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). 

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