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The Bible Canon

21st August 2009, mgh,hej

 

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)

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