The Three Jewish Divisions Of The Old Testament

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen

    In the 44th verse of the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we read of the three divisions of the Old Testament. They are called “the law, the prophets, and the psalms.” These terms are familiar to most avid Bible readers, because they are found in the Bible itself. But the fact is, the Bible does not mean by them what we often think it does. When we read of these divisions in Luke 24, verse 44, we need to keep in mind how the Jews of those days, now 2,000 years ago, understood those terms. So, then, how did they understand them? What books of the Old Testament are represented by each term? Put differently, what Old Testament books fit into each of the three divisions? Let a famous Presbyterian Bible schoalr of the 1800’s answer the questions. He was Albert Barnes, whose Bible commentaries are still popular today. Here is what he said on Luke 24, verse 44. (The quote is taken from his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, which, along with his other Bible commentaries, is found on this website:

These are the words – Or this is the “fulfillment” of what I before told you respecting my death. See Luke 18:33; Mark 10:33.

While I was yet with you – Before my death. While I was with you as a teacher and guide.

In the law of Moses – The five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Among the Jews this was the first division of the Old Testament, and was called the “law.”

The prophets – This was the second and largest part of the Hebrew Scriptures. It comprehended the books of Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, which were called the “former prophets;” and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve smaller books from Daniel, to Malachi, which were called the “latter prophets.”

The psalms – The word here used probably means what were comprehended under the name of “Hagiographa,” or holy writings. This consisted of the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and the two books of Chronicles. This division of the Old Testament was in use long before the time of Christ, and was what he referred to here; and he meant to say that in “each of” these divisions of the Old Testament there were prophecies respecting himself. The “particular” subject before them was his “resurrection from the dead.” A most striking prediction of this is contained in Psalm 16:9-11. Compare it with Acts 2:24-32; Acts 13:35-37.



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