A Brief Introduction to Help You Study the Old Testament

1. Introduction

If you look at the bible you will notice that majority of it is made up of the Old Testament

The Old Testament did not drop from the sky as one complete book, it was also not all written at once, but over a period stretching just short of one thousand years, it had many human authors, but not many themes, and ultimately adds up to one book with only one author – God.

How was this possible? These human authors wrote down his truth under God’s inspiration.


“The Bible is called the Word of God because of its claim, believed by the church, that the human writers did not merely write their own opinions, but that their words were inspired by God. The apostle Paul writes: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word inspiration is a translation from the Greek word meaning “God-breathed.” God breathed out the Bible. Just as we must expel breath from our mouths when we speak, so ultimately Scripture is God speaking.

Although Scripture came to us from the pens of human authors, the ultimate source of Scripture is God. That is why the prophets could preface their words by saying, “Thus says the Lord.” This is also why Jesus could say, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17), and “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The word inspiration also calls attention to the process by which the Holy Spirit superintended the production of Scripture. The Holy Spirit guided the human authors so that their words would be nothing less than the word of God. How God superintended the original writings of the Bible is not known. But inspiration does not mean that God dictated his messages to those who wrote the Bible. Rather, the Holy Spirit communicated through the human writers the very words of God.”

– RC Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith

“God acted upon the writers in an organic way. He used them in their own individual personalities. He created them, prepared them, prompted them to write, repressed their sinfulness, and guided them in an organic way to the choice of the very words they wrote. Sometimes inspiration may have involved the mechanical dictation. Often it involved the refreshing of the memory (John 14:26), the selection of the proper materials (Luke 1:1–4), or the expression of their own experiences of sin and forgiveness (Ps. 32; 51).”

– Morton Smith, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1

2 Peter 1:20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Inspiration is not just a New Testament idea:

Jeremiah 14:1 The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah concerning the droughts.

Joel 1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.

Micah 1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then said I: “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” 7 But the LORD said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8 Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,” says the LORD. 9 Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.

2. The Relationship of the New and Old Testament:

The New Testament authors regarded all of the Old Testament as the Word of God, they also saw all of Scripture as pointing to Christ.

Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

John 5:38 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

“What is in the Old Concealed, is in the New Revealed.”

B.B. Warfield famously described the Old Testament as a room “fully furnished but dimly lit” meaning that all the elements of the Gospel are to be found in the Old Testament, but that it took the coming of Jesus Christ to reveal the truths that had always bee there. It also means that the New Testament contains the fulfillment of what was predicted in the Old Testament.


The Old Testament is Inerrant

“’Inerrancy’ is a term used along with plenary verbal inspiration to convey the view that the Bible’s teaching is true on everything of which it speaks. The words of Scripture, in the original writings, teach the truth without any admixture of error. The Bible is not just a useful body of human ideas. It makes clear the mind of God Himself.”

– Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

“Infallibility means that something cannot err, while inerrancy means that it does not err. Infallibility describes ability or potential. It describes something that cannot happen. Inerrancy describes actuality.”

– RC Sproul.

We don’t judge the bible, the bible judges us, the guilty are in no position to judge the law.

The Autographs:

“Clearly inerrancy and infallibility do not extend to copies or translations of Scripture …theology restricts inerrancy to the original manuscripts of the Bible, or the autographa. The autographa, the initial works of the writers of Scripture, are not directly available to us today.

For this reason many scoff at the doctrine of inerrancy, saying it is a moot point since it cannot be verified or falsified without access to the original manuscripts. This criticism misses the point altogether. We carry no brief for the inspiration of copyists or translators. The original revelation is the chief concern of the doctrine of inerrancy. Though we do not possess the autographs themselves, we can reconstruct them with remarkable accuracy. The science of textual criticism demonstrates that the existing text is remarkably pure and exceedingly reliable.

Suppose the normative yardstick housed at the National Bureau of Standards were to perish in a fire. Would we no longer be able to determine the distance of three feet with accuracy? With the multitude of existing copies, we could reconstruct with almost perfect accuracy the original yardstick. To restrict inerrancy to the original documents is to call attention to the source of biblical revelation: the agents who were inspired by God to receive his revelation and record it.” – RC Sproul

We accept that copyists made errors, this means that the original document was right but occasionally miscopied. The science of lower text criticism is concerned with determining what the original reading was and where the errors are.

It should be kept in mind that no other books have so may witnesses to their authenticity as the bible! Compared to Other Books, the copies of the books of the Old and New Testament that we have are also much earlier

Also Remember – Not one single doctrine is affected by variant readings.

Dead Sea Scrolls: Our versions are word for word identical to the 5th century B.C. versions of the Old Testament found at Qumran 95% of the time

Note Well: Miracles might be described as “God interacting Directly with His Creation.” Some insist that there MUST be errors because of the presence of miracles in the books of the OT. This is driven by the presupposition that either God doesn’t exist, or that he cannot interact with his creation. Both presuppositions therefore assume that the Bible is inaccurate from outset.  This assumption is one of the driving forces behind “Higher Criticism” – which tries to find the “reality” behind the text rather than finding the correct reading of the text (Lower Text Criticism).

4. Prophecy – A proofs of the Bible’s Divine Origin

Fulfilled Prophecy – only if God is sovereign over history is it possible for so many OT prophecies to have been fulfilled.

Examples – The vivid descriptions of the humiliation and crucifixion of Christ found in Isaiah 53 & Psalm 22

Psalm 22:1 To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Deer of the Dawn.” A Psalm of David. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?

12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. 16 For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; 17 I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. 18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.

In dealing with any supposed difficulties or problems, we must follow the rule of allowing scripture to interpret scripture. Or as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it:

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” – WCF 1.9


The Old Testament has 39 books total, which consist of…

Pentateuch (Torah) – 5 books

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Historical Books – 12 books

Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, Second Kings, First Chronicles, Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.

Poetic books- 5 books

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

Prophetic books- 17 books

Major Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel

Minor Prophets – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

What is the “Canon” of the OT, which books are included?

Canon comes to us from the Greek word kanon – “straight rod or straight edge or ruler” The books that meet the criteria for divine inspiration and canonicity. Or simply put, the books that were inspired by God as opposed to helpful religious books written by uninspired men.

Many supposed rules for determining which books are canonical and which are not but…

“To these and other proposed criteria we must reply with a negative. The canonical books of the Old Testament were divinely revealed and their authors were holy men who spoke as they were borne of the Holy Ghost. In his good providence God brought it about that his people should recognize and receive his Word. How he planted this conviction in their hearts with respect to the identity of his Word we may not be able fully to understand or explain. We may, however, follow our Lord, who placed the imprimatur of his infallible authority upon the books of the Old Testament.” – E.J. Young

These are the Books that are excluded from the OT Canon:

Apocryphal (Spurious) Books – 14 books, held by the Roman Catholic Church to be “Deutero Canonical” but not recognized today by Protestants and Jews as part of the Canon of Scripture.

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA  (almost all of the Apocryphal books are intertestimental in their date)

[This summary is from The Books of the Apocrypha: A Study Outline, Compiled by Dr. William S. Sadler]


Decline And Fall Of Judah From The Time Of Josiah. Overthrow Of Jerusalem And The Babylonian Exile. The Return Under Ezra — Reorganization Of The Jewish State. Persian Kings Rebuild The Temple. Ezra’s War On Mixed Marriages.


The Lord’s anger against Israel — the end of the age. Ezra’s seven visions of judgment and retribution, including the vision of women. Prophecies of war and calamity. Rule of the Messiah for 400 years.

  1. TOBIT

The blind Tobit, a captive in Nineveh, sends his son Tobias to collect a debt in Media. Tobias marries the seven times widowed virgin, and by fish gall dispatches the demon who had killed her husbands. Collects the debt, returns, and the father’s sight is restored. Tobias left Nineveh before it was destroyed.


Holophernes, an Assyrian general, acting for Nebuchadnezzar, besieged Bethulia. Judith, a pious Jewish widow, enters his camp, and while he is in a drunken stupor, beheads him, taking his head back to the Jewish camp. the Assyrian army is dispersed.


Has to do with Esther at the court of Artaxerxes and Mardocheus’ dream. Discussion of Mordecai’s dream. The king’s edict in favor of the Jews.


Contrasts the righteous and the ungodly. The rewards of pleasure and salvation. The attainments of wisdom–the gift of God. Heroes of wisdom from Adam to Moses–contrasted with the wicked. Israelites contrasted with Egyptians.

  1. ECCLESIASTICUS (Wisdom of Jesus the Son of SIRACH)

Resignation and humility. How to get wisdom. Kindness and self-control. The wise and the foolish. Sins of the rich. Training children. Dreams and travel. Higher education. Despite misery, poverty is best. Fathers worry about daughters. Fathers from Adam to Nehemiah. Denunciation of the gentiles. Giving thanks to the Lord. Good and bad wives. Table manners. Mourning. Doxology.

  1. BARUCH—(supposedly written by the secretary to Jeremiah)

Repentance of Jews after destruction of Jerusalem. Praise of wisdom. Promise of return from Babylonian exile.


A sarcastic denunciation of the folly of idolatry.

  1. SONG OF THE THREE HOLY CHILDREN (The Prayer of Azariah)

Inserted in the Third Chapter of Daniel. The song of the three youths in the fiery furnace.


Susanna, wife of wealthy Jewish exile, repulses advances of two Jewish elders. They accuse her of adultery and she is condemned to death. Daniel convicted the elders of false testimony–she was vindicated and they were executed.


Daniel traps the priests of Bel by ashes on temple floor–showing they ate the food, not Bel. Daniel poisons the Dragon and is cast into the lion’s den. Habakkuk was flown from Judea by angels to bring him his dinner. Eventually Daniel was delivered.


A penitential psalm composed to go along with 2 Chron. 33:11-13.


First and Second Maccabees present fairly reliable history. The Maccabees are in reality the Hasmonaean family. They won independence for the Jews from 166 to 63 BC.


About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
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