Names for books of Judeo-Christian scripture

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This brief article distinguishes the various terms used to describe Jewish and Christian scripture. Several terms refer to the same material, although sometimes rearranged.


Jewish perspective

For Jews, the Bible means...

  • Torah - The five books of Moses. The word Torah literally means instruction. It is also called Chumash (Hebrew for "five") and Pentateuch (Greek for "five books").
  • Neviim - The books of the Prophets
  • Ketuvim - All the other books of the Bible (literally: "Writings").

Judaism has traditional held that along with the Torah God revealed a series of instructions on how to interpret and apply the Torah. The Torah is referred to as the written law, while the additional instructions were known as the Oral law. By the second century C.E. Jewish sages began writing down interpretations of the Bible; Orthodox Jews consider these writings to embody the "oral law." These writings take several forms:

  • Mishnah - An analysis of the laws and meaning of the Bible, containing information from the oral law.
  • Tosefta - A set of teachings that in many ways are similar to the Mishnah. It may be an early commentary on the Mishnah, or it may be an independent attempt to codify the oral law.
  • Braitot - A genre of rabbinic literature from the same time period as the Mishnah and Tosefta that no longer exists. The only quotes still extant from this literature are found as quotes within the Mishnah and Tosefta.
  • Midrash - A genre of rabbinic literature that is an elaboration of, and commentary on, Biblical narrative.

Christian perspective

For Christians, the Bible refers to the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Protestant Old Testament is largely identical to what Jews call the Bible; the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testament (held to by some Protestants as well) is based on the prevailing first century Greek translation of the Jewish Bible, the Septuagint.

The Bible as used by world Christianity consists of two parts:

  • The Old Testament, largely the same as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible.
  • The New Testament, consisting of books added after Jesus' death
    • The four canonical Gospels tell of Jesus's life and teachings. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
    • The book of Acts, written by Luke, recounts the early history of the Christian movement.
    • The Epistles are letters, mostly written by St. Paul, to the various Christian communities of his day. Much of their content is interpretation of the teachings of Jesus.
    • The Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, is a book of prophecy usually interpreted as regarding the Second Coming of Jesus.

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