The Origin of the Bible, Part I: Introduction to the Canon
by Ed Vasicek
Almost all of our important beliefs as evangelical Christians can be found or at least implied in the Old Testament. And the nature of Scripture is such that if you believe in any part of the Bible, it pretty much leads you to the rest. This is called the "colophon principle."
Put simply, if you believe in Jesus, you have to accept the Old Testament because Jesus did. He referred to the creation of Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the Jewish term for the Old Testament) as the very Word of God.
Jesus taught that He would establish His church, and He trained the Apostles to be His authoritative representatives. So the teachings of the Apostles were the foundational teachings of the church—and authoritative. Hence the main criteria for accepting a book into the New Testament included: 1) Does it go back to the first century? 2) Is it genuine? and 3) Did an Apostle or a close associate of the Apostles write it? So if you believe the teachings of Jesus, by extension you must logically believe in the rest of the New Testament and the Old.
On the other hand, if you believe in the Old Testament, the prophecies of the Messiah lead you to Jesus Christ. According to Daniel 9:26, for example, the Messiah would be "cut off," and then later Jerusalem would be destroyed. The destruction of Jerusalem took place in 70 A.D., so the Messiah had to be cut off before then. The Old Testament describes where the Messiah would be born, His genealogy, deity, atoning death on the cross, burial, and resurrection.
The interlocking nature of Scripture addresses many issues. For example, Roman Catholics include some books in their Old Testament that are not included in ours. Protestants and Jews recognize the same Old Testament Scriptures. We even translate from the same manuscripts. Roman Catholics recognize some, but not all, of the Jewish writings known as "the Apocrypha."
Although these Apocryphal books tell about some events that occurred between the Testaments, like the institution of Hanukah, most Jews considered them worthwhile reading but not Scripture. Whereas the Old Testament prophets seemed to register their prophecies (Ezekiel 13:9), the Jews viewed God as no longer providing prophetic revelation after the time of Malachi. We refer to this period as "the 400 silent years."
In 90 A.D., after the city of Jerusalem and the Temple within it had been destroyed and the Jews scattered, the leading rabbis got together for a major conference in the city of Jamnia (Yabneh). Their goal was to set a proper direction for Judaism since Temple worship and sacrifice were no longer possible. The Old Testament canon had pretty much been set from before the time of Christ, but at Jamnia the rabbis debated as to whether Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon should continue to be included within the canon. They determined that the books truly were canonical. So Jamnia represented not so much the fixing of the Old Testament canon, but rather the end of debate.
Christians have been divided over the Apocryphal books for some time. In the fourth century, when Jerome translated the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament into Latin, he did not want to translate these Apocryphal books. Augustine exerted great pressure on Jerome and he finally consented. But he rushed through the translation, with less concern for accuracy, to make his position known. A man convinced against his will is unconvinced still!
So how do we know that these books do not belong in our Bible? Are we relying on a Jewish council, or the views of the Reformers? No, the matter is simple to resolve.
Although we have the same Old Testament as the Jews, we arrange our books differently. For example, our twelve minor prophets are included as one book called "The Twelve" in the Jewish Bible. Lamentations is included as part of Jeremiah, and some of the historical books are lumped together (Ruth with Judges, for example).
"The way modern Bibles are organized, there are 39 books in the Old Testament. Of these 39 books, only nine are not quoted in the New Testament. However, since the Hebrew Bible has long organized these books differently than they appear in modern Bibles, and some of these nine were originally combined with and part of other books, in reality only five of the Old Testament books are not quoted in the New Testament" (www.gnmagazine.org/issues/gn15/otnt.htm).
NONE of the Apocryphal books found in the Roman Catholic Bible are quoted in the New Testament. True, much of the history mentioned in the Apocrypha might be factual, but so are history books of modern Israel. The odds that 80% of the recognized Old Testament books would be quoted as authoritative while 0% of the Catholic Apocrypha books are quoted makes the matter clear.
Interestingly, in the original King James Version edition of 1611, the Apocryphal books were included between the Old and New Testament with an explanatory page. The translators stated that these books were not Scripture but that they were useful and helpful to the Christian. This tidbit is useful ammunition to irritate your "King James only" friends!
When it comes to the New Testament, Catholics and Protestants have the exact same canon, although Catholics used to go through three languages (English from the Latin which was translated by Jerome from the original Greek). Modern Catholic translations now have returned to the original Greek.
With that introduction, we can now begin to address the books of the Bible that go back the furthest in time, the Books of Moses. Although Moses takes us back to the beginning of creation, he wrote his books about 1450 B.C. Some have argued that Moses could not have written the Torah (the five books of the Law), since writing had not yet been invented in 1450 B.C. This is absolute nonsense:
"In Mesopotamia the excavations of American scholars at Nippur in 1888-1900 brought to light thousands of clay tablets, including many bearing literary texts (among them the Sumerian narrative of the Flood) which can be dated to about 2100 BC or earlier.... The evidence from the other side of Palestine is equally impressive. From Egypt we have actual manuscripts, written on papyrus, datable to about 2200-2000 BC, and containing texts which claim to have been written at a much earlier period. Probably the earliest of these are two ethical treatises, the Teaching of Kagemna and the Teaching of Ptah-Hetep...attributed to about 3100 BC and 2880 BC respectively" (source: www.katapi.org.uk/BibleMSS/I.htm).
Henry Morris, in his commentary on Genesis, postulates that man has always been able to write. Just as Adam and Eve were created with the ability to speak, they may have been created with the ability to write. If so, the skill of writing would have been lost as people were scattered (by force at Babel) into remote regions after the Flood. As wild animals multiplied, survival became the main issue. A good example of the loss of civilization is the Aborigines of Australia who, at one time, wore clothing and were more civilized.
I hope to continue this series in future editions, probably with an occasional interruption. All of us need to have a general grasp as to the origin of Scripture.
Reprinted from the July 2006 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
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