Torah vs Old Testament: Differences Explained!

By Charalampos •  Updated: 01/20/23 •  7 min read

Many people wonder how close Judaism and Christianity are, and what their sacred books have in common.

Is there any difference between the Torah and the Old Testament? In this article, we will discuss all these topics.

The Torah and the Pentateuch 

To begin with, it’s worth understanding that the Torah uses the same ancient texts that make up the Christian Pentateuch. Unlike the rest of the Tanakh – the Hebrew Bible, the Torah is the most similar part to the Christian Old Testament.

At the same time, the Tanakh and the Old Testament use other identical books, but they are arranged in a different order, and also have different names.

The Old Testament is much larger than the entire Tanakh. The Tanakh contains 24 books, and the Old Testament contains 50 (including canonical and non-canonical books).

The Torah, also known as the Mosaic Pentateuch, consists of the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, The Book of Leviticus, the Book of Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which contains repetitions from other books. 

The Difference in The Number of Texts

The Torah is only a small part of the entire Old Testament. And in total in the Old Testament or the Tanakh, there are also:

The text of the Old Testament in the Greek Bible differs from the Tanakh, it was based on the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament into Greek. It was distributed among the Jews in Alexandria, but the rest of the Jews rejected this translation.

Read Also: Torah vs Bible

So, an interesting fact is that the text of the Old Testament of the Greek Bible was based on an older version of the Tanakh than the one used in modern Judaism since their Tanakh is based on an earlier Masoretic text.

Also, the main difference is in the composition of the books of the Old Testament and the Tanakh, as well as their order.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, some of the books of the Septuagint weren’t accepted by Judaism, so it contains fewer books than the Christian Bible.

The Main Differences

The claim that the Old Testament is identical to the Hebrew Bible requires several details. First, as it was said earlier parts of the Old Testament and the Tanakh are named differently.

The Hebrew Bible consists of three parts: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim.

The only Christian denomination that has the greatest similarity with the Tanakh is Protestantism.

The composition of the books of Protestants and Jews is identical. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrych Zwingli based their bible on a narrow canon of books accepted in Judaism – 39 books, while in the Orthodox Old Testament, there are more books, for example:

Thus, in the Old Testament of the Greek Bible books have been added some books that aren’t in the Hebrew Bible.

Why Are There More Books in The Old Testament?

This canon of books was adopted by a part of Judaism before Christ, so the Church accepted not only their translation (Septuagint) but also the full composition of the books. Such books are called deuterocanonical books.

The Difference in The Order Of The Books

The next important difference is that Christians and Jews have different orders of books.

Among Jews, the Pentateuch coincides with Christianity and is called the Torah, but in Nevi’im Jews added many books that Christianity doesn’t consider prophetic, for example, in Christianity, these are the books of Kings, and in Judaism – the books of Samuel or the first and second Kings, while Christianity considers these books historical.

In the Jewish Ketuvim are the rest of the books that didn’t get into the Torah or Nevi’im. In Christianity, after the Pentateuch, there are historical books and the Old Testament ends with the books of the prophets.

At first glance, the order of the books doesn’t play an important role, but it carries an important theological truth.

In Christianity, the Old Testament ends with the Book of Malachi. Chapter 4 verse 5 predicts the coming of the prophet Elijah to Earth: «Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord».

After that is the gospel of Matthew, that is, the New Testament, which tells about the coming of John the Baptist. Thus, for Christianity, the main thing in the Old Testament is the prophecy of the Messiah.

The first part of the Bible logically passes into the second part – the New Testament, which tells about the Messiah. 

Among the Jews, the Tanakh ends with a Book of Chronicles. At the end, there is a decree of the Persian king, which allows the Jews to return from captivity back to their homeland.

Thus, the Tanakh tells how God created the world for the Jews to have their land. God gives the people land, after which various disasters begin, the Jews are deprived of their land, and at the end of the Tanakh, God returns everything to the Jews.

With a different order of books, the meaning of the entire Old Testament can deeply change and acquires different content.

The Role of Translations

Another difference between the Old Testament and the Torah or Tanakh is the role of translations. Christianity throughout its history has used translations of the Old Testament and this hasn’t been a problem. 

The Greeks had the Septuagint, the West had the Vulgate, the Syrian Christians had the Peshitta, and so on. Jews, on the other hand, have had a strong rejection of any translations since the third century AD.

The Bible in the concept of the Jews can be understood only in the language in which it was written – in Hebrew.

The Division of Books Into Chapters

There is also a difference in the division of books into chapters and the numbering of verses. All of this has a non-Jewish origin. 

The fact is that in the 18th century, Archbishop Stephen Langton introduced the division of the Pentateuch in the Vulgate. For example, in the Parisian Vulgate of the 18th century, divisions are already present.

It was from the Vulgate that this division passed into the manuscripts and editions of the Tanakh. The division of the Septuagint at the same time has some differences from the Vulgate in the division of the text into chapters and the numbering of verses.

The Difference in The Interpretation

Another difference is the different interpretations of the same texts, so because of this, the interpretation of the Pentateuch and the Torah will be very different from each other.

For example, in the book of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 53 there is a story about The atoning suffering of the Servant of the Lord.

Christianity believes that we are talking about the suffering of Christ, but for the Jews, Israel itself appears in the image of a servant of God, since the Jews were persecuted people.

In liturgical usage, different preferences are given for reading the texts of the Old Testament or the Tanakh. Jews mostly read the Torah, and Christians read the books of the prophets and Psalms.

Final Thoughts

It can be concluded that the Christian and Jewish Bibles have the same texts, but there are great differences in the usage of these texts and such nuances affect the interpretation of the Holy Books.

Charalampos

Charalampos is an Orthodox Christian who wants to help others learn about Christianity. His main goal is to help people understand the Bible and how to apply its teachings in their everyday lives. He also enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, and hiking.

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