What Does the Word "Bible" Mean to Jewish People of Faith?

I'd like to try to get more Jewish perspectives on questions that I pose about the Bible. Usually I get Christian, atheist, & pagan answers, which is great, but I'd like more of the Jewish perspective. I find that if I use the word Tanakh in place of the word Bible, I only get Jewish responses (or a few anti-Jewish responses) because most Christians (and indeed much of the secular world as well) refer to the Tanakh as the "Old Testament."

So, I wonder, does the word "Bible" have Christian connotations for some Jews? How can I better phrase some of my questions to get a more diverse group of answers when asking questions about the Tanakh? Thanks for your thoughts!

12 Answers

  • 10 years ago
    Best Answer

    This is one of those questions that can have more than one "correct" answer from a Jewish persepctive.

    The Jewish Bible is correctly referred to as the Tanakh. Because there is a much larger world population who use the Latin term, Bible, to refer to the texts of the Christian religion. when most Jews see that word alone from someone who is not Jewish..Bible ..wihout the designation "Jewish Bible" we realize that the odds are very great to near certain that it is referring to the scriptures of Christianity and not the Jewish Bible at all even if they may think they're talking about the Jewish Bible when they are talking about their "Old Testament". I own books published by Jewish publishers in English that use the word Bible and of course, they refer to the Tanakh, the Jewish Holy Scriptures (not the Christian adaptation/alteration named the Old Testament)

    "Bible Tales For Very Young Children" by Lenore Cohen, published by the UAHC

    "A Child's Bible" by Seymour Rossel , published by Behrman House

    I have texts written by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews that refer to our Tanakh as the Bible. Look at the title of this web site of the Torah http://bible.ort.org/books/torahd5.asp

    See bottom link to view Orthodox Chabad title of their translation of Tanakh. It is obvious that Orthodox Jews sometimes use the word Bible to refer to the Tanakh when speaking or writing in English,such as a famous Rabbi Berel Wein http://odeo.com/episodes/22204959-The-Bible-Basic-...

    Many English speaking Jews like me grew up calling the Tanakh simply “ The Bible”. English speaking Jews know what texts we refer to with other English speaking Jews, the original Bible, the Tanakh. Tanakh, is an acronym for the three sections of the Scriptures, the Torah (Pentateuch, first five books of Moses, Torah meaning teaching/law) the Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuviim (Writings or scriptures) I grew up using both terms in equal measure and interchangably. As a child, even in discussion with Orthodox relatves, we often used the word Bible to discuss the Tanakh, and because we knew what texts we were talking about..in that context we knew it had nothing to do with the Christian Bible's "Old" or New Testament.

    I also grew up knowing that when I heard a non-Jew say "The Bible" they were almost certainly referring to the *Christian Bible* and NOT referring to the Holy Scriptres of Judaism, the Tanakh.

    Tertullian, early in the third century CE named the Christian amended version of the Tanakh the "Old Testament" *specifically* to designate it as having been superceded and done away with in contrast to the "New", despite the assertion within it's texts well over a dozen times from Genesis forward that it is an eternal testament (covenant).

    There is no "Old Testament" to Judaism and while that term is offensive to Judaism, most Jews know that not many Christians appear to recognize or be aware of how or why that term and their adaptation is offensive. The Jewish people have the eternal testament (testament means covenant) of Torah. We have the Tanakh..the Jewish Bible.

    If you want answers from Jews about the Jewish Bible.and Judaism, using Tanakh will definitely get more Jewish responses. Jews do not use the term "Old Testament" as that is a term that does not apply to the unaltered Jewish Bible and insults the covenant of Judaism

    The Tanakh and the Christian Bible's Old Testament ARE different so the responses from adherents to these contradictory religions will of course be different.

    The Christian Bible's Old Testament (it’s adaptation of Tanakh) reveals that in many places there are significant translation differences rendering the meanings of the passages quite different. A majority of the translation differences and alterations are in the portions of the Jewish Bible from the Prophets and Writings. Not only are the books rearranged so that the books are not in the order of Torah, Prophets and Writings, but Kings, Ezra and Nehemiah are divided. The Protestant Old Testament contains roughly the same books; the Vulgate has additional texts added to the canon that were originally written in Greek. The New Testament was later translated into the Latin.(Vulgate) The Greek Septuagint (meaning 70) was originally referring to the Torah portion **only** and in fact, that is the only portion that was translated by 72 scribes whose translations legend tells us were said to have matched. The rest of Tanakh was translated from the Hebrew to the Greek over the course of about 300 years and scholars cannot tell who or when exactly any of them were translated. Yet the common name of Septuagint is now generally applied to the whole Greek translation. By the beginning of the first century CE, there were many different versions of each text that appeared, some of them with less accurate Hebrew to Greek, and during this time, many other texts appeared being originally written IN Greek such as the books of the Maccabees. By the time of the beginnings of Christianity, some of these texts of Tanakh had become so changed through the Hellenization (introduction of Greek philosophical and religious concepts through language translations) that they were even no longer adherent to Torah precepts. The Hebrew Bible canon had been more or less "closed" since the time of Ezra/ Nehemiah (around 423 BCE)**(please note this was HUNDREDS of years before Christianity) but of course, Jewish scribes still penned what was going on in Jewish life in Judea and wrote and discussed how to apply Torah to their lives. It has been debated by many Jewish scholars that if the Books of Maccabees had originally been written in Hebrew rather than Greek at a time when the Jews were trying to keep “separate” all Hellenized pagan influence, they may have been more readily accepted by Jews as Jewish texts. However, since the Tanakh was already completed/ formed they could not have ever been considered a part of our Holy Scriptures (Bible).

    The accuracy of the words we see now in the Hebrew Bible was confirmed with the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls where fragments of each book except the book of Esther (the last book to be included in the canon) match quite well with the Tanakh's Jews use today. The majority of the Dead Sea scrolls were written in the Hebrew Language (approximately 90-95%) with Assyrian Block script. From this majority there are a few cases in which the scribes used Paleo-Hebrew (see for example 4QPaleoExodus).

    Modern Hebrew is different from the ancient Paleo Hebrew, but the Hebrew of 2000 years ago is closer to modern Hebrew than the English of the 1700’s is to the English we speak today.

    There was a council of rabbis and scribes at Yavneh in 90 CE who worked hard to rid the Tanakh of the Hellenized versions of scripture that were being spread. Christian apologist scholars often try to claim that this was when the Jewish Bible's canon was FORMED in response to Christianity, but that ignores that their very own writings refer to it as a formed work already. Some of the texts that Judaism never considered as a part of Jewish scripture were early apologetic attempts to tie in Christian dogma to the Tanakh. Others show pre-Christian attempts to Hellenize Judaism. These texts known as Pseudepigrapha were largely written between 200 BCE and 100 CE and included great amounts of Greek philosophy for the express purpose to assimilate foreign god worship into being acceptable to the Jewish populace.

    You can discover on your own with comparative reading where key passages change meanings dramatically through mistranslation from the Tanakh. One well-known portion is in Isaiah. The word lucifer does not appear at all in the Hebrew Bible. It is only in the Christian Bible’s translation from the LATIN using the word lucifer meaning light-bearer referring to the morning star, Venus, in Latin. The Hebrew word Isaiah wrote is heylel, meaning star. In the English translation of the Christian Old Testament they make the Latin word lucifer into a proper name ( Lucifer) and then personify the word referring to the planet Venus in a passage that Isaiah slams Nebuchadnezzar for styling himself the god/man representation of Venus (the morning star) on earth. Isaiah is condemning a human for calling himself a god. There is no fall of angels in the Hebrew Bible. There is simply no such thing as a Lucifer who became a demi-god of an underworld hell to be found in the Tanakh. Therefore, mistranslation can change things around quite a bit.

    Most of the book of Daniel and portions of Ezra and a single sentence in Jeremiah are in Aramaic, a related language using Hebrew letters. All else in the Jewish Bible was written in Hebrew. In first century Judea the Tanakh was read aloud to the community in Hebrew (called Mikra for "reading"). The practice of reading explanatory translations or paraphrasings of the Hebrew Tanakh in Aramaic versions called "Targum" was also employed, the oldest known being fragments discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls

    There were also The Apocrypha (Greek, "hidden books") are Jewish books not considered part of the Holy Scriptures of Judaism.

    Pseudepigrapha (Greek, "falsely attributed") was given to Jewish writings, which were attributed to authors who did not actually write them...many people confuse the two terms and which books belong in each category

    Neither Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha have ever been Holy Scriptures to Judaism.

    EDIT When Jews speak to one another about the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) we also often refer to the Torah as "Chumash" referring to the five books of Moses, and this word comes from the Hebrew word meaning five, chamesh. Orthodox Jews are more likely to say,"Chamishah Chumshei Torah".

    Source(s): http://bible.ort.org/ http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/... < Note Orthodox Chabad uses the word Bible here with this titled "The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi" I'm a Jewish person of faith ( Reform movement)
  • 10 years ago

    Living in a Western nation, I have grown up hearing the CHRISTIAN version of scripture refered to as the Bible and anything Jewish refered to by xtians as The Old Testament. To me, Bible means the xtian bible, the Tanakh is the collection of (some of the) Writings, the Prophets and, most importantly, the Torah.


    The word Bible has definite xtian connotations for me. It's inclusion of the xtian works called the new testament make it a completely different book from the Tanakh, with different meanings, interpretations and an agenda to proselytize that is never found in a Jewish Tanakh.

    I find the term "Old Testament" offensively dismissive of the spiritual wholeness of the Torah, especially.

    I am not sure what sort of answer you were looking for, but I have answered with my own opinion.

  • robb
    Lv 6
    10 years ago

    From the cover of the Artscroll Stone Edition Tanach:




    I am not Jewish but I am an ex Christian who has studied both Christian and Jewish translations of the bible and often answer questions that pertain to both religions. In the past I have encountered people who in an effort to be politically correct have used the word "Tanach" even when quoting from a Christian translation and this bothers me to no end. Personally I prefer to use the word "bible" as it is generic and I find it to be less offensive than referring to the books that make up the Tanach as the "Old Testament". I try to only use "Tanach" when I am actually referring to a Jewish published bible and want to be clear that that is what I am referring to.

  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    Well "Bible" doesnt do much for me, because we've always called it the Tanach. And because "Bible" most often is used in our society to mean the Christian old and new testament bible.

    And I really dont like being associated with that, because the Christian old testament is not at all the same thing as our Tanach. The old testament has so many changes in letters, words, verses, meanings, etc. that all try very hard to insert or reflect their pagan man-god human sacrifice into it, I'm just very uncomfortable using the word "bible" to mean the Tanach.

    I really dont know any Jews who do use the word "bible" when they mean the Tanach, but I mostly hang out with the Orthodox crowd, it's possible that the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist do use "bible" and it doesnt mean anything negative to them? I dont know, there are some here who can answer that part for you. I have heard a few secular Jews use the word, but not even too often there.

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  • 10 years ago

    To me, Bible = Tanakh. I try not to use the terms "Old Testament" and "New Testament," b\c by doing so I'd be agreeing with the Christians that the "Old Testament" has been replaced by the "New" one. I try to use the term "Christian Bible" to refer to the "New Testament," although different sects of Christianity have different bibles, which contain different books.

    Source(s): Orthodox Jew
  • 10 years ago

    Hmh, the word that fits best is "Tanach" and I apreciate it a lot if people know this word. Some non-jews use the term "hebrew Bible", that's okay as well.

    As for me, I myself do not have any problems if people talking to me refer to the Tanach as "Bible" or "Old Testament" if they're Christian - sure, I prefer Tanach but I do not expect anybody to know this word and as far as they use one word from their vocabulary to describe it, it's alright with me as I know what they mean. But some people are a bit "allergic" towards the "OT" term and it's not really appropriate to use this, so "Bible" would be better - I use the term "Bible" as well when talking to people who may not know the term "Tanach", so I refer to it as "Our Bible" to distinguish form their Bible, the term itself is neutral, "to biblion" is simply "the book" and could be as well an Atlas as a cookbook.

  • 10 years ago

    When I hear the world "Bible", I think of the New Testament.

    Maybe instead of saying "Bible" or "Tanakh" you could say "Holy Book" or "Scriptures", etc.

    Peace, Nina

    Source(s): Jewish
  • serf
    Lv 4
    10 years ago

    The word "Bible" means "book".

    Source(s): Latin, yo.
  • Emilia
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

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  • 10 years ago

    The bible in a definition is a Sacred text so if you ask them if they read the bible they might think you mean the thora.

  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    About the same as the Quran means to Chrsitians. The word bible means book in any definition.

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