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.

Christians disagree on the contents of the Old Testament. The Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches and some Protestants recognize an additional set of Jewish writings, known as the deuterocanonical books. They are not accepted as canonical by the Jews (although some ancient Jews appear to have accepted them) and by most of the Protestants, who consider them to be apocryphal.

There are also a number of other early Christian writings some individual Christians regard as scripture, but which are not by and large regarded as such by the churches. These include the apocryphal gospels, such as the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.


Jews regard the "Old Testament" part of the Christian Bible as scriptural, but not the New Testament. Christians generally regard both the Old Testament and the New Testament as scriptural.

The same books are presented in a different order in the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament. The Torah/Pentateuch comes first in both. The Tanakh places the prophetic writings next (the word of God filtered through the minds of inspired men), then the historical material (the unseen action of God in history). The Old Testament inverts this order, since the prophets are seen as prefiguring the coming of Christ, who fulfils them.

Up to the first century CE, the books of the Tanakh were separate scrolls and their order was unimportant. The question of order arose with the invention of the codex. Christians were early adopters of this technology and may have invented it. The order of the books is bound up with early Jewish-Christian polemics. (Miles, Jack: God- a biography, London 1996, pp.16-18)


Some scholars see the structure of the New Testament as similar to that of the Old Testament:

See also

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