By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
When you first start reading the Bible you might think the Bible is arranged by the order in which the books were written. While this is a very logical conclusion, the order of the books and how they are aligned do not automatically align with when the books were written. One of the things that people may think about is what is the oldest book in the Bible? While we may assume the first one listed is the oldest book there is room for debate on this topic. To help find an answer to this question I am going to present to you both sides of the debate and then see what if any conclusion can be drawn by each consideration.
A brief Bible overview.
Before we get to the oldest book in the Bible here is a brief overview and for some of you a very quick refresher of the Bible. The Bible is not just one book, it is sixty-six books written by forty different authors over a period of approximately 1500 years. These men were from various walks of life and wrote as the Spirit of God enabled them. While most of the later writers were familiar with the earlier works, especially the law or Pentateuch, many of them did not know each other nor did they have access to what the others wrote. This is why the accuracy and consistency of Scripture truly point to the hand of God. No other book could be compiled in such a manner and have the agreement the Bible does. This is just one small piece of evidence of the Bible being God’s Word. This information however now brings us back to the question of this article, mainly what is the oldest book in the Bible?
The oldest book in the Bible debate.
When tasked with figuring out what is the oldest book in the Bible, the conversation by most scholars comes down to two books, Genesis and Job. If you just asked people a general question it would be natural for people to think Genesis is the oldest book because it is the first one listed in the Old Testament. What we know for certain is that Genesis contains the record of the oldest events that have happened on the earth. After all, everything on earth began with creation and there is not much Biblical record of things that happened before creation. Genesis was written about 1400 years before the birth of Christ. The dates for when this book was written are estimated between 1440 and 1400 B.C. We also know the author of the book of Genesis as well as the first five books of the Bible was Moses. One of the primary arguments for Genesis being the oldest book in the Bible is based on it containing the oldest record of information on creation and the beginning of the heavens and the earth.
The other side of the debate comes to the book of Job. The average person will not consider Job as the oldest book in the Bible because of where it is placed in the Bible. Job is grouped with the poetry books in the Old Testament and because of its location, many don’t often consider when it was written and certainly that it is possibly the oldest book in the Bible. Unlike Genesis however, we don’t know the author of Job and we are not sure exactly when this book was written, though some scholars place this book as written possibly up to 400 years before Genesis. Among the ways that are used to date this book are the type of Hebrew used and some of the descriptions found in the book. The reason Job is considered to potentially be the oldest book in the Bible is also because of some of the content within it. Some scholars will point to the things that are written about in the book of Job as events that occurred before Moses’ lifetime which is why they consider it to be the oldest book in the Bible.
More food for thought.
To give you more information to help answer the question of what is the oldest book in the Bible, here are two scholarly thoughts on this question. One will lean towards Genesis and the other towards Job. I include these because these are the two sides of the debate.
The case for Genesis (from the website Got Questions)
“Some will point out that the book of Job appears to record events that took place before the time of Moses, and it is thought by many to be the oldest book of the Bible. However, the theological emphases of the book of Job seem to indicate that the concerns the book is addressing are much later, perhaps from the exilic period, and addressed to Israelites. So, while the book may contain information about events that happened long before, the book seems to have been written much later than Genesis was written. In the final analysis, Genesis certainly contains the oldest information, and the message of Genesis came from Moses who was the first prophet to have his words formalized in written Scripture, so it would probably be accurate to see Genesis, or perhaps the Pentateuch as a unit, to be the oldest book of the Bible.”
The case for Job (from the website Beliefnet)
“The age of the book of Job can also be found in what is noticeably missing from the book. There are no mentions of the covenant, the Law of Moses or the priesthood. There are not even any mentions of the Israelite people or the Promised Land. Instead, Job offers sacrifices himself for his sons without the use of a priesthood, temple or consecrated altar. His wealth is measured by the size of his herds and the amount of “qesiytah,” unique silver coins, he possesses. Both herds and silver were used as ancient systems of money between 1900 and 1700 B.C. The names of Job’s sons were also uncommon in later time periods but were common before and during the time of the patriarchs. Exactly when the book of Job was written remains something of a mystery, but there is no doubt it is the oldest book in the Bible. While the early chapters of Genesis cover events that happened before Job, the actual written accounts of those events were not recorded until after the book of Job had already been composed. In fact, Job is over 400 years older than Genesis. This means Job is not only the sole drama in the Bible but also the oldest book by far and all the more fascinating for it.”
What Is the Verdict?
As you can see there are compelling arguments from both sides of this question. As you search for the answer note that this is one of those scholarly debates where it is nice to know the answer, however, it is not detrimental to your faith. There is no question or debate as to the authenticity of the writings, we are just trying to figure out which one was written first. This now brings us to give an answer to this question. Unfortunately, I don’t know if you are going to find my answer satisfactory or not. The truth is after looking at the evidence I really can’t determine whether it is Genesis or Job. Because this answer should not be detrimental to your faith, I am going to do something I rarely do when it comes to answering questions. My final verdict, in this case, is for you to read the information and then you decide. You may not like my verdict but it Is one of those things you must decide for yourself.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.