Jack L. Arnold
THE OLD TESTAMENT CANON
The word “canon”
means a rule or list and speaks of the right of a particular book
to a place in the Bible.
The Hebrew Bible
(Massoretic Text) of the Old Testament contains 24 books (some say 22 books),
being divided into the Law, Prophets and the Writings. These 24 books actually contain books
within books, so they have been divided into the 39 books of the Old Testament,
which we find in our modern Bible.
II. INSPIRATION AND
AUTHORITY DETERMINE CANONICITY
of the Old Testament books were written by Jewish leaders who held either a
religious or a civil responsibility: Moses, prophets, priests, kings,
etc. Many of these writings would
be taken immediately to the temple and deposited as inspired scriptures. There was a natural tendency by the
people to accept the Old Testament books because they were
written by religious or civil leaders who were recognized as God’s messengers.
When the books of
the Old Testament were written, they became scripture, and, because they were
spoken and written by God through men, they were considered as possessing
absolute authority. Since God
inspired the books, they were considered canonical at the moment they were
written. In Old Testament times no
general council or synod ever declared that the Old Testament was divinely
authoritative. The books of the
Old Testament, being of divine inspiration, were consequently authoritative and
were recognized as such from the time of their appearance. NOTE: The original manuscripts were not canonical because they
were collected, they were collected because they were
canonical. This does not mean,
however, that all the books were immediately accepted (cf. Jeremiah 36:1-32).
III. THE COMPLETION OF THE OLD
The Hebrew Old
Testament was probably completed some 400 years before the time of Christ and
could have been completed no less than 100 years before the Christian era.
feel that the canon of the Old Testament was fully collected and recognized by
the time of Ezra in the 5th century BC (Neh. 8-10).
the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, written around 200 BC,
accepts all 24 books as canonical.
which is literature written by the Jews between the Testaments covering a
period of 400 years, speaks of the Law, Prophets and writings being in
Himself acknowledged the existing canon (Luke 24:44 cf. John 10:25). Christ freely quoted from many of the
Old Testament books and these quotations are recorded in the Gospels. Christ brought a curse upon the
Pharisees of His day and said that upon them should “come all the righteous
blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of
Zacharias son of Barachias.” (Matt. 23:35). Abel is mentioned in Genesis, the first book, and Barachias
is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, the last book of the Old Testament in
the Hebrew text. This is an
obvious acknowledgment of the Hebrew canon by Christ.
At the Synod of
Jamnia (90 AD), which was a group of rabbis, it recognized the books of the Old
Testament but some questioned Esther, Ecclesiastes and the Song of
Solomon. This was not a
determination but a confirmation of the canon.
Testament book is quoted in the New Testament except Esther, Ecclesiastes,
Ezra, Nehemiah, Obadiah, Nahum and Zephaniah.
Jewish historian (100 AD) acknowledges the Hebrew canon.
Conclusion: “Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah nor the men of the Great
Synagogue not the Council of Jamnia canonized the Old Testament nor any part
thereof. Rather all the evidence supports the position that the books
of the Old Testament, being of divine inspiration, were consequently
authoritative, and were recognized as such from the time of their appearance.”
(Carl F. Henry, Revelation and the Bible).
IV. THE APOCRYPHA
The Apocrypha are
books written by Jews during the 400 year period
between the Old and New Testaments.
These books are Apocrypha (hidden) because they are unrecognized or
There are 14 or
15 apocryphal books which are: 1
and 2 Esdras, Obit, Judith, Addition to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon,
Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah, Bell and the
Dragon, Susanna, Prayer of Manasseh and 1 and 2 Maccabees.
give a record of Jewish history between the Testaments, however most of the
books must be classified as religious novels, pious fiction, abounding in
repetitions and trivial details.
They contain doctrines that are unscriptural, and stories that are
fantastic and incredible. There
are many obvious historical, chronological and geographical errors in these
books. For example, Judith 1:5
calls Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians and declares that he reigned in
Ninevah. But we know that he was
king of Babylon (Dan. 4:4-6), and history bears this out.
were never a part of the Hebrew canon but crept into the Bible through
the Septuagint (LXX) which is the Greek translation of
the Hebrew Old Testament. The LXX
was done by Hebrew scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, and was called the Septuagint
because the translators numbered 70 (LXX). The date for the LXX is 200 BC, but the oldest existing
manuscript that we have today of the LXX is 400 AD During this 600-year period the
Apocrypha crept into the text.
arises because the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges all the Apocrypha to be
inspired literature, except 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Azariah. The books of Esdras
were rejected by the Roman Catholic Church because they speak against
prayers for the dead, which is official Catholic dogma. From the Apocrypha, the Roman Catholic
Church supports certain doctrines, like purgatory (2 Maccabees 12:40-45). POINT: The Roman Catholic Church never officially pronounced the
Apocrypha as canonical until the Council of Trent (1546 AD) which is nearly 2000 years after the Hebrew canon was
completed and closed. The real
reason for the addition of the apocryphal books to the Bible by the Roman
Church is to be found in connection with events at the time of the Reformation. The Reformers vigorously attacked
doctrines which they regarded unscriptural. The doctrine of purgatory in particular was in need of
defense, so the Roman Church made the Apocrypha inspired scripture.
V. REASONS FOR
REJECTING THE APOCRYPHA AS INSPIRED SCRIPTURE
There are many
historical, chronological and geographical errors in the Apocrypha. Therefore it is not reliable in matters
of faith and practice.
While the authors
of the New Testament quote from the Septuagint many times, they never once
quote from any of the Apocrypha and only the 24 (Hebrew) or 39 (modern) books
are quoted. NOTE: They did not acknowledge the Apocrypha
as scripture because they did not intend those legendary books to become part
of the Bible.
The Old Testament
canon of 24 books was accepted at the time of Christ and Christ gave His
approval to this canon.
The Jews in
Palestine and Alexandria (Alexandria being the place where the LXX was
translated) never accepted the Apocrypha.
noted Jewish historian, about 90 AD gave a list of the books of the Jewish law
and prophets, but he did not include the Apocryphal books.
Some of the
Church Fathers quoted from the Apocrypha and treated it with high regard. For instance, Augustine uses the
Apocrypha freely but he never knew Hebrew and had little respect for the
language of the Hebrew canon.
However, not all church fathers accepted the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha was
rejected by Origen, who is generally acknowledged to have been the most
learned man in the church before Augustine; by Tertullian, an
outstanding scholar in the 3rd century; by Athanasius, the
champion of orthodoxy at the Council of Nicea; and by Jerome, the
translator of the Latin Vulgate, which became the authorized Roman Catholic
Bible. (Jerome was finally
persuaded to translate the Apocrypha, but made it clear that he did not believe
them to be scripture). Melito,
Bishop of Sardis (170 AD) gives his list of canon and none of the Apocrypha are
listed. POINT: Probably most of the church fathers
accepted the 24 books as canonical and the Apocrypha as having ecclesiastical
value but not as inspired scripture.
Eastern Church did not accept the Apocrypha but later yielded to pressure. However no official pronouncement has
ever been made on the Apocrypha.
All the reformers
accepted the Hebrew canon of 24 books.
Today the Lutherans and the Church of England include the Apocrypha in
their church manuals for ecclesiastical value but do not consider it to be
were never accepted officially by the Roman Catholic Church until the Council
of Trent (1546 AD) and this was done out of reaction to the Reformation. There were some within the Council of
Trent itself who did not want to accept the Apocrypha.
books do not claim to be the Word of God or the work of prophets.
Conclusion: “So, we
find that at the time of Christ there were two versions of the Old Testament
current in Palestine, the more liberal Alexandrian Septuagint, including the
Apocryphal books, in Greek, and the more conservative Hebrew version which
included only the canonical books of the Jews, and that the Roman Catholic
Bible follows the Alexandrian while the Protestant Bible follows the Hebrew
version” (L. Boettner, Roman Catholicism).