Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series: How The New Testament Provides Clues For Its Canonization


    In this series thus far, we have introduced the subject of “the doctrine of Scripture”, followed by a message on how we got our Old Testament and the question of the Old Testament canon. In our last post, we touched upon the question of the so-called “Apocryphal books”. These fifteen books, though affirmed by the Roman Catholic Church as inspired by their use of the term “Deutero-canonical”, yet were demonstrated that, in the final analysis, they cannot be considered as part of the Old Testament canon. For those interested in seeing the last post, please click here 

    Having surveyed the issues surrounding the formation and completion of the Old Testament canon, we now turn our attention to the New Testament canon, its message, and why it matters.

The New Testament Canon.

    As we begin to study the beginning and formation of the New Testament canon, we can find evidence by looking at the New Testament documents themselves. As a reminder of what we mean by "canon", the term refers to those books that, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, are received, recognized, and used by ealry Christians as authoritative Scripture. In future posts we will examine "tests" or criteria used by early Christians to identify which books belong in the canon. As we saw in our posts on the Old Testament canon, canonicity is not a process of "kicking out" books which the church had to choose from a large body of literature to suit a certain orthodox agenda (a common assumption in skeptical scholarship). Rather, canonicity is recognizing which books are to be allowed in to a s relatively small collection of literature deemed as inspired. In time this important distinction will be discussed. For now, we turn our attention to how the process of canonicity was well underway before the close of the first century.

How the New Testament provides clues for its canonization.

    To anchor this post, let us turn to three passages that set the tone for our discussion of the New Testament Canon. The first is found in Luke 1:1-4 and the second is found in 1 Timothy 5:17-18. Luke’s Gospel was written in the early sixties’ of the first century. In his prologue (introduction), Luke claims to write an inerrant record.

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”

    Amazingly, Paul would write only two years later in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 about "Elders", quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 as Scripture.

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

    My point in mentioning the above Scriptures is to show that the canonization of the New Testament followed a similar pattern like we noted in our previous message on the Old Testament canon. 

    We see God’s revelation of Himself in the Person of the incarnate Son – Jesus Christ. Then, we see Jesus act redemptively in human history by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The beginning and growth of the New Testament canon is the Holy Spirit’s effort in expounding what Christ achieved, and how the church is to proclaim this message with twenty-seven inspired books crafted for each generation of the church to use until He returns. Note a third New Testament passage, 2 Peter 3:14-18.

“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

    Peter’s writing of 2 Peter was in 66 A.D, only a couple of years before his death. We find evidence that all of Paul’s letters were already recognized and used as authoritative Scripture, considered on equal footing with the Old Testament Scriptures (designated by Peter as “the other Scriptures”).

Closing thoughts:
    We begin to consider the canonization of the New Testament books. The books themselves provide primary evidence concerning the beginnings of this process. In our next post, we will examine Jesus' promises to His disciples that would provide the underpinnings for the writing of the New Testament books.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture: Historical Attitudes Toward The Apocrypha And Reasons Why They Are Not Divinely Inspired Scripture


    In the last two posts, we have introduced what are called "the Apocryphal books" and have offered a summary of them here and here The term "Apocrypha" means "that which is hidden". Historically, this was thought to mean there were "hidden meanings" which were to be explored and found in the reading of them. In technical usage, "apocrypha" has come to represent any book that was not deemed as part of the canon of the Old Testament and in an even stronger sense, came to describe certain Gnostic Gospels and other literature which mimicked the New Testament canonical books.  In today's post we will close out our survey of the Apocryphal books by noting how they were viewed historically and reasons why they ought not be regarded as Divinely inspired books.

At first, popular, but not inspired. 

We have remarked in past posts about an influential Greek translation of the Old Testament called “The Septuagint”, which according to an accompanying letter prefacing the Septuagint called “The Letter of Aristeas” would have begun in 275 b.c. near Alexandria Egypt. I bring up the Septuagint because those who argue for the Apocrypha being inspired will note how the Apocryphal books are included in the copies of the Septuagint we have today. I have a copy of a critical edition of the Greek Septuagint in my library. The edition is based off of three 4th and 5th century A.D.Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint or Greek Old Testament, which of course contains the Apocryphal books. It is telling of course to note that when one surveys those three Greek manuscripts (called "Siniaticus", "Vaticanus", and "Alexandrinus"), they all don't contain the same amount of Apocryphal literature - which to me is very telling. 

    The one detail often missed by proponents of the Apocrypha is that the oldest complete manuscripts we have of the Septuagint derive from ancient book-like manuscripts called “a codex” (codices in the plural) from the fourth and fifth centuries. At best, this only proves that the Apocrypha were popular among the Christians, but most certainly does not prove they were regarded as inspired canon as the rest of the Old Testament books. Even if such books were in earlier manuscripts of the Septuagint, all it would prove is they were familiar to the Jewish people (much as we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls material, dated between the 3rd century b.c. to the times of Jesus in the first century). 

Some later thought they were inspired, but were inconsistent

As for the Jews, all the manuscript copies we have of the Hebrew Old Testament do not contain any of the Apocryphal books. I've aluded already to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, however they are worth further commenting. The scrolls were discovered in the mid-1940’s in eleven caves around the Dead Sea region. Over the decades, it was found that the collection manuscripts of all the Old Testament canonical books (accept Esther), along with a few copies of the Apocrypha. All the Biblical books had some sort of commentary, yet none of the copies of the Apocrypha possessed a commentary. In the minds of the Essene Jews that lived around the Dead Sea in those days, there was a distinction between the canonical books and the Apocrypha. So, what about early Christianity? Certainly, we can find examples of the early church fathers quoting the Apocrypha from time to time. Yet, they never treat them the same as the canonical Old Testament books. 

         The Apocrypha became popular as a source for the devotional life of the early church, much like today where we have certain books written by A.W. Tozer or Oswald Chambers or Billy Graham that are devotional in nature. In the Middle Ages and Reformation, works such as Dantes "Divine Comedy" or Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" molded the minds of generations in thinking through certain themes of Christian life and piety. Such examples are good for personal use, yet would pale in comparison to the inspired, canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. 

         Even though there were local church councils that attempted to elevate the Apocrypha to the level of canon (such as the Synod of Hippo, 393 and two Councils of Carthage, 397 and 419 A.D.), their conclusions involved affirming differing parts of the collection of the Apocrypha. The Council of Hippo affirmed only half of the total number of Apocryphal books (minus the additions to Daniel and Esther). On April 8, 1546, the Roman Catholic Church Ecumenical Council of Trent affirmed the books of the Apocrypha that we have today in Catholic Bibles. Even in that pronouncement, Rome did not consider 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, The Prayer of Manasseh, or Psalm 151 as canonical.   

The Reformers/Protestants affirmed the original view about the Apocrypha 

In the wake of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, the Reformers and the successors affirmed the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament, all the while reaffirming that the Apocrypha were non-inspired. Martin Luther placed the Apocrypha after the New Testament in His German Translation. The Belgic Confession, Article 6, states the following about the Apocrypha, 

“The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books.But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.”

Conclusions: Why the Apocrypha are not the Word of God

From what we saw in the last point, the Protestant Bible of 39 Old Testament books (not 46) represents what was always understood by the ancient Jews and early Christians. We can respect the Apocrypha to a certain level. I find for instance much help in filling in the history of the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew when I read 1 Maccabees. I am touched by the martyrdom of seven Jewish sons before their mother’s eyes for refusing to compromise their Jewish faith in 2 Maccabees. The Jewish mind that wrote the “Song of the Three Holy Children” was pious in their imagination in speculating what Shadrach, Meschech, and Abdnedgo may had prayed when in the fiery furnace. Nevertheless, let me give you two reasons why we cannot accept these books as the Word of God.

1. There are no prophecies.

In my reading the Apocrypha, I never come away concluding that they are of the same caliber as the Old Testament canonical books. There is no prophecy in them (compare 1 Maccabees 9:27; 14:41). 1 Maccabees 9:27 “There was great tribulation in Israel, the like of which had not been since the time prophets ceased to appear among them” (New American Bible, revised edition). 1 Maccabees 14:41 “and that the Jewish people and their priests had decided the following: Simon shall be their leader and high priest forever until a trustworthy prophet arises”  (New American Bible, Revised Edition). The distinguished scholar Bruce Metzger has noted in his Annotated Edition of the Apocrypha that the phrase “thus says the Lord” never appears in any of the Apocrypha. In the canonical Old Testament books (i.e. our 39 books), this phrase “thus says the Lord” occurs over 3,000x. In the Canonical Old and New Testament books, we have 700-800 prophetic predictions, with two-thirds fulfilled already in history. The Apocrypha never contribute one prediction that is evidenced by historical fulfillment, let alone any that would point the way to the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. They contain errors in doctrine and history.

At times there are inaccuracies, such as Tobit mistaking the time of the Assyrian Empire for the Babylonian Empire that emerged 200 years after the fact, as well as teaching a form of salvation by works in Tobit 12:9. Greek Scholar Bruce Metzger edited an annotated edition of the Apocrypha, citing nearly ten inaccuracies in Tobit, drawing the conclusion that the book is a work of fiction, rather than history. 2 Maccabees 12:43-47 teaches offering prayers for the dead, a main reason for the Roman Catholic Church adopting it into its canon to support its doctrine of Purgatory developed in the Middle Ages.  The books of “Bel and the Dragon”, “The Song of the Three Holy Children”, “Judith” and “Susanna” are inserted by the Roman Catholic Church into the text of the Book of Daniel in their Bibles. These four books are to be taken as fictional records, rather than actual events. 

The Jews, Jesus and the Apostles, and the early church of the first 300 years never accepted them into the Old Testament Canon.

The Jewish philosopher Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, never once quoted the Apocrypha in all his writings, citing only the Old Testament canonical books. The Jewish historian Josephus, though quoting from the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, uses them only for their historical value, and not as Scripture. In his book “Against Apion”, Josephus mentions the books which the Jews regarded as Scripture, corresponding to what would be our 39 book Old Testament Canon. Jesus never quoted the Apocrypha as Scripture, but only referred to the “Law and the Prophets and the Writings”, that is, the Hebrew Old Testament canon (see Luke 24:27,44). The New Testament contains not one quotation from the Apocrypha nor does it attach the well-known phrases “thus says the Lord” or “it is written” to any other sources is quotes outside the canonical Old Testament. This pattern persists into the early church as one reads a collection of early church writings known as “The Apostolic Church Fathers”.  

  Although we may use the Apocrypha as sources for better understanding what the Jews believed in between Malachi and Matthew, grasping the history of that 400 year period, and even enjoying a good bit of religious fiction, the Apocrypha ought never be used to establish doctrine nor ever be considered inspired Scripture that saves and feeds the soul.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Doctrine of Scripture: Identifying And Summarizing The Apocryphal Books


    In our last post we introduced our next leg of our series on the Doctrine of Scripture - questions of the "Apocrypha". Interested readers may review the last post here As we introduced the Apocrypha, we first noted that they were 15 books written in the 400 year span between the books of Malachi and Matthew. Jews and older generations of the Christian church called these volumes "Apocrypha", a word meaning "hidden". Before we dive into the question of whether or not these books are Divinely inspired, we need to first get details on what is in them. Below I have drawn up summaries of each of the Apocryphal books. 

What are the Apocrypha?

As already mentioned at the beginning of today's post, the word "Apocrypha" means "that which is hidden" or "concealed". When Malachi penned his book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, 400 years passed until God would once again speak a word to men like Matthew to pen inspired scripture. In between the ending of Malachi and beginning of Matthew, history saw the rise and fall of four major world empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.

     During that period, the Jews wrote many sorts of Jewish writings, among them being a set of 15 non-inspired books of history and devotional reflection spanning from roughly 200 b.c. up until the days of Jesus. 

    I list below all of the Apocryphal books. For the purposes of this post, I’ll still use the term “Apocrypha”, since it is the older term and better describes what sort of books these are. For convenience, I’ll provide headings to aid in understanding the Apocrypha: Apocryphal books of history; Apocryphal books pertaining to religious or pious fiction; Additions to canonical books like Daniel, Esther, Jeremiah; and Apocryphal books that are devotional in nature.

Historical Apocryphal books.

1. 1st Esdras (called 3 Esdras originally), rejected by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This was written originally in Greek. It attempts to present an alternative summary of the last few chapters of 2 Chronicles, the whole book of Ezra, and nearly all of Nehemiah. Interestingly, it was not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1546.

2. 2nd Esdras (also called “4th Esdras”). Rejected by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This is an apocalyptic or alleged prophetic book that is rejected by the Roman Catholic Church due to its denial of the doctrine of Purgatory.

3. 1 Maccabees (historical record of the Jewish opposition to Rome). Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This is among the better books of the Apocrypha, detailing the history of the Jews during their revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes beginning in 168 b.c. In Catholic Bibles, 1 Maccabees appears after Esther.

4. 2 Maccabees (historical account of Jews in the time after the Maccabean revolt). Accept by the R.C.C.

    This book is not meant as a sequel to 1 Maccabees. Much of its account centers on the preservation of the temple and piety of the Jews following the Maccabean revolt. It is found after 1 Maccabees in Catholic Bibles.

Historical/Religious Fiction

5. Tobit Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    (Though presented as history, Tobit’s errors and exaggerations would be better termed “religious fiction”. It tells the story of a Jewish man by the name of Tobit that attempts to live a life of moral piety). The Roman Catholic Church accepts this book because it teaches prayers for the dead. Its errors include teaching salvation through works (12:9) and historical inaccuracies which make the main character to be over 200 years old, even though he is claimed to had lived for 158 years. This book appears after Nehemiah in Roman Catholic Bibles.

6. Judith , Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This tells the story of a Jewish Heroine leading her people to victory over an enemy. Judith appears after Tobit and before Esther in Catholic Bibles.

Additions to the books of Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah.

7. Bel and the Dragon , Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    An alleged addition to the Book of Daniel that contains a legendary fictional account set in the time of Daniel about the slaying of a dragon. It is considered as chapter 14 of the canonical book of Daniel in Catholic Bibles.

8. The Song of the Three Holy Children , Accept by the Roman Catholic Church.

    An alleged addtion to the Book of Daniel. This is accepted by the R.C.C. and recalls a vivid, moving, but fictional tale of the prayers said by Shadrach, Meshech, and Abendego in the fiery furnace. It is inserted in Daniel 3:23-90 as a supplement to the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s casting of the three Hebrew youths into the fiery furnace.

9. Susanna. Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This fictional addition to Daniel details the heroism of a Jewess named Susanna. It appears as chapter 13 in the Canonical Book of Daniel.

10. Additions to Esther , Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    These additions amount to 107 extra verses that are distributed throughout the Book of Esther in Catholic versions of the book. The Greek Septuagint version of Esther is longer than the Hebrew version which exists in the Hebrew Old Testament and Protestant Bibles. The Roman Catholic Church accepts these additions as canonical and have included them throughout the portions of Esther that match their contents.

11. Book of Baruch (an alleged addition to Jeremiah), Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church

    This is a short book that is alleged composed by Jeremiah’s assistant Baruch. It is placed after Lamentations in Catholic Bibles. The sixth chapter of “The Book of Baruch” is actually another small Apocryphal Book called “The Letter to Jeremiah”. It is often included in copies of “The Book of Baruch”.

12. Letter of Jeremiah (usually counted as part of the Book of Baruch). Accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

Devotional Apocryphal books

13. Prayer of Manasseh, Not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    Supposed prayer of repentance prayed by the biblical King Manasseh that we read of in 2 Chronicles 33.

14. Wisdom of Solomon (also called “Wisdom”), accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This book mimics the Book of Proverbs. It is found after the Canonical Song of Solomon.

15. Ecclesiasticus (also called ‘Sirach”, accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This is a Jewish Philosophical work trying to prove the Jewish faith from reason. It is found after the Apocryphal book of Wisdom and prior to the canonical Book of Isaiah.

Closing thoughts:

    Today we summarized the Apocryphal books. In the next post we will purse the question of how we can know whether or not they are Divinely inspired, as well as trace the history of how they were regarded as a collection of books. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series - Introducing The Apocryphal Books


    To anchor ourselves in today's post, let me reference Romans 3:1-5,

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’

    Paul references God having gave the Jews what he calls “the oracles of God”. The text before us is concerned about what salvation is, and what God uses to bring it about. Paul identifies what salvation is by noting what it is not, gaining God’s approval by good works. Instead, He argues towards the end of Romans 3 that salvation is received through faith alone because of God’s grace won for us by Christ. 

    So how does God bring salvation about? God in the Person of the Holy Spirit works conviction in the sinner’s heart by means of the Scriptures. Of course, it is imperative that we have the right books, the right words, otherwise salvation will not come about, which is why the issue of Canon is so important.

1. The importance of knowing which books are the words of God.

    You will notice Paul uses an interesting – “the oracles of God”. The word “oracles” translates an underlying Greek term meaning “spoken words”. It is one of the strongest terms for defining what sort of book the Bible claims to be. To know which books are the inspired words of God is the concern of conversations about the subject of “canonicity”. This phrase “oracles” pertains to the Hebrew Bible or what we call the Old Testament Canon, with the familiar 39 books of our English Bibles (having been 22 or 24 books in the Hebrew Bible, same contents, with some of the Bible books combined together, thus the difference in numbering). In this series of posts, we have looked at the doctrine of Divine inspiration of the Bible and issues surrounding the Canonicity of the Old Testament. For those curious about such matters, or those with either a Roman Catholic background or having family or friends in the Roman Catholic Church, these next several posts will hopefully prove informative. As we noted in the last post, the question of canonicity deals directly with two issues.

A. Ultimate authority is the first issue when discussing canonicity.

    First, there is the matter of Biblical authority. Notice what Paul writes again in Romans 3:4 "May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’ Who is to say what governs the spiritual lives of Christians? Does the Church formulate the Canon, and thus hold authority over which books belong? Or do the inspired books of the Bible themselves bear marks of their inspiration and consequently lead to recognition, acceptance, and use in the forming and growth of the Church? 

    I would contend that it is the inspired books of the canon of the Old Testament (39 canonical, inspired books, not the so-called non-inspired "Apocryphal books", which I'll argue for in later posts), coupled with Jesus’ resurrection, that were the twin foundations responsible for the Holy Spirit’s birth of the Church. Whenever one studies the roughly 20 sermons and addresses of the Apostles and their associates in the Acts of the Apostles, this two-fold foundation of Scripture and Christ's resurrection provide the means for the Spirit's work in the early church. 

    As The Holy Spirit worked through the New Testament Apostles and their associates to write the New Testament books, the growth and expansion of the church were by-products of the composition, recognition, and gradual usage of the New Testament books. Those New Testament Gospels, letters, and the Apocalypse of John would come to function alongside the already established canon of the Old Testament. In future posts, we will eventually get to the equally fascinating subject of the New Testament canon, its development, and function in the early church. For now, we return back to our discussion of the canonicity of the Old Testament, and the question of the Apocryphal literature written between Malachi and Matthew. 

B. Understanding which books are inspired is the second issue when discussing canonicity.

    Canonicity not only touches upon the matter of authority, but also in answering the question “which books are the inspired books”. This matter of inspiration, or what Norman Geisler refers to as “propheticity”, is the key issue in defining the contents and limits of the canon. Which books have the final say in matters of faith, practice, this life, and the life to follow? Far from just a academic curiosity, the question of canon affects the lives of millions of God’s people. With these interrelated matters of “authority” and “inspiration” governing how we discuss the importance of “canon”, we come to the topic of these next several posts concerning the so-called "Apocryphal Books" (or what Roman Catholics call "Deuterocanonical Books", meaning "second canonical books"). 

Closing thoughts for today

    For now I leave the reader with two thoughts. First, for an introductory post I've written in the past on this subject of the Apocryphal books, readers are invited to click here Secondly, the diagram below lists out the Apocryphal books for the reader's reference. Next time we will explore a more detailed description of each of these books, as well as summarizing how they were regarded in Jewish and Church history. 


Monday, October 10, 2022

The Doctrine Of Scripture Series: The Old Testament Canon - Its Message, Why Our English Old Testaments Are The Way They Are, And Why It Matters To You


    In our last few posts we have devoted time to considering the Old Testament Canon. Theologian Wayne Grudem defines the canon as "all the books that belong in the Bible". In dealing with the topic of the "Old Testament Canon", we have defined it, explored how it came to develop, and considered its initial arrangement as the Hebrew Bible. The last post may be accessed by readers here

    At the beginning of this series of posts on the Old Testament canon, I cited three New Testament passages that speak of the Old Testament (Luke 24:27; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 3:14-18), which readers may access here for the initial post To understand the overall message of the Old Testament enables us to see why it matters to us today. In short, the Old Testament’s message is about preparing for the arrival and first coming of Jesus. A fifth century Church Father by the name of Augustine once wrote “The New Testament in the Old is concealed; and the Old Testament in the New is revealed”. The revelation in the Old or New Testament “canon” points the way to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

A. Why our English Old Testament is arranged differently than the Hebrew Old Testament.

Let me deliver on a promise from a couple of posts back. I noted the arranging of the Old Testament books in the Hebrew Bible which Jesus knew of in His day. Copies of the Hebrew Bible, called “The TaNaK”, can still be purchased. However, we find that our English Old Testaments arrange the Old Testament books differently. Why? In Jesus’ day there was an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that He and the Apostle most likely used. This translation, known as “The Septuagint”, is quoted more in the New Testament than its Hebrew counterpart. The arranging of the Old Testament books differs from the Hebrew Bible. 

As Church history would march forward, Jerome would issue his Latin Vulgate, used by the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages for 1,000 years. The Vulgate’s ordering of the Old Testament books took its cue from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). Jerome was a first-rate Bible translator, utilizing the underying Hebrew manuscripts to translate a fresh Latin translation (along with help from the ancient Latin translation, known as the "Old Latin", which he had available to him). So, even though he did use the Hebrew text to do his translation work (for the Apocryphal books, which Jerome didn't want to include, he utilized the current copies of the Septuagint), he nonetheless chose to follow the canonical ordering of the Septuagint. As one studies the history of how the books of the Old Testament canon were arranged, it is interesting to note that among the manuscripts we have of the Greek Old Testament, the ordering may vary slightly. Nevertheless, what we have in our English Bibles today reflects that general ordering of the Septuagint, with almost all English Old Testaments translating from copies of the Hebrew Bible. 

    The chart below summarizes the differences between the Old Testament canonical ordering in the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, and current Protestant Old Testaments.

    As English translations began to appear in the 15th century onwards, translators arranged the Old Testament books according to how they had observed in the Latin Vulgate, which in turn took its cue from the Septuagint. 

B. How the Old Testament points the way to Jesus Christ.

As we see how our Old Testament books are arranged in their “canonical order”, we find they tell the message of Jesus. Note with me.

1. Genesis,Exodus,Leviticus,Numbers, Deuteronomy = The Law points to Christ.

2. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther = History prepares for Christ.

3. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Songs = Poetic books picture Christ.

4. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi = Prophets predict Christ.

We can note that this “canonical ordering” of the Old Testament books in terms of Law, History, Writings, Prophecy, roughly corresponds to the four-fold division we find in the New Testament canon. We must realize of course that the individual books were inspired, rather than their canonical ordering. Nevertheless, how they were ordered by subsequent generations of God’s people does convey an overall message perceived. 

    The Gospels lay the foundation, as the Law laid the foundation in the Old Testament. Acts corresponds to the historical recounting of the early church, just as the historical books deal with Israel’s founding and history with God. The letters of Paul and others parallel the writings portion of the Old Testament. Lastly, the Book of Revelation is the most prophetic book in all the New Testament, pointing us to Christ’s second coming, as the 17 prophetic books of the Old Testament pointed to the first coming. 

3. The Old Testament Canon’s application, (or, why it matters to you).  

Closing thoughts:

We have covered much ground in this message. What I hope is that you have a greater appreciation for the Old Testament. In going back to those three New Testament passages I cited at the beginning, let me remind you of why the Old Testament Canon is so important to us. I mentioned three benefits of the Old Testament revealed in three New Testament texts. First, “knowing Jesus” (Luke 24:37). Second, “having hope”, (Romans 15:4). Lastly, “spiritual growth”, (2 Peter 3:14-18). 

Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Doctrine of Scripture Series: The Old Testament Canon - How Did God’s People Recognize The Old Testament Canon?


    In our last post we start to look at the Old Testament canon, which readers may review here

    In the last post we explored what we meant by "canon", how it came to be arranged, the authority of the canon, and a final section that traced the historical development of it. In today's post, we want to continue on with our survey by assessing how exactly God's people knew which books were inspired.

Illustrating canonicity and the recognition of which books were inspired by God.

    We must realize that it was the inspired books as God’s canon that formed God’s people, rather than God’s people formulating the canon. As each Old Testament book was composed, its recognition as inspired (and thus canonical) was immediate or nearly immediate. Just as Isaac Newton came to recognize the law of gravity already present in creation, God’s people would recognize certain books already revealed by their Creator. Just as Johannes Kepler, that great 16th century astronomer, discerned and calculated out his famous three laws of planetary motion that describe the movement of the planets around our sun, so did God's people discern the right books about which orbits the foundations of faith.

Dispelling some myths about canonization. 

    Several years ago a popular book called "The Davinci Code" spun a fictional tale with a fictional account of how the Canon came to be. In the preface of that book, Dan Brown took the premises of his fictional story to be actual history, which made the book a matter of controversy in Biblical scholarship. As Dan Brown and other skeptics would have us to believe, there were literally hundreds of books written and known of by the Jews and Christians. Per Brown's tale, when it came time to choose which books were their authoritative literature, the church chose the ones that best fit their orthodox agenda, and kicked out the remainder. As the story then goes, church councils, like Nicaea in 325 A.D, convened to officially decide "which books were in and which books were out". It is always important to ask this question of any claim, "Is that true?"

    Contrary to skeptics and authors like Dan Brown, the process of canonicity was not picking and choosing from hundreds of candidates to befit a certain theological agenda. Instead, the history of the Old Testament Canon and New Testament canon involved recognizing those books that bore the marks of Divine revelation for use in teaching, preaching, and the spiritual formation of the church. Canonization was not about "choosing which books were in  or out" but rather "which books were already in because they were inspired". Other books, such as the Apocrypha and especially the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha were never seriously considered. They simply never made it into consideration for the canon because they were not inspired.

    To illustrate the point I just made, I can recall the day one of my children were born. My father-in-law was with me when we walked up to look at all the babies in the maternity ward of the hospital. Now he had not yet seen my newborn son. When he walked up there with me, he did not say to himself "lets pick a baby, out of all these other babies, and call him 'my grandson'". Rather, as soon as we walked up to the maternity ward and saw all of those babies in their cribs, my father-in-law picked out my son immediately. The other babies never made it into his consideration, since they did not bear the marks of recognition like my son. My father-in-law could see that the little boy had his mother's eyes and facial features common to their side of the family. So it was with the selection of the books of the Canon - Old or New Testament. Divinely inspired books have certain "family resemblances" in the realm of Divinely inspired literature. The people of God could recognize which books were inspired by certain features they possessed (which I'll get into in a little bit).   

    A quick reading on the history of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. reveals it dealt with matters of Christology (the doctrine of the Christ), and in particular the Arian controversy (Arius denied the true deity of Christ, and Athanasius led and influence the condemnation of Arianism as a heresy). In my readings on the proceedings of the Nicaean Council (one can read in detail about the council in the Church History of Phillip Schaff), I never witnessed mention of the issue of canonization. At least for the Old Testament, the canon was well established. Certainly by the mid to late second century A.D (50-75 years after the death of the Apostle John), church fathers such as Melito of Sardis (roughly 170 A.D) were recorded as having listed the books of the Old Testament which are contained in our Protestant Bibles (compare Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, Book 4, Chater 26, Section 13). 

    Then of course we have the famous "Muritorian Canon Fragment", dated to 170 A.D., which lists nearly all of our New Testament books (some we do not have in that list because of its fragmentary nature). Quotations from early Christian documents such as 1 Clement (90 A.D. and contemporary with the Apostle John) and the letters of Papias (110 A.D. and disciple of the Apostle John) quote all of our Old Testament books and many of the New Testament books as inspired Scripture. The books of the canon were certainly in use, treated as Scripture. The canon itself was already in circulation among the churches, with such lists as Melito's and the Muritorian fragment all but confirming what had become a long standing practice. To realize how careful and quickly the process of canonization occured shatters the myths spun by skeptics.

How did God’s people recognize the Old Testament canon?

    Whenever one reads resources like the ones I mentioned above, historical can draw inferences from such writings to arrive at how the early church came to identify the books of the canon. I glean five principles for how God’s people recognized the inspired books of the Old Testament Canon from insights gained from such scholars Normal Geisler’s “A General Introduction to the Bible” and Gleason Archer’s “A Survey of the Old Testament”. I have also included below certain Biblical texts which testify to instances where the books of the canon were instantly recognized an received. 

*Prophetic Test. Was the book written by a prophet or Apostle of God, or an associate? See Exodus 24:4; Luke 1:1-4.

*Miraculous Test. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? See Exod. 4:1-9; Num. 16-17;
  1 Kings 18; Mark 2; Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:4.

*Truth Test. Did the message tell the truth about God? See Deut. 13:1-3; 18:21-22.

*Salvation Test. Can the book bring someone to saving faith? See Is. 55:11; 2 Tim.
  3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:23

*Recognition Test. Was it recognized by the people of God? The Old Testament’s books
recognition is demonstrated by how quickly they went into use after their writing. See
Joshua 24:26.

    The Canon’s use would be used of God to call the people of God back to Himself. We read the following in 2 Kings 22:9-11

“Shaphan the scribe came to the king and brought back word to the king and said, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it in the presence of the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes.“

    This particular Biblical citation recorded events in the mid-seventh century b.c. Contrary to higher critical theories, which suggest that the books of the canon were being edited and re-edited to fit the agenda and reforms of the King of Jerusalem in that time (King Josiah), the text plainly tells us that "the book" found was already completed. We see no evidence of "redaction" or editing being done. Space does not permit me to go into the details of how we can know from archaeology and the study of the Hebrew text that Moses truly wrote the Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy) in the 15th century b.c. What we do know is this, that history tells us that we can rest assured that the books we have in our Old Testament are the right books, because they bore the marks of Divine inspiration. 
Closing thoughts for today.

    So, we’ve looked at how we got our Old Testaments by noting the process of canonization that stemmed from the Divine marks of authority in each of these books. But what overall message to they present? Why does it matter? That will be the focus of our next post.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Doctrine of Scripture Series - The Old Testament Canon: Defining It, Its Arrangement, Its Authority


    In our last post we began to consider issues surrounding the subject of the "Old Testament Canon here Theologian Wayne Grudem in his “Systematic Theology – 2nd Edition”, page 39, offers this crisp definition of the term “canon”, “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible.” We noted three headings under which we can discuss this subject.

1. The Old Testament Canon (or, how we got 
   our Old Testament – recognizing its 

2. The Old Testament Canon’s Message.

3. The Old Testament Canon’s application, 
    (or, why it matters to you).

      In today's post we will look at the first point - how we got the Old Testament Canon. In so doing, we will observe how the issue of "canon" is related to the issue of "authority" (whether it be the church as final authority in creating the canon or the canonical books forming and shaping the church).

The Old Testament Canon (How we got our Old Testament – recognizing its authority).

A. What is meant by “canon”?

    What do we mean by the term “canon” or “canonization”? We noted already the short definition above given by Wayne Grudem. Some further explanation is warranted. We know this term refers to the specific collection of Divinely inspired books we find in the Old and New Testaments. To lend clarity to this concept, it may surprise some to learn that this term is used quite a bit in discussions about current films. For example, in the Star Wars series, fans will often compare the movies, T.V. series, and games that have spun from those with the books based on George Lucas’ ideas. The question that often arises is this – “is that canon?” The concern of course deals with whether or not a movie, a T.V. series, or game fits in accurately with the original storyline conceived by George Lucas.

    Now, what I just described to you is a contemporary use of this term “canon”. If one goes back to the city of Alexandria Egypt before the days of Jesus, one will find the term “canon” used to describe an official listing of books. The term “canon” itself comes from a Greek word meaning “measuring rod”. When we apply this term to the Bible, we speak of the 39 books comprising the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. 

    You will notice in Jesus’ words in Luke 24:37 we find Him mention the “Law and the Prophets”. Jesus elsewhere spoke of the Old Testament in this two-fold division (Law and the Prophets) in Matthew 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16,29,31; 22:47. This phrase designated the books of the Hebrew Bible (or what we call “The Old Testament”, see picture at the beginning of this post).

B. The first arrangement of the Old Testament Canon.

    In Luke 24:44, Jesus would sometimes refer to that same collection of books by the three-fold descriptor “Law, The Prophets, and the Writings”. This speaks of the arrangement of the books or “canon” of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible, called by the Jews “TaNaK” for the three sections subdividing its contents, contains the following. (Note: the term "TaNaK" may have different spellings, due to it being a Hebrew acronym and English attempting to render it. Some variations include "TaNaCH").

    First, there are the "Law books", calls “Torah”, hence the “T” of “TaNaK” (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Then there was that middle consonant of “TaNaK”, the letter “N”, which stood for the “Neviim”, the Hebrew term for “Prophets” (arranged in differing order than our modern Bibles, Joshua-2 Kings and Isaiah-Malachi, known respectively as the “Former” and “Latter” Prophets). Then lastly, the final consonant of “TaNaK” or “K”, which the Jews called “Ketiviim”, that is, “The Writings (beginning with the book of Job and ending with the book of 2 Chronicles). 
In another post, I’ll explain why the ordering of the books in our Old Testaments differ from the Hebrew.

C. The authority of the Old Testament Canon.

    The notion of “canon” and “authority” go hand-in-hand. If we did not know which books were the inspired ones, we would have no idea which one to follow in living the Christian life, let alone in how to receive salvation which begins such a life. Norman Geisler comments on this in his book “A General Introduction to the Bible”, page 221.

“Canonicity is determined by God. A book is not inspired because men made it canonical; it is canonical because God inspired it. It is not antiquity, authenticity, or religious community that makes a book canonical or authoritative. On the contrary, a book is valuable because it is canonical and not canonical because it is or was considered valuable. Inspiration determines canonization, and confusion at this point not only dulls the edge of authority but it mistakes the effect (a canonical book) for the cause and (inspiration of God). Canonicity is determined or established authoritatively by God; it is merely discovered by man.”

    To get at what Geisler wrote, the issue of authority revolves around which came first? Did the Church create the Bible? Or did the Bible end up forming the church? This post argues for the latter point, namely that because of the canon of Scripture, which Christ recognized and which the Apostles preached, the Holy Spirit was so pleased to birth the church on the day of Pentecost in fulfillment of Christ's teachings and Old Testament expectation. It is this train of thinking which drives Geisler's remarks and echoes this post. 

    So, can we see the canon developing within statements made by the Biblical authors? We can. To see this process of canonization illustrated, we can observe the following.

1. It all began with the Ten Commandments.

    The beginnings of the Old Testament Canon and the recognition of its authority by God’s giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Moses wrote of this experience in Exodus 31:18 “When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (See also Exodus 32:16 and Deuteronomy 4:13). 

2.  The Ten Commandments were immediately recognized and used as Divinely Inspired Scripture. 

    The Ten Commandments, once written, were carefully kept and set apart by Moses and the people. Deuteronomy 10:1-4 “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.’ 3 So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. 4 He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them to me.”

3. More revelation was written in the form of the Book of the Covenant.

    We can see by how the tablets were recognized, received, and set apart, that their authority was evident. The Ten Commandments would have further written revelation, called the “Book of the Covenant” (see Exodus 24:1-7). This is where the Old Testament canon sprouts from the root of the ten commandments. 

4. The Canon grows from the other books written by Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). 

    As each prophet penned further books after Moses and Joshua, the Old Testament Canon continued to grow. 

5. The total Canon of the Old Testament took 1,000 years for its total completion.

    The prophet Samuel likely wrote Judges, Ruth and major portions of 1 Samuel (see 1 Samuel 10:25). The remaining portions of 2 Samuel and the books of Kings were composed by other prophets like Nathan the Prophet, Gad the Seer and Jeremiah the Prophet (see 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 20:34; 32:32 and Jeremiah 30:2). 

    Contrary to modern Higher Critical theories that espouse a naturalistic evolutionary process of canonical development, involving multiple editors and beginning in the far more recent past (as in the 7th century b.c.), history and the text itself attest to a more organic, supernatural, and providential process of canonization. The books of Moses, written in the 15th century b.c, and the final prophetic Book of Malachi, written in 400 b.c., represent roughly 1,000 years of time.

Consider the growth and development of the canon like chainmaille.

    Rather than treating this growing body of revealed books as a chain full of links, think of it more as chainmaille. Each book not only reinforces what was written, but also contributes to the overall message conveyed by God (see Amos 3:7). This brief history chronicles what really happened, based on textual evidence and archaeology.

The process of canonization: revelation, inspiration, recognition, then use. 
   The authority of the Canonical books shaped the life of the ancient Jews in the following way. First, their revelation. Then of course, their inspiration in writing. Thirdly, their recognition. Lastly, their use. As noted already, this process of “canonization” would take a millennium before the final completion of the Book of Malachi at roughly 400 b.c.

Closing thoughts:

    In the next post, we will continue on by noting what criteria were used to determine which books were inspired and thus included in the canon.