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Don Stewart :: Did the New Testament Recognize a Completed Old Testament Canon of Scripture?

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Don Stewart

There is evidence that those who lived in the New Testament period recognized a completed Old Testament canon of Scripture that corresponds to the present canon held by Jews and Protestants. This can be seen in a number of ways.

1. The Old Testament Was Cited As Authoritative Scripture

From the Gospels we see that Jesus spoke of Old Testament Scripture as being authoritative. He declared that all that was written in the Law and the Prophets, a reference that includes all of the Old Testament, was going to be fulfilled.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).

Jesus often appealed to the Old Testament as the final authority. He said.

Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female (Matthew 19:4).

He also said to the religious leaders.

Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:29).

2. According To Jesus The Scriptures Were Complete

Jesus also indicated the Old Testament was complete.

He said to the religious rulers.

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life (John 5:39).

The inference is that there was a completed body of written work that was divinely authoritative.

3. There Was A Threefold Division Of The Hebrew Scripture

Jesus also testified to the threefold division of the Hebrew Scripture. On the day of His resurrection Jesus said to His disciples:

These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning me (Luke 24:44).

The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, were the threefold division of Old Testament Scripture. Jesus testified to their authenticity. The term Psalms probably stood for the entire third section - it was not limited to the Book of Psalms.

4. The Exact Extent Of The Hebrew Scripture Is Given

Finally, Jesus declared the extent of the Old Testament. He said to the religious leaders of His day.

So that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (Matthew 23:35).

This statement clearly defined what Jesus viewed as the Old Testament canon-the same Old Testament as we have in the Protestant English Bible. Abel was the first person murdered that the Scripture records.

Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out to the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him (Genesis 4:8).

Zechariah Was The Last Canonical Prophet Murdered

Zechariah was the last person murdered in the Old Testament according to the way the Jews listed the books. It says of his death.

Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, "Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has also forsaken you." But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD (2 Chronicles 24:20,21).

The Zechariah that Jesus referred to is the one mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:21. Second Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew order. However Zechariah was not the last prophet to be martyred chronologically. In this verse Jesus refers to the first section of the Hebrew canon, the Law, and the last section of the Hebrew canon, the Writings. By implication He would also have accepted the second section, the Prophets. Therefore we have His testimony to the threefold division to the Hebrew Scriptures as well as its content.

Jesus And The Religious Rulers Had The Same Scripture

It is also important to note that in all of the charges Jesus made against the religious rulers of His day, He never accused them of adding or taking away from the Scriptures. They were all agreed as to the authority and extent of the Old Testament canon. To all of them, the issue of the canon had been settled. The books that belonged in the Old Testament was something that Jesus, as well as His enemies, accepted.


From New Testament evidence we have the idea of a completed body of sacred writings that we term the "Old Testament." The New Testament cited the Old Testament as Holy Scripture. There is also evidence that the Scriptures were complete. Furthermore there is testimony to the threefold division of the Old Testament.

In addition, we have Jesus setting the limits to this group of writings. From His testimony we discover the limits of the Old Testament were the same as held by the Jews of His day. Genesis was the first book and Chronicles was the last.

Finally, there is every indication that that Jesus, His disciples, and the religious rulers, all accepted the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament as divinely authoritative Scripture.

Therefore the issue of the extent of the Hebrew canon was clearly settled during the time of Christ.


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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