Jewish bookshelf

The Jewish Bible ≠ The Old Testament

Image: My bookshelves at home. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

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Something I hear on a regular basis: “The Jewish Bible is just the Old Testament, right?”

No. And while I always chalk it up to ignorance, understand that it’s at best an ignorant statement. I’m sure you don’t want to sound ignorant or say anything offensive, which is why I’m writing this.

Jews don’t think of the Tanach (ta-NAHKH) as the “old” anything. It’s the library of canonical books we refer to as “The Bible,” or “Scripture.” It’s our collection of holy books, including the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (Psalms, etc.) We hold these books in deep reverence.

There is a Christian collection of books known as the “New Testament” that we don’t recognize as our holy scripture, any more than Christians recognize the Quran as their holy scripture.

Referring to our Bible as the “Old Testament” suggests that there is a new, better edition out. That is what Christians believe, and in a Christian context, that’s fine. At a Christian Bible study, it’s fine. It’s not fine to say it in a synagogue: it is like going to a Buddhist event and referring to the participants as “heathens.” It will definitely mark you as someone who doesn’t know any better.

Also, the Jewish Bible IS different from the Old Testament portion of the Christian Bible. The two are organized differently. They have been translated differently. For instance:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14, King James Version

Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14, Jewish Publication Society translation, 1985

That’s just one of the more famous examples of a difference in translation. There are many more of them.

So, when you’re talking about the Jewish Bible, call it that, or use the Hebrew term “Tanakh.” That’s one way to show that you have done your homework.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

13 thoughts on “The Jewish Bible ≠ The Old Testament”

  1. Thank you Rabbi! I never use the statement Old Testament unless I’m among Christians only and then I say Older Testament. Otherwise I use the terms Hebrew bible or Christian bible.
    Would Jewish bible be less offensive than Hebrew bible? Also, I’ve heard many Christians refer to the Jewish bible as Torah but as I study in more interfaith groups, I’ve begun to learn that Torah means more than just scriptures to the Jewish faith.

    1. Hebrew Bible is fine. Jewish Bible is fine. Torah can mean the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) or it can mean something larger, you are right. Thank you for giving me the topic for my next post!

  2. I went back and cleaned up the wording on my own recent post. I thought I was more careful the first time. This is a good reminder.
    Interesting in my experience is that if they are applying strict codes to somebody else’s life, Christians I’ve dealt with emphasize “Testament.” “Hey, I’m not saying this, God did.”
    But, if you turn around and point out all of the things they have no interest in obeying, the emphasis suddenly changes to “Old” and the whole thinking you describe about them being covered by the “New.” smh

  3. Yep, totally agree with this post. It’s a sad state of affairs that some people react so out of proportion when they disagree with what someone else says, and is all to common these days. There no longer seems a place in the world to hold a different opinion to someone else, and instead of simply respectfully acknowledging that someone has a different point of view, people either shout others down or try to bully them into silence.

    1. I’m genuinely interested in what they have to tell me, if they’d just tell me. “Use your words” generally accomplishes more than most of the alternatives.

  4. so glad you were able to repost this, was sad to not find it available when I looked last week. so often in our conversations with friends, my husband and I find out that many Christians don’t realize that the Jewish Bible does not include their New Testament scriptures, so it opens the door to explaining a bit about Judaism and what being a Jew means.

  5. I have no attachment to any organizations just looking for answers. Is there any specific published Jewish Sacred writings that you recommend i.e.( KJV…)?

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