The Old Testament: Meaning and Significance

Get inspired by the rich stories of the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament. Learn more about how God cared for His people since creation.

The Old Testament has over 40 books detailing the story of God and the Israelites. Within its accounts are numerous concepts that build the Christian faith.

Here you get the story of creation. You also read about the Ten Commandments which set the standard for universal human rights. But overall, the Old Testament encompasses God’s covenant with Israel. 

What is the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is the first set of books in the Bible. Its name derives from God’s promise to Abraham. For Jews, this is their history before the Romans conquered them. They also use this as the primary standard of morality. So most Jews, then and now, use the teachings in the Old Testament to guide them on what it means to be good. 

It starts from the creation of the world. Then moves on to the stories of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, Israel’s development to a nation that subsequently fell to empires. It also offers the timeless wisdom of the prophets.

Christians look at the Old Testament as the prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus and His disciples refer to the Old Testament accounts to justify the ministry. Jesus presents the New Testament as a natural progression of God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament.

Significance of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is integral to the Christian faith in many ways. 

It serves as the foundation of Jesus’ ministry

Jesus preached using the writings in the Old Testament. He wove His insights into the meaning of these writings in His ministry. Even if the Jewish leaders considered His teachings radical, He still taught with this interpretation of the Word of God.

The Old Testament is relevant for Christianity because Jesus is the fulfillment of this covenant. He did not come to abolish the teachings of the Prophets. He embodied their virtues. And showed the way to find the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17–19)

Jesus is God-made flesh. In analyzing the beginning of the Gospel of John, we realize that Jesus is there from the beginning. 

It builds the foundation of our faith

The Old Testament contains the central doctrines of our faith. It shows God as the Creator of all things in Genesis 1:1-2:3. Here we witness God’s providence. The Ten Commandments refer to the morality we Christians need to live by. It discusses the redemption of man from wickedness. The teachings of the Prophets show us how to put faith into action.

It is the Word of God

God spoke to His people through the Prophets, Jesus, and His disciples. He rules time and created life itself. So you shouldn’t be confused about God’s nature in the Old and New Testaments. He is multi-faced. But overall, His mercy is everlasting. He never leaves us.

The Old Testament writers discussed how God guided His people through many trials. God himself inspired them to do wondrous deeds. And chronicle the growth and decline of the Israelites.

Jesus and His followers believe in the Old Testament’s God-given legitimacy. The Dei Verbum # 16 states that God manifested Himself in both the Old and New Testaments. As the author of life, his wisdom shed light on the salvation of mankind. Each word in the Bible comes from God. He created the Abrahamic Covenant. And fulfilled this promise with Jesus’ sacrifice in the New Covenant of faith.

It proclaims the Gospel

The Prophets proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. The Old Scriptures foretold the way God will save the world. This is the son of a virgin, born from the House of David. He will suffer because His own people will not accept Him. People will persecute Him and sentence Him to death. But He will rise again to redeem all nations. 

Isaiah, in particular, wrote about how God will save His people through his anointed one. (Isaiah  61:1)

Abraham himself knew of the universal salvation God will bring. Through God’s promise of his descendants becoming as numerous as the stars.

This is the reason why in every church service, preachers read the Old Testament accounts first. The New Testament accounts find meaning from the promises in their predecessors. So if you read the Old Testament, you will understand the Gospel in joy.

It teaches us about love

God’s covenants (Old and New) focus on love. God loved His creation. And He told them how to love each other through the Ten Commandments. Jesus synthesized these commandments into two commands of love towards God and one’s neighbor. (Matthew 22:37–40).

In all the books in the Old Testament, you find nuggets of wisdom on love. It is in the Old Testament that you see the different types of love in human life. It’s not just about God’s love. You learn about familial love, friendships, romance. Even love that hurts. 

You understand what it means to love in different ways. It also shows the different trials in the process of loving. Infidelity, betrayal, rejection, and breakups. You learn how to navigate the complexity of love through the lives of ancient biblical characters.

When Was the Old Testament Written?

Biblical scholars concur that the Old Testament story first was told and retold orally. Then scribes wrote down the accounts starting in the 10th century BC.

Jews attribute the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus) to Moses. But priests collated and amplified these texts around 400 BC. The Jewish priests did this to reinforce the Jewish communal identity after they returned to Jerusalem.

The prophets’ preachings happened from the 8th to 6th century BC. They exhorted the Israelites in times of trouble.

Jewish scholars in Jerusalem and Baghdad worked to collate the Old Testament into the Masoretic Text in the 9th century AD. This version became the standard of subsequent copies. It also served as the reference of translation of the ancient Scriptures to the Septuagint. The Septuagint served the Greek-speaking Jewish community in Alexandria.

Who Wrote the Old Testament?

The Old Testament comes from the God-inspired prophets of Israel. They are diverse in backgrounds. Kings, judges, prophets, and women wrote the different texts of ancient Judaism. 

Scholars believe that scribes wrote down most of these books to scrolls for safekeeping.

How Many Books are in the Old Testament?

Melito of Sardis coined the term “The Old Testament” in the 2nd century CE. It is the thickest section of the Bible. If you inquire about the number of books in this section, it depends on the denomination you belong to. 

The Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible comprises 24 canonical books. But Christian Bibles have more Old Testament books because they include more texts than the Jewish canon. The Roman Catholic Bible has 46 books in the Old Testament. Most Protestant Bibles have 39 books.

Differences Between the Old Testament and the Tanakh

Jesus’ ministry starts in the principles of Judaism. But there are distinct differences between the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and the Christian Old Testament. They differ in canonical order and theological emphasis. The Jewish and Christian canons differ in the number of books, as mentioned above.

For example, the Christian Bible includes non-Jewish canonical books such as the Books of Judith, Maccabees, and Wisdom of Solomon. The order of the books also differs. In the Old Testament, the Book of Ruth is between Judges and 1 Samuel. This fits within the chronology of the story of King David who was Ruth’s great-grandson. But in the Tanakh, Ruth is in the Ketuvim (Writings), together with the Books of Esther, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and Lamentations.

The Old Testament ends with the Prophetic Malachi’s words. Whereas the Tanakh ends with the Ketuvim wherein the Persian King Cyrus lets the Israelites return to their homeland.

In the Old Testament, the emphasis is on Jesus as the prophesied messiah by the prophets. In the Tanakh, they focus on a kinglike messiah under Israel. Jews also focus on the Torah. Christian liturgy is based on the Prophets’ teachings.

Foundational Truths in the Old Testament

The Old Testament is integral to the Christian faith. Its sheer volume contains the many concepts that formed the foundation of truth in religion. These foundations truths are creation, original sin and evil, commandments, God’s nature, and heaven.


The Old Testament established the identity of God as the Creator. We know that God created all things from plants, animals, planets to man. In Genesis, we read how God created the world and the universe in six days.

In this concept began the vocation of matrimony. God created both Adam and Eve to be the first progenitors of the human race. He exhorted them to go and multiply. Afterward, the Creation story talks about God’s command of stewardship. God gave humans the duty to name and care for all animals. He called us to live in tune with nature.

Original Sin

After Genesis explored the creation of the world, it also showed the start of sinfulness. The concept of original sin arrived when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The devil took a serpentine form to tempt Eve. Then Eve gave the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge to Adam. They disobeyed God’s express command to leave the tree and its fruits alone.

For this transgression, God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He also exposed their nakedness. In the aftermath, the first humans suffered from death and conflict. Adam became the first of the workers who toiled daily for sustenance. This hardship contrasted with their prosperous, carefree life in Eden.

However, God also showed the way to redeem this original sin. He warned the devil that mankind’s savior will come from a woman. And indeed Jesus fulfilled this foretelling as the son of the virgin Mary.

Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are God’s Word codified into law. They are the basis of universal human rights. Many state constitutions relate to them in the laws that their citizens must follow.

In modern life, most of what is known as morals come from the Ten Commandments. We know that killing, stealing, lying, and dishonor are wrong because we believe in these commandments. They show us how to live a righteous life without hurting anybody.

God’s nature

From the beginning of the Old Testament, God is active, We see the different qualities of God. We first see Him as the all-powerful Creator. Then we see Him as a wrathful punisher of the wicked. Succeeding biblical accounts shows God’s providence and mercy. 

It is a common misconception that God is only a giver. So most Christians might feel alienated from the vengeful God described in the Old Testament. But it is in those ancient texts that we see the multiple facets of God. He loves His creation, making their lives bountiful. He leads their struggles to victories. And He also exercises His power to rebuke the unfaithfulness of man. 

Read the Old Testament with a keen eye and understanding of its historical context. Here you will realize that God always saves us. He employs different circumstances to deliver us from evil. Even from those that humans themselves created.

The Problem of Evil

Evil came into the world with Adam and Eve’s disobedience. The Old Testament makes it clear that evil came from human choices. God imbued His creation with His likeness. He gave us free will. So God grieves for humans who choose to do evil. (Genesis 6:6). 

Consistently, ancient Israelites suffered because they turned their backs to God. Prophets exhorted their people to heed God’s call to repent. Still, the Scriptures show evil as a consequence of human freedom.

It can be disconcerting that we have a God who is truly good in a world full of evil. We may feel that God is unjust in leaving humans with pain and injustices. But the existence of evil doesn’t negate the power of God.

God calls on His people to repent and reject evil. He did not create evil. It was the result of human corruption. 

Even the natural disasters and trials that He gives His people are proof of His power. God himself told Job that His ways are beyond man’s understanding. This shows that our suffering is God’s way of cleansing us of wickedness.


The Old Testament writers first allude to Heaven in the Garden of Eden. This bountiful paradise was locked after our first parents sinned against God. Later texts show Heaven as God’s sole dominion.

Apocalyptic prophets such as Elijah, Daniel, and Ezekiel discuss the state of Heaven. Their narratives on heaven serve to inspire and warn people. Their books show the hierarchy of angels and the richness of God’s creation.

Revelation shows us how Heaven will open to Jesus’ true followers. But the prophetic texts first show the appearance of Heaven. And they discuss who God will allow to enter it.


The virtue of holiness first comes in the Prophets and righteous Israelites. We understand how to be holy through the exemplary lives in the Old Testament. Holy men and women put their faith into action through their relationships. We witness how even simple acts of kindness can enable the work of God in His people.

The Old Testament shows us the different ways people can follow the Will of God. They can love, fight, protect and preach. The most important virtue of the holy one is the humility to admit one’s mistakes. And ask for forgiveness then change one’s life for the better.

In Summary

The Old Testament is one of the pivotal sets of texts in world religion. It serves as the basis of morality for Christianity and Judaism alike. With over twenty books, it encompasses the different human experiences with God.

The ancient Scriptures may be written before the time of Jesus Christ. But they stay relevant forever. They cover God’s covenant with Israel. This Abrahamic Covenant was fulfilled when Jesus came. Jesus’ ministry is rooted in an honest, heartfelt interpretation of the Prophets’ teachings. 

Even if it is difficult, you should read the Old Testament. Here you learn the foundational truths of our faith. And understand what it means to be human following God’s Will.

Faith-Filled Content Delivered To Your Inbox

Receive uplifting scriptures, inspiring articles & helpful guides to encourage your faith.

Thank you for subscribing!

Something went wrong.

Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

Faith-Filled Content Delivered To Your Inbox

Receive uplifting scriptures, inspiring articles & helpful guides to encourage your faith.

Thank you for subscribing!

Something went wrong.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap