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Structure of the Old Testament

This is the third entry for our Lamp Lighters supplemental material this quarter!  The third page of Lamp Lighters explores the structure and make-up of the Old Testament.  There are tomes and encyclopedias worth of information on these topics, so this post is just to help get conversations going with your kids.  Please head to the nearest library or do a quick search on Amazon to find some of the excellent books on this topic.  


The structure of what we call "The Old Testament" has been stable for many centuries now.  But it wasn't always this way! Did you know that Jesus probably used a set of scriptures that was organized and structured differently than our own?  Evidence from how Jesus speaks of the Jewish Bible, archeology, and Jewish tradition point to the Jewish "Tanakh" as the original organization of our "Old Testament".  Check out this video for a brief overview of this way of organizing the Old Testament.


  1. Why did people organize the Old Testament in different ways than we do? Is it wrong to do that? 

  2. Why don't we just organize the books Chronologically? What would be the positives and negatives of doing it that way?


The content, though, is the same, and a rose by any other name smells as sweet, right?  So, let's explore how we organize the Old Testament.

Genesis - Deuteronomy

First up is the Torah.  We know from last quarter that Torah means 'Teaching'.  It is sometimes translated as "Law", and it is largely comprised of narrative.  This collection of five works details the history of man and God and how God is putting together a rescue plan to bring man back into a right relationship with God.  The Torah ends with the Israelites on the edge of the promised land, and their fearless leader, Moses dying.

It is a real cliffhanger and allows us to transition right into the next set of books:


Joshua - Esther

The Historical books are not largely different from the Torah in that they are largely narrative accounts of Israel's history.  They are organized into a different category, however, as Moses is traditionally attributed authorship of the Torah.  And as we are learning this quarter, Moses is the greatest prophet, priest, and leader of Israel until Jesus, so his writings are given special authority/place in scripture.  The Torah is largely Israel's history, too.  The last three books of History are in the Post-Exile period for the Jews, and they end this section without a very good conclusion.  


  1. Why isn't there a satisfactory end to the Narrative portion of the Old Testament? Why are we left hanging with the unfinished problem that is introduced in Genesis 3?

  2. Why did the New Testament authors feel like Jesus was the solution/conclusion/fulfillment to the Old Testament scriptures?

  3. Why did Jews originally use the two Chronicles book to conclude the Tanakh? Check out this blog post for more info.


Job - Song of Songs

These books are largely poetry and song.  There are some Narrative elements, but they are organized together by genre in a somewhat chronological fashion.  Many believe Job to be one of the oldest books in the Bible, but it seems like there is very little evidence of this; it is likely another work of poetry developed in the second temple period.  Over 30% of the Bible is poetry.  Let that fact sink in for a moment.  God, when revealing himself and what he is doing in the world, does not use clear prose, instructions, or directions, but instead reveals himself and his son in stories and poems.  


  1. What does the abundance of Poetry in the Bible say about God? What does it say about us? Does God always reveal answers in the way we want? 

  2. Why might God put his word into poems? How does metaphor change the way we see the world?

Major Prophets

Isaiah - Daniel

The next section of our testament is populated with large and complicated books which we call the "Major Prophets". These works have some narrative elements, but also sprawling poems, songs, and elements that we have come to call prophecy.  The major and minor prophets are some of the most misunderstood and unread books in the Bible. The first thing to understand is that 'Major Prophets' were not more important or significant than 'Minor Prophets'.  Major Prophets just have much longer works.  Also, historically the Minor Prophets were a collection of 12 prophets into one work.  


  1. Why do we usually avoid the works of Israel's prophets?

  2. If you were a king or leader, what kind of book would you write about your own nation? Do the Major/Minor prophets reflect this attitude?

  3. What was a prophet's role? (Accuse and warn the people; Remind them of the future hope promised)

Minor Prophets

Hosea - Malachi

Think about this: if you were a king of Israel, what kind of history and story would you want written down and remembered forever?  Would you want Isaiah telling everyone how your sins would result in cataclysm and despair?  Would you want books written about the destruction of Jerusalem (Lamentations) or the failure of Israel to regain its former glory?  Many believe that these books are primarily about telling about things that happen in the future.  Prophets in our culture are those who can accurately foretell the future.

Prophets in scripture had a different purpose, though.  Prophets are the 'mouthpieces' of God.  They are largely a 'minority report' from followers of God who are decrying the sinful and destructive habits of the leaders of Israel.  Prophets serve to speak truth to power.  They often stand for the oppressed, the marginalized, the hurting, and those who our culture overlooks and leaves behind.


  1. Why do we think of Prophets as fortune-tellers? Will it be helpful to change this idea to a 'mouthpiece of God'? How?

  2. Why did God preserve this tradition of these persecuted prophets? What is important for us to learn from them?

  3. Do we still need prophets today? How do prophets serve God and others? 

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