Erroneous Views of Determining Canonicity

Canonicity  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  1:05:01
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Erroneous Views of Determining Canonicity Lesson # 6

Some have argued that age or we can say antiquity determines canonicity.
The argument is that if the book were ancient it would have been revered because of its age and recognized as part of the Hebrew canon.
However, this view is clearly wrong because it does not measure up to the facts.
First of all, many ancient books are not in the canon.
That antiquity does not determine canonicity is apparent from the fact that numerous books, many of which are older than some canonical books, are not in the canon.
For instance, “The Book of the Wars of the Lord” is mentioned in Numbers 21:14, and “the book of Jasher” in Joshua 10:13 and neither of which is part of the Hebrew canon.
Secondly, most, if not all, of the canonical books were received into the canon soon after they were written.
For example, Moses’ writings were placed by the ark while he was yet alive (Deut. 31:24–26).
Daniel who was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah, accepted Jeremiah’s book as canonical (Dan. 9:2).
Ezekiel, another contemporary, made reference to the prophet Daniel (Ezek. 28:3).
In the New Testament, Peter had a collection of Paul’s books and considered them to be Scripture (2 Peter 3:15–16).
Therefore, since many old books were not accepted in the canon, and many young books were received, age could not have been the determining factor of canonicity.
Some scholars argue that the Hebrew language determines canonicity meaning that if a book were written in the language of the Jews, it would have been recognized as being a part of the canon and if not, it would have been rejected.
This view is faulty as well because many books in the Hebrew language are not in the canon.
Most of the books written by the Hebrews were obviously in the Hebrew language, but they were not all accepted in the canon.
For example, Ecclesiasticus and other Apocryphal books were written in the Hebrew language and yet they were not received into the Hebrew canon.
Interestingly some books are not totally written in the Hebrew language are in the canon.
Daniel 2:4b–7:28 are written in the Aramaic language and so is Ezra 4:8–6:18 and 7:21–26.
Some argue that agreement with the Torah determines canonicity.
In other words, they believe that all Hebrew religious literature that agreed with the teachings of the Torah was accepted into the canon, and all those books that disagreed with it were not.
Now we know that no book which contradicted the Torah would be accepted since the Torah was recognized as being God’s Word and God would not contradict Himself.
The problem with this view is that it does not take into account that there are numerous books which agreed with the Torah but yet were not accepted into the canon.
For example, the prophet Shemaiah kept records that agreed with the Torah (2 Chron. 12:15) but are not in the canon.
Also the Jews were of the conviction that the Talmud and Midrash agreed with the Torah, however they did not consider them to be canonical.
We also must keep in mind that there were no writings prior to the time of the Torah by which its canonicity could be judged.
There is also the view that the religious value of a given book was the determining factor of its reception into the canon.
The problem with this view is that it fails to take into account that there are many books of religious value that were not accepted into either the Old or New Testament collections.
The Apocrypha has much material which is of religious value (cf. Ecclesiasticus).
Even if a book was accepted because of its religious value, it in no way explains how it received its religious value.
Another erroneous view of canonicity is that the religious community determines canonicity since a book is not the Word of God because it is accepted by the people of God but rather, it was accepted by the people of God because it is the Word of God.
In other words, God gives the book its divine authority and not the people of God.
The people are simply recognizing the divine authority which God gives to it.
The problem with all of these erroneous views is that they all fail to distinguish between determination and recognition of canonicity.
Canonicity is determined by God.
Man merely recognizes a book being inspired by God.
Therefore, we can see that a book is canonical because God inspired it.
Canonicity is determined or fixed conclusively by authority, and authority was given to the individual books by God through inspiration.
Gleason Archer writes “Liberal scholarship explains the threefold division of the Hebrew canon (i.e., Torah, Prophets, and Kethûbɩ̂m) as resulting from three separate stages in the composition of the various books themselves. That is to say, the Torah arose in successive accretions starting at 850 b.c. (the earliest written document), combined with a later document between 750 and 650; then in 621, at the time of Josiah’s reform, Deuteronomy became the first unit of the Pentateuch to achieve canonicity, being formally accepted by both king and people (2 Kings 23). During the Babylonian Exile (587–539 b.c.), the ritual and priestly sections were written up by Levitical authors under the inspiration of Ezekiel, and their activity continued down to the time of Ezra (who was one of their number). Nehemiah 8:1–8 contains a record of the first public reading of the entire Torah as ‘the book of the Law of Moses’ (some parts of which had been just newly finished—according to the Documentarians—and all of which was at least five hundred years later than the death of Moses). Ezra’s public was somehow convinced that these five books of mixed and spurious parentage were indeed the product of Moses’ pen and contained the authoritative Word of God. Thus they imparted canonization to the first division of the Old Testament, the Torah, in 444 b.c. So far as the second division, the Prophets, is concerned, these were gradually assembled into an authoritative list between 300 and 200 b.c. It could not have been much earlier than that, because (according to higher critical theory) certain parts of Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah and others were not written until the third century b.c. (Some scholars, like Duhm, insisted that certain portions of Isaiah were not composed until the second or first century b.c.) Hence the second division achieved canonical status under unknown circumstances at a place unknown at a time unknown, but approximately 200 b.c.[1] As for the third division, the Kethûbɩ̂m or writings, they were not collected (and most of them were not even written) until well after the collection of the prophets had begun. Since Daniel, on grounds of literary criticism, was composed around 168 b.c., the Kethubim could not have been assembled much before 150 b.c., since a couple of decades at least were necessary for a book to achieve canonical stature. Preliminary or tentative canonization of this third group of books was doubtless achieved between 150 and 100 b.c., but final ratification was deferred until the hypothetical Council of Janmia in a.d. 90. Such is the usual account of the formation of circles today. Granted their presuppositions and critical methodology, it is perhaps reasonable enough. If, however, their datings of portions of the Old Testament which they have assigned to post-fifth-century times can be shown to be ill founded (as the succeeding chapters attempt to do), then this whole theory of the canon must be abandoned in favor of that account which is presented by the Scripture itself. The biblical authors indicate very clearly, whenever the matter comes up that the various books of the Bible were canonical from the moment of their inception, by virtue of the divine authority (“Thus saith the Lord”) behind them, and the books received immediate recognition and acceptance by the faithful as soon as they were made aware of the writings. As to the Torah, we are told in Deut. 31:9 that an authoritative copy of it was laid up before the ark not long before Moses’ death in 1405 b.c. We are not told anywhere at what time the three sections of the prophets (Former Prophets, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets) were assembled into a single main division. If Malachi was the latest book in this group, canonization of the whole could hardly have taken place until about 400 b.c. The criterion for what books belonged to the prophets may have been their authorship. They were all composed by the authoritative interpreters of the law who belonged to the prophetic order (according to Deut. 18), and either transmitted their messages directly from God, or else composed an account of Israel’s history according to God’s perspective (Judges, Samuel, and Kings). As for the third division, the Writings, it is obvious that all inspired books which did not belong to either of the first two groups were put here. All they had in common was that they were not composed by human authors who belonged to the prophetic order. Thus Daniel’s memoirs were assigned to the Kethubim by the later rabbis because he was a civil servant and did not belong to the prophetic order. It is true that he like David and Solomon possessed a prophetic gift, but none of these were formerly anointed as prophets of Jehovah. The same nonprophetic status characterized the unnamed authors of Job and Esther, as well as Governor Nehemiah and Ezra the scribe. (We have already seen that Lamentations, which was the composition of Jeremiah, originally was included among the prophets.) But there can be no question of time sequence, so far as the second and third groups are concerned. Much of the material of the Kethubim was written before the earliest of the writing prophets. The units of each division were formed more or less contemporaneously, and they were assigned later to each group, the prophets and the writings, on the basis of authorship. While we have no actual notice as to who composed Joshua, Judges, Samuel, or Kings, the viewpoint of the authors—as even Liberal critics are swift to agree—is consistently a prophetic one.”[2]
[1] Pfeiffer, p. 15.
[2] Archer, G., Jr. (1994). A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed., pp. 86–88). Chicago: Moody Press.
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