Habakkuk Introduction-Overview and Canonicity of Habakkuk

Habakkuk Introduction  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  1:08:09
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Introduction-Overview and Canonicity of Haggai

The book of Habakkuk was written by a late seventh century B.C. prophet from the southern kingdom of Judah.
It deals with the God of Israel’s justice in relation to evil.
Specifically, it addresses the problem of a holy God and the presence of evil in the world.
The book is rather unusual and unique in that unlike the other prophets of Israel and Judah who communicated God’s message to either the United Kingdom of Israel, or the northern and southern kingdoms, Habakkuk dialogs with God.
In fact, most of the Old Testament prophets proclaimed God’s judgment to the nation of Israel, the northern and southern kingdoms or other Gentile nations, however, Habakkuk pleaded with God on behalf of the faithful in Judah to judge the apostate individuals in his own country.
In this book, the prophet Habakkuk complains to the God of Israel that He seems to be delaying judging individuals in the southern kingdom of Judah who were unrepentantly disobedient to the Mosaic Law (1:2-4).
God responds by informing the prophet that He will send the Babylonians as His instruments to judge these unrepentant Judeans (1:5-11).
Habakkuk then responds by questioning God’s choice of the Babylonians who he considers more wicked than these unrepentant Jews (1:12-17).
Habakkuk then waits for an answer from God (2:1), who responds by assuring Habakkuk that He will also judge the Babylonians for their unrepentant wicked behavior (2:2-20).
This is followed by the Lord giving the prophet a vision of Himself as the Divine Warrior (3:1-15).
The book closes with Habakkuk confessing his confidence that the Lord will execute justice (3:16-19).
Richard Patterson writes “Habakkuk wrestled with the perennial problem of the operation of God’s holiness and justice in a world of spiritual and moral decay. Unable to resolve his problem apart from divine instruction, he came to God with hard questions. Habakkuk learned what every believer must come to realize: that Israel’s Redeemer is in control of earth’s history and does have a plan for its people; that God’s high ethical standards are normative for all persons; and that mature believers will live their lives in total faith and trust in God, who alone is sufficient guide and resource for life’s changing fortunes.”[1]
Now, both Jewish and Christian circles accepted the book of Habakkuk’s canonical status since it was never questioned among these two groups because there is no ancient record of a dispute over the book.
The unity of the book which was called into question in modern times because of chapter three, did not affect its acceptance.
In fact, there is no ancient record of a dispute concerning the unity of the book and chapter three.
Richard Patterson writes “Habakkuk’s canonicity is not an issue. As one of the twelve Minor Prophets, Habakkuk enjoyed full acceptance as part of the Old Testament canon. The declaration of Armerding (1985:496) is apropos: ‘Habakkuk was early grouped with the other so-called Minor Prophets in the Book of the Twelve (attested as such in Sir 49:10—c. 190 bc), the acceptance of which is never questioned, either in Jewish or Christian circles.’[2]”[3]
The term “canon” or “canonicity” in Christianity refers to a collection of many books acknowledged or recognized by the early church as inspired by God.
Both Jews and Christians possess canons of Scripture.
We must remember that the first Christians did not possess a New Testament canon but rather they relied on the gospel that was being proclaimed to them by the apostles and others.
They also relied on the books of the Old Testament canon.
The Jewish canon consists of thirty-nine books while on the other hand the Christian canon consists of sixty-six for Protestants and seventy-three for Catholics.
The Protestant canon has thirty-nine Old Testament books like the Jews and twenty-seven works compose the New Testament.
The term English term “canon” comes from the Greek noun kanōn (κανών) which etymologically is a Semitic loanword and was most likely from the Hebrew qāneh and Akkadian, qaň.
The Greek noun kanōn originally meant “reed” but then later came to mean “measuring reed” and thus “rule, standard, norm.”
The term literally means: (1) a straight rod or bar; (2) a measuring rule as a ruler used by masons and carpenters; then (3) a rule or standard for testing straightness.
The term kanōn was employed six times in the Greek New Testament (2 Cor. 10:13, 15-16; Gal. 6:16; Phlp. 3:16).
In 2 Corinthians 10:13, 15-16, the word speaks of a set of directions for an activity and is used of the sphere that God allotted to Paul for his work as a missionary.
Paul uses the word in Galatians 6:16 where it means “rule, standard” referring to the means to determine the quality of the Christian’s conduct.
The early patristic writers would use the word many times in the sense of “rule” or “standard.”
During the first three centuries, the noun kanōn was used of those doctrines which were accepted as the rule of faith and practice in the Christian church.
Eventually, from about 300 A.D. onwards, the term was applied to the decisions or decrees or regulations of the church councils or synods as rules by which Christians were to live by.
By the fourth century though, the term came to refer to the list of books that constitute the Old and New Testaments.
In other words, it was used for the catalogue or list of sacred books which were distinguished and honored as belonging to God’s inspired Word.
This is how the word is used today by Christians meaning it refers to the closed collection of documents that constitute authoritative Scripture.
The Jewish community recognized thirty-nine books as canonical.
This corresponds to the number accepted by the apostolic church and by Protestant churches since the time of the Reformation.
The Roman Catholic church adds fourteen other books which composed the Apocrypha.
They consider these books as having equal authority with the Old Testament books.
The Hebrew Scriptures were recognized as authoritative at their inception and were immediately accepted as such by the Jewish people.
The acceptance of the Pentateuch, for example, is recorded in Deuteronomy 32:46-47, and in Joshua 1:7, 8.
As a matter of course, the church of the first century regarded the Hebrew Scriptures as inspired.
Jesus, in Luke 24:44, refers to the Law, the prophets, and the psalms (or the writings) as divinely authoritative and canonical.
Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed and the Jews had gone into the Babylonian captivity (2 Ch. 36:11-21), and during their captivity (586-516 B.C.) the Jews realized why they had disintegrated as a nation.
This led to the resurgence of the study of the Word of God.
At last the Jews became aware of the importance of the written Word as a part of their spiritual heritage-so much so, that we have extra-Biblical evidence with regard to their consciousness of the canon as it then existed.
There were men like Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, who kept reminding the people of the importance of the Scriptures.
There were other outstanding leaders like Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel, who led the advance column out of captivity back to Jerusalem.
They all recognized that they had the canon.
Jesus Christ Himself endorsed the canon (Luke 11:51; Mt. 23:36) which takes us from Genesis 4:10 to 2 Chronicles 24:20-21.
Chronicles was the last book in the Hebrew Canon.
Now, it is important to remember that certain books were canonical even before any tests were put to them.
No church nor church council made any book of the Old or New Testament canonical or authentic.
The book was either authentic or it was not when it was written.
Ancient Israel and the church or its councils recognized and verified certain books as the Word of God, and in time those so recognized were collected together in what we now call the Bible.
[1] Patterson, R. D. (2003). Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (p. 107). Biblical Studies Press.
c. circa, around, approximately
[2] R. K. Harrison (1969:271) includes the words of the pronouncement of the second-century bc baraita contained in the Talmudic tractate Bava Batra: “The order of the prophets is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve (Minor Prophets).” For full discussion of the early canonicity of all of the prophets, see Beckwith (1985:138–180).
[3] Patterson, R. D., & Hill, A. E. (2008). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 10: Minor Prophets, Hosea–Malachi (p. 399). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
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