The Jesus Bible
Have you ever wondered what Bible Jesus used? Was Jesus’s Bible, the Jewish Scriptures, different from the Old Testament we use today? If so, how?
These are all questions I ask my students to think about in my theology class at Cedarville University. The short answer is, “Yes.” It was different. The longer answer is, “No, not really.” Jesus’s Bible would have had the same content as our Old Testament, it was just organized differently.
Here’s a difference: Jesus’s Bible only contained 24 books compared to the 39 found in the Old Testament in our English translations. Where did the other books go, you ask. Fair question. They’re still there, I promise. It’s just the Bible Jesus would have used combined certain books. For example, all twelve of the minor prophets are packed into one book, not so creatively called “The Book of the Twelve.” And all the sequels are compacted into one (think 1st and 2nd Kings).
The Jewish Scriptures are often referred to as the Tanakh, a Hebrew abbreviation for the three organizational categories of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Torah includes the five books written by Moses, also called the Pentateuch, which, not so creatively, means five books. You can find a helpful comparison of the Tanakh and the Old Testament ordering of these books here.
Early in the history of Christianity, the current ordering of the Old Testament â€” as it appears in our English translations â€” was affirmed at a council at the end of the fourth century. It’s not too surprising that there were some adjustments to the order, I suppose, as Christians were affixing the inspired teachings of the Old Covenant to the inspired teachings of the New Covenant. By the way, the word testament means covenant, so the Bible is really about these two groups, the people of the Old and New Covenants.
As for the word Bible, it not so creatively means book or books. It’s a holy book that tells the true story of these two covenants, the one of old anticipating the Messiah, and a new covenant spoken of through the prophet Jeremiah and purchased with the blood and body of Jesus. Jesus loved the inspired Scriptures of the Old Covenant, and He inspired the writing of the New Covenant. From beginning to end, this holy book is the Jesus Bible.
The Tanakh begins with creation and then chronicles the history the people of the Old Covenant. It begins with God’s Spirit over the face of the waters and the interruption of God’s voice, “Let there be light!” Between the two testaments is a period of nearly half a millennium when God’s presence was removed from the Temple, and God no longer spoke through prophets. As one author pointed out, all that remained of God’s voice during this bleak time was a divine echo.
Yet the Old Testament predicts a time when the Messiah would enter the scene and God would pour out His Spirit. The work of the Spirit would surely bring about more words from God, necessitating additions to the biblical canon. In short, the Old Testament anticipates the New Testament.
Into the vast darkness of the times between the testaments, a Jewish carpenter is submerged in a river in Western Asia. He emerges with God’s Spirit descending over the waters, and God’s voice again penetrating the world, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Don’t miss the wonderful parallel. The New Covenant begins like the Old, with the Word that brought all things into being. The true light had come into the world (John 1) to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:7). All who receive this Word, who walk in this light, are called the sons and daughters of God (John 1).
The New Testament begins with this creation theme and then chronicles the history of the people of the New Covenant. It begins with the promised Spirit poured out on God’s people in the book of Acts. It ends with a new heaven and a new earth.
While it is an interesting question to ask what Bible Jesus read, it is a beautiful thing to see how we are able to read Jesus on every page. From the Old Covenant to the New, Jesus looms large. God’s comfort in the light of the curse was the promise of a child who would one day defeat the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Flash forward to Jesus’s baptism, where He immediately goes out into the wilderness to be tempted by the serpent. Jesus is the critical piece of the story tying it all together.
Going back to Genesis, God first creates the land and ends with humanity on day six. In the New Covenant, Jesus starts in reverse order. He begins by remaking humanity, transforming people into what Paul calls new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). And in the end, Jesus remakes the land (Revelation 21). Jesus is the snake-crushing-child promised in the garden who has come to make all things new. One day, He will wipe every tear from every eye. He will lead us back into God’s presence where we will be satisfied with His provision (Psalm 16:11). The big story of Scripture is all about Him.