The Close of the Old Testament Canon

Canonicity  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  1:08:04
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The Close of the Old Testament Canon Lesson # 7

The oldest surviving list of the Old Testament canon comes from about 170 A.D. and is the product of a Christian scholar named Melito of Sardis who made a trip to Palestine to determine both the order and number of books in the Hebrew canon.
His order and contents do not agree exactly with our modern English Bibles.
In fact there is no agreement in order or content in the existing manuscripts of Hebrew, Greek or Latin Bibles.
The modern English Protestant Bible follows the order of the Latin Vulgate and the content of the Hebrew Bible.
Opinions vary considerably over the date of the closing of the Old Testament canon, from 500 B.C. for the Law and the Prophets to about 200 A.D.
However, it is now recognized that any date later than the first century B.C. flies in the face of considerable amount of evidence to the contrary.
There is considerable evidence that pre-Christian Judaism considered that prophecy had ceased and that the canon of the Old Testament was closed well before the first century A.D.
First of all, First Maccabees 9:23-27 written in approximately 100 B.C. expresses sorrow that the line of prophets had ceased.
The Dead Sea Scrolls quote from all three divisions as scripture and refer to all three as “the Law and the Prophets” or “Moses and the Prophets.”
The fact that the Qumran community wrote commentaries on only biblical books strongly suggests that they viewed these books in a distinguished category.
The twelve Minor Prophets were also recognized as one book, called “The Book of the Twelve.”
Josephus included Daniel in the Prophets instead of in the Writings, which refutes an important part of the proof used to support the three-part theory.
He also indicates that there was unbroken succession of prophets from Moses to Malachi, and that the histories written since Malachi were not inspired, because there had been no succession of prophets since the time of Malachi.
Josephus fixes the number of Jewish writings that are recognized as sacred at twenty-two.
Ruth and Judges were considered one book and so were Lamentations and Jeremiah.
He also classifies them according to a three-fold division: (1) Five books written by Moses (2) Writings of the thirteen prophets (3) Four hymns and maxims for living one’s life.
The books of Moses were of course the Pentateuch and the thirteen prophets included eight plus Daniel, Job, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther.
The four hymns and maxims consisted of Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.
There is very little doubt that these twenty-two books are those of our present Hebrew canon.
Furthermore, antiquity is the standard by which he gives canonicity.
He says that since Artaxerxes’ age, the succession of prophets had ceased!
The tradition of Josephus’ time was that the prophetic tradition had ceased with Malachi.
The tradition in the time of Josephus was that the Hebrew canon was closed between 445-432 B.C.
Therefore, the Hebrew canon was closed in the reign of Artaxerxes (465-425 B.C.).
Josephus does not attempt to give any account of the closing of the canon but simply assumes it as fact.
For him, prophecy had ceased and the canon was thus closed.
It is significant that the closing of the canon did not need any official proclamation.
The value of Josephus’ statement about the canon is great because he was simply expressing the popular belief of his age among his fellow Jewish countrymen.
He was voicing a truth that was universal and undisputed among the Jews of his day.
In the centuries, which followed the Babylonian Captivity, many changes took place for the Jews.
The Persian Empire, which had been favorably inclined toward the Jews, collapsed.
Alexander the Great extended his conquests and he too, was pro-Semitic, and the Jews prospered during his reign and under his successors, the Ptolemies.
At that time the largest group of Jews in the world had settled at Alexandria, Egypt which had been founded by Alexander the Great, and the Ptolemies had made it their capital.
They loved books and collected them and built one of the finest universities in the world, the Museion, which contained an immense library.
Alexandria was the home of many brilliant Greek philosophers, scientists, mathematicians and writers and it was here that the finest translation of the Hebrew canon was made.
By the year 280 B.C. the large Jewish community at Alexandria had been influenced by Greek culture to such an extent that its citizens had adopted the Hellenistic Greek of Alexander the Great as their own language.
They could no longer read the Scriptures in the original Hebrew.
Hellenistic Greek was the transitional Greek between classical Attic Greek and the Koine of the New Testament.
The Jews clamored for a translation of the Holy Scriptures into Greek which required real experts.
Therefore 72 Alexandrian Hebrew scholars gathered together producing an amazingly accurate translation from the manuscripts in their possession and it was named in their honor and memory the Septuagint.
It was widely circulated among the Greek-speaking Jews and was employed in Palestine during the First Advent of Christ and in the time of the Apostles.
So the existence and acceptance of the Septuagint in the year 280 B.C. gives us yet another historical proof of the canon of the Old Testament was closed well before the first century B.C.
The New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament extensively but there is not enough evidence which declares emphatically that they viewed the Old Testament as closed but this does not mean they did not view it as closed.
There is strong evidence that strongly suggests that they considered the Old Testament canon closed.
First, the patterns in which the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament correspond with predominant Jewish evidence for the shape of the canon.
The New Testament writers quote every book of the Pentateuch in its Jewish form including the books from the Prophets like Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets as well as the Writings such as Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Daniel and Chronicles.
Other Old Testaments books are alluded to as well such as Joshua 1:5 in Hebrews 13:5 and Judges in Hebrews 11:32.
Secondly, when literature outside of the body of writings which are now recognized to be the Old Testament canon is cited, it is not referred to as Scripture nor is the Holy Spirit mentioned as its ultimate author (Cleanthes in Acts 17:28; Menander in 1 Corinthians 15:33; Epimenides in Titus 1:12; 1 Enoch in Jude 14-15.
Thirdly, the New Testament writers give absolutely no indication whatsoever that they want to get rid of the canonical Old Testament because it is not in line with their Christian faith.
In fact the Old Testament was used in defense of the Christian gospel (Rom. 3:21).
Paul even says that the Old Testament Scriptures were written for the Christian’s instruction and encouragement (Rom. 15:3-6; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; Heb. 11:39-40).
There is a fourth piece of evidence, namely many New Testament passages when dealing with problems in Jewish theology and traditions, appeal to what both sides have in common, namely the Old Testament Scriptures (e.g. Mark 7:6-7, 10-13; 11:17; 12:10-11, 24; Luke 4:16-21; John 6:45; 10:34-35; 15:25; Acts 17:2-3, 11; 18:24, 28; 24:14-15; 26:22; Rom. 3:1-2; Gal. 3).
Last but certainly not least is Jesus’ reference to all the blood shed from that of Abel to that of Zechariah son Berekiah in Matthew 23:35.
This reference is to the first man in the Hebrew canon to be killed to the last one (Zechariah son Jehoiada in 2 Chron. 24:20, 22).
Zechariah was not the last to be killed on any chronological scale since Uriah son of Shemaiah (Jer. 26:20-23) was probably the last to be killed chronologically within the period of time represented by the Old Testament.
However if the identification with the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles 24:20, 22 is correct, then he was chosen by the Lord because of his place in the recognized canon in the first century A.D.!
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