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Discussing religion, spirituality and values. Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. You can email her at
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The Hebrew Bible

Saturday, we ran a story about a religious knowledge survey conducted by the Pew Forum.  I’ve received a lot of response to the story. And I wanted to explain a term which has been causing a bit of a stir. I thought this could be a good teaching moment.

I referred to part of the poll by saying that Latter-Day Saints did well on questions dealing with both the Old and New Testaments. Several people have emailed or commented online that I should have written “the Hebrew Bible” instead of Old Testament. I’ll deal with that in a moment, but first I wanted to explain the issue, for people who don’t know:

I grew up as a Christian in America. So, I don’t know what it feels like when store clerks wish me a happy holiday that I don’t celebrate. I don’t know what it’s like to write “AD,” which translates to the year of a Lord whom I don’t worship. And when I hear “the Old Testament” I don’t think twice. In fact, before I became a religion and social services reporter,  it never occurred to me that the Old Testament wasn’t inclusive. I considered it the most inclusive of Scripture, as Muslims, Jews and Christians all believe in parts of it. But early on in my religion reporting experience, the rabbi explained that there can’t be an old if there is no new testament. Since then, I’ve been pretty careful to write “the Hebrew Bible” in stories about all faiths. However, Christians do refer to the canon of Scripture as the Old Testament, and for most people, that is the term they know best. So I also defer to AP Style, which most newspapers–including The Free Lance-Star–follow:

“Old Testament is a Christian designation; Hebrew Bible or Jewish Bible is the appropriate term for stories dealing with Judaism alone.”

In this story, the sentence I used referred to both the Pew poll and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Both call the canon  “the Old Testament.” I could have used the Hebrew Bible, in retrospect, but I can also assure you that–unlike comments and emails have suggested–the word choice did not come out of ignorance or a prejudice against Judaism.

I’ll compare this to the form of inclusive language I do have personal experience with. My oldest son has been diagnosed with severe to moderate autism and moderate mental retardation. According to the most inclusive language, he should be called “a young man with autism and intellectual disabilities.” Probably, I wouldn’t know this if I weren’t 1. his mother or 2. a social services reporter. So I understand when people get it wrong. And I understand the difference between the kid down the street calling him “a retard” and laughing and the woman at the grocery store who calls him “retarded” but treats him with respect.

We should all be more willing to consider the feelings of people with different faiths. And in most cases, it only requires a little bit of thought. But we should also be considerate of the people who mean well but use the wrong terms.


  • Lisa

    When speaking about a Christian denomination, the term ‘Old Testament’ is the correct term to use. The reason for this is that although the Christian OT is based on the Tanach (Jewish Bible), they are not the same. Using the term Jewish or Hebrew Bible only when referring directly to Judaism is the correct way to go.

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