The Tanakh Explained: The Hebrew Bible vs. The Christian Bible

The Tanakh and the  Bible are related to each other in many ways. The Christian and Jewish religions stem from similar origins, but are two distinct faiths with different religious texts. Some mistakenly believe that the Hebrew Bible--that is, the Tanakh--is identical to what the Christians know as the Old Testament. But this is not the case. To help clarify what the jewish Tanakh is, let's take a look at the Tanakh and its various parts. Then let us consider and compare it to the Bible. 

What is the Tanakh?

The Tanakh has its own history and tradition separate from the Christian Old Testament and it varies in the way books are categorized and divided. The name “Tanakh” or “Tanak” is an acronym for the three different divisions of the Hebrew Bible. These three divisions are the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim, which give us the “T”, “N'', and “K” in the word respectively. At its core, the Hebrew Bible recounts the origins of ancient Israel and its people's relationship with God throughout human history.

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The Torah

The first major part of the Tanakh is named the Torah. The name comes from the Hebrew word meaning “law” or “instruction”. The Torah is made up of the books of  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. 

The intended meaning of the word “law” in this context varies somewhat from the way we often use it today. We tend to speak of laws in terms of legislation, officially sanctioned rules laid out and enforced by a governing body. The laws laid out in the Torah are God-given and are far more than a set of rules. Made up of narrative accounts as well as formalized guidelines for living, the Torah presents God’s plan for humanity and His relentless faithfulness to His people.

The Nevi’im

The second section of the Tanakh is the Nevi’im or “prophets” translated from Hebrew. This section of the Hebrew Bible can itself be broken down into two key parts: the Former Prophets (books such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (made up of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve--a single book recounting the stories of 12 other prophets). 

The Former Prophets are primarily made up of historical narratives documenting the time from Moses’ death to the establishment of the nation and kingdom of ancient Israel. The Former Prophets interpret the Torah by placing the laws in context, making them an important portion of scripture. The Latter Prophets tackle a period of turbulence for the kingdom of Israel, in which God continually calls His people back to Him. This subsection is further divided into the major and minor prophets. The designation of prophets as either “major” or “minor” is not a statement of their importance or worth. Rather, the so-called “major” prophets refer to the longer prophetic books. The Twelve presents the combined accounts of the “minor prophets” each of whom’s individual writings are shorter.

The Ketuvim

Finally, the Hebrew Bible includes the Ketuvim, named for the word meaning “writings” in Hebrew. This section contains 11 books across a variety of literary genres and styles, from history to poetic verse. The poetic books of the Ketuvim are the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job focusing on wisdom and commitment to God. The Ketuvim also contains the Megillot scrolls (each of which corresponds to a particular Jewish holiday or festival), the prophecy of Daniel, and the history books of Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. These final books focus on events occurring during the Babylonian captivity and exile of the ancient Jewish community, along with their subsequent return home.

 

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What is the Christian Bible?

When people think of the Bible, they usually remember the thick book that contains the religious scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. While it is made into a single book, the Bible actually contains a collection of books put together to best sum up the word of God. While the Bible is a term used by people to refer to the writings of the Jewish and Christian religions, they are actually different texts. The Hebrew Bible is similar to the original Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament and documents history and the basis of the religion up to before the arrival of Jesus. The Christian Bible is made up of two main parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some versions of the Bible are also comprised of more than just the two parts including other religious texts and books found later. 

Tan thread

The Old Testament

This provision of the Christian Bible is the first part that occurs before the New Testament. It records the history and the basis of the Christian religion from the creation of the world to right before Jesus is born. Unlike the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament is made up of 39 different books (such as the Song of Songs, book of Genesis, and book of Esther)  and is not traditionally broken down into three different sections like the Hebrew Bible is. The first five books of the Old Testament are the same as the ones in the Torah. One slight difference is actually in the interpretations of the text instead of the Hebrew scriptures themselves. Another difference between the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible is the order, emphasis, interpretations, and certain language and punctuation. While in some versions they may consist of the same books, the different order of the books can lead to different interpretations of the text and history. 

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The New Testament

The New Testament is the factor that sets the Christian Bible apart from the Tanakh. Even though Judaism and Christianity may stem from similar origins and contain similar books in the Old Testament, the New Testament is not a shared aspect of the two distinct religions. The New Testament is not acknowledged by Judaism, and in contrast, is a large part of the Christian religion. 

This part of the Christian Bible is said to have occurred after the Old Testament and consists of 27 books such as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Biblical scholars believe that the New Testament was written sometime between 50 to 100 A.D. The New Testament focuses mainly on Jesus Christ, who comes to the world to save God’s people. This part of the Bible is broken down into two main parts: The Gospels and the Letters. This helps to categorize the different books and allows the reader to better understand the teachings. While Christians believe the events flow chronologically from the protestant Old Testament to Jesus’ birth in the New Testament, this part is excluded from the Jewish Bible. 

The Gospels are the first part of the New Testament, and consist of the books of Matthew, Mark Luke, and John. The Gospels were meant to document the birth and arrival of Jesus as our savior. Through these books, Jesus shows why he is an important part of the Christian faith and displays his teachings through different views and lessons. The books are structured slightly differently, but most consist of different stories and teachings that show Jesus; importance in the world. Whereas the Old Testament is seen more like history and the beginnings of the Christian faith, The Gospels show that through Jesus we are able to have eternal life. The New Testament and Gospels are filled with different testimonies and stories that show Jesus’ power and teachings that were meant to be recorded and passed down. 

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The Letters are the second portion of the New Testament and as the name suggests was a way for church leaders and prophets to provide advice and teach others on how to stick to the teachings of Jesus. 

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From Hebrew Bible to Christian Bible

In the early Christian church, the Septuagint was used as the primary basis for the Old Testament. When the New Testament quotes or references Tanakh or Old Testament texts, it is the Septuagint they are pointing to. But while similar, the Tanakh and Old Testament mean very different things to the religions of Judaism and Christianity. Outside of differences in structure and organization, the biggest distinction between the two is their interpretation. 

Christianity interprets and understands the Old Testament in light of the New Testament and the Gospel of Jesus. Prophetic passages foretelling a coming messiah and the awaited day of the Lord are believed to be fulfilled in Christ. This is a major deviation from the Jewish understanding and expectations of the Jewish Bible, in which the messiah is still anticipated.

Conclusion

Even though often mixed up, the Tanakh and Christian Bible are two very different religious texts used in the Jewish and Christian religions. Hopefully, this article was able to clear up some of the main differences between the two. If you’re just starting your journey with God, or are looking for new ways to deepen your faith, consider buying a new Bible to help you along your journey. Alabaster's complete collection emphasizes the importance of design to help all believers further their relationship not only with God, but your Bible itself.