two parts written over the course of centuries by numerous authors. Although the Old and New Testaments covered different periods of time, there are many similarities that allow them to complement each other.

Generally speaking, the Old Testament was designed to serve as the foundation for the proof and revelations from God presented in the New Testament. The Old Testament also established ideologies and prophecies that were fulfilled in the New Testament. Most importantly, perhaps, was that in the Old Testament, the wrath of God against sin was revealed with glimpses of His grace. In the New Testament, His grace toward sinners was seen with glimpses of his wrath.

The entire Bible was also designed with the Old Testament juxtaposed against the New Testament. Isaiah 53 predicted the coming of the Messiah while the New Testament revealed Him in John 4:25-26. God’s Laws were presented in the Old Testament whereas Jesus fulfilled that Law in Matthew 5:17 and Hebrews 10:9. The Old Covenant promised physical blessings in Deuteronomy 29:9. The New Covenant gave way to the blessings in Ephesians 1:3.

Finally, the coming of the Messiah and His sacrifice for the sins of the world was predicted in the Old Testament. On the other hand, the New Testament recorded His ministry. It then talked about what he did and how we should respond to that information. The one area where both parts of the Bible align is in the revelation that God condemned sin but wanted to save sinners through atonement. Regardless of how we may behave, there are instructions as to how we can come to Him through faith.

Summing Up

The Old Testament is an accumulation of 39 books that focused on the history and religion of the people of Israel. Alone each book included sayings, stories, and Laws that were meant to serve as models for religious and ethical behavior. Together they presented a unified message about God and His efforts to relate to the human race. By understanding the intent of the Old Testament, Bible study can be a much richer experience.

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