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Don Stewart :: What Can We Conclude about the Old Testament Canon?

Don Stewart

After looking at the available evidence we can conclude the following about the Old Testament canon.

1. The Idea Of A Canon Is Found In Old Testament Writings

The idea of an Old Testament canon, or a set number of sacred books, can be found within the writings of the Old Testament itself. While Old Testament events were still occurring, certain writings were already considered to be divinely inspired by the people. We know they accepted some books as authoritative Scripture. However the Old Testament does not tell us how many of these works were considered to be God-given.

2. The Extent Of The Canon Is Confirmed By The New Testament

However, confirmation of a completed Old Testament canon of Scripture can be found within the New Testament. This is particularly true in the words of Jesus. He gave testimony to extent of the canon when He referred to the murders of Abel and Zechariah-the first and last people who had their murders recorded according to the Hebrew order of the books - Genesis and Chronicles.

Not only did Jesus and His disciples accept the idea of a completed Old Testament canon of Scripture, the same is true with His enemies. The religious rulers debated Jesus on a number of issues. However the content and extent of the Old Testament Scripture was not one of them. It was a settled issue for all of them.

3. The Old Testament Canon Was Confirmed By Secular Historical Sources

Other historical sources confirm that a complete Old Testament canon existed. This includes Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, the Talmud, and the prologue of Ecclesiasticus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Judas Maccabaeus, and the Ezra legend.

While this evidence does not reveal exactly what books belonged in the canon, it does reveal that the concept of a fixed canon already existed at the time of Christ.

Only The Hebrew Scriptures Are Cited As Authoritative

We find that from the second century B.C. to the first century A.D. the books of the Old Testament are cited as authoritative Scripture. Most of these books are cited many times. These citations come from different groups such as ordinary Jews, Greeks, Pharisees, Essenes, and Christians. They all give testimony to the extent of the Hebrew Canon.

4. No Other Books Qualify For The Old Testament Canon

There is no evidence that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha belong in Holy Scripture. The various reasons that have been offered for their inclusion are not convincing. While they may offer some insights into the history between the testaments, they give no evidence of divine inspiration as is true with the Old Testament books.

Summary

By the time of Jesus, the Old Testament writings were considered the authoritative Word of God - they were also believed to have been completed for a long time. The Old Testament, the New Testament, and secular historians confirm this. Therefore, the totality of evidence is that the Old Testament was a completed body of literature by the time of Christ with well-known limits.

Thus, from a number of different sources, we find the concept of a completed Old Testament canon with clearly defined limits. The believer can take comfort in these facts. They can read the Old Testament with the complete confidence that it is God's divine Word.

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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