Old Testament

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The Old Testament is first of the two divisions of Holy Scripture. According to historians, the Old Testament was composed between the 5th century BC and the 2nd century BC, though parts of it, such as the Torah, and Song of Deborah (Judges 5), date back much earlier.

Traditionally the Old Testament is divided into the law books (the Pentateuch and historical books), the Psalms and other wisdom books, and the prophets because of what Christ said in Luke 24:44:

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be
fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.1

The term Old Testament itself is a translation of the Latin Vetus Testamentum, from the Greek η Παλαια Διαθηκη (hē Palaia Diathēkē), all meaning "The Old Covenant (or Testament)". The Latin rendered testament in English originally came from the Latin for witness and from there expanded to mean "to make a will"; thus, though it is purported to be synonymous with "covenant," it has a distinct legal flavoring. Further semantic extentions in English have distorted the word even more: see testament on www.dictionary.com.

The Orthodox Church also numbers among the genuine books of the Old Testament the so-called apocryphal books, meaning literally the secret or hidden writings. A less Protestant-biased term for these parts of Scripture is the deuterocanonical writings.


The first part of the Old Testament is called the Pentateuch which means the five books. It is also called the Torah, which means the Law. These books are also called the Books of Moses. They include:

The events described in these books, from the calling of Abraham to the death of Moses, probably took place sometime in the second millennium before Christ (2000-1200 BC). According to Orthodox tradition, based on summing the years from Scripture's chronologies, the period of time from the creation of the world until Christ's incarnation is of 5508 years.

Although academic scholars believe that the Law was not written by the personal hand of Moses, and that the books show evidence of being the result of a number of oral and written traditions and time periods, the Church connects the Law with Moses, the great man of God to whom "the Lord used to speak ... face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (Exodus 33:11).

Historical books

The next set of books cover the history of Israel from the settlement in the promised land of Canaan to the first centuries before Christ. They include:

In the canon of the Orthodox Church, which is generally that of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Samuel are called 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Kings are called 3 and 4 Kings. Also, the so-called apocryphal books, listed above after Esther, are considered by the Orthodox as genuine parts of the Bible. The Old Testament apocrypha is a body of writings considered by the non-Orthodox to be of close association with the Bible, but not actually part of its official canonical contents.

The historical books of the Bible were written well after the events described in them actually took place.

Wisdom books

The Wisdom books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, as well as the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon from the so-called apocrypha.

Although not technically a wisdom book, The Prayer of Manasseh from the so-called apocrypha, is a penitential prayer of the King of Judah, which for the Orthodox is part of the Bible. (It is included in the Great Compline service of the Orthodox Church.)


16 books in the Old Testament are called by the names of prophets, although not necessarily written by their hands. A prophet is one who speaks the word of God by direct divine inspiration, not just one who foretells the future.

Major prophets

Four of the prophetic books are those of the so-called major prophets:

Minor prophets

The books of the 12 so-called minor prophets:


Some Orthodox Churches include:

External links