QUESTION: I was discussing messianic prophecy with my Jewish friend at his home and tried to use his family Bible instead of my own so that he would feel more comfortable. I found it very difficult to find passages quickly, as the order of the books seemed to be different. Was it just his version, or are all Jewish Bibles like that?
ANSWER: All Jewish Bibles are like that. Jewish practice places Old Testament Scripture in different order than most Christian Bible readers are accustomed to seeing. Traditionally these Scriptures are divided into three sections. They are The Law (Torah), The Prophets (N’viim) and The Writings (K’tubim). As a body of canonical literature, these are called the Tenach, the name being derived from the initial letters of the three Hebrew words.
The New Testament bears witness to this three-fold division of Scripture in Luke 24:44, where the Lord Jesus refers to all things written concerning him in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms.” Here, as in many other places, the Lord used a Hebraism. In our modern language, he probably would have used a phrase like, “in the entire Old Testament.”
The Law, in familiar order, is comprised of the Pentateuch—the five books of Moses. These are followed by The Prophets in chronological order: The Earlier Prophets—Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel and I & II Kings, and The Later Prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. After these we find The Writings, which include Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and I & II Chronicles.
Originally in the Jewish Scriptures the book of Psalms was placed right after the book of Ruth, probably because it was thought that logically David’s writings ought to follow his genealogy, which is found at the close of Ruth, the account of his godly Gentile grandmother. Nevertheless, perhaps due to its prominent place in Jewish life and thought, eventually the book of Psalms was placed first in The Writings.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with this different order of the Jewish Scriptures in order to be more effective in personal evangelism. Upon hearing some of the messianic prophecies for the first time, a Jewish person might react with, “Oh, that’s from the Gentile Bible. Ours (meaning the Jewish version) must be different.” Then it can be helpful to show the person in an authorized Jewish publication that the gist of the prophecies is generally the same, if not word for word. Two exceptions you should note are Psalm 2:12 and Isaiah 7:14, where a deliberate choice has been made to use a variant reading in order to minimize the Christological implications of those passages.