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

Don Stewart :: How Were Books Apart from the Writings of Moses Determined to Be Scripture?

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How Were Books Apart from the Writings of Moses Determined to Be Scripture?

Are the Correct Books in the Old Testament? – Question 6

Throughout the entire Old Testament period, it is clear that the five books of Moses were regarded as divinely authoritative. There is no question about this. But what about the books that came after Moses? What do we know about them?

We Do Not Know for Certain How They Were Recognized

The situation is less clear for the books that came after the time of Moses. The Old Testament provides very little in the way of information about the collection of divinely authoritative books apart from the Law of Moses.

Things We Know for Certain

There are, however, several things that we do know for certain. They are as follows:

1. Other Divine Writings after Moses Were to Be Expected

We do find that other divine writings, apart from the Law of Moses, were to be expected. This can be seen as follows.

First, there was nothing final about the Law of Moses. There is no hint in the Law that it was to be the only written revelation from God.

Second, the Lord promised to raise up certain people to be prophets after the time of Moses. It would only be natural to assume that some of the words of the prophets would also be committed to writing.

In addition, the Law of Moses was incomplete. There were predictions made of things to come. God’s promises needed to be fulfilled and recorded. All of this anticipates further Scripture.

2. The Gift of Prophecy Continued after Moses

Following Moses, God raised up the institution of prophecy to continue revealing Himself to His people. Moses promised that this would happen.

We read about this in the Book of Deuteronomy:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19 NIV)

While divine revelation did not end with Moses, the process of the acceptance of canonical works after Moses is not quite as obvious. However, there are a number of things that we can learn.

3. Joshua Received and Wrote Authoritative Truth

Joshua, who was the successor of Moses, continued to receive and write authoritative truth from the Lord. The Book of Joshua says:

On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD. (Joshua 24:25-26 NIV)

Joshua’s writings were placed in the very Book of the Law that Moses wrote. His work would have been immediately accepted with the same authority as Moses’ writings. The fact that this happened is very important. Strong warnings were given about adding to, or subtracting from, God’s Word. Scripture says:

Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. (Deuteronomy 4:2 NIV)

We also read the following in the Book of Deuteronomy:

Be sure to do everything I command you. Never add anything to it or take anything away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32 God’s Word)

These sacred writings were kept at the sanctuary at Shechem. This practice of placing holy records in the sanctuary was done by many other nations of antiquity. This is another indication that Joshua, like Moses, was regarded as having written Holy Scripture. Joshua, along with the people, had to be convinced that his writings carried the same authority as those of Moses. God Himself had to authorize them as being Scripture.

4. Samuel Wrote God’s Truth

We are told that the prophet Samuel wrote down the regulations, put them on a scroll, and kept it in a sacred place, the sanctuary. Scripture says:

Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship; and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people back to their homes. (1 Samuel 10:25 NRSV)

Since the writings of Samuel would have been placed with those of Moses and Joshua, they would have immediately been accepted as Holy Scripture.

5. The Book of Kings Records God’s Word

The Chronicler mentions that the annals of Jehu were written in the Book of the Kings of Israel. He says the following:

The other events of Jehoshaphat’s reign, from beginning to end, are written in the annals of Jehu son of Hanani, which are recorded in the book of the kings of Israel. (2 Chronicles 20:34 NIV)

The Book of First Kings says that Jehu was a prophet. We read:

Moreover, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Jehu son of Hanani to Baasha and his house, because of all the evil he had done in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger by the things he did, and becoming like the house of Jeroboam-- and also because he destroyed it. (1 Kings 16:7 NIV)

Therefore, at least part of the Book of Kings (First and Second Kings) was written by one who had the prophetic gift.

6. The Psalms Were Divinely Given

The wisdom revealed in the Psalms was divinely given. David, the author of a number of Psalms, said the following about the wisdom given Him:

The spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. (2 Samuel 23:2 NRSV)

His writings carried God’s authority.

7. The Proverbs Were of Divine Origin

The wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs was also divinely ordained of the Lord. We read the following:

For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6 HCSB)

The truth recorded in the Book of Proverbs was divine; not human.

8. Isaiah the Prophet Wrote the Word of the Lord

Isaiah the prophet was told by the Lord to write words on a scroll. Isaiah recorded this command of the Lord:

The LORD said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen.” (Isaiah 8:1 NIV)

These words were to be preserved as a memorial for the future. He gave this command to his followers:

Tie up the written instructions. Seal the teachings among my disciples. (Isaiah 8:16 God’s Word)

He also wrote about his words being an everlasting witness. We read the following:

Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. (Isaiah 30:8 NIV)

The prophet Isaiah faithfully wrote down the things that the Lord had showed him.

9. Ezekiel Claimed to Write Down God’s Words

We also find the Lord telling the prophet Ezekiel to write certain things down. The Lord says:

And if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple - its arrangement, its exits and entrances-- its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations. (Ezekiel 43:11 NIV)

Ezekiel also wrote down the Lord’s truth as God had commanded him.

10. Jeremiah Was Told to Write Words in a Book

God told Jeremiah the prophet to write down words in a book. This is the claim of the prophet. He wrote the following.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.’” (Jeremiah 30:1-2 NIV)

Jeremiah was another writing prophet who recorded God’s Word.

11. The End of the Old Testament Was at the Time of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi

The end of the Old Testament came at the time of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Haggai wrote about 520 B.C. Zechariah wrote at about the same time with some material being added after 480 B.C. Malachi, the last of the writing prophets, wrote approximately 435 B.C.

The last books of history were Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Their writings would have completed the Old Testament canon. We know that Ezra went to Jerusalem about 460 B.C. and Nehemiah was in Jerusalem from about 445-433 B.C. The Book of Esther was probably written sometime during the reign of Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C). This being the case, the last historical books of the Old Testament were written no later than 420 B.C.

Only a Few Other Authoritative Writings Are Referred to in Scripture

Apart from the five Books of Moses, it is mainly the authors themselves who acknowledge the divine inspiration of their own works. There are, however, a few references of one prophet acknowledging another prophet, or one writer acknowledging other books. The evidence is as follows:

1. Isaiah Spoke of the Scroll of the Lord

In one example, Isaiah the prophet wrote of “the Book, or Scroll, of the Lord.” He said:

Look in the scroll of the LORD and read: None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate. For it is his mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together. (Isaiah 34:16 NIV)

The contents of this book are not identified by Isaiah.

2. Daniel Spoke of the Sacred Books

Daniel the prophet spoke of certain “sacred books.” He wrote the following:

In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom-- in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. (Daniel 9:1-2 NIV)

This is the earliest reference we have to a collection of “sacred books.” However, nothing is said as to what books were in the collection, or how many there were.

3. Isaiah’s Writings Were Testified to by the Chronicler

The Chronicler noted the writings of the prophet Isaiah. He said:

The other events of Uzziah’s reign, from beginning to end, are recorded by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. (2 Chronicles 26:22 NIV)

Therefore, we have another testimony that Isaiah the prophet wrote down certain things.

4. The Psalms Were Written Over a Period of Time

The Book of Psalms was not all composed at once or by one person. We read about the end of the psalms that were written by David.

This collection of the prayers of David son of Jesse ends here. (Psalm 72:20 NET)

Therefore, the psalms of David make up only a part of the Book of Psalms.

5. The Proverbs of Solomon Were Collected and Edited

The Bible says that the proverbs of Solomon were collected and copied by the men of Hezekiah. We read the following:

These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah. (Proverbs 25:1 NIV)

This is another indication of the process of the composition of the Old Testament books. The sacred records were faithfully copied.

6. The Earlier Prophets Were Quoted as Authoritative by the Later Prophets

Those prophets, who came later in history, quoted the earlier prophets as authoritative. In the Book of Jeremiah, it says:

Some of the elders of the land stepped forward and said to the entire assembly of people, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets”’ “Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the LORD and seek his favor? And did not the LORD relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!” (Now Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath Jearim was another man who prophesied in the name of the LORD; he prophesied the same things against this city and this land as Jeremiah did. (Jeremiah 26:17-20 NIV)

We have a number of references in the Book of Zechariah to the former prophets. For example, he wrote the following:

Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the LORD. Where are your forefathers now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your forefathers? “Then they repented and said, ‘The LORD Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’” (Zechariah 1:4-6 NIV)

Zechariah also wrote these words:

Are these not the words the LORD proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled? (Zechariah 7:7 NIV)

He then said:

They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry. (Zechariah 7:12 NIV)

Zechariah clearly recognized that certain prophets came before him.

The People Were Rebuked for Not Obeying the Earlier Prophets

There were times the people were rebuked for not listening to the earlier prophets. In the Book of Chronicles, we read the following:

Although the LORD sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him, and though they testified against them, they would not listen. (2 Chronicles 24:19 NIV)

Ezra, in his prayer, acknowledged the people did not listen to the former prophets. He said:

But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other.’ (Ezra 9:10-11 NIV)

Again, we have another reference to previous prophets.

7. The Books Were Probably Recognized Individually

The books after Moses were written by a number of different people during a one thousand year period. Most likely, they were individually recognized as being canonical. When the recognition that the prophetic gift had been removed from the nation (about 400 B.C.) these writings were then put into clearly defined divisions; the Law and the Prophets.

Summary – Question 6
How Were Books Apart from the Writings of Moses Determined to Be Scripture?

While we do not have a lot of information regarding the books that were written after the time of Moses, there are several things that we do know. Within the Old Testament itself we find that the Law of Moses was accepted as authoritative Scripture.

In the same way, God sent prophets and wise men after Moses. Their writings were accepted with the same respect as Moses?they were received as the Word of God. Therefore, within the pages of the Old Testament we find the idea of an authoritative group of writings.

From the earliest times we find that the writings of Moses, Joshua, and Samuel were immediately accepted as Holy Scripture. Samuel was probably the author of First and Second Samuel. He may also have written Judges and Ruth.

The collection of sacred writings that make up our present Old Testament grew over the period of Israel’s history. From the beginning, the words contained in these books were understood as being the words of the Lord. The first person to speak of a collection was Daniel the Prophet. However, the Old Testament itself does not give us any indication as to the extent of the canon. This would come later. This sums up what we know about the writings which were composed after the time of Moses and were recognized as sacred Scripture.

Were the Writings of Moses Considered to Be Scripture? ← Prior Section
When, by Whom, and Where Were the Books of the Old Testament Finally Collected? Next Section →
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