Truth, Understanding, Insight

The Bible Canon

21st August 2009, mgh,hej


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


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