Monday, January 14, 2019

The Old Testament Canon

"The gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (Romans 1:2).

The books written by Moses were the first “canon” or list of authorized and inspired books of the Old Testament. They were placed in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, next to the ark of the covenant, as a memorial before God. These were the books by which the people were to live, and it was these to which God would call them to account. In a large sense, these five books were the covenant between God and His people.

Other books were written later. Over time, through common use combined with study and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, certain books gained authority as inspired. We do not know exactly at what point the complete list of Old Testament books came into being, but we do know that by the New Testament era there were three different Old Testaments in circulation. At one extreme was the Samaritan version, which included only the five books of Moses. Jesus said the Samaritans did not understand God’s revelation (John 4:22) and quoted other books of the Old Testament as God’s Word, so we know the Samaritan canon is not correct. At the other extreme was the Alexandrian canon, which was based on the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), and which seems to have included the Apocrypha (which we will study tomorrow).

The orthodox Hebrew canon is the Palestinian canon. It is identical to the Old Testament used in Protestant Bibles; that is, it does not contain the Apocrypha. It is probable that this canon was fixed by the time Jesus was preaching.

The Hebrew Old Testament contains 24 books, while our Christian Old Testament contains 39. The difference is simply in how the books are put together. We divide Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles into two books. In the Hebrew Old Testament, Ezra-Nehemiah is one book and the Twelve Minor Prophets are considered one book. The Hebrew Old Testament has three parts: the Law (the five books of Moses), the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve), and the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles).

Most Christians would readily agree with the traditional canon of Scripture. In practice though we often set up our own personal “canon within the canon.” This includes certain favorite books while excluding others we dislike or do not understand. This week challenge yourself to read a book of the Bible you usually ignore.