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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are Some Books Missing from the Old Testament?

Don Stewart :: Did the Ancient Jews, Jesus, and His Disciples Have a Fixed Canon of Scripture, or Was the Canon Still Open?

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Question 5

Did the Ancient Jews, Jesus, and His Disciples Have a Fixed Canon of Scripture, or Was the Canon Still Open?

The Old Testament Apocrypha consists of eleven or twelve books, or parts of books, depending upon how they are divided, which the Roman Catholic Church, as well as other ancient Christian communities, add to the Old Testament. When added to the Old Testament Scripture, they make seven new books as well as adding chapters to two existing books; Daniel and Esther.

The Greek Orthodox Church as well as the Russian Orthodox Church adds three other writings which neither the Protestants, the Jews, nor the Roman Catholics, consider to be divinely inspired Scripture. These three writings are added to the Old Testament as three additional books. This question will concentrate solely upon the writings which the Roman Catholic Church accepts. The arguments used against them will also apply to these other three works accepted by the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Church.

  1. The Roman Catholic Teaching

    The Roman Catholic Church officially teaches that the Old Testament Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical works as they call them, are part of sacred Scripture. On the other hand, Protestants and Jews reject these writings as being divinely inspired; they do not accept them as having any authority whatsoever.

    Who is right on this issue? Do the Protestants and Jews have the correct Old Testament or do the Roman Catholics? Or are they both wrong and the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Churches have the correct canon? To answer this question, three basic issues have to be examined.

    First, did the ancient Jews, Jesus, and His disciples have a fixed canon of Scripture, or was the canon still open at the time of Christ? Second, has the church historically accepted a broader canon of Scripture which includes the Old Testament Apocrypha? Third, do the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha have the credentials to be considered Holy Scripture?

    Before we begin to answer these questions, there are three introductory points which we need to make. They are as follows.

  2. The Issue of the Extent of the Old Testament Canon Is Important

    Contrary to what some people have said, the subject of the canon of Scripture is extremely important. Why is this so? This matter is critical because it is essential that we know the exact extent of the books which God has given to the human race. Indeed, for it is in these writings alone that we discover who God is, who we are, and what God wants from us. No other writings anywhere give us the answer to these questions. Therefore, it is crucial that we know which books are His books.

    Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church, in an authoritative declaration at the Council of Trent, makes this issue a matter of saving faith. In other words, you cannot be a genuine believer if you reject their decision regarding these books. Indeed, they pronounced divine judgment upon all of those who rejected their pronouncement.

    In addition, there are specific doctrines that are held by the Roman Catholic Church which are given support by certain of the books in the Old Testament Apocrypha. This includes such teachings as the existence of an actual place called purgatory, where the sins of the righteous are purged, and the concept of praying for the dead.

    Are these Roman Catholic doctrines true? Above all, where do we go to find out what is true and what is not? Obviously, we need some sort of standard by which we can answer these and other questions about Christian doctrine. Therefore, we need to know the extent of the biblical canon.

    This issue is also important because we do not want to be guilty of adding or subtracting to that which God has revealed. In the Book of Revelation we read the following warning:

    I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy in this book: If anyone adds anything to this, God will strike him with the plagues that are written in this book. If anyone takes away any words from this book of prophecy, God will take away his portion of the tree of life and the holy city that are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18,19 God’s Word)

    While these verses refer specifically to the Book of Revelation, there is an important principle involved. We are not to add or subtract to what God has revealed. Roman Catholicism believes we are subtracting from Scripture by omitting the Old Testament Apocrypha, while Protestants say we are adding to God’s Word by including these works as Scripture. We certainly do not want to be guilty of either. This is why we need to know the extent of Holy Scripture.

  3. The Church Does Not Set the Limits of the Canon

    This brings us to our next point. The extent of the canon is not something that the church sets or determines, but rather it is something that God alone determines. The church can only recognize the limits of the canon. How does it go about doing this? It does it by looking at the evidence both biblical and historical. The right to determine the extent of the canon is not solved by the so-called authoritative claims of some religious group; the claims must be backed up with evidence. Claims need to be proven; not merely accepted by faith.

    Roman Catholics strongly disagree with this point. They believe the canon is set by the church alone. Yet, as we shall see, the position of the Roman Catholic Church is at odds with the evidence. Therefore, we have no real reason to listen to their claims.

  4. Roman Catholics and Protestants Agree the Canon Was Formed by Divine Inspiration

    There is one last thing that needs to be mentioned. The historic Christian position is that the books of the Old Testament were written by special divine inspiration. They were authoritative the moment they were written. All Christians agree that the Old Testament canon was formed over time as these books were written under the divine inspiration of God.

    This is not merely the Protestant view of what occurred. The Council of Trent and the first Vatican Council, or Vatican I, are in general agreement with this viewpoint. For example, Vatican I states that the books of the Bible are held by the church to be sacred and canonical because of the following:

    [It is] not because, having been carefully composed by mere human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation, with no mixture of error, but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself. (Chapter. II)

    According to this statement, the Scriptures are authoritative because the living God is the ultimate Author. Consequently, we find that there is some common ground that Protestants and Roman Catholics have with respect to the composition of the Old Testament Scripture. These books were divinely inspired by the Lord.

    From the New Testament, we learn that these sacred writings were then recognized and accepted by the people of God from the nation Israel. Paul wrote to the Romans:

    Therefore what advantage does the Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision? Actually, there are many advantages. First of all the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2 NET)

    The question, therefore, remains. Which books were divinely inspired and recognized by God’s people and which were rejected? What is the extent of the Old Testament canon?

How We Will Answer the Roman Catholic Claims

As we mentioned earlier, we will divide our response to the Roman Catholic claims by examining three specific areas of dispute. They include: (1) was the canon closed in the first century A.D., at the time of Jesus, or was it still open? (2) How has the Christian Church historically viewed the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha? And (3) how do the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha match up with the teachings of Scripture and the facts of history? Do these books have the credentials of Holy Scripture?

Thus, our first question will look at the attitude of the ancient Jews, Jesus, and the New Testament writers with respect to the canon of Scripture and the Old Testament Apocrypha. Did they have a closed canon of Scripture, where no books could be added, or did they have an open canon? If they had a closed canon, did it include the Old Testament Apocrypha?

Our next question will consider how the church has historically treated these apocryphal books. Did they always regard them as canonical and authoritative or was there some question about their status? Our final question will see if the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha have the credentials to be called Holy Scripture.

We will conclude that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha have no right whatsoever to be part of Holy Scripture. As we answer each of these questions in detail, the reasons why we reach this conclusion will become obvious.

Issue 1: the Roman Catholic Claims There Was No Fixed Canon of Scripture at the Time of Christ

As we noted in our previous question, some Roman Catholics argue that there was no fixed canon of Old Testament Scripture at the time of Jesus Christ which contained only the present thirty-nine books that are found in the Protestant Old Testament. They argue that the canon was still open, and thus the status of a number of books was still uncertain. Furthermore, some Roman Catholics contend that there was a larger canon of Scripture in Alexandria, Egypt, than the one used in the more conservative Palestine. Though certain Jews in Palestine may have used a more conservative canon, it is contended that there is evidence from the New Testament that Jesus and His apostles accepted this wider canon of Scripture.

In addition, some Roman Catholics argue that there was an even smaller canon used by certain opponents of Jesus; the Sadducees. Therefore, the Old Testament canon was not settled until after the time of Christ. While the Jews attempted to settle the canon at the council of Jamnia, the canon was actually settled by the only people who had God’s authority at that time; the Roman Catholic Church.

This is how the issue is argued by many Roman Catholics and we will address their arguments. However, we must point out that a number of Roman Catholic sources do not contend that there were competing canons at the time of Christ. They rightly acknowledge that Jesus, as well as the first-century Jews, all recognized the same canon of Scripture which did not include the Old Testament Apocrypha. Some who hold this view say that the matter still had to be officially settled and it was the Roman Church who did this. When the church settled the issue, they added these writings to the canon of Scripture. Basically, they are arguing that the church has the right to add these books from the Old Testament Apocrypha to Scripture contrary to the practice of Jesus or the first-century Jews.

The question we will now address looks at the arguments of those who do not accept the idea that the canon was still closed; they believe the issue had not been settled in Jesus’ day. In our next course, The Authority of the Bible: Does It Have the Final Say? we will answer those who hold the position that the Roman Church has the right to make the final decisions on all spiritual matters regardless of the evidence.

Response to the Roman Catholic Claims

It is of the utmost importance that we know whether the Old Testament canon was closed at the time of Jesus. Had it been completely formed? If the canon had not been completely formed, then the determination would have to be left up to the church to decide the extent of the Old Testament Scripture.

To begin with, we need to discover the view of the ancient Jews, Jesus, and the apostles with respect to the contents and limits to the Old Testament canon of Scripture. Contrary to the claim of some Roman Catholics, there is no evidence whatsoever that any Jews, at any time or in any place, accepted the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture. Furthermore, from every source we possess, we find that there was a fixed or closed canon of Scripture before the time of Jesus with well-known limits. Though the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were written by Jews, and for Jews, the Jews have never considered them to be divinely inspired. On the contrary, the Jews have always denied their authority. A number of points need to be made.

There Were No Competing Canons in the First Century A.D.

The first thing which must be noted is that there were no competing canons among the Jews in the first century A.D. Therefore, there was no need for any council, either Jewish or Christian, to meet and settle the issue.

The evidence for this can be stated as follows:

  1. There Was No Greater Alexandrian Canon

    It has been argued that the canon of the Alexandrian Jews was larger than the canon used by the Jews of Palestine. Their canon included the Old Testament Apocrypha. However, there is no evidence of this whatsoever. We can make the following points.

  2. No Canonical List Exists from Alexandria Egypt

    To begin with, there is the problem of a lack of a list from the Jews in Alexandria. Nowhere do we have any canonical list from Alexandria, Egypt from before the time of Christ or shortly after it. Therefore, we have no evidence that the Jews in Alexandria held to a wider canon of Scripture. Since they left us with no canonical list, any theory that the Jews in Alexandria had a wider canon, which included the Old Testament Apocrypha, is mere speculation. It is based upon no documented evidence.

    While the Jews in Alexandria were more influenced by Greek thought than the Jews in Palestine, there is no reason to believe that this extended to their view of the Old Testament canon. There is no proof they were more likely to expand the canon or that they did expand the canon. None.

  3. Philo of Alexandria Had the Same Canon as the Palestinian Jews

    From the evidence we do have, we find that the Jews in Alexandria used the same canon as the Jews in Palestine and this canon did not contain the Old Testament Apocrypha. Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish writer who lived in the first century A.D., wrote voluminously on a number of subjects. He acknowledged that the Jews believed in the divine authority of the Hebrew canon. However, he gave no indication that there was a wider canon used by the Jews living in Egypt.

    From Philo, we find that the canon in Alexandria, Egypt was the same as in Palestine. He knows of the division of the Old Testament into the Law and the Prophets and ascribes divine inspiration to many of the individual books. While he did not leave us with a list of canonical books, the various books which he mentioned as divinely inspired is identical to the Hebrew canon. However, Philo says absolutely nothing about the canonicity of the Old Testament Apocrypha, though he was aware of their existence. His testimony is consistent with everything else we know of the Jews and their beliefs; they all accepted the same canon of Scripture.

  4. The Prologue to Sirach, Written in Egypt Ignores the Old Testament Apocrypha

    There is something else. The prologue to the Book of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, was written about 138 B.C. The prologue specifically states that it was written in Egypt. Though composed in Egypt, it accepts only the traditional books of the Old Testament as Holy Scripture, the Law and the Prophets, not the Old Testament Apocrypha. In fact, the writer makes the distinction between the Law and the Prophets and all other writings. If there were a wider canon in Alexandria, this writer would have certainly known of it. Yet he does not assume the existence of such a canon which contained these extra books.

  5. The Original Contents of the Septuagint Are Unknown

    The Septuagint translation, which was completed in Alexandria, Egypt, supposedly shows that the Alexandrian Jews had a wider canon than the Jews elsewhere; seeing they translated the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha along with the canonical books. Yet, this argument does not logically follow for a number of reasons.

    To begin with, we do not know the contents of the Septuagint before the time of Christ. While some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha eventually found their way into copies of the Septuagint translation, there is no evidence that these books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were in the Septuagint as early as the time of Christ. In fact, the earliest manuscripts that contain some of these apocryphal books with the Septuagint date back to the fourth century A.D. This does not demonstrate that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were part of the Septuagint translation in pre-Christian times. No one knows the exact contents of the Septuagint before the time of Christ. Indeed, we do not have any evidence that the Old Testament Apocrypha were part of the original Septuagint translation.

    Furthermore, it must be remembered that these earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint were produced by Christians living six hundred years after the translation was made. Thus, there is no clear answer as to what the first-century Septuagint contained.

    Add to this, the fourth or fifth century Greek manuscripts, in which some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha appear, have no consistency with the number of books or their order.

    Therefore, the fact that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are found in some later manuscripts of the Septuagint translation does not prove anything. The reality is that the Alexandrian Jews translated other religious material into Greek, apart from the Old Testament Scripture. This does not in any way indicate that they considered these other writings to be canonical. As we have seen, there is no evidence that they placed these works with the canonical writings. Therefore, the fact that these books were translated in the same era between the testaments has nothing to do with their status. A Greek translation of a book is not the same thing as a book being part of the original Hebrew canon.

    Furthermore, it seems that some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were not originally written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek; they were originally composed in Greek. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that they were part of the Septuagint translation. Consequently, the Septuagint translation, as we now have it in the earliest manuscripts, does not help us solve the issue of the extent of the canon.

  6. Greek-Speaking Christians Gave Some Authority to the Old Testament Apocrypha

    It must be remembered that it was not the Jews in Egypt, who gave some measure of authoritative status to these books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, but rather it was certain Greek-speaking Christians. To the Jews, these books were never considered divinely inspired Scripture. And unquestionably they would be in a position to know which writings were, and which writings were not, authoritative Scripture. It would not be certain Christians living six hundred years after the translation was made.

    To sum up, there is no evidence anywhere that the Alexandrian Jews accepted the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture. To the contrary, all the evidence indicates they held to the same books as the Jews in Palestine. The Jews in Alexandria give no list of Scripture, and Philo, the Jewish writer who lived in Alexandria, gives no indication of a wider canon in use. The Septuagint translation is of no help in deciding this matter. Consequently, the theory that the canon of the Alexandrian Jews contained the Old Testament Apocrypha, and was in competition with the canon in Palestine, has no evidence to support it.

  7. There Was No Competing Canon from the Sadducees

    Not only was there no competing canon of Scripture from the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, there was no competing canon among Jesus’ opponents, the Sadducees. It has been alleged that the canon of the Sadducees included only the Law of Moses. However, this is not the case. They accepted the same canon of Scripture as the Pharisees, Jesus, and all the other Jews living at that time. In a nutshell, here is the answer:

    Some of the Sadducees in the third century after Christ did join a sect of the Samaritans. In doing so, they rejected all of Holy Scripture except for the writings of Moses; Genesis through Deuteronomy. However, the evidence shows that in the first century A.D., the Sadducees were united with all Jewish sects in that they received and valued the same writings as Holy Scripture. We know this from a number of sources.

    The evidence from first-century writer Flavius Josephus, along with the evidence from the New Testament itself makes this clear. It shows that the Sadducees, while disagreeing with the Pharisees over the interpretation of certain doctrines such as the nature of angels and the resurrection from the dead, did not disagree with them as to the extent of the Old Testament canon.

    Indeed, this is made clear when the Magi came to Jerusalem to discover where the Christ had been born. The priests, who were mostly of the party of the Sadducees, told King Herod that the Scripture said the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. This “Scripture” which they cited was from the prophet Micah; not from the Law of Moses. Consequently, to them, Scripture consisted of more than the Law of Moses.

    The fact that the Sadducees, at the time of Christ, had been in charge of the temple archives for over a century is another indication that they accepted the same writings as divinely inspired Scripture. They were the custodians of the Scripture. Later in the first century, the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus tells us that all Jews accepted only twenty-two books as Holy Scripture. This, of course, would include the Sadducees who were keepers of the temple archives.

    Therefore, the testimony from the Sadducees reveals that the canon of Scripture was agreed upon by all first-century Jewish groups; no matter what their other differences of beliefs may have been.

Conclusion: All of Judaism Had the Same Canon

There were no competing canons among the Jews in the first-century A.D. Those in Alexandria, Egypt, held to the same canon of Scripture as those in Palestine. This includes all sects of Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. To the Jews, the extent of the canon was clear.

The Old Testament Canon Was Closed Four Centuries Before the Time of Christ with Known Contents

This brings us to our next point which is all-important. Every piece of evidence that we possess indicates the Old Testament canon had been closed in actual practice for about four centuries before the time of Christ. This can be seen by either explicit or implicit statements in the various writings which have survived. Furthermore, the content of this canon was well-known.

We can chronicle the evidence as follows:

  1. The Book of Jesus Ben Sirach, Ecclesiasticus (196-175 B.C)

    We begin by going back some two hundred years before the time of Christ to the writings of Jesus son of Sirach; one of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. We learn a number of valuable things from examining this work. First, we find that this writer knew of a distinct collection of books which he considered to be canonical or divinely authoritative. Not only was he familiar with these sacred writings, he was constantly quoting them as authoritative. Thus, we discover from Sirach that a canon of Scripture existed at his time.

    There is also evidence that Ben Sirach knew of a completed canon of Scripture that is identical with our present Old Testament canon. In a long section where Ben Sirach praises his ancient ancestors, he begins by praising Enoch, whose story is found in the Book of Genesis, and he finishes his summary with the praise of Nehemiah. The Book of Genesis is the first book of the Old Testament while Nehemiah represents the period in which the last books were written. This includes Ezra/Nehemiah, Chronicles, and the writings of some of the Minor Prophets such as Malachi.

    In effect, Ben Sirach is giving us the extent of the Old Testament canon. By ending the praise of his ancestors with Nehemiah, Ben Sirach is demonstrating that biblical history, as well as the sacred writings, were closed at that time in history; in the Persian period. This is evidence that the canon was closed somewhere around 400 B.C.

    Furthermore, as we carefully examine the characters which Ben Sirach mentions, as well as his quotations and allusions of Scripture, we discover that the collection of books he considers to be sacred is identical to the Hebrew canon. Indeed, the only Old Testament book which Ben Sirach does not specifically mention is the Book of Ruth. However, Ruth may have been attached to the Book of Judges at that time in history. Thus, Ben Sirach not only testifies to a divinely inspired canon, the content of his canon matches our present Old Testament!

    What is even more enlightening is that Sirach does not mention any of the writings of the Old Testament Apocrypha. It is possible that three of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, Tobit, Judith, and Baruch, had been written before the time of Ben Sirach. Yet, he mentions none of them or any of the characters unique to them. This is further evidence that the canon did not include these writings.

    In addition, Sirach also makes the distinction between his writings and the sacred ones. He says what he wrote poured forth from his own mind. He does not claim divine inspiration. He said:

    Instruction in understanding and knowledge I have written in this book, Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem, whose mind poured forth wisdom. (Sirach 50:47 NRSV)

    Thus, in Ben Sirach, there is no claim of divine inspiration or that the word of the Lord came uniquely unto him. While he testifies to a collection of sacred writings, he did not consider his own work to be a part of that collection. Indeed, he was more of an imitator of Scripture; one who adapted the Holy writings to teach wisdom. Consequently, his work should not be considered part of the canon of Scripture.

    Thus, from the Book of Ben Sirach we find that a canon existed which had been closed some two centuries before he wrote in 200 B.C. This canon contained the exact same books as our present Old Testament. It did not contain the Old Testament Apocrypha.

  2. The Prologue to Ben Sirach (132 B.C)

    The grandson of Ben Sirach translated his grandfather’s work into Greek about 132 B.C. He also added a prologue to his translation. In it, he made the distinction between the writings of his grandfather and the Holy Scriptures which he called, “the Law and the Prophets.” This gives further testimony that a closed canon of Scripture with clearly defined limits, existed at this time in history.

  3. First and Second Maccabees (100 B.C.)

    We also have testimony from the two books of the Maccabees; two works which are included in the Old Testament Apocrypha. From their testimony, we can discover that a canon of Scripture existed at the time these books were composed (about 100 B.C). This canon consisted of two divisions; the Law and the Prophets. This represented the works of Moses, the Law, and everything else written after the time of Moses, the Prophets. Specifically mentioned are the Books of Kings, Nehemiah, Ezra, and Psalms as well as the Law of Moses.

    This canon of Scripture was closed. Indeed, at the time of the Maccabees, in 165 B.C., they were actually waiting for another prophet to come along and tell them what to do with the altar which had been torn down. They realized that no prophet existed who had the authority to tell them what to do.

    First Maccabees also indicates that it had been a long time since a prophet had arisen in Israel. This is consistent with the idea that there had been no biblical prophet since the time of Nehemiah or in the Persian period.

    We learn something else important. Second Maccabees also testifies that these sacred writings were kept in a sacred place; the temple. Though the Scriptures were destroyed by the Syrian leader Antiochus IV when he defiled the temple, other copies were placed back into the official temple archives when the temple was re-taken by the Jews around 165 B.C.

  4. This Is a Known Practice

    The placing of sacred books in the temple is consistent with what we know from the Old Testament. There are a number of places in the Old Testament where this practice is alluded to. Placing the books in a sacred place is the same as acknowledging these books as divine; it is the same as canonizing them. This practice would allow the people to always know exactly which books were part of Holy Scripture. It also allowed people to make copies for their own use. This would include Jews who lived in other lands. Their Scripture would conform to the divine writings kept in the temple.

    Thus, First and Second Maccabees gives further confirmation of the evidence we discovered in the Book of Sirach as well as in the prologue to Sirach; the canon had been closed during the Persian period. From First Maccabees we have the implication that the canon had been closed long before the time of Judas Maccabaeus (165 B.C.). Yet, it could have not been closed before the time of Nehemiah since he is specifically mentioned as having gathered all the sacred writings which included his own. This is consistent with the idea that the canon was closed around 400 B.C.

    In addition, the contents of the canon were well-known. Indeed, since the writings would be kept in the official archive in the temple there would be no doubt as to the extent of the canon.

    Therefore, the date of the closing of the canon, around 400 B.C., as well as the contents of the canon being well-known to all, is further confirmed by First and Second Maccabees.

  5. The Dead Sea Scrolls (150 B.C-A.D 70)

    The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of about eight hundred documents which were written from about 150 B.C. to A.D. 70. These include biblical as well as secular documents. Fragments of every Old Testament book, except the Book of Esther, have been found at Qumran.

    Most scholars believe that the people who lived at the place near the Dead Sea, where the scrolls were found, were the Essenes. Although they were rivals of mainstream Judaism, all of the evidence indicates they accepted the same books as Holy Scripture.

    While it is true that some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were found among the scrolls left by this group, they were not the only non-canonical books that were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Other books were discovered. The materials found at Qumran were part of a library ? they were not merely books of Scripture.

    However, we can discover the distinction that the Essenes made between the canonical Scripture, and all other writings, by noting the commentaries which they produced. They only produced commentaries on biblical books. While commentaries of some of the biblical books have been found at Qumran, no commentary has thus far been found on any of the Old Testament Apocryphal books. Consequently, this provides further evidence that the Dead Sea community did not hold to the idea that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were divinely inspired.

    There is more evidence. From the writings found at Qumran we discover that these people had no problem criticizing other Jewish groups for their beliefs and practices. However, what is absent from their criticism is the holy books which were used by these groups. The fact that the contents of the canon are never criticized by the inhabitants of Qumran is further testimony as to the agreement among the Jewish people as to the extent of Holy Scripture.

    Thus, the evidence from Qumran is consistent with the evidence from Sirach, the prologue to Sirach, and First and Second Maccabees as to the existence and extent of the Old Testament canon.

  6. Fourth Maccabees (A.D.20)

    We also have the testimony of Fourth Maccabees. This work was most likely written around A.D 20 or a short time thereafter. Therefore, it was composed around the time of the life of Christ. In Fourth Maccabees 18:10-19, the author cites eight books that he says are contained in “the Law and the Prophets.” They are Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. This is one third of the writings of the Old Testament. It gives further testimony that a canon of Scripture existed at this time. In addition, from the books cited, we find that the contents are consistent with what we know was contained in the Law and the Prophets; our present Old Testament.

  7. Josephus (A.D. 90)

    Thus far, the evidence shows that, among the Jews, a completed canon of Scripture existed with clearly defined limits. This canon contained the exact same writings as we find in our present Old Testament; thirty-nine sacred books. We discovered this by closely examining the testimony of these ancient writings.

    However, to this time, all of the evidence we have looked at is implicit. Now we will look at some explicit testimony to the time of the closing of the canon as well as its contents. The first explicit testimony to the existence and the extent of the Old Testament canon comes from the first-century writer Flavius Josephus. He unambiguously stated the time when the canon was closed as well as providing us with the exact contents of the canon. He said:

    We have but twenty-two [books] containing the history of all time, books that are justly believed in; and of these, five are the books of Moses, which comprise the law and earliest traditions from the creation of mankind down to his death. 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. (Contra Apion 1:7-8)

    Josephus made it clear that there were only twenty-two books which were divinely inspired by God. These sacred writings are the same as our present thirty-nine books in the Old Testament; they are just divided differently. The books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were not among these sacred writings.

    Furthermore, Josephus explicitly tells us that no additional sacred writings were composed after the time of Artaxerxes. The continuous succession of biblical prophets had ended. Josephus’ testimony puts an end to biblical history during the time of Nehemiah. This is consistent with the statements from the other writings we have considered.

    Therefore, the explicit statements of Josephus are in agreement with what we found in Sirach, the prologue to Sirach, First and Second Maccabees, Fourth Maccabees, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

  8. Second Esdras (A.D. 100)

    The same testimony as to the extent of the Hebrew canon is found in the apocryphal book of Second Esdras ? also known as the Ezra legend. This work, written in A.D. 100, gives evidence of a twenty-four book canon.

    According to this story, which was set at the time of Ezra, Ezra was given forty days to write down ninety-four books. There were two sets of books, twenty-four which were to be made public, and seventy which were to be kept hidden or secret. The seventy hidden books were only for the wise, but the twenty-four books were for the public.

    The fact that he speaks of the twenty-four books as having been written for the public, and having been made public, indicates their well-known status. These are the twenty-four books of the Hebrew canon. Furthermore, the fact that the writer of Second Esdras places the composition of these twenty-four books at the time of Ezra gives further testimony that the canon was closed during the Persian period.

    Thus, Second Esdras indicates that there were twenty-four books that were sacred Scripture. The difference between twenty-two, which Josephus mentions, and twenty-four, found in Second Esdras, is in the way they are divided. Josephus seems to attach Ruth to Judges and Lamentations to Jeremiah, making twenty-two books, while Second Esdras counts Ruth and Lamentations as separate works, making twenty-four. What is clear from both of these writers is that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were not on either list that comes from first-century Jews. This testimony is in complete agreement with all of the evidence we have seen thus far.

  9. Aquila’s Translation (A.D. 128)

    There is further evidence as to the extent of the Hebrew Old Testament from Greek translations of the Old Testament other than the Septuagint. These translations did not include the Old Testament Apocryphal books. For example, Aquila’s Greek version of the Old Testament, completed in about A.D. 128, did not contain the Old Testament Apocrypha. This is particularly significant because the Alexandrian Jews adopted this version as their Holy Scripture. Now this would indeed be extraordinary if these same Jews accepted the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture. However, as we have seen, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Alexandrian Jews ever considered the Old Testament Apocrypha as canonical. Aquila’s translation gives further confirmation as to the extent of the Hebrew canon.

  10. Syriac Peshitta (A.D. 150)

    It is generally accepted that most of its Old Testament Books were translated from the Hebrew into Syriac somewhere around A.D. 150-200. Most scholars believe that this translation was carried out by Christian Jews. This earliest version of the Syriac translation, the Peshitta, did not include the Old Testament Apocrypha. While these books were later added to the Syriac Versions from the Septuagint, they were not contained in the earliest version. All of this is consistent with what we know of the extent of the Old Testament canon among the Jews.

  11. The Jewish Talmud (Second and Third Centuries A.D)

    The Jewish Talmud is a record of the oral traditions of the Jews which were eventually put into writing. The Talmud provides evidence of the Jewish view of the canon in the second and third century A.D. As far as the contents of the canon are concerned, the Talmud has this to say:

    Our rabbis taught, “The order of the prophets is: Joshua and Judges, Samuel and Kings, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah and the Twelve Prophets... The order of the Writings is Ruth and the Book of Psalms and Job and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and Lamentations, Daniel and the Scroll of Esther, Ezra and Chronicles.” (Baba Bathra 14b)

    This statement explains the contents of the Old Testament books apart from the Law of Moses. It numbers the sacred writings as twenty-four. This is the same enumeration which is found in Second Esdras. Again, it is further testimony that the canonical books did not include the Old Testament Apocrypha.

    We also have the testimony as to when the canon was completed. In another place, we read:

    After the last prophets-Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi-died, the Holy Spirit ceased in Israel. (Tosefta Sota 13:2)

    This statement places the end of biblical history around the time of Nehemiah (about 400 B.C). Again, this is consistent with every other source which we have considered.

  12. The New Testament (A.D. 40-80)

    We now come to our last, as well as the strongest, piece of evidence against the acceptance of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture; the writings of the New Testament. Though the New Testament cites directly, or alludes to, almost every book of the Old Testament as Scripture, it never cites the Old Testament Apocrypha as being God’s Word. The Old Testament Apocrypha was not the Bible of Jesus or His apostles. While Jesus and His apostles often quoted from the Septuagint, they never quoted from the Old Testament Apocrypha.

    A number of important points need to be made:

    • There Are No Direct Quotations of the Old Testament Apocrypha

      While some Roman Catholics attempt to argue that the New Testament cites the Old Testament Apocrypha in Mark 10:19 and 2 Timothy 2:19, most Roman Catholics realize this is not the case.

      In Mark 10:19, when Jesus uses the phrase, “do not defraud,” He is not citing Sirach 4:1 as His reference.

      In truth, Sirach is actually paraphrasing the statements found in Deuteronomy 24:14. It reads:

      You must not oppress a lowly and poor servant, whether one from among your fellow Israelites or from the resident foreigners who are in your land and villages. (Deuteronomy 24:14 NET)

      Quite apart from the statement in Sirach, the Old Testament teaches not to oppress or defraud others. Therefore, though He is using the same two-word phrase in Greek which is found in Sirach, Jesus is not directly quoting this passage as Scripture.

      In the same manner, 2 Timothy 2:19 is not a direct quote from Sirach 17:26. Paul wrote to Timothy:

      Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil. (2 Timothy 2:19 NET)

      The command to turn away from wickedness is not directly citing Sirach 17:26. More likely, it refers to Job 36:10 where the same idea is found.

      As we mentioned, very few, if any, Roman Catholics actually contend that these are direct citations from the Old Testament Apocrypha. There is no real evidence that this is the case.

    • Allusions Are Not the Same as a Direct Quote

      While there may indeed be some allusions to the Old Testament apocryphal books by New Testament writers, as we have seen, there is no direct quote from these writings. It must be emphasized that an allusion is not the same as a direct quote. That the New Testament adopts phrases from the Old Testament Apocrypha is not surprising. However, adopting phrases or ideas from another writing is not the same as assuming that writing has divine authority any more than when a pastor or Bible teacher uses phrases or ideas found in other literature. Alluding to something does not mean it is divinely inspired. Therefore, any allusion to the Old Testament Apocrypha, or the use of words and phrases found in these writings, does not indicate these works are considered to have been inspired of God.

    • The New Testament Writers Never Cite the Old Testament Apocrypha to Establish Doctrine

      While the New Testament does not give us a specific list of books which it considers to be Holy Scripture, it does quote many works with certain words or phrases which indicate their divine status. This includes words and phrases such as the “Law,” the “Scripture,” the “prophets,” “God said,” or “it is written.” While most of the Old Testament books are cited with one of these designations, no New Testament writer ever refers to any of these books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as authoritative. Neither is any passage from the Old Testament Apocrypha quoted to prove a point. Never do the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament Apocrypha in this way.

      Contrary to what is often stated by defenders of the Old Testament Apocrypha, this is not absence of evidence, it is evidence of absence. There is a reason why these books are not cited with these words and formulas that would indicate they are divinely inspired; they were not considered to be Holy Scripture. The fact that the Old Testament Apocrypha is not quoted in the New Testament is not an argument from silence, but rather an argument about silence. The Old Testament Scriptures were often cited; the Old Testament Apocrypha was never cited.

      Furthermore, the few Old Testament books which were not directly quoted in the New Testament were known by the writers. For example, in the Book of Hebrews, we have the names of many of the Judges listed in the heroes of the faith? This gives testimony of the divine inspiration of the Book of Judges. If so, then it is likely that Ruth would have been also assumed to be divinely inspired because Ruth is often placed with the Book of Judges. The other Old Testament books that are not directly quoted in the New Testament are referred to in other sources that pre-date the New Testament. Consequently, their authority had already been established. Yet, the authority of the Old Testament Apocrypha is non-existent.

      If the writers of the New Testament considered the Old Testament Apocrypha to be Scripture, we would certainly expect them to refer to it in some way. However we find no direct quotations. This is in contrast to more than two hundred and fifty quotations from the authoritative Old Testament Scriptures. Thus, we have two hundred and fifty plus quotations compared to zero quotations.

      The fact that the present canon was repeatedly quoted as being divinely authoritative as well as the absence of any direct quote from the Old Testament Apocrypha, is another indication of the extent of the canon - it did not include the Apocrypha.

    • No Book of the Old Testament Apocrypha Is Mentioned by Name

      There is something else. No book of the Old Testament Apocrypha is mentioned by name in the New Testament. This is in contrast to a number of Old Testament books that are named in the New Testament. These include the Book of Moses, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Daniel. This is further evidence of the lack of authority in these Old Testament Apocryphal books.

  13. The Council of Jamnia Is Not Relevant

    One final point to make concerns the Jewish council of Jamnia. Some Roman Catholics argue that the canon was actually closed at the council in Jamnia in the late first century A.D. However, as we have just seen, this is not the case. All that we really know about the meetings at Jamnia is that sometime between A.D. 75 and 117 a session of Jewish leaders convened. It seems that only two canonical books were debated; the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. It is possible that only one book was actually debated; Ecclesiastes. However, it was concluded that the Book of Ecclesiastes, though seemingly contradictory to other Scripture in some of its content and negative in its tone, was indeed part of Holy Scripture.

    Yet, whatever decisions were made at Jamnia were still being debated some one hundred years later. Thus, nothing was settled. From the Christian point of view nothing needed to be settled. The extent of the canon, as well as its contents had been settled some five centuries earlier. The meeting at Jamnia, whatever it consisted of, did not close the canon or canonize any books.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear. The ancient Jews, Jesus, and His disciples all had the same Old Testament Scripture. There was no difference between the Scripture used in Alexandria, Egypt, than in Palestine. The Jews, who received the oracles of God, had a limited number of divinely inspired writings. This did not include the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Summary - Question 5
Did the Jews, Jesus, or His Disciples Accept the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture?

Roman Catholics argue that the canon of Scripture was not completed or closed at the time of Jesus. They contend that it was possible for more writings to be added to the Old Testament. A number of arguments are put forward to support this view.

However, as we have seen, there is no evidence whatsoever that the canon of Scripture was still open at the time of Jesus. Every Jewish group recognized that God had stopped speaking to the nation through His succession of prophets during the Persian period or about the time of Nehemiah.

Though some Roman Catholic defenders claim that the ancient Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, had a wider canon of Scripture than the one found in Palestine, we find that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this idea. When all the facts are considered, we discovered that neither the Jews, Jesus, nor His hand-picked disciples ever considered the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as part of Holy Scripture. This evidence is really beyond dispute.

In fact, from every available source, both before and after the time of Christ, we find that the Jews, no matter what their internal differences, accepted the same divinely inspired books as Holy Scripture. There were no competing canons.

The Roman Catholic argument assumes that Protestants got their canon from the decisions made at the Jewish Council of Jamnia, which met at the end of the first century A.D.

However, the Old Testament canon had been closed, in practice, five centuries before that time. The idea of a closed canon of Old Testament Scripture is implicit in a number of ancient writings. This includes Sirach, the Prologue to Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, Second Esdras, and Fourth Maccabees. It is also explicit in the writings of Josephus and in the Jewish Talmud.

Each of these sources testifies to the same thing. The canon was closed in the Persian period; the time of Nehemiah. Therefore, it is wrong to say that the Protestants have taken what the Jews arbitrarily decided at Jamnia and made it into Holy Scripture. There is no evidence of competing canons and no canonical list was necessary. If anyone wished to know the contents of Holy Scripture they merely had to consult the temple archives in Jerusalem.

Why Does the Roman Catholic Church Accept the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha (The Deuterocanonical Books) as Holy Scripture? ← Prior Section
What Has Been the Historical View of Christians Toward the Old Testament Apocrypha? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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