"The Twelve"

"The Twelve" is the original title given to the last twelve books of the Old Testament in the canon familiar to English translations. The Twelve prophets contain a rich deposit of theology, history, admonition, and prophetic promises. This introductory overview underscores a few of the essentials of this most neglected portion of all Scripture.

The minor prophets are always referred to as the "Twelve" (שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר). The full Hebrew title was “The Book of the Twelve Prophets.” Augustine notes (in approximately A.D. 425) that “the prophecy of Isaiah is not in the book of the twelve prophets, who are called the minor from the brevity of their writings, as compared with those who are called the greater prophets because they published larger volumes. Isaiah belongs to the latter, yet I connect him with the two above named, because he prophesied at the same time” (Augustine, City of God, Book 18, Ch. 29). “One of the literary ineptitudes of the centuries is the popular name given to the last twelve books of the Old Testament, namely, the Minor Prophets. The impression often gained is that these books are of minor importance. A better designation for them is that which the rabbis employed, that is, the Twelve" (Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, 9). Feinberg goes on to note that “the human authors lived, labored, and wrote from the ninth to the fifth centuries BC. Their messages, which are of major significance, contain the dominant themes of the prophetic Scriptures concerning the Messiah, Israel, the nations, and the earthly Kingdom of the Lord.” In Ecclesiasticus 49:10 (c. 190 B.C.), the title of these collective writings was referred to as, “The Twelve Prophets.” One distinctive purpose for this designation was that “the twelve Minor Prophets were also counted as one book” (Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 76). As Keil and Delitzsch remark, "On the completion of the canon these twelve writings were put together, so as to form one prophetic book" (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10:1).

An understanding of the Torah is foundational to understanding the prophets. Former Prophets furnish the demonstration and testimony of how God's words through Moses came to past. The word of the Lord through Moses looks beyond the Former Prophets and into the exile, and provides a “skeleton” for the return and future of Israel. The Latter Prophets ("The Twelve") fill-out that skeleton. It is essential to notice that the latter prophets never change the words of God given through Moses, rather they constantly and insistently point back to them.

The prophets of the OT are almost always related to the “exile.” A striking lesson from the Twelve is that they indicate that the return from exile was not what the pre-exilic prophets were promising. The Messiah, Christ Jesus, is their greatest focus and aim.

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