BibleFocus.net Truth, Understanding, Insight
 

The Bible Canon

21st August 2009, mgh,hej

 

1) The Extent of Inspired Books

The faithful believer, based on the evidence of fulfilled prophecy and answers to prayer, will accept divine intervention in the preservation of the sacred writings, as they can see and value divine intervention in the nations and their lives. However, the agnostic may dismiss this and say that the writings were merely the work of men long after the event.

But the study of the orgins of use of the Bible books in history and the Bible itself shows evidence for divine preservation and very early acceptance of the books considered inspired.

The book called the Bible (from byblos Greek meaning 'book') is actually a collection of books written over a period of more than 2000 years, in Hebrew, (Chaldean, Aramiac) and Greek. The full collection is called the Biblical canon. The word canon is from the Greek 'kanon' meaning 'reed', 'rule' or 'measure', which is likely from the Hebrew קנה 'kaneh'. The Bible canon is the full measure of books considered inspired.

Though the core of accepted inspired books seems agreed, there are some books that appear in some Bibles but not in others. In addition, in the English speaking world various translations have included books as an appendice that were not considered inspired. The King James translation included some books not considered inspired, but separated them and labelled these books as hidden or in Greek apocrypha. In addition over time some other books have emerged.

There is much historical information about the formation of the various canons and translations of the Bible, much more than for any other book.

The variation in Bible canons is due to church leaderships at various times determining which books they thought were inspired. But they had no authority to decide, as there is evidence that a writing was known as inspired at or near the time it was written. Due to the evidence of the revealed power of the God of the Bible in events in the world, we can be sure that, despite human interference, we have all the inspired writings in the modern protestant Bible.

For the remainder of the article we will define the Bible canon as the full collection of books that were known as inspired at the time of their writing.

Why the original texts are considered inspired and translations are not.

In the book of 2 Timothy, Paul writes, (from a word for word translation),

All writing inspired-of-God is therefore profitable for teaching, for poof, for correction, for that discipline in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16)

The disciple of Christ, therefore understands which writings are inspired, as they are the ones which are profitable.

Every investigation of specific words and their context in the original Hebrew and Greek text that we have carried out (such as 'paradise', 'spirit', 'satan' and 'fig') shows us an amazing extra insight and shows that all books of the Bible are connected to the level of the very words used. This is beyond human engineering and is evidence that the Bible is inspired. There is consistency in even what seems irrelevant detail throughout the whole Bible (eg. The carpenter, 2 Kings 8).

The studies that we have done show us that all English translations are guilty of inconsistent translation. Therefore translations are not inspired.

After study in the original languages, a Bible student will have reservations about all translations. They will select a translation that has good references to the original text, and place a high value on the original texts. For passages that have significance, a student will access many translations, a bi-lingual person may consult a translation from both languages. They may then compare their understanding to the scholars from Strongs or Youngs. They will use tools such as e-sword, onlinebible and Manuscript Comparator to check the words in the original language of verses that are important to what they belive.

However study of words merely gives deeper insight. In analogy, if the whole word of God is a forest, then a translation shows the trees but the original text gives detail to the leaf level. But nobody learns the character of a forest by looking at leaves, hence the need to read the Bible in a familiar language.

How do we know in the extant texts we have the exact inspired words that were written so long ago?

This will be addressed on the following page.

2) How do we know the text was preserved?

Extant Texts and the Material they were written on

The scriptures were not written on clay, though longlasting. Papyrus was common in the ancient world, but fragile. The Jews ruled that the material used for copies of the scriptures had to be skin (of clean animals). Fine skin is called vellum or parchment. The earliest documents existing on parchment date to approx. 190BC. Until the Dead Sea scrolls were found, the earliest Hebrew text was from 930AD, due to the constant renewal of the scrolls (and disposal of old scrolls) and loss due to persecution forcing Jews to leave old scrolls they could not carry behind. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found the oldest text from the Torah was in Greek (part of Numbers and Deuteronomy), and was from first half of the 2nd century AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls date between the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD and include a complete scroll of Isaiah on parchment and fragments from all books except Esther.

We have evidence that for nearly 2000 years since Christ that the Hebrew text was accurately copied. The same standard was used for 1500 years before Christ back to when the Torah was written.

The earliest Greek complete texts of the Bible (including O.T) that we have are on vellum and date to the first half of the 4th century AD: The Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. There are older portions of a codex with the four Gospels and the Acts, from early 3rd century, and Paul's Epistles of about 200AD. The oldest fragment of the New Testament is on papyrus found in Egypt. It is from John and is dated approx. 125–150AD.

The History of the Text

The Jews had one standard master copy of all books of the Old Testament. This reduced errors. The master copy of the book of the Law was most special and was kept beside the ark,

Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. (Deuteronomy 31:26)

Samuel added the other master copies of books written up to his day and put them away, in the Tabernacle

Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house. (1Sam. 10:25)

After the temple was built the books were kept in the temple

And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. (2Kings 22:8)

It is a Jewish tradition that Ezra brought back the master copies of the books with the temple fittings. Ezra records,

according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand (Ezra 7:14) The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. (Ezra 7:14-19)

As Kings and Chronicles reference other sources it shows that at the time those books were compiled that anyone could check the sources (2 King 21:25, 1 Chron. 29:29). There were some writings that were history but not considered inspired by those prophets who were given power to determine what writing was given by God. This matches with the record of the Maccabees that claims that Nehemiah founded a library (2 Maccabees 2:13-14). This would be in addition to the temple scrolls which were the master copies of the sacred books. The Maccabees rescued the original copies from Antichus Ephinanes as well as all the books they could. Josephus refers to the copy of “the scripture laid up in the temple” at least twice (Book 3 Section 1, ). The Talmud also speaks of the “Temple court copy” of the scriptures, from which the high priest read from on the day of Atonement. This set of scrolls making the scriptures “the laws of the Jews” was carried away by Vespasian and Titus. This set kept in the temple explained how Josephus could be so confident as to the number of inspired books (scrolls).

Ancient sources agree to a long history of respect for the writings of Israel and the existence of a priestly line that maintained the preservation of the Laws through the meticulous work of the scribes, on material that would not decay. The scribes were honoured since the time of Samuel (2 Samuel 8:17). By the first century AD Jesus could with confidence endorse the scriptures as the basis of knowledge of God, his expectations and purpose with the earth. What had been relevant to the Jewish nation became relevant to the Christians.

Modern Hebrew texts of the scripture are all based on just one text. From 270 to 500 AD the standard text preserved by the meticulous work of the Talmudists, then from 500 to 900 by the even more rigorous work of the Massorites who counted every letter of every manuscript produced and noted all possible variants. The various manuscripts extant show one single tradition going back to the Massorites in 930 AD (Preface JPS Tanakh).

In addition the Massoretic text was shown to be accurate when compared with the Dead Sea scrolls. The texts of Isaiah have been photographed and are now available on the Web at Isaiah Scrolls

The Dead Sea scrolls were not the temple copy and show where scribes have amended the text. Many of of the scribal emendations were corrections, obviously, to make the scroll accordance with another more correct scroll. That scroll which they used as a 'master' copy at beginning of the Common Era must have been exactly the same as the Massoretic text that we still have today 2000 years later.

The Greek New Testament gospels and the Apostles' letters were not as faithfully copied as the Hebrew text. However, the scholars now have such a range of ancient texts, with many early quotations all with such strong agreement that they can be sure they have the text. Our experience has been that the Minority texts (as used by Westcott/Hort) are more consistent than the Majority texts, they are also more reliable. Isaac Newton's critical research of the early church fathers suggests that the scribes of the Majority text may have been guilty of adding to the text. Any modern copy of the text of the Bible will reference the minor variants, none of which are significant if the whole Bible is understood.

3) Torah the Inspired Word of God

The Bible text, especially the Hebrew Old Testament, has been transmitted to us today esentially as it was written. But how can we be sure it is the inspired word given by God?"

The Torah (Hebrew meaning 'law') is often called the Pentateuch (Greek 'five books'). It includes the Law and the history of the nation of Israel written by Moses. The Torah mentions details were collected from several books concerning the Creation, the generations of Adam and the wars during the wilderness wanderings of Israel which since have been lost (The Covenant, Exodus 24:7 & Wars of the Lord, Numbers 21:14) indicating they were not important.

Historical evidence for an early date of the Torah

Though the oldest fragment of the Torah is dated 600 BC and the oldest manuscript among the Dead Sea scrolls, each archaeological discovery of contemporary texts to date has reinforced the accuracy of trivial detail in the Torah, especially relating to practices in Egypt. The fact the Pharoah was not named in the Torah is consitent with Egyptain documents speaking of the king merely calling him 'Pharaoh' until about 1000BC. Joseph's price of 20 pieces was the going rate for a slave about 1500BC. In Ur about 2000BC a slave would cost 10-15 pieces of silver but by 1200BC it had crept up to 30 pieces throughout Assyria. Potipher and Asenath were names in Egypt for only a short time and fell into disuse, indicating that the record was written very close to the time of the events. That Joseph was given a ring, clothing and a collar fits with pictures and inscriptions of the 18th Dynasty (Reznick). This is evidence that it was written early before this incidental knowledge was lost.

Moses as the Voice of God

Remarkably, the reason for the Hebrew understanding that Moses spoke the word of God, is that they were afraid to hear the voice of their God.

And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. (Exodus 20:19)

And in rebuke it is recorded that the God of Israel said to Miriam and Aaron before all the people,

My servant Moses ..With him will I speak mouth to mouth... and not in dark speeches (Numbers12:7-8)

Miriam is made leprous and a sign to all. This must be a true history as it reflects badly on all involved. One cannot imagine a reason to fabricate a story where the famous national leader is shown as weak and the religious leader Aaron publicly rebuked by God.

Early acceptance of the Law of Moses as divinely inspired

The book of Joshua elevates the book of the Law of Moses. Joshua gave important advice to the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel had to be obedient to and have a sound knowledge of the writings of Moses,

Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to< the right hand or to the left; (Joshua 23:6)
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

The book had to have been readily available to the nation during Joshua's lifetime. Joshua does not add to the Law of Moses, but states instead it is the complete requirement for service to God.

The Book of the Law Most Important

Almost 500 years after Moses, David learnt that he had to turn to the Law of Moses for guidance. When moving the Ark of God, he was distressed when Uzza was struck dead for reaching out to steady it. David learnt that the Law had laid down specific conditions for the movement of the Ark. That he had to turn to the Law of Moses, indicates that those books were still the only source for instruction.

Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the LORD chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever... And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the LORD.(1Chronicles 15:5,15-16)

This incident must be truth, as nobody would fabricate an incident that establishes that the honoured king David was at fault. The incident elevates the commands of Moses as the inspired word of God. The Psalmist in Psalm 1 appears to have learnt from this lesson and quotes Joshua, where the Lord speaks to Joshua about the book of the Law, and how as leader of the people, he needs to meditate and think about this law continually (Joshua 1:8).

But his delight is in the Torah of the LORD; and in his Torah doth he meditate day and night (Psa 1:2)

In the first Psalm the Law of the Lord is the focus of the faithful their delight. Psalm 119, a very long Psalm, is devoted to the Law and commanments of the Lord. In another Psalm the law of the Lord, which is embodied in the law of Moses, is again upheld,

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. (Psalm 19: 7-9)

The book of Chronicles records the book of the Law was subject to a path that could have led to its demise at least twice. After Athaliah destroys the worship of Yahweh, Jehoiada in the task of re-establishing the Temple worship in about 850 BC observed the requirements of the Law of Moses, again showing that the books of the Law of Moses were still available and valued as the decider of currect practice.

Also Jehoiada appointed the offices of the house of the LORD by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the LORD, to offer the burnt offerings of the LORD, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David. (2Chronicles 23:18)

Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah set up a carved image in the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 33:5-6). For his great wickedness the army of Asserhaddon, King of Assyria, invaded the land and he was carried captive to Babylon. The book of the Law was lost until the eighteenth year of his grandson Josiah about 620BC. When Hilkiah the Priest was repairing the Temple, he found the book of the Law (2 Chronicles 34:14). King Josiah was grieved that the people had not followed the words of the book and commanded that it should be read to the people and that the people should follow the Law. At this time the book of the Law of Moses was saved from destruction.

Later after the captivity in Babylon and the return of the people to their own land, approx 458BC, Ezra was dependent on the same books of the Law of Moses to establish the procedures for the worship by the people.

And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel...And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. (Ezra 3:10, Ezra 6:18)

Ezra was a scribe in the Law of Moses, which was an important part of the instruction given to those who had returned to their land from Babylon.

This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him. (Ezra 7:6)

By the time of Nehemiah, the reading from the Law was a long standing tradition in Israel,

And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God. (Nehemiah 9: 3)

Nehemiah makes reference to the importance of the writings of Moses. The texts were still in existence hundreds of years after Moses' lifetime and had been preserved.

And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:.. as it is written. (Nehemiah 8:14-15)... And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, .. as it is written in the law: And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD: Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as written in the law.. (Nehemiah 10:34-36)

The book of Moses is upheld as inspired by no less than 14 other books in the Old testament (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1& 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Micah).

The law of Moses is the Ultimate Authority in the New Testament

Jesus himself when faced with questions, such as divorce, does not give a ruling, but asks

"What did Moses command you?"(Mark 10:3)

This question is consistent with the fact that he refers to the law of Moses to prove many principles,

Have ye not read in the book of Moses?(Mark 12:26)

Jesus values every letter of the law,

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: (Matthew 5:18)

Not all Moses' prophecies have yet been fulfilled therefore, according to Jesus, the significance of the book of the law still has not passed. Jesus saw the books of Moses as the only background people required to belive in him

"For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5: 46-7)

The apostles also valued the law highly. Paul speaks much of it his letters,

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. (Romans 7:12)
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:4).
The law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

The first five books are considered by the apostles to be the inspired word, and the basis of their faith. In the New Testament Moses is mentioned 80 times and 'the law' is referred to over 140 times. Compare this to 'love' which occurs only 180 times (or 'kingdom'x150, 'grace'x 131, forgive(ness)x 59, 'salavation'x 45). The number of times it is mentioned shows how imporatant this topic was to the Apostles.

In summary

There is external historical evidence for an early date for the books of Moses. There are also other books of the Bible that maintain right from the very first there was an acceptance of the book of law as the word of God. What the history of Israel shows is that over time there was not an increasing veneration, but rather that acceptance of the message varied with the spiritual state of the people, or whether they were influenced by idolatry.

However, Jesus and the apostles reinforce that these books are considered the very basis of the inspired word of God. Not all books of the Bible are equal. The first five books are more important, being the foundation of the canon.

4) Testimony regarding the Law and the Prophets

The Jewish canon called 'the prophets' includes the books : Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).

There is one book clearly omitted, Daniel, but we are told specifically that at the time of Jesus, Daniel was considered among the prophets.

When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Mark 13:14).

This is repeated twice in the gospels, being also in Matthew 24:15, indicating it was important. Jesus confirms for us that Daniel was also among the books of the prophets. We also have a testimony from Josephus that there were 13 books of the prophets. But the 12 minor Prophets were one book. Also in one scroll were the following: Joshua/ Judges and Samuel/Kings. To have 13 scrolls requires that at the time of Josephus the prophets included the other books Ezra/Nehemiah (one scroll), Chronicles, Daniel, Job, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther. Therefore when Jesus and the apostles speak of the prophets they refer to all these 13 scrolls.

Early dates for the writing of the books

The book of Joshua continued the history of the wars in the conquest of the land of Canaan (Joshua 24:26) and was a contemporay document, as when it was finished Rahab was still alive.

“Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day” (Joshua 6:25).

The book of Judges contains evidence that it was written soon after the events, as it records things that were said to be done when there was no king in Israel (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:5). When Judges was written, the Jebusites dwelt in Jerusalem (Judges 1:21) and so it must have been written before the eighth year of David (2 Samuel 5:8, 1 Chronicles 11:6). The books of Moses, Joshua and Judges contain a continous history from the Creation to the death of Samson with the books of Joshua and Judges following the Torah.

The canon of the Law was never added to as it requires,

You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it (Deuteronomy 4:2)

However, other books were gathered early that were considered inspired. Samuel, who was also a sacred writer (1Samuel 10:25) and acquainted with the history of Moses and the Judges (Samuel 12:8-12), had the authority to set in order these books as a prophet. He judged Israel all his life and was esteemed by the people. Peter supports the idea that Samuel began to assemble the canon of the prophets by stating,

Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days (Acts 3:24)

Internal evidence in the Old Testament reveals that many writings were contemporary. The books of the Kings make reference to other authors, which reinforces the fact that there were written records readily available . Such references include the book of the Acts of Solomon and the books of the Acts of the Kings of Judah and the Acts of the Kings of Israel. The books of the Chronicles cites the books of: Samuel the Seer, Nathan the Prophet, Jasher, Gad the Seer, the Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the visions of Iddo the Seer. The book of Shemajah the Prophet and the Book of Iddo the Seer gave information on genealogies and acts related to Jeroboam and Abijah. The book of Hanani the Seer wrote of the acts of Jehoshaphat. Isaiah was used for the acts of Uzziah and Hezekiah, indicating the book of Isaiah existed before the book of Chronicles was complete (2 Chronicles 26:22) and parts of Chronicles were written before parts of the Kings (2Kings 1:18). Isaiah the prophet pre-dates both Chronicles and Kings.

The books of Kings and Chronicles were collected out of the historical writings of the ancient seers and prophets and they also quote each other indicating they were written at the same time, up to the time of the captivity. However, not all the ancient writings were preserved. Many works were used as reference material and acknowledged, but were not regarded as sufficiently inspired to be included in the sacred writings. That is up to the time of the captivity some writings were rejected as not being inspired, with authority, even if actually written by prophets!

Prophets acknowledge the divine inspiration of other prophets

Daniel, as a captive in Babylon, had access to the writings of Moses and the prophets. He laments the waywardness and sins of his people and prays for the nation, who had forsaken the Laws. Daniel specifically refers to both the Law and the prophets indicating two divisions of the canon,

We have sinned,.. Neither have we hearkenedunto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.... Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him. And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil:..As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us... (Daniel 9:5-13)

Daniel first mentions that the prophets are inspired and speak God's words, and he adds that what has happened fulfilled the book of the Law. By the time of Daniel there were two canons, one called 'the Law' and the other called 'the Prophets'. Daniel names Jeremiah as a prophet,

I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. (Daniel 9:2)

This indicates that the book of Jeremiah, as early as the time of Daniel (the first year of the reign of Darius), was considered the inspired word of God. This was less than 50 years after the book was written. Jeremiah the persecuted, was given a triple endorsement, as Chronicles (36:22) and Ezra also acknowledges that his book was the inspired word of God,

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia (Ezra 1:1) .

The prophet Ezekiel writing not long after the death of Daniel, shows that by the time he wrote that Daniel was already famous as a prophet for his wisdom in revealing the secrets of God.

Behold, you are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee (Ezekiel 28:3)

We have evidence in the book of Ezekiel for a very early date for the acceptance of Daniel as a prophet revealing the future.

Other histories back an early formation of the prophetic canon

The history of the Maccabees, written about 166-140 BC, states Nehemiah founded a library and gathered the acts of the kings and prophets, of David and the epistles of the kings (2Maccabees 2:13). Nehemiah indicates that Ezra as the scribe of the law would have had a role in this (Nehemiah 8:1-2). At this time the two canons of the law and the prophets of the Old Testament were established. It is also possible that Ezra collected the Psalms of David, Moses and others into one volume as the latest Psalm was written at the time of the Babylonian captivity and none beyond that period (Some have re-examined the Psalms and date the completion of the book of Psalms earlier, and attribute it to Hezekiah).

After the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, Antiochus Epiphanes spoiled the temple and commanded the Jews to forsake their Law upon the pain of death. He caused the sacred books to be burnt wherever they could be found. The Maccabees gathered all the writings that they could rescue (2Maccabees 2:14). Even before the Roman captivity the Jews had divided the sacred books into three categories, the Law, the Prophets and the Hagiographa (the historical books or 'writings').

Josephus supports and early date during the time of Ezra for the forming of these two canons as he writes,

“We have not a countless number of books, discordant and arrayed against each other; but only 22 books, containing the history of every age, which are justly accredited as divine. Of these, five belong to Moses... This period lacks but little of 3000 years. From the death of Moses, moreover, until the time of Artaxerxes, king of the Persians after Xerxes (to the time of Ezra), The Prophets, who followed Moses, wrote down what was done during the age of each one respectively, in thirteen books. The remaining four contain Hymns to God, and Rule of Life for men. From the time of Artaxerxes, moreover, until our present period, all occurrences have been written down but they are not regarded as entitled to the like credit with those which precede them, because there was no certain succession of prophets. Fact has shown what confidence we place in our own writings. For although so many ages have passed away, no one has dared to add to them, nor to take anything from, nor to make alterations. In all Jews it is implanted... to regard them as being the instructions of God, and to abide steadfastly by them...”(Contra Apion 1.8 pp 38–42)

The 22 books are the full Modern Jewish Canon as they were 22 scrolls where the modern books of the 12 minor prophets were grouped on one scroll, and each of the following groups were separate scrolls: Joshua/Judges, Samuel/ Kings and Ezra/ Nehemiah.

From the time of Ezra (391BC) the Hebrew canon of the Torah and the Prophets and Writings was closed. At the time of Josephus they were not illiterate and actually had many histories. The full Jewish library at the time of the translation of the Septuagint includes many books not considered inspired. The fact that a book is included in a Septuagint version does not indicate it was considered part of the two canons, as the purpose of the translation was to give a pagan ruler, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 285–246 BC, access in his native language to all the extant Hebrew histories. The Septuagint is not a book but a library. In translating this whole library of scrolls they also gave the Greek speaking world access to the inspired books of the Law and the Prophets and writings as a subset.

The New Testament Supports that the Prophets are Inspired

The books that the Jews were accustomed to reading in the synagogues on the sabbath were the first two divisions, the Law and the Prophets, as demonstrated in the following quotations. Paul and Barnabas heard only the Law and Prophets read in the synagogue in Antioch.

But when they (Paul and Barnabas) departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. (Acts 13: 14-15)

In the same manner, it was the prophecy of Isaiah that was given to Jesus to read in the synagogue in Nazareth.

And he came to Nazareth,.. and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; (Luke 4:16-18)

That the writings of the Old Testament were important is testified to by the many references made by Jesus and the Apostles to these books. The New Testament records that on numerous occasions the leaders of the day were told to examine the writings of Moses and the prophets. Examples are Luke 16:31, 24:27,44. John 1:45, Acts 26:22, Acts 28:23.

Luke reporting some of Jesus' final words reveals the great importance that Jesus placed on a detailed knowledge of the Prophetic texts.

Then he said unto them, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself...And he said unto them, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,And said unto them, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: " (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46)

During the New Testament period 'the Law' and 'the Prophets' were both considered inspired, with 'the Law' being mentioned first.

Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (John 1:45)

Paul's testimony before Agrippa shows his reliance on the Prophets first, and then the Law.

Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer,and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22-23)

And again while in Rome Paul taught the gospel by using first the Law and the prophets.

And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out ofthe prophets, from morning till evening.(Acts 28:23)

The Inspired Writings

At the time of Jesus, there was a threefold division of the canon. Josphus speaks of it also. Jesus says,

These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. (Luke 24:44)

The Hebrew books not of the Law or Prophets are now called 'Writings'. They are in the modern Jewish Bible: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiates, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles. It is unlikely this was the way the scrolls were thought of at the time of Jesus.

As Jesus calls Daniel a prophet (Mark 13:14) it is likely his book (or scroll) was regarded as amongst the prophets. Religious Jews regard this book as a prophetic work of direct Divine inspiration. The distinction of a division into Law and Prophets from the time of Samuel was a way of describing two collections of scrolls. The other scrolls were called by name. The 3-fold division at the time of Christ, again, was a way of describing the 'collection' of the scrolls as sets. The 22 scrolls Josephus speaks of (that included the books in the modern Hebrew Tanakh), were in vellum and of a reasonable size. The 'order' was at that time of no importance whatsoever. According to the JPS translators of the Tanakh, the first person to put all scrolls in an order in a book manuscript was Aaron Ben Moses Ben -Asher as late as 930 AD, one of the last of the Masoretes. This was continued to 1010 AD. This book order became a tradition, though the original complete ordered text was lost. It was found again in 1840 and is called the Leningrad Codex. The order of the books of the writings in a modern Jewish Bible varies from the Leningrad Codex, indicating that the order may not be important.

More importantly Jesus and the Apostles frequently quoted from the Old Testament, revealing their knowledge of these and by deduction they confirm that the whole set of scrolls thay called the 'scripture' were considered inspired. In Matthew 5:5 Jesus quotes Psalm 37:11, confirming the Psalmist's words that “the meek shall inherit the earth.”

Paul says that in his day, when there was now a difference between Christian and Jew, that they still had the 'Oracles of God',

What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

It must be noted that they have them in trust despite being in unbelief. This is Paul's testimony and why a sincere Bible student accepts that the books that the Jews have believed over time to be inspired are indeed the oracles of God.

The New Testament books recognised as Inspired When Written

In 1 Tim 5:18 Paul quotes as scripture two sayings one of which occurs in Deuteronomy, considered as inspired, and the other Luke 10:7, which means that Paul considered Luke to be the word of God.

Also in 2Peter 3:16 Peter classes Paul's letters with the other scriptures, indicating that at this time they were recognised as equal to inspired Old Testament scriptures. Jude 17-18 quotes 2 Peter 3:3 indicating that Jude considered Peter's as part of the scriptures

5) Why Were Many Works not Included?

In our modern world a lot of research in many fields is carried out. There are numerous types of resources that can be used, some reliable and some unreliable. The Bible clearly defines the principles that determine whether a book is inspired and reliable. There are many writings such as those of the Apocrypha, and those mentioned in the Bible but lost over time, which possibly contained useful or interesting historical information, but they do not meet the criteria laid down for an inspired work.

From the Bible itself there is evidence that the books considered inspired were identified by a prophet. Joshua, who is confirmed a prophet (1kings 16:34), confirmed the books of the Law were inspired. Peter speaks of the prophets from Samuel, indicating Samuel was a prophet (Acts 3:24). Jewish tradition holds Ezra canonized the Jewish sacred texts. Josephus dates the sacred writings were from Moses to the latest at the time of Artaxerxes (ca.400B.C) which is the time of Ezra. Ezra confirmed that the writings from Samuel until his day were inspired. He could do this as Ezra demonstrated he had the holy Spirit like the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel.

“And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me” (Ezra 7:28)

The work of Ezra was recognised by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:6). In the book of Nehemiah, Ezra, a Levite descended from Aaron. is described six times as 'Ezra the scribe' and once as the 'priest'. It is evident that all the people respected Ezra as a prophet in the same way as Samuel had been.

And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding. (Nehemiah 8: 1-2)

The book of Ezra also has evidence within it. There is great emphasis on the instruction of the people, however, there is more powerful incidental evidence. Ezra is 'somebody'. Ezra himself does not say why specifically except to say “the hand of the LORD my God was upon me”. The king, we are told, had given Ezra all that he had requested. The King's attitude displayed concern that the worship of the people prosper, and he feared the God of Ezra. This indicated that Ezra had convinced him that his God, by a display of power, was the “God of heaven”.

This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him. And there went up some of the children of Israel,.. unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel. “Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand” (Ezra 7: 6-14)

From this passage we have a testament of the role of Ezra from no less than Artaxerxes. He writes on an official document, 'a decree', which clearly states that the Law of God was “in (Ezra's) thine hand”. Copies of decrees were kept and could be verified. Ezra asserts with the authority of God that the works of the prophets were the commands of God,

Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land... (Ezra 9-10-11)

This testimony has a second witness, as the law requires, in the book of Zechariah, who was contemporary with Ezra.

But they refused to hearken ... Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 7:12)

The use of 'former prophets' indicates that they had been defined. Zechariah bases his authority for saying that the former prophets spoke the law and were inspired on the evidence that their words were fulfilled beyond doubt in Israel's experience.

The New Testament indicates that any writing had to be tested

The Apostles and early disciples seem to have immediately recognised inspired writing, and ask all follower of Christ to likewise to test the writings,

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (I John 4:1)

Paul gave a method, which required that every prophecy was to be tested,

Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sits by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. (I Corinthians 14:29-32)

From this we can know that any inspired words were to be judged by someone capable. In this way the letters could be immediately identified as being inspired. Amongst the the early congregations there were people who could discern inspired words. Paul lists this as a gift.

To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; (I Corinthians 12:10)

Paul added that the inspiration would vanish.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (I Corinthians 13:8-10)

The apostles writing was a witness and is called the 'word of God',

Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. (Revelation 1:2)

The Test for a Prophet and Divine Inspiration

The test for a prophet in relation to the Bible was clearly set out in the Law. In the book of Deuteronomy the nation of Israel were given clear instructions for the identification of a prophet. If the words of someone professing to be a prophet in the name of the LORD came to pass, then he was indeed a prophet.

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.... And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18: 19-22)

Ezekiel and Jeremiah also state the same thing.

And when this comes to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet has been among them.(Ezekiel 33:33)
The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.(Jeremiah 28:9)

The book of the Law and the Prophets can stand the test of the words of Deuteronomy. Whether it be the rise and fall of kingdoms as predicted in Daniel, the dispersion of Israel as predicted in many of the prophetic books, the fall of Tyre and Babylon as in Isaiah and Ezekiel or the fate that came upon Israel in the books of the Law.

Today we can use the same rule to test the validity of the prophets. The establishment of the state of Israel and the return of Israel to their homeland show that the books identified long ago as inspired are still valid for today, and can still pass the test for inspiration as their prophecies continue to be fulfilled in the modern world.

Many prophecies were only partially fulfilled. It is foolish to put forward a late date for the writing of Daniel or Isaiah because of their accuracy, when all their words are still being fulfilled in detail.

Daniel in particular has been targeted. However, Josephus speaks of the high Priest Jaddua coming forward to meet Alexander the Great (in 332 BC) and later in Jerusalem showing him the book of Daniel.

And when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest’s direction.. And when the Book of Daniel was showed him wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended. And as he was then glad (Antiquities 11:8:4-5)

This shows that the book of Daniel was already considered amongst the inspired writings as the book was in the temple (where Josephus says the scriptures were kept). They could have shown to Alexander Isaiah's prophecy of Tyre, but Josephus did not mention Isaiah. The book also was clearly known as the 'Book of Daniel'. That they should chose Daniel over Isaiah fits neatly with Daniel being a famous person, commensurate with his high status under two regimes (comparable in modern terms to Henry Kissinger). That he was famous, at least among Jews, is confirmed by Ezekiel 14.

Critics are happy to admit, “The Book of Ezekiel was written for the captives of the tribe of Judah living in exile in Babylon following the Siege of Jerusalem of 597 BC” (Wikipedia). Ezekiel therefore begins his prophecy about the time Daniel dies. The book of Ezekiel mentions a Daniel famous for wisdom, as you would be if you had risen to such a height by this skill. There was no other Daniel who was famous for wisdom. There is no ancient text that questions Daniel. There are three independent ancient sources that confirm his work: Ezekiel, the gospel of Matthew and Josephus. These 3 sources all agree. The first is contemporary. It is not scholarly to move the date of Daniel as all extant ancient sources support that Daniel's book was written when it claims to have been written.

6) The Relationship of the New Testament to the Old Testament

The Gospels and the letters of the New Testament contain many references and quotations from the Old Testament, but it is beyond the scope of this article to deal with all of them as there are so many. However a few examples will have to suffice and the reader can find many more using the marginal references in any good version, where 'citings' from the Old Testament are given. The following examples reflect the wide knowledge of the Old Testament that was evident in the first century writings of the apostles in the gospel records and letters.

The Law

1 Corinthians 15:45 quotes Genesis 2:7

And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit

Romans 4:17 quotes Genesis 17:5

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickens the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

Luke 2:2:23 quotes Exodus 13:2

(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

1 Corinthians 10:7 quotes Exodus 32:6

Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

The Prophets

Mark 1:2 quotes Malachi 3:1

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

Mark 7:6 quotes Isaiah 29: 13

He answered and said unto them, "Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. "

Mark 9:12-13 and 14:21 make reference to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22

"Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him. Mark 9:12-13
"The Son of man indeed goes, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21)

Luke 3:4 quotes Isaiah 40: 3-4

As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight

Galatians 4:27 quotes Isaiah 54:1

For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. 

1 Corinthians 2:9 quotes Isaiah 64:4

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

John 12: 14-15 quotes Zechariah 9:9

And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt.

Acts 7:42 quotes Amos 5:25-27

Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?

Romans 1:17 quotes Habakkuk 2:4

or therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

The Psalms & Writings

John 2:17 quotes Psalm 69:9

And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.

Acts 13:33 quotes Psalm 2

God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

Ephesians 4:8 quotes Psalm 68:18

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men

The book of Hebrews quotes extensively from the Psalms, the Law and the prophets.

7) This Remarkable Collection of Books

From the common era the Jewish people so little valued the books of Maccabees that they lost entirely the original Hebrew text. Not even fragments of this book have been found amongst the Dead Sea scrolls. The only reason these books exist today is because they were amongst the early histories translated into Greek. Instead the Jews valued very highly the Law and the Prophets. So much so that from that time until today they wrote volumes and volumes analysing and debating its text but never adding to it. This is a testament to the truth of what Josephus observed that the Jews saw a limited number of books as 'justly accredited as divine', and were happy to die for these, but they could lose any others, including the Maccabees.

Let us consider how odd this is. The books of Maccabees are a testimony to the greatness of Jewish life. They show a weak force overcoming the enemy by a miracle. They are evidence of a high point, where from nowhere Jews gained autonomy (self rule). That the miracle is divine is attested by the prophet Daniel who says they would be given help (Daniel 11:34). This is, of any book, the book of hope for a downtrodden people. But they did not value it at all. Instead they valued with their life books of cumbersome laws they could no longer keep and books of prophets who condemned the nation for sin. This is extra-ordinary.

The Jewish people have retained only the record of the history in relation to the divine. It has all their weaknesses. It contains little that commends the people but quite the converse, it soundly condemns the people for their wickedness and idolatry. This in itself is extraordinary and presents strong evidence that the books of the Old Testament were unlikely to be the work of mere humans, as humans generally only elevate achievements. The preservation of the writings is beyond expectation. In the history of the rise and fall of the nations over four thousand years, how many other ancient civilizations have left detailed accounts of their history including all their shortcomings?

But there is an outstanding element in all the books the Jews have valued as divine. The one thing that is not in any of the other ancient writings: firm promises from God of hope. The books of mere history, even if of great deeds, were not valuable. They were the past, now dead. The books valued as inspired contained the hope of the future and life.

The books of the Gospels and letters of the Apostles considered inspired have a similar character. Other simple histories of the era have been mostly lost. The ones that were retained have a strong element of rebuke, with an equally strong hope of grace, and they feature the promise of the future.

If instead of focusing on the canon (or the 'full measure') of books, we focus on the subset of those understood by the sincere believers over time as inspired, we will see in all these books the redemption pattern, which is trial and rebuke, repentance and the hope of the promise of the future. This is the 'gospel' or good news.

Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15)

8) The full measure versus the focus

People in arguing about the 'full measure', or the canon, miss a point. The Bible contains at least two books, of which it is written that there is to be nothing added: the Torah and the Revelation. Both of these books by this ruling stand alone.

In addition there are other separate books identified as inspired, which are consistent and as witnessess cross reference each other. All contemporary evidence available shows books did not come to be known as inspired over time, they were identified as inspired at the time of writing, and have been always known as inspired since. For humans later to decide a definitive canon including any works they think are inspired is presumptuous. This is not to say we cannot know which books are inspired, as from the time they were written they were circulated with the authority of the Holy Spirit, by prophets and evidence given within the inspired books themselves.

Therefore the Bible itself establishes that the full measure is not as important as the fact that some books are more important than others. Jesus gives an order of importance. Sometimes Jesus speaks of 'the Scriptures' as a whole but this is a minority. He mostly speaks of 'the Law'. He often speaks of 'the law and the prophets', or less often, 'the prophets' and one occasion he speaks of 'the sciptures of the prophets'. But when he told his disciples where to find out things concerning him and his work, he says,

These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me (Luke 24:44)

This establishes both an order of importance and the books that should be the focus of the disciple. There are other scriptures in the writings and all the New Testament.

Peter told us that Paul's epistles are also scripture (2 Peter 3:16), and Paul writes,

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2Timothy 3:16)

But these, the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, are the important foundation of all else. These books are the ones the apostles quoted, and on which they rest their reasoning and witness.


For more The Torah: The book of wisdom

Old and New Testaments Equally Important

BibleFocus.net
  • Site Index