by Rev. Mark Robinson
The word Tenach is probably unfamiliar to many of our readers. This is the term Jewish people use when referring to what Christians call the Old Testament. It is the entire Jewish Bible, made up of the exact same number of verses as the Old Testament in your Bible. The difference between the Tenach and the Christian’s Old Testament is the order of the books. The Christian’s Old Testament starts with Genesis and ends with Malachi. The Tenach starts with Genesis but ends with 2nd Chronicles.
What you may not be aware of, is that the Bible Jesus and the apostles used was the Tenach. The Christian community changed the order of the Old Testament books as they produced the complete canon of Scripture (including the New Testament).
Understanding the difference is important for a few reasons. It sheds light and understanding on the question of whether the Apocrypha should be included in the Old Testament canon; gives insight into a number of different events in the gospels; and, will help you in conversation with your Jewish friend if your friend brings out his Tenach in discussing biblical issues.
Law, Prophets, and Writings
The Tenach is composed of three parts. These parts are the Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi’im), and the Writings (K’tuvim). The Law is the five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy.
The Prophets is made up of the earlier prophets, Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, and 1st and 2nd Kings and the later prophets which include major and minor prophets, 21 books in all.
The Writings is composed of 13 books, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles.
Tenach is arrived at by taking the initial letters of the 3 sections, T-N-K (the K is a CH in Hebrew), and adding vowels.
Torah and Haftorah Readings
Every sabbath there are prescribed readings from the books of Moses (Torah) and selected portions from the rest of the Tenach, called haftorah readings. The last portion of the Torah reading (Deuteronomy 34:1-12) and the first portion (Genesis 1:1 – 2:3) is read at the Simcha Torah celebration, which takes place at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles. This begins the yearly cycle in which the entire 5 books of Moses are read. At each sabbath service selected portions of the Prophets and Writings are read.
This custom pre-dates Jesus and is commonly believed to have started in 168 B.C. with the events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes and the Jewish people, today celebrated in the festival of Chanukah.
We know this custom was present in the synagogue of the first century as the practice is mentioned in the book of Acts.
“And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” Acts 13:15
“For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” Acts 15:21
Notice these texts say “after the reading of the law and the prophets” and “Moses…being read in the synagogue.”
Jesus in the Synagogue
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Luke 4:16-21
When the Isaiah scroll was opened for Jesus to read it was most likely the prescribed Haftorah reading of that sabbath, as was the synagogue custom, that Jesus read. The text He read was from Isaiah 61:1-2, although He didn’t complete verse two, “…and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.”
The reason He stopped with the “…acceptable year of the LORD…” was that this phrase refers to His first coming and was now fulfilled in Him. “The day of vengeance…” refers to His second coming in judgment.
What is fascinating about this entire event is that Jesus did not pick and choose what scripture to read that sabbath morning. No, it was the prescribed reading from the Prophets which became piercing truth when He said it was fulfilled in Him.
In today’s synagogue haftorah readings, this portion of scripture (Isaiah 61:1-2) is omitted. The question can be asked, rightfully so is, what happened to this haftorah reading of Jesus? There is no definitive answer to this, but, perhaps, with this passage being a clear claim to the Messiahship of Jesus and used by Him, it is possible that the Rabbis replaced this haftorah scripture portion with a different one.
It seems highly likely, though, that Jesus read from the haftorah portion that particular sabbath morning.
The Tenach and Messiah
It is certain that the Bible Jesus, and the apostles, used was the Tenach. For example, on the road to Emmaus Jesus shared with two discouraged disciples about Himself. “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” Luke 24:44.
Jesus shared from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the book of Psalms is the first book of the Writings section and, here, Psalms represents the Writings). What He was saying was that the entire Jewish Bible, the Tenach, from Genesis to 2nd Chronicles, speaks of Him. We don’t know what messianic prophecies were shared from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, but Jesus explained that they spoke of His birth, life, death, and resurrection. He was saying, the entire Jewish Bible, the Tenach, points to Him as the Messiah.
In Matthew 23 there is a scathing rebuke of some of the Pharisees. They had put tradition above truth, self-interest above the Savior, myths in place of Messiah. In pronouncing judgment upon these hypocritical leaders Jesus proclaimed, “That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar,” Matthew 23:35.
Most of us are aware that the account of the “blood of righteous Abel” is found in Genesis (chapter 4). You may not be aware that the account of “the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias” is found in 2nd Chronicles (chapter 24:20-21). The point of this verse is that the message of the entire Jewish Bible, from Genesis, the first book in the Tenach, to 2nd Chronicles, the last book in the Tenach, which spoke of Messiah, was rejected for tradition.
The Bible and the Apocrypha
One brief thought about the canon of scripture. The Apocrypha is not accepted as part of the Jewish canon. When Jesus referenced the Tenach, He was excluding the Apocrypha as canonical. The scripture is made up of 66 books, 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. The Apocrypha is not part of the inspired Word of God.
John Wenham summarizes it this way, “We conclude, then, that orthodox Jewry, Jerome, the Reformers and the founders of the great Bible societies were right in their view of the Old Testament Canon, and that the attempt by either Rome or liberalism to put the Jewish Canon and the Apocrypha on an equal level is misguided.”1
It is helpful to understand Jewish culture as we read and study our Bibles. The Bible is a Jewish book, both the “Old and New Testament.” Actually, it is best to understand the Bible as just one book, Genesis to Revelation, and not “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” The “Old Testament”, or Mosaic Law, is the relationship God had with a nation, Israel, through the laws and practices God gave for Israel to live under in the Mosaic Law. The “New Testament” is the relationship God has with individuals, Jew and Gentile, which only takes place through the death, burial and resurrection of Messiah Jesus, Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:27-28. When the first covenant was made old, see Hebrews 8, the “Old Testament” was done away with – the Mosaic Law, not the entire Tenach, as there are scores of prophecies, for example, that still must be fulfilled.
In the first century the Bible used by Jesus and the apostles was the Tenach. By the end of the first century God completed His revelation in His one book, the Bible, Genesis to Revelation. The complete revelation, Holy Scripture, is a Jewish book, not just the Tenach.
1. John Wenham, Christ and the Bible, Baker Books, 1994, page 152