Why are some Old Testament prophets called “major” while others are called “minor”?
ANSWER: For centuries these terms have been used primarily in reference to the length of the prophetic books and have nothing to do with their value. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable,” we are told in 2 Timothy 3:16.
The Jews viewed the historical books from Joshua through 2 Kings as “the former prophets.” They regarded Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as “the latter prophets,” and lumped the books from Hosea through Malachi together as “the twelve.” In their division of the Old Testament into Law, Prophets, and Writings, they placed Daniel and Lamentations in the third category, the Writings. Luke 24:45 refers to this section as the Psalms, based on the first and longest book in the section, while in verse 27 it is termed “the Scriptures” or the Writings.
Daniel, whose book contains considerable history and who was engaged in the service of the Gentile monarchs after the capture of Jerusalem, was never specifically sent as a prophet to the Jews; this may be why they did not place his book with the other prophets as we do. In Matthew 24:15 the Lord Jesus Himself refers to Daniel as “Daniel the prophet.” Lamentations, a series of five elegies (poems of lamentation), is written by Jeremiah and in our Bibles is placed immediately after Jeremiah.
The terms “Major Prophets” and “Minor Prophets” have no scriptural background but are simply terms used for convenience. Let’s be careful never to treat the Minor Prophets as any less important than the Major Prophets, but let us value the entire Word of God – reading, studying, and obeying it.
By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org