Canon of the Old Testament
CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. The acceptance and collection of the inspired books of the OT canon includes the history of the acceptance of the OT books, the reasons why they were accepted and collected, and the divisions of the books, and also why other books called Apoc. were not accepted into the canon.
The word canon comes from a Gr. word meaning rule. It has come to refer largely to the standards of the Church. Church rules are called “canon law”; clerical vestments are sometimes called “canonics.” The most widely used sense of the word refers to the canon of Scripture; i.e., the list of books regarded by the Church as authoritative and divine. There are actually two points to consider in discussing the principles of canonicity; first, why the books are authoritative and divine, and second, when and how they were accepted by the Church and collected into a canon. Especially in the OT field the matter is complicated by the fact that much of this process took place in the distant past for which historical evidence is very scanty. Opinions may, therefore, differ somewhat, depending upon the viewpoint of the observer and the confidence he places in the evidence that is available.
In the last cent. or more there has arisen a sharp divergence of opinion among Biblical scholars which deeply affects questions of canonicity. In former ages most of the students of the Bible believed it to be true and accepted its supernatural teachings. Since the rise of rationalism and its penetration into the citadels of the Christian faith, it has become common to deny the possibility of the supernatural, and with this denial the Bible has been dissected and challenged in many ways. Study of the OT canon in such circles is a study of the history of the growth of the error of Biblical acceptance and belief on the part of the Christian Church. It is clear that conservative and liberal Christians approach the subject of the OT canon from very different viewpoints. It is more important to assess the evidence bearing on the subject with care, and also to judge whether opposition to the historic view of the canon stems from compelling argument or from theories previously adopted on other grounds.
The conservative scholar is not without bias. He freely confesses that full information on the OT canon is no longer available. He utilizes freely every scrap of evidence remaining. He is also heavily influenced in all these matters by the teaching of Christ. Christ’s teaching and work guarantee to the Church the possibility of a real factual revelation from God, and also that the OT canon embodies that very revelation as Scripture. In a real sense the study of the OT canon could begin and end with the witness of
To be more specific: The conservative scholar has always believed that the OT is what it says it is, and that it arose in the way it claims. b.c. The school of thought often called higher criticism includes several varied positions. All deny the genuineness and early date of the OT books as a whole. Some extreme views, as the Swedish view of oral tradition, hardly admit any of the OT may have been written down before 400 b.c. Older critics said that the Pentateuch was written by four or more authors or schools of authors (J, E, D, and P) as late as 1000 years after Moses. David and Solomon wrote very little. The prophetic books should be divided among the prophetic authors and several of their successors, or the prophets wrote nothing at all. There is today wide diversity in the critical camp, but there is unanimity in the belief that the historic Christian view of the origin of the OT and its canonization is wrong. The corollary to the critical view is that the OT is full of error, historical, factual, and doctrinal. It may be a revelation from God only in a general sense of experiential revelation, not in the sense of factual divine truth. The presence of these widely divergent opinions complicates greatly the study of the OT canon. Similar problems of criticism beset the NT canon but in that case the sources are much nearer to the events concerned.
The conservative view of canonicity.
The classic statement of the Protestant position on the OT canon is in the
The historic Roman Catholic position is not so much different as is commonly supposed. The
These views on the infallibility of the Bible and its origin from God Himself have characterized the entire Christian Church of the ages up to the liberal movements of recent times, as is widely recognized. (See the writer’s Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible , 75-77.) They depend partly upon external testimony, partly on the testimony of the books themselves, and appeal finally to Christ Himself. Note that the conservative Protestant position holds that the OT canon is a list of authoritative books. The Rom. position has been said to be an authoritative list of books. This summary is not entirely accurate. Both Roman and Protestant creeds stress the idea that the books have God for their author. Their authority is inherent. They are the Word of God, the truth. It often has been emphasized that the Protestant view makes inspiration the test of canonicity which is correct. There remains the further problem of the test of inspiration. The Roman Church holds apparently that church decision is the criterion of inspiration and canonicity. The Protestant tests of inspiration will be discussed below.
Biblical evidence for traditional views on authorship.
Brief survey of liberal views.
The liberal position in all its varieties holds that the OT canon is a list of non-inspired books agreed upon by men and mistakenly accepted as divine. Liberals differ as to why the particular books were elevated to such eminence. Some stress the action of religious councils (though the evidence is very scanty). Others claim that the books written in Heb. were considered authoritative, but there were other old Heb. books not so received. Others suggest antiquity as the cause of such recognition. But allegedly younger books were canonized when older books were not. These varying views will be remembered and tested as the subject develops. To investigate and weigh in detail the evidence for the genuineness of all the OT books would require a volume (see articles on each OT book). Standard OT introductions are available on the subject. The outlines of the argument should be given as a background to the study of the canon. The OT canon is made up of individual books, which therefore need to be studied at least in brief.
Pentateuchal claims for Mosaic authorship.
The Church always has believed that the Pentateuch came from the hand of Moses. The three arguments are the claims of the books themselves, the evidence of the later writings, and the assurances of Christ Himself.
Furthermore, this claim is in accordance with the facts of Moses’ life. A leader, a scholar, a man of God, he was chosen of God to receive His word face to face (Num 12:6-8). Called a prophet by the 8th cent. prophet Hosea (12:13) Moses stands at the head of that noble line of men who revealed God’s will to Israel and wrote much of it down for all time (Deut 18:15-22).
Witness of other OT books to the Pentateuch and to each other.
Moses is mentioned also in the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah and Malachi. In the Psalms, one poem is attributed to “Moses, the man of God” (Ps 90). The expression “man of God” is used many times in the OT as equivalent to prophet (1 Kings 13:20-23, etc.). In Psalm 103, a Psalm of David, the revelation of God to Moses is mentioned, then a v. from Exodus 34:6 is quoted. Several Psalms mention Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. Psalm 106 gives a detailed history of Moses’ leading the people out of Egypt, and remarks that at the Red Sea Israel believed God’s word, but later when they refused to enter Pal. they “believed not” His word. The implication, against the background of the history cited, is that Israel refused God’s word spoken by Moses.
According to the critical view the Pentateuch was not even in existence as a unit in the days of the monarchy, but was written down much later and falsely attributed to Moses. Such a view automatically rules out any conservative position on the OT canon. It is essential, therefore, to realize the strength of the witness available for the early date, and Mosaic origin of the first division of the Scripture.
The testimony to the Pentateuch during the period of the monarchy is a bit difficult to give because critical scholarship is divided in its estimate of the date and value of the books of history, and the prophetical books allegedly written during this time.
The older critics held that Joshua and Judges were written largely by the same four schools that wrote the Pentateuch (J, E, D, P). Therefore their witness for the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch would be late and valueless. Samuel, however, was regarded as largely J and E, and therefore in the time of the monarchy. Kings was late; Hosea, Amos, Micah, and the “first” Isaiah were early. The rest were late. The Psalms and other books were in part as late as the Maccabees in 168 b.c. These views seem somewhat strange now, since the findings of the DSS which will be discussed below.
It is now fashionable to call the books of Samuel a priceless, almost contemporary account of the rise of the monarchy (J. Bright, A b.c. They speak of a Tetrateuch (Gen-Num) and a Deuteronomic Work (Deut-2 Kings). Albright, however, would place many Psalms as early as David and even put Proverbs in the monarchy. He argues that no Psalms are later than the 4th cent. (op. cit. p. 226, 227).
Many scholars still hold such prophets as Amos, Hosea, Micah and parts of Isaiah to be genuine (John D. W. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos , p. 13, n. 1). Others, however, follow the more sceptical Swedish school which argues that nothing of any extent was written in Israel before the Exile. All was in the shape of oral tradition and the great bulk of the OT was written down after the Exile—apparently in that short time after Zerubbabel and before the new dating of Chronicles in 400 b.c. Little of Israel’s condition during this period is known, but it would seem that it was under duress in Babylon and in a wretched condition in Pal. It does not seem a likely time for the monumental achievement of the collecting of ancient traditions and writing them up in a form that has ever since impressed all mankind with its genius, moral force, and spiritual power.
In view of these uncertainties among critical scholars, it seems worthwhile to gather some of the evidences that the historical books, the Psalms and the early prophets clearly allude to and quote from the Pentateuch including “P,” or the allegedly postexilic Tetrateuch of the Swedish school. The pre-exilic evidence agrees with that of the Chronicles at 400 b.c.
There are many other cases of allusions to the history and wording of the Pentateuch, in the Psalms, and the early prophetical books written prob. during the monarchy.
Theaccording to Noth and others is Deuteronomic and comes from before the Exile. How then does it refer so frequently to the first four books, the Tetrateuch and the P document supposedly written after the Exile? A table of the more striking correspondence will be helpful:
Actually, Joshua 24 summarizes much history from Genesis, Exodus and Numbers.
It is clear that, whoever wrote Joshua, he was familiar with the books of the Pentateuch however one divides them. He frequently refers to the ancient history of the patriarchs, the commands of Moses and the history of the nation under Moses. But, he never refers to any other history or tradition except what the Pentateuch gives. The picture in the other books is similar:
The subject has a fascination, and actually leads to innumerable references. Numbers 10:35 (J, E) is quoted by Psalm 68:1, 2, a Psalm studied linguistically by W. F. Albright and dated to the early Monarchy (“A Catalogue of Early Hebrew Lyric Poems,” HUCA XXIII [1950-51], 10). Note the other reference of Psalm 68 to the Song of Deborah, Judges 5:4, 5 mentioned above.
The first commandment (Exod 20:2) has been referred to above as quoted in Hosea 12:9; 13:4. It is also quoted in Psalm 81:10. Psalm 81 refers to other incidents of the Exodus—e.g., first, v. 3, blowing of trumpets on the new moon which is mentioned elsewhere only in Numbers 10:10 (though sacrifices on the new moon are often mentioned). The waters of Meribah (Ps 81:7) are referred to in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
The bearing of the above study on the OT canon is obvious: the OT books were written as they claim, stage by stage and year by year throughout Israel’s history from Moses on down to the later prophets. There is no ancient extra-Biblical witness to prove this, but there is a great deal of inner Biblical witness, whereby one book gives witness to another’s antiquity.
Conservative view of the origin of the OT.
The concept of a prophet.
Israel had many prophets through her long history and the documents repeatedly assert that the faithful of the nation listened to these prophets, accepting their words as the words of God. One could hold that the prophets were self-deceived and the people mistaken, but clearly ancient Israel believed that God spoke by the prophets. The evidence is not clear that the nations surrounding ancient Israel also recognized prophets. There is a questionable reference to this effect in the Mari letters, but evidence is scarce (cf. E. J. Young, My Servants the Prophets , 193-198). It is clear from the Bible, however, that false prophets and prophets of Baal abounded in Israel. The question therefore arises, how were Israelites to distinguish true prophets from false? The Bible gives three signs of a true prophet: (1) His word must be in accord with the true religion (Deut 13:1-5). (2) His predictions must come to pass (18:21, 22). (3) His word may be accompanied with miraculous signs (Exod 4:3-9; 1 Kings 13:3-5; 2 Kings 20:8-11; etc.). It is curious and significant that the false prophets are not credited with performing miracles. The only exceptions seem to be the Egyp. magicians in the early plagues, and the witch of Endor. Many times the predictions of the false prophets are proved false. Not every prophet was believed in Israel, but some were believed even at great odds.
The conclusion is that throughout the history of Israel (and even before, because Enoch, Noah, and Abraham were prophets) there were men who were recognized as spokesmen for God and their word was regarded as true by the faithful in the nation. It may be remarked that this recognition was not given to others. Priests did not declare the Word of God except by the use of the
It stands to reason that since what these prophets spoke was regarded as the Word of God, what they may have written was also so regarded. For this reason, the Pentateuch was accepted as being the work of Moses. Those who refuse to accept the idea that there were prophets who delivered supernatural revelations from God find it hard to believe that a prophet’s word would have been accepted by his contemporaries. They feel that some interval must exist or must be claimed from the time of writing of an ancient writer to the time of its reception. The time for such an acceptance is prob. short in the NT field. Those who saw the risen Christ were convinced at once of His power to reveal. Those who heard the Apostle Paul speak with power evidently accepted his epistle without delay or demur. There is therefore no inherent reason why the writings of the OT should not have been accepted by the authors’ contemporaries; the conservative view is that they were so accepted.
The sequence of writing prophets.
It is believed by many that this is a preposterous conclusion because Joshua is a much later writing. The claim is made that the cities listed as distributed by Joshua reflect a later time of Israel’s history. However, following A. Alt (Kleine Schriften  I, 201) one may hold that the material fits an early age regardless of the writing. The date and authenticity of Joshua is a literary question where much subjectivity comes into play. Space does not allow a discussion here, but conservative scholars are capable of arguing for a date of Joshua contemporary to the events described.
The Judg 17; 18; 19-21) which tell of incidents occurring during the period of the judges. The two incidents tell of sinful situations, and both are concerned with Bethlehem (17:7; 19:1). The is a similar story only telling of a godly family, and it too is concerned with Bethlehem. Who wrote the Book of Judges is not known. Presumably it was written by someone at the end of this period, who had by oral and/or written tradition a knowledge of the facts. All the Heb. classifications—though they are quite late—ascribe Judges to a prophet. There is no adequate evidence for or against this conclusion. It should be noted, however, that Judges is purposefully tied in with the connected history of Israel.
Note that the Book of Joshua ends with Joshua’s death (Josh 24:29-31). These vv. are also found in Judges (Judg 2:7-9). Joshua could not write about his death, but it seems that the author of Judges appended a few vv. (“And it came to pass after these things,” Josh 24:29 KJV) to the preceding book as a kind of catch-line to show the connection of his book.
Exactly the same thing is done in Judges-Ruth. At the end of Ruth the genealogy of the baby born to Ruth and Boaz is carried down to the time of David and is obviously written in the days of the monarchy, not in the days of the judges. This by no means suggests that all of Judges-Ruth was written in the monarchy. Rather it suggests that the author of the history of David in Samuel was using the catch-line principle.
The same thing was done in 2 Chronicles-Ezra. Chronicles ends with two vv. which are identical with Ezra 1:1-3a. Examination will show that 2 Chronicles ends in the middle of a sentence; Ezra 1:3 has the completion of that sentence. Evidently it was the practice for the author of a second book to place a concluding appendix or catch-line on the previous book to show the connection. An exceedingly curious item is available to prove that these two vv. were added to 2 Chronicles as a catch-line. There is an apocryphal book called 1 Esdras which is little more than a copy of 2 Chronicles 35:1 through Ezra with a brief part of Nehemiah. It is most interesting that where this book makes the joining between 2 Chronicles and Ezra, the two verse catch-line of 2 Chronicles 36:22, 23 is omitted.
This catch-line practice is common in antiquity. Before bound books were invented, it was necessary to write them on several scrolls, or in Mesopotamia on several clay tablets. To show the connection between individual scrolls or tablets the catch-line principle was often adopted. In the Epic of Gilgamesh this device is clearly illustrated in those tablets which are not broken at the beginning or end. It was a common and logical device.
This use of a connecting paragraph between books is a significant evidence of the intention of the authors to represent a continued story of Israel’s history. It also answers an old question: How could Moses write about his own death in Deuteronomy 34? The answer is that Moses in all likelihood did not write Deuteronomy 34. His writing stopped with the in Deuteronomy 33:29, which was his “swansong,” uttered just before his death (Deut 33:1). The concluding ch. is Joshua’s appendix, tying together his own writing and that of his great predecessor. Thus there is a continued story of Israel’s history from the beginning to the Babylonian captivity, with which 2 Kings ends.
There is more, however, to this concept. The 1 Kings 11:41). For Rehoboam it is “the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah” (14:29). For Jeroboam it is referred to as “the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” (14:19). Such a notation is found for all the following kings of Israel and Judah with rare exceptions. No other sourcebook is mentioned in Kings.
The mention of these chronicles is not surprising. Other kings kept chronicles and their records have been found (cf. D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings ). That the records were the official court records of Judah and Samaria is hinted at by the fact that no mention is made of records of the final kings of each kingdom who were carried away captive. Clearly the Book of Kings was compiled from such court records.
The Book of Chronicles, however, cites other sources. It was written, according to Jewish traditions, by Ezra and, as mentioned above, even critical opinion is veering around to this view. But Chronicles after each king of Judah (no detailed history of the northern kings is given) cites a different history book as its source. Typical is the notation after David’s death: “Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer” (1 Chron 29:29). After Solomon there is a similar reference to books of the prophets Nathan, Ahijah and Iddo (2 Chron 9:29). After Rehoboam, the work of the prophets Shemaiah and Iddo is mentioned (2 Chron 12:15). Of the following kings five are cited as having their story written by the prophets (Abijah, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah and, questionably, Josiah). Six others have no historian cited (Jehoram, Ahaziah, Amon, Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah). Most of these died in a foreign land. For eight others there is a mention of “the book of the kings” (Joash), the book of the kings of Israel and Judah (Amaziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah—along with the writing of Isaiah—and Josiah and Jehoiachim). The source for Manasseh is the book of the kings of Israel (i.e., Judah since Israel had fallen).
It may be noticed that the sources of the Chronicles are usually not the same as they were for the authors of Samuel-Kings. The Chronicler in some cases used the same or similar court records. In many cases he also used the histories written by successive prophets. What were these histories? Actually one can be relatively sure what these histories were, because it is clear that the books of Samuel-Kings were one of the sources of the Book of Chronicles. The Chronicler knew and used some of the court records and also knew and used the books of Samuel-Kings. It would seem therefore that his references to the books of Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Ahijah, Iddo, Hanani, Jehu the son of Hanani, Isaiah and Jeremiah, are really references to the books of Samuel-Kings. Therefore the books of Samuel-Kings were written by this succession of writing prophets who carried the history of God’s people on down from the days of the judges to the Exile. The books of Samuel-Kings are classified in all Jewish classifications as books of the prophets.
Interrelation of prophets and histories.
In Jewish tradition there was not the division between prophetical books and historical books, that the Eng. seems to reflect. The later Talmud division called the book of Joshua-Kings the Early Prophets and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets, the Latter Prophets. The NT, as will be pointed out later, called all the OT books after Moses “Prophets.” This outlook is reflected in the situation referred to above that the major historical books of Samuel-Kings were apparently written by prophets.
A further illustration of this tendency for prophets to write history are the parallels to the prophetical books found in the Books of Kings. Most readers are aware that Isaiah 36-39 is paralleled by 2 Kings 18:17-20:20. Only the prayer of Hezekiah (Isa 38:9-20) is omitted. Why is this section found in both books? The reason is clear, for it continues the historical sequence of that book, and it belongs there. According to the testimony of 2 Chronicles 32:32, Isaiah wrote such a history. The Book of Kings does not claim to abstract anything from Isaiah. Rather it cites the court records of Judah as a further source of information. The conclusion is natural that this part of Kings was written by Isaiah from court records available to him. When he wrote his own book, this section was put into it also as a prelude to the latter division of Isaiah.
These chs. make a suitable background for Isaiah 40:1-48:22. The present writer espouses the chronology which recognizes Hezekiah as co-regent with his father Ahaz from 728-715 b.c. (see H. Stigers, Commentary on Kings WBC in loc.) then as sole king from 715 to 686 b.c. Isaiah outlived Hezekiah by a few years and wrote of Sennacherib’s death in 681 b.c. (Isa 37:38). By this time the city of Babylon apparently had a rebirth of power and was visible as a threat to Assyria. It will be remembered that Manasseh was shortly to be carried captive to Babylon (2 Chron 33:11). Isaiah saw the growing Babylonian menace, rebuked Hezekiah for toying with a treaty with Merodach-baladan, the Babylonian rebel against Sennacherib, and was shown by God’s revelation the woes of the to come and God’s deliverance from it. Isaiah 36-39 forms a suitable backdrop to this prophecy. Isaiah had written it for the historical book. He repeated it in his prophetical book just as many an author today reprints a magazine article as a ch. in a book.
It is said in Chronicles that Jeremiah gave his lamentations for Josiah, condemned Zedekiah and predicted Jerusalem’s fall (2 Chron 35:25; 36:12, 21). It is most natural to suppose that Jeremiah wrote in 2 Kings the final history of Jerusalem. Some of this history appears in the body of the Book of Jeremiah; some is appended as a summary at the end.
To summarize: There was a body of historical lit. in ancient Israel written by a succession of prophets. Two of the prophets cited as contributing to this history were Isaiah and Jeremiah. These prophets have left books of their messages which parallel in interesting ways the appropriate parts of the history books. The witness is cumulative, for the prophets of Israel were the recognized authors of its sacred history, as well as the authors of the oracles of God’s will for its life and duty.
Books of uncertain authorship.
It would be gratifying to say that the case is closed; all the OT books were written by prophets and were for this reason accepted by the faithful in the nation. Unfortunately, all the old extra-Biblical testimony has perished and the testimony of the OT books themselves is not complete. There are a few books which can not be proved to be authored by prophets. On the other hand, neither can it be proved they were not. It is only that evidence is lacking.
Opinion again will differ with one’s viewpoint. Did David write the seventy-three Psalms ascribed to him? or were they Maccabean? Did Solomon write Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the b.c.
The books of Solomon may be considered together. Was Solomon their author, and was he a prophet? The evidence is not compelling, but it is considerable. Some would question Solomon’s right to write inspired material because they resent his large harem. It should be observed that many of Solomon’s wives were no more than political hostages. In ancient times foreign treaties were often celebrated by intermarriage, and Solomon, as his kingdom extended over many smaller city states, contracted many marriages that were probably purely political. This is not to deny that Solomon was polygamous as was his father David, but the Bible does not picture Solomon as a creature of lust. Actually, its condemnation is that Solomon allowed his foreign wives, important people as some of them were, to introduce their alien worship into the environs of Jerusalem. His error in his later years was not lust so much as religious compromise (1 Kings 11:1-8). In his earlier days Solomon was a man of God. His prayer in 1 Kings 8:23-53 breathes pure devotion. The Lord spoke to Solomon by revelation (1 Kings 3:5-14; 6:12-13; 9:3-9). At least two Psalms are attributed to him (Pss 72 and 127 RSV). There is no inherent reason why Solomon may not be called a prophet and be credited with the writing of Scripture.
The bulk of Proverbs is clearly credited to him (Prov 1:1; 10:1; 25:1). The proverbs at the end of the book, notably chs. 30 and 31 may be by another hand, but the references to Agur and King Lemuel are so figurative and poetical that they could actually be alternative names for Solomon himself. In any case, these words are called words of prophecy (Prov 30:1; 31:1; cf. the writer’s discussion of these vv. in WBC in loc.).
There are many arguments against the Solomonic authorship of Proverbs, but they are all general and subjective. Some claim that the book depends on the ancient wisdom lit. of Babylon and Egypt. This may be admitted, but who in Israel would be more apt to know such lit. than Solomon? The format of Solomon’s work may show certain similarity, but in any case the teaching of Proverbs is quite different from that of the surrounding proverbial lit. (see the writer’s discussion in WBC 555-557).
Ecclesiastes has generally been attributed to Solomon. Bentzen’s quite critical Introduction remarks, “The superscription evidently identifies the speaker with Solomon, cf. also 1:12, 16; 2:7, 9.” (A. Bentzen, Introduction to the , II, 188.) Of course, Bentzen does not accept this ascription. As mentioned above, a fragment was found among the DSS dating to about 175-150 b.c. (F. M. Cross, Ancient Library of Qumran , 165). As the MS shows a history of textual tradition back of it, Cross and others suggest a date at least as early as the 3rd cent. There is no need to deny the Solomonic authorship. Bentzen’s argument for a late date is based on the presence of Aram. words and expressions, which prove much less than formerly, since alleged Aramaisms are frequent in Ugaritic lit. of 1400 b.c. The dialect of the Heb. also is said to be late, which is not easily proved. It is not particularly like the Heb. of the Dead Sea lit. The language has unusual dialectal peculiarities, but since there is little extra Biblical lit. from 930 to 250 b.c. to compare it with, it is unsafe to date the book by its style and language. The material in the book has been likened to Greek scepticism as well as to Egyptian and Babylonian philosophy. Since there is disagreement about interpretation of the book, such parallels of thought are also uncertain. The conclusion is that there is no positive argument against the Solomonic authorship. The Heb. style is not like Proverbs, but the subject matter and literary format also differ and authors often use different style for different books.
The same can be said of the Song of Solomon. The author appears to be Solomon although the claim is not quite as sure as in the case of Ecclesiastes. The language includes foreign words which even Driver thought were suitable enough for Solomon’s cosmopolitan day. There is no sufficient reason to depart from the traditional authorship (E. J. Young, Introduction to the OT , 323, and others).
There are other books of which the authorship by a prophet cannot be proved: Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Lamentations may fairly be ascribed to Jeremiah, with E. J. Young, op. cit. 335-366, Ross Price in WBC and others). Apparently Ezra wrote his book and Chronicles and his companion Nehemiah wrote the book that bears his name. Nowhere in early sources are these men called prophets, though Ezra is so called in later lit. The authorship and date of Job is disputed, though the Dead Sea finds include a copy of 200 b.c. Esther is missing in the DSS, though Josephus knew the book well and the feast of Purim was familiar to the author of 2 Maccabees (2 Macc 15:36). Jewish tradition assigns Esther to the time of Ezra. It is no problem to place Job as early as 400 b.c. (the writer would place it much earlier).
All these books of uncertain origin may be placed within the period when well-known prophets were active. Unknown prophets also may have been present. Nehemiah tells of false prophets with whom he had to contend (Neh 6:7, 14). Nowhere in the OT is David himself specifically called a prophet, but he clearly was, which the NT makes plain (Acts 2:30). There is no definite evidence against the prophetic authorship of these books, but something in their favor. It will be shown that they were classed among the prophets by Christ and the apostles.
Reception of the OT books.
Why were the OT books received by the Jews of their day? One view has already been suggested: they were written by men whom their own contemporaries recognized to be prophets of God. The believers in Israel accepted the words of the prophets and naturally treasured their writings. This view as developed above adequately explains most of the OT books, though there are several for which information is incomplete. There is no proof that any of these books were not written by prophets, except for the theories of destructive criticism which would reduce all of the OT to a naturalistic compilation. This view must be studied in the various OT Introductions and esp. conservative works on the Pentateuch (see G. Archer, SOTI).
An alternative view which will be further considered below is that the OT was written by three classes of men. First, Moses was the lawgiver to whom God spoke “mouth to mouth” (Num 12:8). Other books, namely Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets were written by prophets and therefore received. Still other books, called “Writings” in the Heb. Bible were written by men who were inspired of God but did not have the office of a prophet. This view is propounded by W. H. Green (General Introduction to the OT, the Canon , 81) and followed by many others.
There is another view which really complements either of the positions taken above, for inspired writings bear upon their face the marks of divinity. All of the OT, prophetical or not, was regarded as inspired because of the testimony of the
The collection of the books.
The natural twofold division.
On the theory of canonization that the books were received because written by prophets, the collection of the books was a simple task. As books were written they were added to the collection. Moses’ writing was doubtless divided originally into the five books of the Pentateuch. The division is partly due to subject matter, for all the breaks are logical, but the division was prob. dictated by necessity because the writing was presumably done on papyrus scrolls and the books would make five scrolls of convenient length. For instance, the DSS of Isaiah with sixty-six chs., was twenty-four ft. long. Succeeding books as written would have been placed on individual scrolls, or joined as may have been convenient, and the growing Bible would have been a collection of scrolls.
This is actually the situation as it is found in the Qumran Community of the 1st cent. b.c. The men had hundreds of scrolls of the OT books, fragments of which remain. It is evident that their sacred writings consisted of a collection of individual scrolls. Of course, the twelve minor prophets were, for convenience’ sake, written on one scroll which evidently had been the practice since before 180 b.c., the time of Ecclesiasticus (Ecclus 49:10). This is also the situation as reflected in the copies of the LXX and in the early listings of this era. Copies of the LXX come from later times—the earliest complete ones from about a.d. 325. Robert Dick Wilson gives sixty early lists or MSS of the OT and declares “no two present exactly the same order for the books comprising the OT Canon” (Studies in the , Second Series , 38). This is the situation one should expect if the order of the books was unimportant and variable from the start. After about a.d. 100 books began to be bound in the codex form instead of scrolls, the order would tend to become more stereotyped, but since even the codices were copied by hand there was still some variation. The Jews still maintained the scroll form for many of their copies.
In process of time, however, there was a tendency to group together certain books. It is difficult to trace this collecting process, for the information is scanty. The tendency—and danger—has been to assume that the later format and collections were the same as the original. Some variations over the centuries can be proved.
The OT itself gives no indication of divisions, except that the law of Moses is repeatedly set apart. The “former prophets” of Zechariah 1:4 prob. refer to earlier prophets rather than to a grouping of the canon. At least the grouping called “former prophets” in Heb. Bibles consists of history books (Joshua-2 Kings) and hardly fits Zechariah’s description. Daniel 9:2 speaks of “the books,” as if there were a well-known collection which included Jeremiah. He also speaks of the law of Moses (9:11, 13) but is no more specific than that.
The collection of the Psalms into one book is also obscure. A common critical view is that the various titles refer not to authors, but to various collections of alleged authorship. There is little to commend this view, though it has been carried to extremes by some (C.A. Briggs, “Psalms,” ICC). A different type of collection of the Psalms into groups is the five books of Psalms, the end of each book being marked by a doxology (Pss 41:13; 72:18-20; 89:52; 106:48). These doxologies are already present in the LXX which argues that the present fivefold division is early. One of these doxologies is in the portion of the Psalter quoted in 1 Chronicles 16:36 (Ps 106:48), which would argue that the Psalms were thus gathered into five books prob. for liturgical use by the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The new DSS of the Psalms does not invalidate this conclusion. In the view of some, the Psalm scroll (11 Q Psa) is a liturgical hymn book based on the standard canonical Psalter (P. W. Skehan, “Biblical Scrolls from Qumran and the Text of the OT,” BA XXVIII , No. 3, p. 100). In short, the LXX is good evidence that the Psalm collection antedated 200 b.c., and the reference in Chronicles supports the idea that the Psalter was collected by Nehemiah’s day. As to early subordinate collections aside from the Pentateuch, the twelve minor prophets, and the canonical Psalms one has no knowledge before the 2nd cent. b.c.
During the 2nd cent. b.c., however, there is some important evidence both from apocryphal books and Qumran.
The Qumran Manual of Discipline at the very beginning refers to the commandments of God “through Moses and through all his servants the prophets” (1QS, Col 1, 3). Several times in this work the Law of Moses is mentioned. Again in Col. viii, 15, 16 there is a reference to “the Law which God commanded through Moses” and “what the prophets also have revealed through God’s holy Spirit” (conveniently given in T. H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures , pp. 46 and 64f.). These passages do not indicate the extent of the “prophets.” No other term is used for the sacred writings, and the community at Qumran clearly possessed and used practically all the OT (only Esther has not been identified).
Another popular writing at Qumran was the Damascus Document (CD) also called the
The Zadokite Document refers a score of times to the Book of the Law, or the Law of Moses, or what Moses commanded. It also refers to the sacred writings as a twofold corpus. Commenting on Amos 5:26, it remarks: “The Books of the Law are the Tabernacle of the King...and the Chiun of the images, they are the books of the prophets” (Col. vii, 15-17, Rabin, The Zadokite Documents , 28-30). The Zadokite Documents also do not give a listing of the books of the prophets, but their use of Scripture is quite extensive. According to Rabin’s index (op. cit. pp. 78-80) all but six OT books are utilized. There are many explicit quotations with expressions such as: “Isaiah said,” “as God said” (quoting Mal), “It is written” (quoting Deut, Num, Lev, and Prov and others). There are allusions to Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, Ezra and Chronicles. The six books omitted are Joshua, Ruth, Lamentations, Joel, Jonah, Haggai. Malachi, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles are perhaps questionable. The omission of Joel, Jonah, Haggai, and Malachi is surely accidental, because other books of the scroll of the twelve minor prophets are quoted by name. In brief, the Zadokite Document recognizes a sacred corpus which in most cases can be shown to include the OT books, and which is referred to as the Law and the Prophets.
Other Qumran information is in accord with this view. The Psalms were clearly regarded as inspired, for there are commentaries written upon them. Joshua and Samuel are quoted among Messianic Testimonies (cf. Gaster, op. cit. 337). The Qumran Thanksgiving Psalms are said to be “mosaics of Biblical quotation” (ibid., op. cit. p. 124) with passages utilized from many OT books. It should be added that apocryphal lit. was also known at Qumran and significant portions of such books have been recovered. The
The apocryphal books also add something to our knowledge. 2 Maccabees 15:9 records that Judas Maccabeus comforted his soldiers “from the law and the prophets.” It is obvious that the phrase refers to the law of Moses which is mentioned also in 7:30. The content of the section called “prophets” is nowhere recorded. However, 2 Maccabees 2:13, 14 relates that Nehemiah “founded a library and collected the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings. In the same way Judas also collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war which had come upon us, and they are in our possession. So if you have need of them, send people to get them for you.” The Syr. VS begins, “that Nehemiah...assembled and arranged in order the books of the kingdoms and of the prophets and of David and the letters of the kings which concern offerings and sacrifices” (quoted in R. D. Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel, Second Series , 15). By the days of 2 Maccabees all the OT books were written. Even the feast of Purim mentioned in Esther is referred to in 2 Maccabees 15:36. The description of Nehemiah’s library or collection (Bibliothēkē) looks much like the histories of Samuel-Chronicles, the prophets, the Psalms and the letters of the Pers. kings found in Ezra. These writings collected by Nehemiah are paralleled with the Scriptures, regathered by Judas, which are mentioned as continuing into the days of the author of the book, prob. after 120 b.c. (cf. B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha , 141). In view of the contemporary Qumran evidence, the books thus referred to must surely be our OT. The author of 2 Maccabees at least calls the entire sacred corpus “the law and the prophets.”
The same situation applies to the NT. A dozen times the phrase “Moses and the Prophets,” or similar terminology, is used by Christ and the apostles to refer to the sacred lit. of the OT (Luke 16:16, 29; Acts 26:22; 28:23; etc.). The content of the law of Moses is plain. The content of the section called “prophets” must be gathered by inference. It can be established from current usage or from other NT information.
The NT does not leave one in much doubt that the “Prophets” includes all the rest of the OT books. The table of Quotations and allusions in Nestle’s Gr. NT includes all the OT books except Ruth, Ezra, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, which are all small books. They were well known and were accepted by Jews before Christ. It seems clear that they are not referred to merely for lack of occasion. Actually, Nestle’s table errs on the generous side. Some of the other books are also possibly not clearly mentioned. Metzger says, “Nowhere in the NT is there a direct quotation from the canonical books of Joshua, Judges, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Obadiah, Zephaniah and Nahum; and NT allusions to them are few in number” (B. M. Metzger, op. cit., 171). The difference between these two listings is not great. Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum are short minor prophets. That Joshua, Judges, and Chronicles were fully accepted by the Jews of Jesus’ day is unquestionable. Lack of reference to these OT books proves nothing inasmuch as one has reference to them both before and after NT times. The word “prophets” in the NT terminology clearly covers most of the OT books after the Pentateuch and should be considered to cover them all.
This conclusion becomes positive in the 1st cent. after the apostles. Melito, Bishop of Sardis, about a.d. 170 tells that he had gone “to the East and come to the place where these things were proclaimed and done,” in order to get answers to his friend Onesimus “that thou mightest have extracts from the Law and the Prophets.” In this case one is not left to inference concerning which books were intended. Melito gives in this extract the first list of OT books. He says: “These are their names. Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Jesus Name, Judges, Ruth; four of Kings, two of Chronicles; (the book of) Psalms of David; of Solomon, Proverbs also called Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, ; Job; of prophets (the books) of Isaiah, Jeremiah, (the book) of the Twelve (prophets) in a single roll, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras.” (Eusebius Church History iv, 26. 13, 14 quoted in H. J. Lawlor and J. E. L. Oulton, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History and Martyrs of Palestine , II, 133.) It should be remarked that this list agrees exactly with the OT, except that Esther is not explicitly mentioned. Lamentations is evidently included in Jeremiah. Esdras is Ezra and Nehemiah combined. It is possible to think that Esdras also includes Esther, but it is possible that Esther is omitted as it was in some other lists yet to be discussed. Notice also that the order of Melito, although he obtained his listing in Pal. is rather similar to the order of books in the LXX. There are no non-canonical books included. For Melito at a.d. 170 the law of Moses included five books, the Prophets included all the rest of the OT canon.
The threefold canon of the Hebrew Bible.
There is another system of dividing the OT books, however, and this division is threefold. The present Heb. Bible is divided into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Talmud also shows this threefold division, as does Jerome about a.d. 400. Earlier authors with a threefold division are Josephus, Philo, the NT (Luke 24:44), and the prologue to Ecclesiasticus at 132 b.c.
Critical students assume that the threefold division of the Heb. Bible was original. The view of W. H. Green, referred to above, also assumes this, but draws different conclusions. What was the relation of the threefold division to the twofold division?
To begin with, it must be emphasized that there is no evidence before a.d. 400 for the threefold division as given in the Heb. Bible. This division places five books in the Law, eight books in the Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. The remaining eleven books are called Writings: Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. These three divisions are given in the Talmud listing of Baba Bathra (14b-15a). The writing down of the Talmud would have been about a.d. 400-500, although the MSS of it are much later. This section in Baba Bathra is called a Baraitha, i.e., a tradition from the time of the Mishna (a.d. 200) although not included in that codification. The value of this oral tradition for the opinion of early times may be questioned.
The witness of Jerome (Prologus Galeatus) agrees with the Talmud except that he joins Ruth to Judges and Lamentations to Jeremiah, leaving five books of Moses, eight books of Prophets, and nine books of Writings. His order within the divisions is also slightly different.
The next earliest author giving a threefold division is Josephus of about a.d. 90. Josephus was a learned Jew who first fought against the Romans, then attempted to act as a go-between. As a token of friendship, Titus gave Josephus the sacred scrolls of the Temple after its destruction in a.d. 70, as he tells in his autobiography. That Josephus is an accurate historian has been remarkably confirmed by the excavations at Masada under Y. Yadin (Yigael Yadin, Masada , pp. 15, 16).
It is therefore of considerable consequence that Josephus tells that, “five belong to Moses...the prophets who were after Moses wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life” (Against Apion 1 8). This listing differs decidedly from the five, eight, and thirteen of the later Talmud.
Almost all authors neglect or brush aside the witness of Josephus. Bentzen mentions Josephus’ date but totally neglects its consequences (op. cit. I, 23-26). Driver says, “Josephus disregards the more historical tripartite division of the OT accepted in Palestine, and follows both the arrangement and computation current in Alexandria” (ILOT xxxi, n.) The only thing this statement of Driver lacks is evidence. Green says, “Josephus classifies the books for a purpose of his own without designing to give the arrangement in the canon,” but he does not explain further why Josephus’ order is not to be considered the order in his canon (op. cit. 83). It is much more logical to believe that Josephus held an early order of the books in the canon, and that the Talmud and Jerome reflect a later order.
The witness from Philo (a.d. 40) seems to support Josephus. Philo (in De Vita Contempletiva) speaks of “the laws, and the oracles uttered by the prophets, and the hymns and other books by which knowledge and piety are augmented and perfected.” The terminology of Philo’s three divisions is like that of Josephus and suggests that Josephus’ division was the common one of the 1st cent. a.d.
The next previous testimony on the subject is Christ’s reference in Luke 24:44 to the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms. Bentzen writes that in NT times the canon of the Writings “has not been formally fixed. Luke 24:44 has it represented by the Psalms only” (op. cit. 28). This is a curious remark. The vv. in Luke give no hint that the third division included the Psalms only. It is just as reasonable to consider it as including the Psalms principally which would fit the witness of Josephus and Philo perfectly.
Much is sometimes made of the v. in Matthew (23:35) which speaks of the martyrs between Abel and Zechariah, the son of Barachiah. This refers to Zechariah the son of Jehoiada (2 Chron 24:20). The conclusion is drawn that 2 Chronicles was at that time the last book in the Writings, as it is in Heb. Bibles today. Jesus thus referred to the whole OT from Genesis to 2 Chronicles, but this is debatable. The name of the father of this Zechariah is different. Zechariah is a common name, and Jesus may well have been referring to a Zechariah of recent times and meant to include in His comparison all history from Abel to His own day. No conclusion can fairly be based on this passage.
The next witness back in time is the prologue of Ecclesiasticus of 132 b.c. It refers three times to the sacred writings using these terms: “through the law and the prophets and the others that followed them,” “the law and the prophets and the other books of our fathers,” “the law itself and the prophecies, and the rest of the books.” It has been argued that the slight variation in the name of the third division shows that “Outside Law and Prophets other writings were extant which were regarded as holy, and were read for purposes of edification, but for which clearly no special class name had at that time yet been coined” (C. Cornill, Introduction to the Canonical Books of the OT, trans. by G. H. Box , 477). Such a conclusion was desired by those who thought that the books of the third division were not all written by 132 b.c. and that as a group they were canonized later. Evidence for such a view from Ecclesiasticus is slim indeed.
One may notice that the second division is called both “prophets” and “prophecies.” The variant form of the name of the third division is partly due to a different context of the three references. The first instance is speaking about the witness of men (“the prophets and the others”). The second instance speaks of books the grandfathers had studied (law, prophets and other books). The last instance is like the second (“Law...prophecies, and the rest of the books). It is indeed true that the name of the third division was not fixed. Jesus uses a different name in Luke 24:44. Josephus and Philo use still a third designation. Not until the Talmud is the modern name “Writings” used.
One may go further. There was clearly some uncertainty as to which books went into the second division, and which went into the third division. Josephus and several others, including Jerome, count a total of twenty-two books, a system which includes Ruth and Lamentations among the prophetical books. 2 Esdras 14:44-46, Tertullian and several others count twenty-four books, as does the Talmud, which means that Ruth and Lamentations have been moved to the Writings. In view of this provable switch of books, it seems logical to suppose that Josephus’ listing which puts only Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon among the Writings was the earlier one from which the Talmud listing later grew.
Why the Talmud may have shifted books is not entirely clear. The present Talmud division, however, is rather clearly influenced by the liturgy of the synagogue. The books of Law and of Prophets were the books from which the weekly synagogue readings were taken. The books of the Writings were used otherwise. The five small scrolls: Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, are read at the five Jewish annual feast days. The Psalms are naturally in a class by themselves, liturgically. Chronicles would easily be displaced from the Prophets as it overlaps Samuel-Kings too much to be used in synagogue reading. It seems that the later Heb. classification can well be explained as a liturgical development, though proof is not complete (this liturgical theory is ably advocated by A. A. MacRae in unpublished class notes).
If the threefold division were early and original, it seems difficult to explain the LXX order of books which is generally similar to the English Bibles and which would fit the twofold division, but by no means the later threefold. As mentioned earlier, the order in ancient times could naturally be quite fluid, for the books were written on individual scrolls. It might be expected that a general twofold division was common, but that subdivisions on the basis of subject matter (Josephus) or liturgical use (Talmud) might well arise. The four books that are associated in Josephus’ division are found grouped together in almost every major listing of the LXX MSS and Early Church authors. This would seem to strengthen the idea that Josephus’ listing was not merely an individual idiosyncrasy.
The threefold development view of critics.
For many years critical scholars have built upon the threefold division of the present Heb. Bible and have held that it represents a three stage development. This view was expressed in Cornill (op. cit. pp. 472-480, the Ger. original being written in 1891) and is found with slight modification in Eissfeldt (L. Eissfeldt, The OT, an Introduction , from the 1964 Ger. ed., 565-568).
The claim in brief is that there were three stages of canonization of the OT. First the Pentateuch was canonized about 400 b.c. This date is based upon traditional higher critical theory. The Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch being denied, it is supposedly made up of various documents J, E, D, and P written from about 950 to 450 b.c. There is now considerable variation of opinion concerning the documentary view (see PENTATEUCH, CRITICISM OF). Some feel that the Tetrateuch of Genesis-Numbers is made up of the J, E, and P documents and the work of the Deuteronomist goes from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. In this case it seems remarkable that Deuteronomy alone was joined with Genesis-Numbers in the first unit canonized. In any case Genesis-Deuteronomy had become a unit by about 450 b.c. and was canonized rather promptly after that. Still others feel that the J, E, D, and P documents can not be traced as literary units but that the whole of the Pentateuchal history was passed on in oral form, and was written down after the Exile. It is notable that the Pentateuch and only the Pentateuch was so quickly canonized. It was regarded as sacred by about 400 b.c. for the rather definite evidence from Chronicles-Nehemiah admittedly comes close to this time. The Pentateuch, then, was canonized at 400 b.c.
The Prophets, however, were not canonized until about 200 b.c. By the “Prophets,” all these authors understand the eight books called “Prophets” in the present Heb. Bible, the Talmud, and Jerome, namely the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. These books apparently were not written in this final form in time to get into the canon of the Pentateuch. Presumably all the worthy books written by 400 b.c. were included in the Pentateuchal canon. The Prophets were completed later and therefore accepted later. For instance, Bentzen discusses the growth of the Book of Isaiah and concludes, “We therefore cannot come nearer to an exact date than these two years, between c. 480 and 200 b.c.” (Bentzen, op. cit. II, 115). The Dead Sea Isaiah Scroll is datable to about 150-125 b.c. and has an obvious history of transmission behind it.
That the “Prophets” were canonized by 200 b.c. is clear because of two special landmarks. In Ecclesiasticus (written about 190-180 b.c.), there is a reference to the twelve minor prophets already collected as a unit (Ecclus 49:10). If this collection were complete, surely the rest of the books had also been completed. Secondly, this canon of the “Prophets” did not include Daniel. It is, of course, a cardinal point of criticism that Daniel was written at about 168 b.c. as a tract to bolster morale in the Maccabean struggles. The claim is that if Daniel were written before 200 b.c. it would surely have been among the prophets. If the canon of Prophets had been completed after 168 b.c. it would surely have included Daniel. The only way to explain Daniel’s absence from the Prophets is to place the close of the prophetic canon about 200 b.c., before the writing of Daniel.
It is obvious that this argument is quite invalid for those who hold to the genuineness of Daniel. The threefold development view is possible only for those who hold the critical dating of the books concerned. There is another objection to it, however. Extensive evidence was given above to show that there is no early evidence to limit the canon of the Prophets to the eight books named in the Talmud division. There is the positive evidence of Josephus against this view. The considerable evidence of an early twofold division witnessed from Qumran to Melito brings into question this limitation. According to the twofold division Daniel was among the Prophets whenever it was written. According to the division of Josephus, Daniel (and Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, Ruth, Lamentations and Job) were originally among the Prophets.
It once was more possible than now to hold to a canonization of the eight “Prophets” at 200 b.c. Now, however, it seems difficult to explain how Samuel-Kings got into the canon of the Prophets at 200 b.c., and the similar book of Chronicles which is now dated to about 400 b.c. did not get in. The Psalms are now admitted by many to be early, and Chronicles shows the highest regard for the Psalms and for their authors and for the ancient liturgy in which they were used. Why were not the Psalms included among the Prophets? If the answer be that the Psalms are a different type of lit., then the principle of chronological development of the Canon is already given up. If it be said that books relegated to the Writings are those of anonymous authorship, then why was Judges taken among the Prophets? Altogether, the idea that the eight books called “Prophets” by the Talmud were canonized at 200 b.c. is a long cherished critical opinion which will not stand the light of more recently developed evidence.
The third stage of canonization according to critical thought is the closing of the canon of the Writings at the Synod of Jamnia in a.d. 90. Eissfeldt refers to the “synod held in about a.d. 100 in Jamnia (Jabne), some twelve miles south of Jaffa...now what had come into being as a result of gradual growth was formally declared binding and for this purpose was also undergirded with dogmatic theory” (op. cit., p. 568). Unfortunately, however, there is no information on this Synod of Jamnia. It is true that there was a school of Jewish scholars living there after the fall of Jerusalem. The later Talmud and Mishna give information that scholars discussed the canonicity of certain books under the question whether they “defiled the hands.” The books concerned were Ezekiel, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Esther (see Bentzen, op cit., I, 29-31), though these were not all discussed by Jewish scholars just at the time of Jamnia. Actually the earlier Mishna discusses only Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. It reports a difference about Ecclesiastes reaching back to Hillel and Shammai (of Herodian times) and Jerome quotes his Jewish teachers to say that some still questioned it (Bentzen, op. cit., I, 30). Apparently whatever was done at Jamnia did not originate discussion or settle it. The later Talmudic information discusses the other books, but is tradition to be trusted? Should such questionable discussions reported after centuries of tradition outweigh the testimony of the contemporary Josephus or of Philo who quotes from all the OT books and none others as authoritative, or the NT which certainly quotes from Ezekiel and Proverbs?
The whole matter of the Council of Jamnia has been discussed by Jack P. Lewis (What Do We Mean by Jabneh? JBR XXXII , 125-132). He gives full evidence that there were discussions at Jamnia, but nothing approaching a synod. He shows that only Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon were debated by these scholars. The other books above mentioned and also these two were debated before and after. He gives the evidence of Talmudic tradition, for what it is worth, that Ecclesiastes was cited as Scripture by Simeon ben Shetah (about 104-79 b.c.). He concludes that the matter of the Synod of Jamnia is “one of those things that has come to be true due to frequent repetition of the assertion rather than to it being actually supported by the evidence.”
From all of these considerations, it appears that the idea of a canonization of the OT in the three stages of the Law at 400 b.c., the eight books of the Prophets at 200 b.c. and the eleven books of the Writings at a.d. 90 is largely scholarly invention.
Green’s explanation of the threefold canon.
William Henry Green also faced the facts that the present Heb. Bibles exhibit a threefold Canon and that Daniel, a key book, is in the last division, the Writings. Reacting against the three-stage canonization theory of Ger. criticism, he adopted the view that the three divisions were original, and originated from three types of authorship: “The threefold division of the Hebrew canon rests, not upon the nature of the contents of the several books, but upon the personality of the writers. And here the distinction lies not in the various grades of their inspiration, as was maintained by Maimonides and the rabbins of the
The view offers an explanation for the three divisions which is consistent with a high view of inspiration. However, it appears to be inadequate at several points. As detailed above, it fails to show that the threefold division of the Talmud was the same as the threefold division of early times. It does not prove this, because it can not be proven. There is now more evidence than formerly to show that a very early division of the OT was twofold, and the witness of Josephus is a stubborn fact to show that centuries before the Talmud there was a different threefold division. Why argue that Daniel was not among the prophets when the earliest evidence is that he was classified among the prophets, both by Josephus and Christ Himself?
There are other problems for Green’s theory. Why was Lamentations (by Jeremiah according to Green) placed among the Writings, and the Book of Jeremiah among the Prophets? (except when Lamentations was united with Jeremiah when it was among the prophets). Also how does one know that the author of Judges, who is unknown, had the office of a prophet any more than the author of Job? Is it not clear that David and Daniel, though king and statesmen, were prophets just as truly as Ezekiel who was by office a priest? There is a tendency in the interests of this theory to deny that Moses was a prophet. Hosea 12:13 makes clear that he was so regarded, though he was a prophet par excellence. The theory is a weak defense against the critical threefold development view. Actually both views suffer from the central weakness that they assume the divisions of the present Heb. Bible to be regulative and original.
The view does make one contribution, however. It rightly holds that the authors of the books of the third division had the gift of prophecy. In the Protestant view of Scripture an inspired book is the work of the Spirit of God and is itself a revelation. These men, David, Solomon, Ezra, Daniel and two or three unknown authors were recognized by their contemporaries as filled in a special way with the Spirit of God. They had the gift of prophecy and their contemporaries knew it, although in a few cases the external evidence has not been preserved. These men were prophets, and that is why their work was accepted, treasured, and passed on in the corpus of sacred writing.
Stuart’s alternative to Green’s view.
An alternative to Green’s view has several times been hinted at above. It is the view that the threefold division is variable, not universal and not significant. This view was propounded by Moses Stuart (The OT Canon , 248ff.) and Storr is also cited by Green as holding it. The evidence that the later threefold division was not the same as earlier ones is given with characteristic thoroughness by R. D. Wilson who concludes, “That the order has nothing to do with the canonicity, nor necessarily even with the date of a book” (op. cit., 64). This view has been ably defended also by A. A. MacRae to whom the present writer is indebted for this.
There is a further consequence to the view that there is no essential difference between the prophetic authorship of books of the second and third division of the Heb. canon. It is that the entire OT is the work of inspired men who may fairly be called prophets. This is the argument of L. Gaussen, “All the Scriptures of the OT are Prophetic” (Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, Moody Press [ed. of 1949], pp. 67-72; [ed. of 1850], pp. 355-360). This is not only the principle of the growth of the canon—it grew book by book as the Word of God came to men—but also the principle of the recognition of the canon—the writings of the prophets giving the word of the Lord were accepted by those who had been taught to listen to the prophets on pain of God’s judgment (Deut 18:19).
The witness of Christ and the Early Church.
NT use of the OT.
As is well known the NT is full of quotations from the OT. Some 600 are usually alleged. A standard listing of these is found in Nestle’s Gr. NT, already mentioned. This information may be added to that given above concerning the extent of the OT canon. After discussing the order of the books and principles of their selection it is necessary to consider how and when the twenty-two books of the Heb. canon (the thirty-nine) became definitively separated from other lit. of an apocryphal nature. It has been argued that although the men of Qumran knew and used various apocryphal books, they were not used as authoritative in the same way that the OT books were. This statement is challenged by some and new material may always be expected from Qumran, but in spite of a few questionable references, the statement can be defended.
The question of the apocryphal books and NT quotations.
The LXX manuscript and the Early Church witness.
A further point must be made. The quotations of the OT in the NT are usually from the LXX. The copies of the LXX include the apocryphal books. Therefore, it is concluded that the canon of Christ and the apostles included the apocryphal books. This has given rise to much argument used by the Roman Catholic Church that the NT and the Christian Church followed a larger “Alexandrian canon” while the Jews of Pal., including Josephus, held to a Palestinian canon. The error in the whole argument is that it presumes that the original LXX included all the books that the later copies included. Conservative Protestant scholars have never been enamored of the Alexandrian canon theory (cf. Keil, op. cit., II, 340); it does not fit the facts. Jews like Philo of Alexandria quote from the books of the OT as authoritative (all parts of it), but never from the Apoc. The early Christians of Alexandria held to the Palestinian Canon as truly as did the Jews. The Alexandrian canon is pure theory, and the NT gives it no support. The idea that the apostles held to the LXX canon because they quote the OT in the LXX form is in error. It assumes that the copies of the LXX used by Paul and others included the same books as the copies of the 3rd and 4th centuries a.d. This is an assumption of a piece with the idea that the later threefold Talmud division was identical with the earlier. What must not be forgotten is that in the interval between Paul and the Codex B the LXX format changed from scrolls to a bound book. In the interval there was the development of the Christian liturgy and lit. There was not in Egypt at first the idea that only holy books must be put in the scroll. The early authors say that some books might be read for edification, but may not be used to establish doctrine. Even the scholars of King James bound the apocryphal books with the canonical although their theory of canonicity was well established. The teaching of the Early Church on this matter fortunately may be learned from the express statements of the Early Church “Fathers.”
This testimony begins with Melito, Bishop of Sardis in a.d. 170. His list has been given above. It is the regular Heb. listing except that Esther is missing. If the books he names are counted in the usual Heb. way, his number is twenty-two. He claims that he got his information from Pal. and he recommends this list for his friend in the faith, Onesimus. The Jewish canon is considered regulative for the Christian bishop.
The next witness is Tertullian of Africa about a.d. 200, who counts the OT books as twenty-four equal to the twenty-four elders around the throne of God (quoted by Green, op. cit., p. 164). Tertullian like 2 Esdras evidently counts Ruth and Lamentations separately. itself is a Jewish work of unknown origin, but with Christian interpolation. The reference to the twenty-four holy books and seventy-eight secret books is in 14:44-46.
The next witness is Origen of Egypt (d. c. a.d. 250) who lists the books as twenty-two but actually lists only twenty-one omitting (in our copy) the twelve minor prophets. This is surely an oversight. Otherwise his list agrees with the OT, except that with Jeremiah and Lamentations (one book) he includes the one ch. long Epistle of Jeremy. Origen after all was not perfect. Sundberg (op. cit., 135f.) argues that this is Origen’s report of the Heb. canon, but is not Origen’s own canon. It is highly questionable if the evidence will bear this interpretation. No one has the context of Origen’s listing, but Eusebius did. Eusebius plainly says that Origen’s catalogue—his own catalogue—of the Scriptures is contained in the following quotation. Eusebius (vi, 25, 1 and 2) gives two quotations from Origen both of which stipulate twenty-two books. It is obvious, as Sundberg says, that Origen was careful to use the Heb. canon in arguing with Hebrews. But, it is not obvious that Origen held a different canon for Christian use. It can be admitted that Origen and other Church Fathers occasionally were inconsistent and inexact, and quoted a non-canonical book as Scripture once in a while. It must be remembered that these Church Fathers had no concordance or other aids to memory. They did not have ch. and v. divisions for convenient reference. Their libraries prob. did not contain copies of books they had read. It is remarkable that they quote the Scriptures as accurately and consistently as they do.
In the next cent. there are abundant witnesses, cited by Green (op. cit., pp. 164-175), by Sundberg (op. cit., 59, 60 and 138-159) and by many others. The lists by these authors are given in Sundberg very conveniently and in H. B. Swete (Introduction to the OT in Greek , 201-211). To summarize, Athanasius has the Heb. twenty-two books except that he omits Esther and includes with Jeremiah the Epistle of Jeremy and the five chs. of Baruch. This uncertainty in Jeremiah is reflected in more than one author, and is perhaps due to some differences of text between Jeremiah in the Heb. and LXX, differences that would confuse the men who obtained their information about the Heb. secondhand! Sundberg (op. cit., pp. 138-142) makes a manful attempt to dull the edge of Athanasius’ witness. He notes that Athanasius quotes from non-canonical books with such formulas as “it is written.” He gives seven examples of this and more examples where apocryphal and canonical quotations are intermingled. His conclusion is that Athanasius was “concerned to correlate Septuagint-Christian usage with the list of the Hebrew canon.” He holds that Athanasius evidences a change of practice from a broader use back to the narrower Heb. canon. In view of Origen’s considerably earlier but similar narrow listing and broader usage, it seems difficult to find any transition point in Athanasius. He plainly lists the canonical and non-canonical books, and says that these are his canon as a Christian, and suggests that this is the Heb. canon for it matches the Jewish alphabet of twenty-two letters. Athanasius’ explicit rejection of Esther is a problem (see Esther). One probable reason why there was division of opinion on this book is its apocryphal additions, both in the beginning of the book and elsewhere which are not found in the Heb. Usually the Jews named their books from the first words. Esther, so named in the LXX form would not be known by the Jews. In any case Athanasius rejects by name the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Esther, Judith and Tobit. He does not in his list mention Maccabees. Sundberg interprets his list to include 2 (4) Esdras, which seems to be uncertain. There are four books of antiquity called Esdras and the titles are variously used today. In the great LXX MSS 1, 2 Esdras mean the books Ezra and Nehemiah. In some cases 1, 2 Esdras may mean the apocryphal 1 Esdras and the united books of Ezra-Nehemiah. Such a listing would mean nothing, except for one spurious ch., for 1 Esdras is a copy (a poor but valuable copy) of the last two chs. of 2 Chronicles, the and a ch. of Nehemiah. introduces practically nothing non-canonical into the lists. The other book, 4 Esdras, is quite different. It appears in no LXX MS, and is full of post-Christian additions. It is questionable if anybody includes this in his listing. Sundberg claims that Epiphanius counted 4 Esdras, but it is doubtful.
a.d. 347 has left a list of books almost identical with Athanasius, except that he includes Esther after 1-2 Esdras. Cyril became bishop of Jerusalem after 350; was a champion of orthodoxy who knew Athanasius well. There is no reason to suppose that Cyril was merely offering the canon of the Jews for information. His list occurs in his Catecheses, a theological work to prepare catechumens for baptism. Interestingly, Cyril believed the LXX trs. were inspired, but he does not use the canon of the LXX copies of his own day which are still extant. He evidently thought the apocryphal books were later additions to the LXX.
Epiphanius (lived about 320-403) has left three listings in various writings. In one he includes the same books, as does Cyril. In the other two he has the same books but does not give details as to which are included under Jeremiah. Epiphanius was one of the few authors of the time who knew Heb.
Other great theologians of the 4th cent. must be dealt with briefly.
Two important men close the witness of the earlier centuries—Jerome and Augustine.
Jerome writing about a.d. 400 has left two lists of OT books. Both agree with the Protestant OT canon, though the order varies and the two lists differ in order. He lists the books of the OT in his Prologus Galeatus (written in 388) and numbers them twenty-two according to the letters of the Heb. alphabet. Others he says are among the Apoc. and names Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Tobit, the post-Christian Shepherd of Hermes (or as some think 4 Esdras), and the . It has always been regarded as curious that the man who tr. the Vul. Bible used by Roman Catholics with its Apoc. is a most explicit witness against the Apoc. In several other places Jerome makes his views explicit.
In Jerome’s case, Sundberg fails to argue that he was merely expressing the Jewish view of the canon. He could not argue thus, for Jerome is too explicit. There were indeed others who differed with Jerome, as for instance Rufinus, who became quite bitter. To argue that Rufinus expresses the canon of the W (Sundberg, op. cit., 153) and that Jerome had been led into error by his Heb. studies is an unusual and odd position. Jerome stands at the end of a long chain of authors who hold the narrower canon. Rufinus stands at the beginning of the medieval views which issued in the council of Trent. Jerome also, as Bleek points out (quoted in Keil, op. cit., 363) several times quotes from apocryphal books as many others previously had done. This may have been done through carelessness, faulty memory, accommodation, or what not; but Jerome’s principles are crystal clear in his repeated and explicit testimonies.
Augustine alone of ancient authors, and the councils of Africa which he dominated, present a different picture. Augustine specifically accepted the apocryphal books and gives the total number as forty-four. He is the only ancient author who gives a number different from the twenty-two or twenty-four book reckoning. The list includes Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras (the book composed of part of 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah), Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus. The local councils of Carthage and Hippo, dominated by Augustine, included the same books. This listing prob. agreed with the ideas of Pope Damasus who dominated the local council of Rome at 382. It will be remembered that it was Damasus who urged Jerome to tr. also the apocryphal books for his Vulgate. Jerome did so with the explicit declaration that they were not canonical.
Green (op. cit., 168-174) discusses the witness of Augustine and points out that Augustine seems to vacillate. Green quotes Augustine: “What is written in the book of Judith the Jews are truly said not to have received into the canon of Scripture” (Augustine, City of God xviii, 26). “After Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra, they had no prophets until the advent of the Savior” (id. xvii, last ch.). He was well aware that Maccabees were after the cessation of prophecy. Green concludes that Augustine was using “canonical” in the sense of books which may be read in the churches, without putting them all on an equal plane. Augustine does say of such books, “They are not found in the canon which the people of God received because it is one thing to be able to write as men with the diligence of historians and another as prophet, with divine inspiration; the former pertained to the increase of knowledge, the latter to authority in religion, in which authority the canon is kept” (Augustine, op. cit. xviii, 38). Note that Augustine distinguishes his canon from that formerly held by the people of God. Green perhaps goes too far in saying that Augustine did not hold the Apoc. canonical. But, there is evidence in Augustine for the distinction between the strictly canonical and deutero-canonical books. The latter were useful for reading, the former only were a suitable basis for doctrine. This double canon was held through later centuries until the Council of Trent obliterated the distinction. It prob. arises from, or at least is the explanation of the fact that the LXX copies contained these other books for edification which were not held as authoritative for the first three centuries of Christendom.
Sundberg’s explanation of the apocryphal additions.
Protestant theologians have long believed that the inclusion of the seven apocryphal books of the canon is opposed to the witness of the Early Church and the NT itself. It arose through the errors of medieval Catholicism. Others have argued that the Apoc. were properly included in the OT inasmuch as they were included in the so-called Alexandrian canon. It is admitted that the Palestinian Jewish sources include only the twenty-two books, but the LXX copies are held to testify to a wider canon, common among early Jews at Alexandria. Sundberg (op. cit., 18-24) traces the origin of the Alexandrian hypothesis to Grabe and the rationalist Semler (1725-1791). Schmid of Wittenberg (1775) answered Semler, and Schmid’s views have since been standard in the Protestant theology of Addison Alexander of Princeton, Moses Stuart of Andover, S. R. L. Gaussen of Geneva, and others.
Sundberg argues ably against the Alexandrian hypothesis, but adopts a new and interesting position to explain why the Christian canon was broader than the Jewish. He finds the answer in one of the accidents of history.
To begin with, Sundberg assumes as a fact the threefold development view of the OT canon as outlined above, that the Pentateuch was canonized in 400 b.c., the Prophets in 200 b.c. and the Writings not until the Council of Jamnia in a.d. 90. He points out that the Christian Church began as a Jewish sect in the mid-1st cent. and progressively broke away from the Jewish mainstream. This break was rather final, all would admit, at a.d. 70 when the Jews at Jerusalem resisted the Romans to the bitter end, but the Christians fled across the Jordan to Pella in view of the prediction in Luke 21. Sundberg emphasizes that the Christians separated from the Jews a little while before the Council of Jamnia. He argues, therefore, that Jews and early Christians at a.d. 50 were agreed in their canon of the Law and the Prophets, but they had in addition an ill-defined assortment of books struggling for recognition. Sundberg assumes that the category of “Prophets” a.d. 50 was the same eight books denominated “Prophets” by the Talmud hundreds of years later. Therefore, he says, after the two movements diverged the history of the canonization of their books also differed. The Jews at the Council of Jamnia settled the number of their additional books and ended with a canon of five books of Law, eight of Prophets, and eleven of Writings. The Christians for many years had an open-ended canon of the earlier accepted thirteen books of Law and Prophets, but the Writings were not defined until Augustine’s era. By that time the Church came to considerable unanimity in the matter and accepted a broader canon, including the seven extra apocryphal books and certain additions to others. Some Church Fathers, however, like Jerome, were aware of the canon held by their Jewish contemporaries who represented post-Jamnia Judaism. These men, unaware of the fact that Jamnia succeeded Jesus, argued for the Jamnia canon as if it had been held by Christ and the apostles. The men of the Reformation re-discovered Jerome and have followed him in his error. Sundberg would say that actually when Christ referred to the “law and the prophets” he did not mean the whole OT, but only the five books of law and eight books of Prophets in the Heb. canon. The other books like Proverbs, Job and Maccabees were only semi-recognized in Jesus’ day.
Refutation of Sundberg’s view.
The view of Sundberg has been treated elsewhere by the writer (“Was the Law and the Prophets Two-Thirds of the OT Canon?” BETS IX , 163-171). It stands condemned by the facts concerning canonicity detailed above.
First, the early Christian Church did not accept the apocryphal books. Scholar after scholar gives the number or listing of the OT books which are the books of the Jewish canon. Sundberg attempts to show that these scholars were only giving the Jewish view, not their own. It is strange, if this is so, that their own views are never given. Augustine is the first Church Father to mention the number forty-four books or to list the enlarged canon. Sundberg tries to prove a wider Christian canon by referring to quotations, but he is making the quotations bear much too heavy a load. Inconsistencies there were, and errors too, but the principles of the Early Church Fathers are clear. The most ambitious scholarly production of the Early Church was Origen’s Hexapla. It had the Heb. and various Gr. texts written in six parallel columns through the whole OT, but it restricted itself to the narrower Heb. canon.
Second, Sundberg, like so many others before him, assumes that the threefold division of the Talmud was identical with the earlier threefold division of the 1st cent. He recognizes Josephus’ division as exactly paralleling the Jamnia canon, but holds, against H. J. Thackeray, that “Josephus’ order remains peculiar to him” (op. cit., 70 n; 134 n). Sundberg’s thesis depends on the idea that there was no fixed total canon before a.d. 90. It should be remembered that Josephus writing at a.d. 90 was no friend of Jamnia. He had broken with patriotic Jewry and gone over to the Romans in a.d. 70 exactly the same time the Christians did. Moreover, Josephus’ testimony speaks of no recent scholastic decision. He says, “during so many ages as have already passed, no one hath been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them: but it is become natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and if occasion be, willingly to die for them” (Against Apion 1:8). If this were written in a.d. 90 by Josephus, the Jewish canon was settled well before the Christians parted company from the Jews.
Third, Sundberg’s case involves the idea of a decision at Jamnia by a body of scholars approaching a council and determining the bounds of the third division of the canon. As Jack Lewis has shown (see above) this assumption far outruns the evidence.
Last, Sundberg’s whole thesis depends upon the views of destructive criticism that the books of the OT are not what they claim to be, and that Israel’s history and religion must be rewritten in terms opposed to the self testimony of practically every book of the OT. Such a negative view of the basic veracity of the OT would seem to destroy not only its total worth but also to carry down with it the authority and veracity of Christ, who with His apostles refers so frequently to the OT history and faith as true and divine.
The principles of the formation of the canon.
In brief summation it can be said that the view of the OT itself and of the NT, as well, is that God’s organs of revelation to Israel were the prophets. Hebrews 1:1 has been quoted: “God spoke...by the prophets.” 2 Peter 1:19-21 reads, “We have the prophetic word made more sure.” Christ submitted to death “that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matt 26:56). Jesus after His resurrection chided the disciples with being too slow of heart, “to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25) and He proceeded to explain to them “all the scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the prophets” (v. 27). The OT is, without distinction, called the work of prophets, which is proper. Prophets were God’s chosen organs of revelation. Even those of whom there are no open visions recorded, wrote their books under the inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16), and this was the gift of God to prophets (Mark 12:36). There are no details of authorship for a few books of the OT. Those whose authorship is given are in most every case clearly written by prophets. The others are not easily classifiable under any other rubric than that of prophet also. The law of Moses and the prophets covers them all.
Testimony of the Holy Spirit.
Much emphasis has been laid in the preceding study on the evidence for and claims of the OT. Other authors would emphasize rather the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. Calvin put it, “Profane men...wish and expect it to be proved by rational arguments, that Moses and the prophets spake by divine inspiration. But, I reply that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to all reason. For, as God alone is a sufficient witness of Himself in His own Word, so also the Word will never gain credit in the hearts of men till it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” (Institutes i, 7. 4). E. J. Young speaks with care on the subject, “This doctrine is one which has been much abused and indeed it is a very mysterious doctrine. It does not mean that this inward testimony can be used as a criterion to determine the canonicity of a certain verse or chapter or even book. It does mean, however, that the believer possesses a conviction that the Scriptures are God’s Word” (Introduction to the OT , 38).
The doctrine is not opposed to the others mentioned, but confirmatory. The whole process of preservation of the ancient texts through so many years, so much faithlessness and such bitter persecution was overseen by God’s providence. It is an interesting speculation whether any OT texts have really perished. It may be, though there is no evidence. It is certain that hundreds of spoken sermons of Christ have perished because they were never recorded; yet they were inspired. In any case, the providence and care of God’s Spirit have given a canon that is sufficient, to which nothing will be added. Many other things were done which could have been recorded (John 20:30). God has preserved enough for all to treasure and obey.
Validation by Christ.
Questions of OT canonicity have a more obvious answer, perhaps, than do questions of the NT, for the latter was written after Christ’s ascension. For its writing Christ promised His Spirit in advance. For the OT He repeatedly and in detail approved of a sacred corpus which had been written and whose limits can with extreme confidence be described as the thirty-nine books of the Eng. OT. For the believer, his authority is sufficient who said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
M. Stuart, Critical History and Defense of the OT Canon (1849); K. F. Keil, Manual of Historico-Critical Introduction to the Canonical Scriptures of the OT (1884) 2 vols.; S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the OT (1891, first of many editions); F. Buhl, Canon and Text of the OT (1892); W. Green, General Introduction to the OT, the Canon (1899); H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the OT in Greek (1902); R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (1913), 2 vols.; S. Zeitlin, An Historical Study of the Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures (1933); R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the OT (1948); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the OT (1949); M. F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the OT (1951); A. Bentzen, Introduction to the OT (, 2 Vols in 1); R. L. Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (1957); B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957); F. M. Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran (1961); A. C. Sundberg, Jr., The OT of the Early Church (1964); O. Eissfeldt, The OT, an Introduction (1965, trans. from 3rd German ed., 1964); R. L. Harris, “Was the Law and the Prophets Two Thirds of the Canon?” ETSB IX (1966), 163-171.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. The Christian Term "Canon"
2. The Corresponding Hebrew Expression
3. The "Hidden Books" of the Jews
4. The Determining Principle in the Formation of the Canon
5. The Tripartite Division of the
6. How Account for the Tripartite Division?
II. EXAMINATION OF THE WITNESSES
1. The Old Testament’s Witness to Itself (circa 1450-444 BC)
2.(circa 432 BC)
3. The Septuagint Version (circa 250-150 BC)
4. Ecclesiasticus, or theben Sirach (circa 170 BC)
5. The Prologue to Ecclesiasticus (circa 132 BC)
6. 1 and 2 Maccabees (between 125 and 70 BC)
7. Philo (circa 20 BC-50 AD)
8. Theas a Witness (circa 50-100 AD)
9. 4 Esdras (circa 81-96 AD)
10. Josephus’ "Contra Apionem" (circa 100 AD)
11. The Councils of Jamnia (90 and 118 AD)
12. The Talmud (200-500 AD)
13. Jewish Doubts in the 2nd Century AD
14. Summary and Conclusion
III. THE CANON IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
1. In the Eastern or Oriental Church
2. In the Western Church
The problem of how we came by 39 books known as Old Testament "Scripture" is a purely historical investigation. The question involved is, not who wrote the several books, but who made them into a collection, not their origin or contents, but their history; not God’s part, but man’s. Our present aim, accordingly, must be to trace the process by which the various writings became "Scripture."
1. The Christian Term "Canon":
The word "canon" is of Christian origin, from the Greek word kanon, which in turn is probably borrowed from the Hebrew word, qaneh, meaning a reed or measuring rod, hence, norm or rule. Later it came to mean a rule of faith, and eventually a catalogue or list. In present usage it signifies a collection of religious writings Divinely inspired and hence, authoritative, normative, sacred and binding. The term occurs in Ga 6:16; 2Co 10:13-16; but it is first employed of the books of Scripture in the technical sense of a standard collection or body of sacred writings, by the church Fathers of the 4th century; e. g. in the 59th canon of the Council of Laodicea (363 AD); in the Festal Epistle of Athanasius (365 AD); and by Amphilochius, archbishop of Iconium (395 AD).
2. The Corresponding Hebrew Expression:
How the ancient Hebrews expressed the conception of canonicity is not known; but it is safe to say that the idea, as an idea, existed long before there was any special phrase invented to express it. In the New Testament the word "Scriptures" conveys unquestionably the notion of sacredness (Mt 21:42; Joh 5:39; Ac 18:24). From the 1st century AD and following, however, according to the Talmud, the Jews employed the phrase "defile the hands." Writings which were suitable to be read in the synagogue were designated as books which "defile the hands." What this very peculiar oriental expression may have originally signified no one definitely knows. Probably Le 16:24 gives a hint of the true interpretation. According to this passage the high priest on the great washed not only when he put on the holy garments of his office, but also when he put them off. Quite possibly, therefore, the expression "defile the hands" signified that the hands which had touched the sacred writings must first be washed before touching aught else. The idea expressed, accordingly, was one akin to that of taboo. That is to say, just as certain garments worn by worshippers in encircling the sacred Kaaba at Mecca are taboo to the Mohammedans of today, i.e. cannot be worn outside the mosque, but must be left at the door as the worshippers quit the sanctuary, so the Hebrew writings which were fit to be read in the synagogue rendered the hands of those who touched them taboo, defiling their hands, as they were wont to say, so that they must first be washed before engaging in any secular business. This seems to be the best explanation of this enigmatical phrase. Various other and somewhat fanciful explanations of it, however, have been given: for example, to prevent profane uses of worn-out synagogue rolls (Buhl); or to prevent placing consecrated grain alongside of the sacred rolls in the synagogues that it might become holy, as the grain would attract the mice and the mice would gnaw the rolls (Strack, Wildeboer and others); or to prevent the sacred, worn-out parchments from being used as coverings for animals (Graetz); or to "declare the hands to be unclean unless previously washed" (Furst, Green). But no one of these explanations satisfies. The idea of taboo is more likely imbedded in the phrase.
3. The "Hidden Books" of the Jews:
The rabbins invented a special phrase to designate rolls that were worn- out or disputed. These they called genuzim, meaning "hidden away." Cemeteries filled with Hebrew manuscripts which have long been buried are frequently found today in Egypt in connection with Jewish synagogues. Such rolls might first be placed in the genizah or rubbish chamber of the sanctuary. They were not, however, apocryphal or uncanonical in the sense of being extraneous or outside the regular collection. For such the Jews had a special term cepharim chitsonim, "books that are outside." These could not be read in the synagogues. "Hidden books" were rather worn-out parchments, or canonical rolls which might by some be temporarily disputed.
4. The Determining Principle in the Formation of the Canon:
Who had the right to declare a writing canonical? To this question widely divergent answers have been given. According to a certain class of theologians the several books of the Old Testament were composed by authors who were conscious not only of their inspiration but also that their writings were destined to be handed down to the church of future generations as sacred. In other words each writer canonized, as it were, his own writings. For example, Dr. W. H. Green (Canon, 35 f, 106, 110) says: "No formal declaration of their canonicity was needed to give them sanction. They were from the first not only eagerly read by the devout but believed to be Divinely obligatory .... Each individual book of an acknowledged prophet of Yahweh, or of anyone accredited as inspired by Him to make known His will, was accepted as the word of God immediately upon its appearance. .... Those books and those only were accepted as the Divine standards of their faith and regulative of their conduct which were written for this definite purpose by those whom they believed to be inspired of God. It was this which made them canonical. The spiritual profit found in them corresponded with and confirmed the belief in their heavenly origin. And the public official action which further attested, though it did not initiate, their canonicity, followed in the wake of the popular recognition of their Divine authority. .... The writings of the prophets, delivered to the people as a declaration of the Divine will, possessed canonical authority from the moment of their appearance. .... The canon does not derive its authority from the church, whether Jewish or Christian; the office of the church is merely that of a custodian and a witness." So likewise Dr. J. D. Davis (Pres. and Ref. Review, April, 1902, 182).
On the contrary, Dillmann (Jahrb. fur deutsche Theol., III, 420) more scientifically claims that "history knows nothing of the individual books having been designed to be sacred from their origin. .... These books bore indeed in themselves from the first those characteristics on account of which they were subsequently admitted into the sacred collection, but yet always had first to pass through a shorter or longer period of verification, and make trial of the Divine power resident within them upon the hearts of the church before they were outwardly and formally acknowledged by it as Divine books." As a matter of fact, the books of the Old Testament are still on trial, and ever will be. So far as is known, the great majority of the writers of Holy Scripture did not arbitrarily hand over their productions to the church and expect them to be regarded as canon Scripture. Two parties are involved in the making of canonical Scripture--the original authors and the church--both of whom were inspired by the same Spirit. The authors wrote inspired by the Divine Spirit, and the church ever since--Jewish and Christian alike--has been inspired to recognize the authoritative character of their writings. And so it will be to the end of time. "We cannot be certain that anything comes from God unless it bring us personally something evidently Divine" (Briggs, The Study of Holy Scripture, 162).
5. The Tripartite Division of the Old Testament:
The Jews early divided the Old Testament writings into three classes:
(1) the Torah, or Law; (2) the Nebhi’im, or Prophets; and
(3) the Kethubhim, or Writings, called in Greek the Hagiographa.
The Torah included the 5 books of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), which were called "the Five-fifths of the Law." The Nebhi’im embraced
(a) the four so-called Former Prophets, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, counted as one book, 1 and 2 Kings, also counted as one book; and
(b) the four so-called Latter Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets, counted as one book; a total of 8 books.
The Kethubhim, or Writings, were 11 in all, including Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, the five Meghilloth or Rolls (Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, counted as one book, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, also counted as one book; in all 24 books, exactly the same as those of the Protestant canon. This was the original count of the Jews as far as we can trace it back. Later certain Jewish authorities appended Ru to Judges, and Lamentations to Jer, and thereby obtained the number 22, which corresponded to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet; but this manner of counting was secondary and fanciful. Still later others divided Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah and Jeremiah-Lamentations into two books each respectively and thereby obtained 27, which they fancifully regarded as equivalent to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet plus 5, the number of letters having a peculiar final form when standing at the end of a word. Jerome states that 22 is the correct reckoning, but he adds, "Some count both Ru and Lamentations among the Hagiographa, and so get 24." 4 Esdras, which is the oldest (85-96 AD) witness to the number of books in the Old Testament, gives 24.
6. How Account for the Tripartite Division?:
The answer to the question of how to account for the tripartite division involves the most careful investigation of the whole process by which the canon actually took shape. If the entire canon of the Old Testament were formed, as some allege, by one man, or by one set of men, in a single age, then it is obvious that the books must have been separated into three groups on the basis of some material differences in their contents. If, on the other hand; the process of canonization was gradual and extended over several generations, then the various books were separated from one another probably because one section of the canon was closed before certain other books of similar character were written. At any rate it is difficult to see why Kings and Chronicles are not included in the same division, and especially strange that Daniel does not stand among the prophets. To explain this mystery, medieval Jews were wont to say that "the Prophets were inspired by the spirit of prophecy, whereas the Writings by the Mt 24:15, which speaks of "Daniel the prophet," and on the other hand, Am 7:14, in which Amos resents being considered a prophet. Oehler modifies this explanation, claiming that the threefold division of the canon corresponds to the three stages of development in the religion of Israel, namely, Mosaism, Prophetism, and Hebraism. According to Oehler, the Law was the foundation of the entire canon. From it there were two lines of development, one objective, the Prophets, the other subjective, the Writings. But Oehler’s theory does not satisfactorily account for Ezra and Nehemiah and Chronicles, being in the third division; for in what sense can they be said to be more subjective than Judges, Samuel, and Kings? The Septuagint version (250-150 BC) takes no notice of the tripartite division. The true solution probably is that the process was gradual. When all the witnesses have been examined, we shall probably discover that the Law was canonized first, the Prophets considerably later, and the Writings last of all. And it may further become evident that the two last divisions were collected synchronously, and hence, that the tripartite divisions of the canon are due to material differences in their contents as well as to chronology.
II. Examination of the Witnesses.
1. The Old Testament’s Witness to Itself (circa 1450-444 BC):
2. The(circa 432 BC):
Chronologically the Old Testament is of course our most ancient witness. It brings us down to 444 BC. The next in order is the Samaritan Pentateuch, the history of which is as follows: About 432 BC, as we know from Ne 13:28 and Josephus (Ant., XI, vii, 2 through viii, 4), Nehemiah expelled from the Jewish colony in Jerusalem Manasseh, the polygamous grandson of Eliashib the high priest and son-in-law of Sanballat. Manasseh founded the schismatic community of the Samaritans, and instituted on Mt. Gerizim a rival temple worship to that at Jerusalem. Of the Samaritans there still survive today some 170 souls; they reside in Shechem and are known as "the smallest religious sect in the world." It is true that Josephus, speaking of this event, confuses chronology somewhat, making Nehemiah and contemporaries, whereas a century separated them, but the time element is of little moment. The bearing of the whole matter upon the history of the formation of the canon is this: the Samaritans possess the Pentateuch only; hence, it is inferred that at the time of Manasseh’s expulsion the Jewish canon included the Pentateuch and the Pentateuch only. Budde (Encyclopaedia Biblica col. 659) says: "If alongside of the Law there had been other sacred writings, it would be inexplicable why these last also did not pass into currency with the Samaritans." Such a conclusion, however, is not fully warranted. It is an argument from silence. There are patent reasons on the other hand why the Samaritans should have rejected the Prophets, even though the y were already canonized. For the Samaritans would hardly adopt into their canon books that glorified the temple at Jerusalem. It cannot, accordingly, be inferred with certainty from the fact that the Samaritans accept the Pentateuch only, that therefore the Pentateuch at the time of Manasseh’s expulsion was alone canonical, though it may be considered a reasonable presumption.
3. The Septuagint Version (circa 250-150 BC):
The Septuagint version in Greek is the first translation of the Old Testament ever made; indeed the Old Testament is the first book of any note in all literature to receive the honor of being translated into another tongue. This fact in itself is indicative of the esteem in which it was held at the time. The work of translation was inaugurated by Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 BC) and probably continued for well-nigh a century (circa 250-150 BC). Aristeas, a distinguished officer of Ptolemy, records how it came about. It appears that Ptolemy was exceedingly fond of books, and set his heart on adding to his famous collection in Alexandria a translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch In order to obtain it, so the story goes, the king set free 198,000 Jewish slaves, and sent them with presents to Jerusalem to ask Eleazar the high priest for their Law and Jewish scholars capable of translating it. Six learned rabbis from each tribe (6 X 12 = 72) were sent. They were royally feasted; 70 questions were asked them to test their wisdom, and after 72 days of cooperation and conference they gave the world the Old Testament in the Greek language, which is known as the Septuagint version. To this fabulous story, Christian tradition adds that the rabbis did the work of translating in 72 (some say 36) separate cells on the island of Pharos, all working independently of each other, and that it was found at the expiration of their seclusion that each had produced a translation exactly word for word alike, hence, supernaturally inspired.
Now the Septuagint version, which was the Bible of our Lord and His apostles, is supposed to have included originally many of the Apocryphal books. Furthermore, in our present Septuagint, the canonical and Apocryphal books stand intermingled and in an order which shows that the translators knew nothing of the tripartite division of later Judaism, or if they did they quite ignored it. The order of the books in our English Old Testament is of course derived from the Septuagint through the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A. D.) of Jerome. The books in the Septuagint are arranged as follows: Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, 1 and 2 Esdras, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zepheniah, Hagai, Zechariah, Malachi, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Lamentations, Ep. Jer., Ezekiel, Daniel, 1, 2 and 3 Maccabees. On the basis of the Septuagint, Catholics advocate what is known as the "larger" canon of the Jews in Alexandria; Protestants, on the other hand, deny the existence of an independent canon in Alexandria in view of the "smaller" canon of the Jews in Palestine The actual difference between the Catholic and Protestant Old Testaments is a matter of 7 complete books and portions of two others: namely, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, together with certain additions to Esther (Es 10:4-16:24) and to Daniel (Da 3:24-90; The So of the Three Holy Children (Azariah); Susanna verse 13 and
(1) The design of the Septuagint was purely literary; Ptolemy and the Alexandrians were interested in building up a library.
(2) All the extant manuscripts of the Septuagint are of Christian not Jewish origin. Between the actual translation of the Septuagint (circa 250-150 BC) and the oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint extant (circa 350 AD) there is a chasm of fully 500 years, during which it is highly possible that the so-called Apocryphal books crept in.
(3) In the various extant manuscripts of the Septuagint, the Apocryphal books vary in number and name. For example, the great Vatican MS, which is probably "the truest representative which remains of the Alexandrian Bible," and which comes down to us from the 4th century AD, contains no Book of Maccabees whatever, but does include 1 Esdras, which Jerome and Catholics generally treat as apocryphal. On the other hand, the Alexandrian MS, another of the great manuscripts of the Septuagint, dating from the 5th century AD, contains not only the extra-canonical book of 1 Esdras, but 3 and 4 Maccabees, and in the New Testament the 1st and 2nd
(4) Still another reason for thinking that there never existed in Egypt a separate or "larger" canon is the fact that during the 2nd century AD, the Alexandrian Jews adopted Aquila’s Greek version of the Old Testament in lieu of their own, and it is known that Aquila’s text excluded all Apocryphal books. Add to all this the fact that Philo, who lived in Alexandria from circa 20 BC till 50 AD, never quotes from One of these Apocryphal books though he often does from the canonical, and that Origen, who also resided in Alexandria (circa 200 AD), never set his imprimatur upon them, and it becomes reasonably convincing that there was no "larger" canon in Alexandria. The value of the evidence derived from the Septuagint, accordingly, is largely negative. It only indicates that when the translation of the Old Testament into Greek was made in Alexandria, the process of canonization was still incomplete. For had it been actually complete, it is reasonable to suppose that the work of translation would have proceeded according to some well-defined plan, and would have been executed with greater accuracy. As it is, the translators seem to have taken all sorts of liberties with the text, adding to the books of Es and Da and omitting fully one-eighth of the text of Jer. Such work also indicates that they were not executing a public or ecclesiastical trust, but rather a private enterprise. Our necessary conclusion, therefore, is that the work of canonization was probably going on in Palestine while the work of translation was proceeding in Alexandria.
4. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (circa 170 BC):
Our next witness is Jesus ben Sirach who (circa 170 BC) wrote a formidable work entitled Ecclesiasticus, otherwise known as Sir. The author lived in Jerusalem and wrote in Hebrew. His book is a book of Wisdom resembling Proverbs; some of his precepts approach the high level of the Gospel. In many respects Ecclesiasticus is the most important of all the Apocryphal books; theologically it is the chief monument of primitive Sadduceeism. In chapters 44-50, the author sings a "hymn to the Fathers," eulogizing the mighty heroes of Israel from Enoch to Nehemiah, in fact from Adam to Simon, including the most famous men described in the Old Testament, and making explicit mention of the Twelve Prophets. These facts would indicate that the whole or, at least, the most of the Old Testament was known to him, and that already in his day (180 BC) the so-called Minor Prophets were regarded as a special group of writings by themselves. What the value of Ecclesiasticus is as a witness, however, depends upon the interpretation one places on 24:33, which reads: "I will yet pour out doctrine as prophecy and leave it unto generations of ages." From this it is inferred by some that he feels himself inspired and capable of adding to the canon already in existence, and that, though he knew the full prophetic canon, he did not draw any very definite line of demarcation between his own work and the inspired writings of the prophets. For example, he passes over from the patriarchs and prophets of Israel to Simon the son of Onias, who was probably the high priest in his own time, making no distinction between them. But this may have been partly due to personal conceit; compare 39:12, "Yet more will I utter, which I have thought upon; and I am filled as the moon at the full." Yet, perhaps, in his day still only the Law and the Prophets were actually canonized, but alongside of these a body of literature was being gathered and gradually augmented of a nature not foreign to his own writings, and therefore not clearly marked off from literary compositions like his own. Yet to Sirach the Law is everything. He identifies it with the highest Wisdom; indeed, all wisdom in his judgment is derived from a study of the Law (compare Sirach 19:20-24; 15:1-18; 24:23; 2:16; 39:1).
5. The Prologue to Ecclesiasticus (circa 132 BC):
The Prologue or Preface to Ecclesiasticus is our next witness to the formation of the canon. It was written by the grandson of Jesus ben Sirach, who bore his grandfather’s name (circa 132 BC). Jesus ben Sirach the younger translated in Egypt his grandfather’s proverbs into Greek, and in doing so added a Preface or Prologue of his own. In this Prologue, he thrice refers to the tripartite division of the Old Testament. In fact the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus is the oldest witness we have to the threefold division of the Old Testament books. He says: "Whereas many and great things have been delivered unto us by the Law and the Prophets, and by others, .... my grandfather, Jesus, when he had given himself to the reading of the Law, and the Prophets, and other books of our Fathers, and had gotten therein good judgment (the
6. 1 and 2 Maccabee (between 125 and 70 BC):
1 Maccabee was written originally in Hebrew; 2 Maccabee in Greek, somewhere between 125 and 70 BC. The author of 1 Maccabee is acquainted, on the one hand, with the deeds of John Hyrcanus (135 to 105 BC), and knows nothing on the other of the conquest of Palestine by Pompey (63 BC). The value of this book as a witness to the history of the canon centers about his allusions to Daniel and the Psalms. In 1 Macc 1:54, he tells how Da 9:24-27; and in 1 Macc 2:59,60 he speaks of Ananias, Azarias and Misael, who by believing were saved from the fiery furnace, and of Daniel, who was delivered from the mouths of the lions (compare Da 1:7; 3:26; 6:23). From these allusions, it would seem as though the was at that time regarded as normative or canonical. This is confirmed by 1 Macc 7:16,17, which introduces a quotation from Ps 79:2, with the solemn formula, "According to the words which he wrote"; which would suggest that the Ps also were already canonical.
2 Maccabee, written circa 124 BC, also contains a couple of passages of considerable importance to us in this investigation. Both, however, are found in a spurious letter purporting to have been sent by the inhabitants of Judea to their fellow-countrymen residing in Egypt. The first passage (2 Macc 2:13) tells how Nehemiah, "founding a library, gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning holy gifts." These words throw no special light upon the formation of the canon, but they do connect with the name of Nehemiah the preservation of public documents and historical records of national interest, and how he, as a lover of books, founded a library. This is in perfect agreement with what we know of Nehemiah’s character, for he compiled the genealogy of Ne 7; besides, collection precedes selection. The other passage (2 Macc 2:14) reads: "In like manner also Judas gathered together all things that were lost by reason of the war we had, and they remain with us." Though found in a letter, supposed to be spurious, there is every reason for believing this statement to be true. For when Antiochus, the arch enemy of the nation, sought to stamp out the religion of the Jews by destroying their books (compare 1 Macc 1:56,57), what would have been more natural for a true patriot like Judas than to attempt to re-collect their sacred writings? "This statement, therefore," as Wildeboer says, "may well be worthy of credence" (The Origin of the Canon of the Old Testament, 40). Though it yields nothing definite as to the number of the books recovered, it is obvious that the books collected were the most precious documents which the nation possessed. They were doubtless religious, as was the age.
7. Philo (circa 20 BC-50 AD):
Philo is our next witness. He flourished in Alexandria between circa 20 BC and 50 AD, leaving behind him a voluminous literature. Unfortunately, he does not yield us much of positive value for our present purpose. His evidence is largely negative. True, he nowhere mentions the tripartite division of the Old Testament, which is known to have existed in his day. Nor does he quote from Ezekiel, the Five Megilloth (Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), Daniel, Chronicles, or from the Twelve Minor Prophets, except Hosea, Jonah, and Zechariah. Moreover he held a loose view of inspiration. According to Philo, inspiration was by no means confined to the sacred Scriptures; all truly wise and virtuous men are inspired and capable of expressing the hidden things of God. But as Dr. Green (Canon, 130) right fully contends, "Philo’s loose views of inspiration cannot be declared irreconcilable with the acceptance of a fixed canon, unless it is first shown that he places others whom he thinks inspired on a level with the writers of Scripture. This he never does." Philo’s reverence for the "Law" was unbounded. In this respect he is the type of other Alexandrians. He quotes predominatingly from the Law. Moses was to him the source of all wisdom, even the wisdom of the Gentiles. Concerning the laws of Moses, he is reported by Eusebius as saying: "They have not changed so much as a single word in them. They would rather die a thousand deaths than detract anything from these laws and statutes." On the other hand, Philo never quotes any of the Apocryphal books. Hence, it may safely be assumed that his canon was essentially ours.
8. The New Testament as a Witness (circa 50-100 AD):
One passage (Lu 24:44) furnishes clear evidence of the threefold division of the canon. But here again, as in the Prologue of Sirach, there is great uncertainty as to the limits of the 3rd division. Instead of saying "the law, the prophets and the writings," Luke says, "the law, the prophets and the psalms." But it is obvious enough why the Psalms should have been adduced by Jesus in support of His resurrection. It is because they especially testify of Christ: they were, therefore, the most important part of the 3rd division for His immediate purpose, and it may be that they are meant to stand a potiori for the whole of the 3rd division (compare Budde, Encyclopedia Biblica, col. 669).
Another passage (Mt 23:35; compare Lu 11:51) seems to point to the final order and arrangement of the books in the Old Testament canon. It reads: "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar." Now, in order to grasp the bearing of this verse upon the matter in hand, it must be remembered that in the modern arrangement of the Old Testament books in Hebrew, Chronicles stands last; and that the murder of Zachariah is the last recorded instance in this arrangement, being found in 2Ch 24:20,21. But this murder took place under Joash king of Judah, in the 9th century BC. There is another which is chronologically later, namely, that of Uriah son of Shemaiah who was murdered in Jehoiakim’s reign in the 7th century BC (Jer 26:23). Accordingly, the argument is this, unless Ch already stood last in Christ’s Old Testament, why did He not say, "from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Uriah"? He would then have been speaking chronologically and would have included all the martyrs whose martyrdom is recorded in the Old Testament. But He rather says, "from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zachariah," as though He were including the whole range of Old Testament Scripture, just as we would say "from Genesis to Malachi." Hence, it is inferred, with some degree of justification also, that Chronicles stood in Christ’s time, as it does today in the Hebrew Bible of the Massorets, the last book of an already closed canon. Of course, in answer to this, there is the possible objection that in those early days the Scriptures were still written by the Jews on separate rolls.
9. 4 Esdras (circa 81-96 AD):
4 Esdras in Latin (2 Esdras in English) is a Jewish apocalypse which was written originally in Greek toward the close of the 1st century (circa 81-96 AD). The passage of special interest to us is 2 Esdras 14:19-48 which relates in most fabulous style how Ezra is given spiritual illumination to reproduce the Law which had been burned, and how, at the Divine command, he secludes himself for a period of 40 days, after which he betakes himself with five skilled scribes to the open country. There, a cup of water is offered him; he drinks, and then dictates to his five amanuenses continuously for 40 days and nights, producing 94 books of which 70 are kept secret and 24 published. The section of supreme importance reads as follows: "And it came to pass, when the forty days were fulfilled, that the Most High spake, saying, `The first that thou hast written, publish openly, that the worthy may read it; but keep the seventy last, that thou mayest deliver them only to such as be wise among the people; for in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.’ And I did so" (4 Esdras 14:45-48). The story is obviously pure fiction. No wonder that a new version of it arose in the 16th century, according to which the canon was completed, not by Ezra alone, but by a company of men known as the
10. Josephus’ "Contra Apionem" (circa 100 AD):
, the celebrated Jewish historian, was born 37 AD. He was a priest and a Pharisee. About 100 AD, he wrote a controversial treatise, known as Contra Apionem, in defense of the Jews against their assailants, of whom Apion is taken as a leading representative, Now Apion was a famous grammarian, who in his life had been hostile to the Jews. He had died some 50 years before Contra Apionem was written. Josephus wrote in Greek to Greeks. The important passage in his treatise (I, 8) reads as follows: "For it is not the case with us to have vast numbers of books disagreeing and conflicting with one another. We have but twenty-two, containing the history of all time, books that are justly believed in. And of these, five are the books of Moses, which comprise the laws and the earliest traditions from the creation of mankind down to the time of his (Moses’) death. This period falls short but by a little of three thousand years. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, the successor of Xerxes, the prophets who succeeded Moses wrote the history of the events that occurred in their own time; in thirteen books. The remaining four documents comprise hymns to God and practical precepts to men. From the days of Artaxerxes to our own time every event has indeed been recorded. But these recent records have not been deemed worthy of equal credit with those which preceded them, because the exact succession of the prophets ceased. But what faith we have placed in our own writings is evident by our conduct; for though so great an interval of time (i.e. since they were written) has now passed, not a soul has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable. But it is instinctive in all Jews at once from their very birth to regard them as commands of God, and to abide by them, and, if need be, willingly to die for them."
The value of this remarkable passage for our study is obviously very great. In the first place Josephus fixes the number of Jewish writings which are recognized as sacred at 22, joining probably Ru to Jud and La to Jer. He also classifies them according to a threefold division, which is quite peculiar to himself: 5 of Moses, 13 of the prophets, and 4 hymns and maxims for human life. The 5 of Moses were of course the Pentateuch; the 13 of the prophets probably included the 8 regular Nebhi’im plus Daniel, Job, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther; the "4 hymns and maxims" would most naturally consist of Psalms, Proverbs, Canticles and Ecclesiastes. There is little doubt that his 22 books are those of our present Hebrew canon.
Another very remarkable fact about Josephus’ statement is the standard he gives of canonicity, namely, antiquity; because, as he says, since Artaxerxes’ age the succession of prophets had ceased. It was the uniform tradition of Josephus’ time that prophetic inspiration had ceased with Malachi (circa 445-432 BC). Hence, according to him, the canon was closed in the reign of Artaxerxes (465-425 BC). He does not pause to give any account of the closing of the canon; he simply assumes it, treating it as unnecessary. Prophecy had ceased, and the canon was accordingly closed; the fact did not require to be officially proclaimed. As remarked above. the value of Josephus as a witness is very great. But just here an important question arises: How literally must we interpret his language? Was the Old Testament canon actually closed before 425 BC? Were not there books and parts of books composed and added to the canon subsequent to his reign? Dr. Green seems to take Josephus literally (Canon, 40, 78). But Josephus is not always reliable in his chronology. For example, in his Antiquities (XI, vi, 13) he dates the story of Esther as occurring in the reign of Artaxerxes I (whereas it belongs to Xerxes’ reign), while in the same work (XI, v, 1) he puts Ezra and Nehemiah under Xerxes (whereas they belong to the time of Artaxerxes). On the whole, it seems safer on internal grounds to regard Josephus’ statements concerning the antiquity of the Jewish canon as the language not of a careful historian, but of a partisan in debate. Instead of expressing absolute fact in this case, he was reflecting the popular belief of his age. Reduced to its lowest terms, the element of real truth in what he says was simply this, that he voiced a tradition which was at that time universal and undisputed; one, however, which had required a long period, perhaps hundreds of years, to develop. Hence, we conclude that the complete Old Testament canon, numbering 22 books, was no new thing 100 AD.
11. The Councils of Jamnia (90 and 118 AD):
According to the traditions preserved in the Mishna, two councils of Jewish rabbis were held (90 and 118 AD respectively) at Jabne, or Jamnia, not far South of Joppa, on the Mediterranean coast, at which the books of the Old Testament, notably Ecclesiastes and Canticles, were discussed and their canonicity ratified. Rabbi Gamaliel II probably presided. Rabbi Akiba was the chief spirit of the council. What was actually determined by these synods has not been preserved to us accurately, but by many authorities it is thought that the great controversy which had been going on for over a century between the rival Jewish schools of Hillel and Shammai was now brought to a close, and that the canon was formally restricted to our 39 books. Perhaps it is within reason to say that at Jamnia the limits of the Hebrew canon were officially and finally determined by Jewish authority. Not that official sanction created public opinion, however, but rather confirmed it.
12. The Talmud (200-500 AD):
The Talmud consists of two parts:
(1) The Mishna (compiled circa 200 AD), a collection of systematized tradition; and
(2) the Gemara, Gemara (completed about 500 AD), a "vast and desultory commentary on the Mishna" A Baraitha’, or unauthorized gloss, known as the Babha’ Bathra’ 14 b, a Talmudic tractate, relates the "order" of the various books of the Old Testament and who "wrote" or edited them. But it says nothing of the formation of the canon.
To write is not the same as to canonize; though to the later Jews the two ideas were closely akin. As a witness, therefore, this tractate is of little value, except that it confirms the tripartite division and is a good specimen of rabbinic speculation. For the full text of the passage, see Ryle, Canon of the Old Testament, 273 ff.
13. Jewish Doubts in the 2nd Century AD:
14. Summary and Conclusion:
This brings us to the end of our examination of the witnesses. In our survey we have discovered
(1) that the Old Testament says nothing about its canonization, but does emphasize the manner in which the Law was preserved and recognized as authoritative;
(2) that to conclude that the Jews possessed the Law only, when the renegade Manasseh was expelled by Nehemiah from Jerusalem, because the Samaritans admit of the Law alone as the true canon, is unwarrantable;
(3) that the Septuagint version as we know it from the Christian manuscripts extant is by no means a sufficient proof that the Alexandrians possessed a "larger" canon which included the Apocrpha;
(4) that Jesus ben Sirach is a witness to the fact that the Prophets in his day (180 BC) were not yet acknowledged as canonical;
(5) that his grandson in his Prologue is the first witness to the customary tripartite division of Old Testament writings, but does not speak of the 3rd division as though it were already closed;
(6) that the
(7) that Philo’s testimony is negative, in that he witnesses against the Apocryphal books as an integral part of Holy Scripture;
(8) that the New Testament is the most explicit witness of the series, because of the names and titles it ascribes to the Old Testament books which it quotes;
(9) that 4 Esdras is the first witness to the number of books in the Old Testament canon--24;
(10) that Josephus also fixes the number of books, but in arguing for the antiquity of the canon speaks as an advocate, voicing popular tradition, rather than as a scientific historian;
(11) that the Councils of Jamnia may, with some ground, be considered the official occasion on which the Jews pronounced upon the limits of their canon; but that
(12) doubts existed in the 2nd century concerning certain books; which books, however, were not seriously questioned.
From all this we conclude, that the Law was canonized, or as we would better say, was recognized as authoritative, first, circa 444 BC; that the Prophets were set on an even footing with the Law considerably later, circa 200 BC; and that the Writings received authoritative sanction still later, circa 100 BC. There probably never were three separate canons, but there were three separate classes of writings, which between 450 and 100 BC doubtless stood on different bases, and only gradually became authoritative. There is, therefore, ground for thinking, as suggested above (section 6), that the tripartite division of the Old Testament canon is due to material differences in the contents as well as to chronology.
III. The Canon in the Christian Church.
1. In the Eastern or Oriental Church:
In making the transition from the Jewish to the Christian church, we find the same canon cherished by all. Christians of all sects have always been disposed to accept without question the canon of the Jews. For centuries all branches of the Christian church were practically agreed on the limits set by the Jews, but eventually the western church became divided, some alleging that Christ sanctioned the "larger" canon of Alexandria, including the Apocrypha, while others adhered, as the Jews have always done, to the canon of the Jews in Palestine taking the eastern or oriental church first, the evidence they furnish is as follows: The Peshitta, or Syriac version, dating from circa 150 AD, omits Chronicles; Justin Martyr (164 AD) held to a canon identical with that of the Jews; the Canon of Melito, bishop of Sardis, who (circa 170 AD) made a journey to Palestine in order carefully to investigate the matter, omits Est. His list, which is the first Christian list we have, has been preserved to us by Eusebius in his Eccl. Hist., IV, 26; Origen (died 254 AD), who was educated in Alexandria, and was one of the most learned of the Greek Fathers, also set himself the task of knowing the "Hebrew verity" of the Old Testament text, and gives us a list (also preserved to us by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., VI, 5) in which he reckons the number of books as 22 (thus agreeing with Josephus). Inadvertently he omits the Twelve Minor Prophets, but this is manifestly an oversight on the part of either a scribe or of Eusebius, as he states the number of books is 22 and then names but 21. The so-called Canon of Laodicea (circa 363 AD) included the canonical books only, rejecting the Apocrypha. Athanasius (died 365 AD) gives a list in which Esther is classed as among the non-canonical books, but he elsewhere admits that "Esther is considered canonical by the Hebrews." However, he included Baruch and the
2. In the Western Church:
Between 100 and 400 AD, the New Testament writings became canonical, occupying in the Christian church a place of authority and sacredness equal to those of the Old Testament. The tendency of the period was to receive everything which had been traditionally read in the churches. But the transference of this principle to the Old Testament writings produced great confusion. Usage and theory were often in conflict. A church Father might declare that the Apocryphal books were uninspired and yet quote them as "Scripture," and even introduce them with the accepted formula, "As the
Tertullian of Carthage (circa 150-230 AD) is the first of the Latin Fathers whose writings have been preserved. He gives the number of Old Testament books as 24, the same as in the Talmud Hilary, bishop of Poitiers in France (350-368 AD), gives a catalogue in which he speaks of "Jeremiah and his epistle," yet his list numbers only 22. Rufinus of Aquileia in Italy (died 410 AD) likewise gives a complete list of 22 books. Jerome also, the learned monk of Bethlehem (died 420 AD), gives the number of canonical books as 22, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and explains that the five double books (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations) correspond to the five final letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In his famous Prologus Galeatus or "Helmed Preface" to the books of Samuel and Kings, he declares himself for the strict canon of the Jews; rejecting the authority of the deutero-canonical books in the most outspoken manner, even distinguishing carefully the apocryphal additions to Esther and to Daniel. As the celebrated Catholic writer, Dr. Gigot, very frankly allows, "Time and again this illustrious doctor (Jerome) of the Latin church rejects the authority of the deutero-canonical books in the most explicit manner" (General Intro, 56).
Contemporaneous with Jerome in Bethlehem lived Augustine in
From the 4th to the 16th century AD the process of gradually widening the limits of the canon continued. Pope Gelasius (492-496 AD) issued a decretal or list in which he included the Old Testament apocrypha. Yet even after this official act of the papacy the sentiment in the western church was divided. Some followed the strict canon of Jerome, while others favored the larger canon of Augustine, without noting his cautions and the distinctions he made between inspired and uninspired writings. Cassiodorus (556 AD) and
Luther, the great Saxon Reformer of the 16th century, marks an epoch in the history of the Christian Old Testament canon. In translating the Scriptures into German, he gave the deutero-canonical books an intermediate position between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Lutheran church, also, while it does not expressly define the limits of the canon, yet places the Apocryphal writings by themselves as distinct and separate from Holy Scripture. This indeed was the attitude of all the early Reformers. In the Zurich Bible of 1529, as in the Genevan version in English of 1560, the Apocryphal books were placed apart with special headings by themselves. Thus the early Reformers did not entirely reject the Apocryphal writings, for it was not an easy task to do so in view of the usage and traditions of centuries.
Rome had vacillated long enough. She realized that something must be done. The Reformers had sided with those who stood by Jerome. She therefore resolved to settle the matter in an ecclesiastical and dogmatic manner. Accordingly the Council of Trent decreed at their fourth sitting (April 8, 1546), that the Apocryphal books were equal in authority and canonical value to the other books of sacred Scripture; and to make this decree effective they added: "If, however, anyone receive not as sacred and canonical the said books entire with all their facts, and as they have been used to be read in the Catholic church, and as they are contained in the Old Latin Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A. D.) edition .... let him be anathema." The decree was the logical outcome of the ever-accumulating snowball tendency in the western church. The historical effect of it upon the church is obvious. It closed forever the field of Biblical study against all free research. Naturally, therefore, the Vatican Council of 1870 not only reiterated the decree but found it easy to take still another step and canonize tradition.
Repeated endeavors were made during the 16th and 17th centuries to have the Apocryphal books removed from the Scriptures. The
G. Wildeboer, The Origin of the Canon of the Old Testament, translated by B. W. Bacon, London, Luzac and Co., 1895; H. E. Ryle, The Canon of the Old Testament, London and New York, Macmillan, 1892; F. Buhl, Canon and, translated by John MacPherson, Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1892; W. H. Green, General Introduction to the Old Testament, The Canon, New York, Scribner, 1898; W. Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 2nd edition, London, A. and C. Black, 1895; F. E. Gigot, General Introduction to the Holy Scriptures, 3rd edition, New York, Cincinnati and Chicago, Benziger Bros., 1903; B. F. Westcott, The Bible in the Christian Church, London and New York, Macmillan, 1901; C. A. Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture, New York, Scribner, 1899; A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Divine Library of the Old Testament, London and New York, Macmillan, 1892; Hastings, DB, III, 1900, article " " by F. H. Woods; Cheney and Black’s EB, I, 1899, article "Canon" by K. Budde; The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, II, 1908, article " " by H. L. Struck; Jour. of Biblical Lit., 1896, 118-28, article "The Alleged Triple Canon of the Old Testament," by W. J. Beecher; Abbe A. Loisy, Histoire du canon de l’ancien testament, Paris, 1890; J. Furst, Der Kanon des Altes Testament, Leipzig, 1868; E. Reuss, Histoire du canon des saintes ecritures dans l’eglise chretienne, Strassburg, 1864, English translation, Edinburgh, 1891.
George L. Robinson