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 Torah, although referred to as a single book or entity, is actually a compilation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Torah, in the Hebrew language, means “law” or “guidance”, which is what these texts stand for. Unlike the laws that we know of today, the law presented in the Torah shows how people of God are meant to live. 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 Torah consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. While people may think of law as a set of rules, much of these books are actually made of mainly history lessons and stories. 

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The first book, Genesis, mainly documents the beginning of life and how the world came to be. It tells us how the world was started and showed God’s love for the universe and his involvement in creating it. Even though to some it may seem like a story or history lesson, those that study the Torah believe that Genesis shows God’s love and our responsibility to take care of his world. The second book, Exodus, is also mainly history and storytelling of the events that take place in ancient Egypt. Exodus can be broken down into three different parts. The first being the enslavement of the people of Israel and the introduction of the prophet Moses. The second part documents the journey of the Israelites towards the Promised Land. 

The last part of Exodus contains the Ten Commandments, which were meant to serve as laws for worship. Leviticus, the third book in the Torah, teaches that God is holy and his people must be as well. It also shows that there is a way to atone for our sins, which is one of the main themes of the Hebrew religion. The fourth book, Numbers conveys the message that even though jewish people may mess up, God will bless and protect His people if we continue to stay true to our faith. The last book of the Torah is Deuteronomy and is commonly referred to as the “second law” since God shows guidance through Moses once again. The main message of this book is to show that even though the Israelites turned against God many times, God still loves them. 

Even though the Torah is commonly mixed up with the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the Old Testament consists of many more books than the Torah. It is true that the Torah is a part of the Christian Old Testament since it contains the first five books of the Bible. It has a different meaning for those of the Jewish religion. The Torah is known as the Jewish religious law and serves as a guide for how people should live.

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What is the Christian Bible?

When jewish 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 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. 

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To better understand the Christian Bible, we first break down the Hebrew Bible to show the differences. The Jewish Bible consists of three different parts: the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim. We have gone over the first part of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, or “Law” already. The next part of the Jewish Bible is the Nevi’im, which translates to “prophets” in Hebrew. This portion is a collection of the next eight books, which also shows the history of ancient Israel. As the name suggests, it also presents the messages and teaching of the prophets in the different testament books. The last part of the Hebrew Bible is the “writings”, which translates to Ketuvim in Hebrew. This part of the Hebrew Bible is a group of historical books and lessons that are comprised mainly in forms of poetry. Biblical scholars speculate that this may be because it was easier to remember the lyricism of poetry to be able to be passed down and recorded more easily. 

Now, to break down the Christian Bible, we take a deeper look into the two main parts of the Christian Bible. 

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 Torah 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 Torah or Hebrew Bible as a whole. 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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Differences Between the Torah and Christian Bible

Some of the main difference between the two are:

Language: The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic whereas the Torah was written only in Hebrew.

Composition: The Torah is only comprised of the first five books up to Deuteronomy, whereas the Christian Bible contains 66-80 books depending on the version. Another main difference in composition is that the Christian Bible includes the New Testament documenting time after the arrival of Jesus.

Interpretation: Another main difference besides the books that make up these two religious texts are how they are interpreted. In Judaism, the Torah is seen as a law or set of rules that jewish people should follow. The first five books of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible mainly seek to provide context and history regarding creation and show God’s love for his creation and how the world came to be. 

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Even though often mixed up, the Torah 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.