Doctrine For Everybody: Revelation and The Old Testament Canon

On the third post on Doctrine for Everybody, we noted that the revelation of God operates in certain spheres and modes within those spheres. We saw that God has spoken explicitly is in the Person of His Son, the Prophets, the Apostles, and finally recorded in Scripture.

But what Scripture? There are plenty of holy books: the Qu’Ran, the Book of Mormon, The Vedas, the writings of Guru Granth Sahib, the extra books dubbed canonical by The Roman Catholic Church and the general consensus of the Eastern Orthodox Church. After all—say some as if proving a point—it’s not like God ever said that these books are not Scripture!

God Writes.
Well, why not start with God where we see Him writing Scriptures Moses goes up to the mountain and God writes on stone tablets (Exodus 31:18). He gives it to Moses to relate it to the people because by being obedient to God they would live. God proves that this didn’t have its basis in man, wrote on the stone tablets himself. After the original stone tablets were destroyed, God tells Moses to bring up another stone tablet and God himself would rewrite the words (Ex 34:1; Deut 10:2).

Moses Writes.
These writings were mandated and authorized by God. Moses recorded the covenant, read it in the hearing of the people, and they ratified it (Exodus 24:7) before God. God tells Moses to write a promise and record it (Ex 17:14). Then God tells Moses to write the words of the covenant (Ex 34:27) and finally all the words of the Law (Deut 27:3).

These books of the Law were so important that the future Israelites would put it on their doorframes (Deut 11:20) and Kings were told to write their own copy of it (Deut 17:18) because by obeying them they would all live (Deut 30:10; 1 Kings 2:3). This is huge since the books of the Law mention another book, belonging to the Lord, which doesn’t stand as having the same authority as these books (the Book of Wars—Num 21:14). It is these books that are not to be changed, were to be completed (Deut 31:24) and finally placed in the Ark of the Covenant next to the tablets of the Covenant (Deut 31:26)—not that Other Book. No one could add to these books of Law (Deut 4:2; 12:32) .

Joshua writes.
And yet someone did: Joshua (Josh 24:26). Not only that, he had the cheek to put it in the very book of the law of God. And even though Joshua explicitly mentions another book (Jasher Josh 10:13) it is Joshua’s book (and not the Book of the Upright) which gets added to the books of the Law. We have two options here: (1) Joshua disobeyed or (2) Joshua did what God had him do and already had underscored Joshua’s importance earlier (Exo 17: 4; Joshua 8:32).

The Prophets.
This practice is repeated by the Prophets of the Lord (Samuel 1 Sam 10:25; Isaiah 2 Chro 26:22; Jeremiah Jer 30:2, 2 Chr 35:27; Daniel Dan 7:1; Zecheriah Zech 1:7 ) and those who were speaking (and functioning) prophetically bearing the word of God (David: Psalms; Solomon: Proverbs) under the oversight of a prophet (1 Chro 29:29; 1 Kings 11:41; 2Chr 9:21).

Mind you, other books are mentioned throughout these authoritative books (Annals of Jehu 2 Chr 20:34; Records of Shemaiah 2 Chr 12:15; Records of Hozai 2 Chr 33:19)—but none of these other books had the authority that had been granted to the books that were given (2 Chro 30; 31).

If there was a prophet, the Word of the Lord was confirmed. This is in accordance with how God said he would act: if he speaks, the Prophet would make God’s word known. If he lied, he would die. (Deut 13; 18). This is illustrated early on when a pagan is forced to prophesize and can’t speak a word God would not have him speak (Numb 22- 24) and where even a prophet that listened to the word of another (who lied) wound up dead. If God was speaking, he made sure his people knew it by having a prophet say so (Ez 6:14) unless he was acting in judgment (Eze 14:4-9)

It was these written words that had authority. Josiah would act with all those previous written words as authoritative by the Lord (2 Kings 23:24). The people would rebuild a temple and walls under this authority. They’d weep and openly confess their failure under this authority—they knew God had spoken.

That all ended somewhere around 435BC: the Jews called it the Silence from Heaven. In the first book of Maccabees (1 Maca 4:45-46) we see the historian recording that there were no prophets to be found. Josephus (90AD) looks back at that period and notes the importance of the previous books but that no more books could be written as Scripture because of the failure in the succession of the prophets. Heaven was silent.

The Lord Confirms.
The actual Scriptures is the one area of agreement between Jesus and the Jewish leadership: the Law and the Prophets(2 Kings 17:13; Matt 5:17) was the Scriptures and couldn’t be broken—not anything that came after the Prophets. It is the Law and the Prophets (Luke 16:16 and the Psalms Luke 24:44) that are proclaimed until the coming of John the Baptist—not the Law, the Prophets and the Other Writings (described as such by Josephus, Philo, and the Council of Jamnia 90AD).

His Apostles Confirms.
The Apostles quote many works (Aratus Acts 17:28; Euripedes Acts 26:14; Menander 1 Cor 15:33; Epimenides Tit 1:12; Enoch Jud 14, 15) but it is when they speak of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms where they say that Scripture is speaking or God is speaking (Heb 3:7). As a quick counting, out of the 50 offhand times (I’m sure that number is higher) that the New Testament authors refer to “Scriptures” every single time they quote only from the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms and never from any of these other books (including Rome’s extra books). Epimenides is not Scripture; the book of Enoch is not Scripture; they’re quotes—these other books are Scripture. Indeed, even though the writers of Scripture might make allusions to writings that were known by Hellenistic Jews, we don’t know the basis of the allusions beyond a point of connection.

The Textual Evidence Confirms.
Some have made the argument that since the Apostles used the LXX and quoted from it, they effectively made the LXX Inspired. Such arguments are facile. They ignore that sometimes the Apostles quote a passage that is not in any Greek Version but reads quite well from the Hebrew Version. At other times, the Apostles write their own translation of the verse.

The reason this argument is offered is because there has been found fragments of the LXX with these extra Apocryphal books which the Council of Jamnia said didn’t belong as part of the Jewish Bible. Early Church Fathers, quick to allegorize, enjoyed the books because some of them were helpful, but mostly because there was gymnastics already performed that took passages from the Apocrypha and saw some sort of fulfillment in Christ.

Other people argue that the Greek version is the truer version of the Word of God (once again relying on the citation argument) but they ignore the textual facts I’ve mentioned about the writers (above) and even ignore the fact that people in their own history (like Jerome) tried to come closer to the Hebrew than the Greek version—especially since it wouldn’t make sense for some of these earlier writers to be writing in Greek.

History Confirms.
But unfortunately, people are not really relying on the LXX at all. Indeed, not even in St. Augustine’s day were they relying on the LXX. The LXX has a shorter version of Jeremiah and Job—but the Theodotian does not. The ending of Daniel is different in the LXX than from the Theodotian—which all versions of the Deuterocanonical Bibles rely on over the LXX. So apparently, the LXX is inspired for these folk until it is wrong. That is unfortunate. If they believed the Scriptures, it is God who spoke through the prophet who wrote: all versions should be trying to get back to what those guys wrote—not to what confirms our theology best.

Some of the Early Church understood this. I mentioned Jerome, but the Early Bishop Melito names all the books of our OT except Esther and none of the Apocrypha. Athanasisu lists all of our books in one category and then the other books as profitable to read. Frankly, Rome didn’t name the second Canon until 1546 AD even if the Eastern Churches just coasted along with whatever they were doing.

This is the historical fact: God spoke, in times past, through the prophets and through His Son. The books that the Lord says are Scripture are Scripture—ridiculous charges that the Church decides where God is speaking are not only false, they’re blasphemous. The Church doesn’t specify the table of contents; they confirm the index.They may have the extra books but they definitely have the 66 of God.

I therefore thank the Lord for his mercy and providence. We can remain confident that the entire Church, even the part of the Church that has foolishly authorized Other Books as Scripture, actually has the Word of God. They may have some extra chaff but at its core, they all have the Word of God in the Old Testament.

In our next post, we’ll look at the New Testament Canon.

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