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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are the Right Books in the Old Testament?

Don Stewart :: Why Was the Authority of Certain Old Testament Books Questioned?

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Why Was the Authority of Certain Old Testament Books Questioned?

Are the Correct Books in the Old Testament? – Question 12

At certain times, some of the books of the Old Testament have had their authority questioned. These include Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Ezekiel, and Proverbs. The reasons vary from book to book. We can make the following observations about each one of these works.

1. Esther

The problem with the Book of Esther is that the name of God is not found in the book. The hand of God, however, is certainly evident in the story as He protected the Jews from total annihilation. The mere absence of God’s name is not sufficient reason to deny its status, especially when His providential hand is so evident. Certainly there is nothing taught in the Book of Esther that is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.

We Do Not Know Why God’s Name Is Not Mentioned

While a number of theories have been proposed as to why God’s name is not mentioned, no one really knows for certain. What we do know is that Esther did exercise faith. She said:

Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:16 NIV)

The fact that Esther urged the people to fast demonstrates that she, as well as the people, had faith in the God of the Hebrew Scripture.

Esther Is the Basis for the Feast of Purim

The deliverance that was granted by God was basis for the feast of Purim. The Book of Esther explains how the feast originated. We read the following:

Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur. Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, the Jews took it upon themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants. (Esther 9:26-28 NIV)

This passage explains how the feast should be perpetually celebrated. This is another indication of the importance of the Book.

Is the Name of God Found in Esther?

It has been contended that God’s name is actually contained in the Book of Esther. It is found in acrostic form in the original Hebrew at four crucial points of the story of Esther. Indeed, at Esther 5:4, it has been observed that if one would take the first letter of four consecutive Hebrew words, it would spell out the divine name; Yahweh or Jehovah. Consequently, it is argued, that Esther shows the working of God behind the scenes without His name being mentioned.

2. Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes was sometimes objected to because of its skeptical tone. The writer of the book exclaims that all life is subject to vanity:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 ESV)

The problem here is a matter of understanding the author’s intent. Solomon, the writer of the book, is demonstrating that no one can experience ultimate satisfaction in this world. He shows that all people need God.

There is also what seems to be an encouragement for one to live for pleasure, rather than live for God. We read the following:

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NIV)

Ancient Judaism reconciled this problem by translating this verse as a question demanding a no answer rather than a statement. Consequently, the verse would read something like the following:

Is there nothing better for mortals to do but to eat and drink and find enjoyment in their toil? No, there is not.

The book ends with the author encouraging the people to turn to God. It says:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV)

Therefore, the problem is the lack of understanding the message of the Book of Ecclesiastes—not its divine authority.

3. The Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon was sometimes criticized as being too secular. First, it was said to have been too sensual. Second, the name of the Lord is not mentioned in the book.

The misdirected criticisms of sensuality do not understand the purpose of the book, which is to emphasize the nobility of marriage.

In addition, the Song of Solomon may contain the name of God. There is a verse that reads as follows:

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. (Song of Solomon 8:6 NIV)

The last phrase could be translated, “like the very flame of the LORD.”

Whether or not the name of the Lord is used, the authority of the Song of Solomon has never really been in doubt.

4. Ezekiel

There were some who considered the Book of Ezekiel to be against the Mosaic Law. It was thought that the closing chapters, which speak of a new temple, could not be reconciled with the Law of Moses. Eventually it was discovered how Ezekiel and Moses could be reconciled. Its authoritative status was never really in doubt.

5. Proverbs

Proverbs had some who doubted it because of certain supposed inner contradictions. One example is as follows:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5 NIV)

While these statements seem contradictory, this is not necessarily a contradiction. There are times when one should answer a fool, and other times when one should not. Different situations call for different responses when dealing with foolish people. Consequently, we should not assume these statements are contradictory.

There Was No Serious Challenge to These Writings

While the divine inspiration of each of these books may have been discussed, there has been no serious challenge to their place in the canon of Scripture. Consequently, there is no reason to question their authority.

Summary – Question 12
Why Was the Authority of Certain Old Testament Books Questioned?

Certain Old Testament books had been questioned as to their divine authority. These include Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Ezekiel, and Proverbs. There was a different reason why each was questioned. Esther does not mention the name of God. The Song of Solomon does not mention the name of God.

Also, it seemed to be too sensual to be in Scripture. Ecclesiastes seemingly contained things that were at odds with other parts of Scripture.

Certain of the Proverbs seemed to be contradictory. Ezekiel seemed to have portions that were against the Law of Moses. Yet all these differences have sensible solutions.

It should also be noted that there was never any serious consideration that these books did not belong in Holy Scripture.

What Were the Non-Canonical Books That Were Mentioned in the Old Testament? ← Prior Section
Did the Sadducees Have a Different Old Testament Canon than the Rest of Judaism? Next Section →
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