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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT



THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT


 

THE word “canon” has come to mean (1) “rule of faith” or the standard, authoritative teaching by which all doctrines were measured; and (2) a list or index. The English word “canon” was derived from the Hebrew qaneh, meaning “reed” or “stalk.” The Greek took over this Semitic word, thus “kanon” in Greek. The root meaning of the word (“reed”) denotes a rule, a measuring stick or an instrument with which to make straight lines.

Because the word “canon” could also means a list or index, the phrase “Canon of Scriptures” is the list of books that belong to the Holy Scriptures or those said to be “canonical.” 

How many books that belong to the canon of the Old Testament or those said to be canonical? How many books that belong to the canon of the contemporary Bible? How many books that belong to the Jewish canon? Why limit the number of the canonical books to the number the Jewish canon and the canon of the Septuagint gave?

 THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The 39 Books Canon

The canon of Old Testament is consists of 39 books only. Thus, the canon of the Scriptures is a 39 books canon. This is the list and arrangement that we can see in majority of the contemporary Bible.

The following is the list and arrangement of the 39 books canon:


1.     Genesis
2.     Exodus
3.     Leviticus
4.     Numbers
5.     Deuteronomy


6.     Joshua
7.     Judges
8.     Ruth
9.     I Samuel
10. II Samuel
11. I Kings
12. II Kings
13. I Chronicles
14. II Chronicles
15. Ezra
16. Nehemiah
17. Esther


18. Job
19. Psalms
20. Proverbs
21. Ecclesiastes
22. Song of Solomon


23. Isaiah
24. Jeremiah
25. Lamentations
26. Ezekiel
27. Daniel
28. Hosea
29. Joel
30. Amos
31. Obadiah
32. Jonah
33. Micah
34. Nahum
35. Habakkuk
36. Zephaniah
37. Haggai
38. Zechariah
39. Malachi


The Jewish Canon

The Jewish canon, also called the Hebrew canon, was only 24 books. However’ this is not different from the 39 books canon. The Jewish canon numbers 24 books because 1 and 2 Samuel were treated as a single book, also the same case with 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ezra and Nehemiah. In addition, the twelve Minor Prophets were treated as one book only.

The following is the list and arrangement of the Jewish Canon:

The Book of Law
Former Prophets
Latter Prophets
The Writings

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy

Joshua
Judges
Samuel (I and II)
Kings  (I and II)


Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets

Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Song of Solomon
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Daniel
Ezra-Nehemiah
Chronicles (I and II)

Thus, the Jewish canon of 24 books is equivalent to 39 books canon. Thus, when we speak of Jewish canon, we are referring to the 39 books canon. Also, when we mention 24 books, it is also equivalent to the 39 books canon, and vice versa.


Josephus’ 22 Books

Josephus, a first century Jewish writer, mentioned that the Old Testament is consists of 22 books. His is not two books short. The reason is that Josephus treated Jeremiah and Lamentations as a single book, and also Judges and Ruth as one book only.

The following is the list and arrangement of Josephus’ 22 Books canon:

The Book of Law
Former Prophets
Latter Prophets
The Writings

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy

Joshua
Judges-Ruth
Samuel (I and II)
Kings (I and II)


Isaiah
Jeremiah-Lamentations
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets

Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Song of Solomon
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Daniel
Ezra-Nehemiah
Chronicles (I and II)


Canon of the Septuagint

When the Old Testament was translated in Greek (the Septuagint), the books were rearranged. Separating the books treated by the Jews as one, like Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and the Minor Prophets, we now have a canon of 39 books arranged from Genesis to Malachi, rather than Genesis to Chronicles.

The following is the list and arrangement of the canon of the Septuagint:

The Book of Law
Historical Books
The Writings
The Prophets

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy

Joshua
Judges
Ruth
I Samuel
II Samuel
I Kings
II Kings
I Chronicles
II Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther

Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Solomon

Isaiah
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel
Hosea
Joel
Amos
Obadiah
Jonah
Micah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Zephaniah
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

The 24 books of the Jewish canon is indeed equivalent to the 39 books of the Septuagint canon. This arrangement of the Septuagint was taken over by the Latin Vulgate and also by the English Bible.


The so-called “Alexandrian Canon”

Some contend that the presence of the Apocryphal books (extra-canonical Jewish literature) in the Septuagint indicates the existence of a so-called “Alexandrian canon.” For them, Alexandrian canon is larger and different from the “Palestinian canon” of 24 books (equivalent to our 39 books).

However, the presence of the Apocryphal books in the Septuagint did not necessarily means these books were considered canonical.

“But it is by no means certain that all the books in the LXX were considered canonical even by the Alexandrian Jews themselves. Quite decisive against this is the evidence of the writings of Philo of Alexandria (who lived in the first century A.D.). Although he quotes frequently from the canonical books of the ‘Palestinian Canon,’ he never once quotes from any of the Apocryphal books. This is impossible to reconcile with the theory of a larger ‘Alexandrian Canon,’ while others did.”1

One of the decisive evidence against the so-called “Alexandrian Canon” that includes the Apocryphal books as canonical was the writings of Philo, a well-known Alexandrian Jew. Philo never once quotes from any of the Apocryphal books. In fact, Philo completely ignored the Apocrypha.

“Philo, who was an Alexandrian Jew (died c. 50) adhered strictly to the Hebrew canon and ignored the Apocrypha completely. It does not follow, however, that all Alexandrian Jews were equally strict.”2

Another evidence against the claim that Alexandrian Jews considered the Apocryphal books canonical is the fact that Alexandrian Jews in the second century A.D. accepted Aquila’s Greek Version although it did not contain the Apocrypha.

“Secondly, it is reliably reported that Aquila’s Greek Version was accepted by the Alexandrian Jews in the second century A.D., even though it did not contain the Apocrypha.”3

Another fact should be considered is that only “Christian” manuscripts of the Septuagint contain the Apocrypha: e.g. Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus. All of these are from the fourth century A.D.


Witnesses to the Old Testament
Canon of 39 Books

There are ancient witnesses to the Old Testament canon of 39 books. Some of these literatures are early enough to supply relevant evidence that the Old Testament canon of 39 books already existed even before the Christian era and the so-called council of Jamnia (90 A.D.). Let us survey these literature that bear witness to the Old Testament canon of 39 books.


The Hebrew Old Testament

The Hebrew Old Testament itself bears witness to the canon of 24 (or 39) books. The Received Text itself, the Hebrew Text the Masoretes (a guild of professional scribes from 500 to 900 AD) received from the Talmudist (scribes from 100 to 500 AD) and Sopherim (scribes from the time of Ezra, fifth century B.C. to 200 A.D.) consists of 24 books, identical with our list of 39 books.


The Septuagint

Another witness to the Old Testament canon of 39 books was the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek in Alexandria about third century B.C. The Septuagint contains the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible. The Alexandrian canon is the same as the Hebrew canon.

“Since the Septuagint manuscripts contain books outside the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament…it has been commonly supposed that the Jews in Alexandria accepted a wider canon than that of the Jews in Palestine. Actually, there is no evidence for an ‘Alexandrian canon,’ or for any other Jewish canon larger than the traditional one. Philo, the most extensive literary representative of Alexandrian Jewry, gives no indication of accepting as authoritative any of the books included in the Apocrypha.”4

The inclusion of apocryphal books in the Septuagint can only be found in Christian manuscripts of the Septuagint dated fourth century A.D.


The Apocryphal Ecclesiasticus


The Jews arranged these 39 books and divide it in three: The Laws, the Prophets and the Writings. The tripartite division of the Old Testament books by the Jews was already established not only in the time of Jesus Christ (in the first century AD), but even earlier:

“The Prologue to Ecclesiasticus, written c. 131 B.C. refers to the great things handed down – the writings of the Law and the Prophets and of others who have followed in their steps. From this we can gather that the tripartite division of the biblical books was by then established.”5


The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea contain manuscripts as old as the late third century BC that throw important light on the canon of the Old Testament. Sectarian text of the Dead Sea Scrolls witness to the canon as they quote directly from the Old Testament books, denoting authority of those books, in the manner of Philo, the New Testament and the rabbinical literature.

“Akin in many ways to the latter class of Pseudepigrapha, several of which represented among the Dead Sea finds are the sectarian texts included in the same discoveries. These texts date from between the second century BC and the first century AD, and are legal, exegetical, apocalyptic or hymnodic in character. An important part of their witness to the canon is that they quote directly from the Old Testament books, introducing the quotations with formula denoting the authority of those books, in the manner of Philo, the New Testament and the rabbinical literature.”6


The Apocryphal 2 Esdras

Another witness to a twenty-four book canon (as arranged by the Hebrew Bible) was the apocryphal book of II Esdras written in the first century AD:

“In the apocryphal book of 4 Ezra (also called 2 Esdras) there is a fictional account of the work of Ezra (chap. 14). In Ezra’s time the Law had been lost, and Ezra was called to restore it. For forty days and forty nights he dictated nonstop to five men, producing ninety-four books. Then the Most High said to him: ‘Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people” (14:44-46). Fourth Ezra was written in the first century A.D. and clearly witnesses to a twenty-four book canon.”7


Philo

Philo, a well-known Alexandrian Jew, was a witness regarding the complete collection of 39 books of the Hebrew canon. Philo accepted the Hebrew canon and gives no indication of accepting as authoritative any of the books included in the Apocrypha.

“Philo, the learned Jew of Alexandria, whose life overlapped the life of Christ by about twenty years at either end, seems to have known and accepted the Hebrew canon. The Law to him is preeminently inspired, but he also acknowledges the authority of other books of the Hebrew canon (although, as an Alexandrian, he used only the Greek version). He does not regard the apocryphal books as authoritative, and this suggests that, although these books were in circulation among them, they were not really accorded canonical status by the Alexandrian Jews.”8


Josephus

Another witness to a complete collection of 39 books (in present arrangement) or 24 books (in the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible) was Josephus, the well-known Jewish historian, writing about 100 A.D.

“Josephus, writing about A.D. 100, says that the Jews, unlike the Greeks who have vast numbers of conflicting and mutually contradictory books, have only twenty-two books (he combined Ruth and Judges, Jeremiah and Lamentations). After listing the sacred books he adds: ‘For although so great an interval of time (since they were written) has now passed, not a soul has ventured either to add or to remove or to alter a syllable; and it is the instinct of every Jew from the day of his birth to consider these books as the teaching of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to lay down his like for them.”9 

Josephus, Jewish historian of the first century A.D., stated that the Hebrew canon has 22 books (equivalent of the Jewish 24 books ad our 39 books).

All witnesses mentioned above are all non-Christians. Some dated before the Christian era. Therefore, centuries before the Christians, the 39 canon already existed and continued up to the Christian era.


Melito, bishop of Sardis

Melito, bishop of Sardis drawn the earliest dateable Christian list of Old Testament books (about 170 AD).

“The earliest dateable Christian list of Old Testament books was drawn up by Melito, bishop of Sardis, about A.D. 170; he said he had obtained it by accurate enquiry while traveling in Syria. It has been preserved by Eusebius in the fourth book of his Ecclesiastical History. ‘Their names are these’ write Melito in a letter to his friend, Onesimus: ‘five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy. Jesus Naue, Judges, Ruth. Four books of Kingdoms, two of Chronicles. The Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs (also called Wisdom), Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job. Of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve in a single book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra.’ It is likely that Melito included Lamentations with Jeremiah and Nehemiah with Ezra (though it is curious to find Ezra counted among the prophets). In that case, his list contains all the books of the Hebrew canon (arranged according to the Septuagint order), with the exception of Esther. Esther may not have been included in the list he received from his informants in Syria.”10

These witnesses to the canon of the Old Testament simply point to the fact that collection of the 39 canonical books was already existed in the pre-Christian era.


THE NEW TESTAMENT WITNESS

Our Lord Jesus Christ mentioned the tripartite division of the Old Testament in Luke 24:44. His words in Luke 11:51 also witnesses to the 39 books canon of the Old Testament.

“From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.” (Luke 11:51, NIV)

Jesus’ words “from the blood of Abel” (written in Genesis) “to the blood of Zechariah” (written in Chronicles, the last book according to Jewish arrangement) is like saying “from Genesis to Chronicles,” or according to our arrangement, “from Genesis to Malachi.”

Therefore, Jesus’ words “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” is a testimony witnessing the Jewish canon of 24 books which is equivalent of 39 books canon.



The Roman Catholic Canon

The Roman Catholic canon differs from the Jewish canon not only in arrangement, but also in number. Aside from the 39 canonical books of the Old Testament, the Roman Catholic Church included the so-called 11 apocryphal books, and declared them as also canonical.

The Book of Law
Historical Books
The Writings
The Prophets

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy

Joshua
Judges
Ruth
I Samuel
II Samuel
I Kings
II Kings
I Chronicles
II Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Tobit
Judith
Esther

Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Solomon
Wisdom
Ecclesiasticus

Isaiah
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Baruch
Ezekiel
Daniel
Hosea
Joel
Amos
Obadiah
Jonah
Micah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Zephaniah
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi
I Maccabees
II Macabees

It seems that the Roman catholic Church added only seven books, because one was added to the canonical book of Esther and the other three were added to the canonical book of Daniel. 

The 39 books of the Old Testament as they are known today had been collected or compiled by Israel or the Jewiah pepple. Did they have the authority to form the canon of the Old Testament? In Romans 3:2:

“Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” (Romans 3:2, NIV)

The “words of God” (the Sacred books of the Old Testament) have been entrusted with the Jews, not with the Roman Catholic Church. The Jewish canon of 24 books, as we have seen, is equivalent of our 39 books. Thus, the Roman catholic Church indeed added to the Old Testament 39 books the 11 “apocryphal” books. The Bible said:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19 NIV)


The so-called “Protestant Canon”

The Protestant Bibles of the sixteenth up to eighteenth centuries were published with Apocryphal books, but placed them after Malachi and included a special introduction declaring the less authoritative character as what Zurich, Geneva and other Protestant Bibles did.

Only in the nineteenth century that Protestant Bibles were published without the Apocryphal books.

Is there such thing as “Protestant canon”? Perhaps in the sense that this is the list or index of canonical books they accepted, but not in the sense that the 39 books canon of the Old Testament is Protestant or created by them.

The 39 books canon of the Old Testament is not Protestant, nor created by them. This canon of the Scriptures existed long before Protestantism emerged in the sixteenth century A.D. The arrangement of books from Genesis to Malachi, the four-fold groupings of the Sacred books, and the number of the books (39 canonical books) are the Greek form of the Old Testament. What the Protestants did was rejecting the Roman Catholic broader canon, and accepted the long been existing arrangement, number and groupings of the Old Testament.


SOURCE: Lopez, E. M. The Bible: Our Sacred Scripture, A General Introduction To The Bible. Quezon City, Philippines: 2010.

End Note:
Chapter 2

1       Archer, Gleasson. Survey of Old Testament Introduction. 2nd Ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974. p. 66
2       Ewert, David. A General Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990. p. 77
3       Archer, p. 66
4       Fergusson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993. p. 12
5       Ewert, p. 70
6       Beckwith, Roger. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985. p. 19
7       Ewert, p. 70
8       Bruce, p. 69
9       Ewert, pp. 70-71, quoting Contra Apion, 18
10   Bruce, p. 91

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