The Old Testament Canon

Canonicity  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  58:40
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Canonicity: The Old Testament Canon Lesson # 2

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 critical consensus of the past two centuries was that the Old Testament came to be canonically recognized in three steps and until recently this has gone relatively unchallenged.
First of all, there is the Torah meaning the first five books of our English Bible which is also called the Pentateuch.
It achieved canonical status in Israel toward the end of the fifth century B.C.
The writings of the Prophets also achieved similar status about 200 B.C. and the Writings only toward the end of the first century A.D. at the Council of Jamnia or Jabne.
However, this is not accepted by everyone in critical scholarship.
There is no longer wide acceptance of the role of the Council of Jamnia in determining the Hebrew canon.
This council did discuss the merits of Ecclesiastes but in no way did they decide what was canonical or not.
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.
Philo (20 B.C. - A.D. 50), the learned Jew in Alexandria, accepted the Hebrew canon.
For him, the Law (the five books of Moses, or the first five books of the Bible) was pre-eminently inspired, but he also acknowledged the authority of the other books of the Hebrew canon.
He did not regard the apocryphal books as authoritative.
This suggests that, although the apocryphal books were included in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures); they were not really considered canonical by the Alexandrian Jews.
Flavius Josephus, the eminent historian who lived in the first century A.D., also echoes prevailing opinion about which books were canonical and which ones were not.
Although he used the Septuagint freely, he, also, did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical.
He was not a Christian.
By race he was a Jew; by mannerism, adoption and citizenship he was Roman; and by profession he was an outstanding soldier and eminent historian.
From the time that Josephus had been promoted to the rank of a Roman general, he was pro-Roman all the way.
Yet for all this, he simply could not let this scurrilous accusation against the validity of the Canon go without a formal objection.
He sat down and refuted Apion’s claim that the Hebrew Scriptures were not inspired by God, point by point, in a book called Contra Apion.
Because Josephus was an unbeliever; he was not emotionally involved and therefore could write clearly, objectively and concisely on this matter.
His one passion in life was an accurate presentation of history.
He once said that a historian should record the facts of history without interpreting the facts.
He must report accurately what was said, what was done, what was expressed.
So Josephus could not let Apion get away with historical inaccuracy.
In Contra Apion, Josephus describes the sacred books of the Jews.
He states that the time during which these books were written extended from Moses to Artaxerxes I, who reigned from 465 to 424 B.C.
Furthermore, he demonstrates that there never was a time that the Jews did not accept this text as the Word of God.
Canonicity was a definite part of Jewish history.
He further states that nothing was ever added to the Canon after the death of Artaxerxes in 424 B.C.; the line of prophets had ceased to exist, and no one dared make any addition, subtraction or alteration to the canon of Scripture.
Josephus was not personally interested in defending the Hebrew canon, but only in proving historically the existence of 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.
The earliest extant Christian list of Old Testament books was recorded by Melito, bishop of Sardis in A.D. 170.
This list does not mention Lamentations (which was usually understood to be part of the book of Jeremiah), or Nehemiah, which was normally appended to Ezra.
The only other omission was the book of Esther which could have been grouped with Ezra and Nehemiah.
The late fourth century writer Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, quoted another ancient list from the second century which included all the books corresponding to our thirty-nine, except Lamentations, which was probably considered an appendix to Jeremiah.
Origen (A.D. 185-254) also provided a list of the Old Testament books in use corresponding to what we now accept as the Old Testament.
The Talmud is the written opinion of the Rabbis recorded from 400 B.C. to 500 A.D. over a period of nearly 900 years.
The word Talmud comes from another Hebrew word lamad meaning “to teach.”
Throughout the Talmud there was always canonicity-consciousness.
Then there is Eusebius who was a famous historian of the Patristic era (fourth century A.D.) who stated that the entire Old Testament was recognized and accepted in his day.
Tertullian who was another famous historian of that same era and one of the Patristic writers concurred but included Esther in the Old Testament Canon whereas Eusebius did not.
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