Saturday, April 19, 2014

Navigating The Contours of The Canon - A Basic Presupposition Defense

Old Testament Canon
Paul records in Romans 3:2 that it was to the Jewish people that God entrusted His Word. These words are the words of God the Holy Spirit as He is revealing through Paul that the Jewish people knew the identity of the Old Testament Canon. Christ referenced this canon on numerous occasions. We have numerous historical records that witness to the identity of the Jewish canon from writers like Josephus and Philo. We can also examine other Jewish writings and events concerning the canon to help us in our understanding of what Christ and the religious leaders of His day meant when they used the term "the Scriptures." The greatest witness for the Old Testament Canon then is actually found in the New Testament Canon here at Romans 3:2. For it is here that God reveals to us the identity of that collection of authoritative writings that Christ Himself called, the Scriptures.
Christ's view of the Jewish can be understood through a review of His own comments as recorded by the gospel writers. Luke 24:44 records Christ's belief in a tripartite division of the Jewish canon. "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." There is strong evidence to support the view that the use of Psalms here is a reference to the writings. Hence, the Psalms referred to more than what we know as our canonical book of Psalms. Jesus repeatedly used and referred to the very same Scripture as His religious opponents. There can be little doubt that Jesus' understanding of the canon was identical to the rest of the Jewish leaders.
Flavius Josephus was born into an aristocratic priestly family in Jerusalem around 37 A.D. He was an important Jewish historian and politician from the first century A.D. He is also an important witness to the Jewish canon during this period. "With regard to the canon, Josephus's writings are of considerable value. As we shall find, the complete contents of the Jewish canon can be inferred from his various statements."[1] Beckwith says in another place regarding Josephus, "In Against Apion, Josephus goes on to give his Gentile readers an account of the Jewish canon as a whole. He states that the inspired books are of prophetic authorship and are only twenty two in number."[2] Josephus's twenty-two book list is identical with the Protestant thirty-nine book Old Testament Canon. The difference is how Josephus groups his books together and then numbers them.
Judaeus Philo is another important witness to the Jewish canon from the first century. He lived from around 25 B.C. to approximately 40 A.D. He was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher whose Greek philosopher presented the first major challenge for biblical faith. Regrettably, much of Philo's Greek philosophy still influences the church to this present day. Nevertheless, Philo was an important witness to the Jewish canon. Now, the Da Vita Contemplativa gives a significant account of the things, which each Therepeutae takes with him into his oratory. He takes none of the common things of life, but "(the) laws, and (the) Oracles given by inspiration through (the) Prophets, and (the) Psalms, and the other books whereby knowledge and piety are increased and complete."[3] Hence, Philo seems to refer to the very same structure of the canon that Jesus and other's referred to during this time.
The List of the Jewish Canon
The Law (Torah)
The Prophets
(Nebhim)
The Writings
(Kethubhim or Hagiographa)
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
A. Former Prophets
Joshua
Judges
Samuel
Kings
B. Latter Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
The Twelve
A. Poetical Books
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
B. Migolloth (Five Rolls)
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Esther
Ecclesiastes
C. Historical Books
Daniel
Ezra-Nehemiah
Chronicles
In the 22-book Jewish canon, Jeremiah – Lamentations are listed as one book and so too are Ezra – Nehemiah.

Jamnia
Many scholars have argued that the Jewish canon of the OT was not closed during the time of Christ. To support their view, one of the events they point to is the supposed council at Jamnia, which took place around 90 A.D. According to scholar, F.F. Bruce, "So far as the Scriptures are concerned, the rabbis at Jamnia introduced no innovations; they reviewed the tradition they had received and left it more or less as it was."[4] It is also probably not appropriate to call this event a council at all. Rather, there was an academy at Jamnia that had been established by Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai. In addition, no authoritative decisions were reached at Jamnia regarding the identity or structure of the canon.
Athanasius
We do not know the time and place of Athanasius's birth. He was very likely an Egyptian. During his youth, he was in close contacts with the monks of the desert. "From the monks, Athanasius learned a rigid discipline that he applied to himself, and an austerity that earned him the admiration of his friends and even the respect of many of his enemies."[5]
"There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows."[6] What is even more significant that Athanasius's list of canonical books is his view of the nature of these books.
"These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.’"[7] There is no room for doubting Athanasius's high view of the canon. Clearly, the Scripture and the canon were one and the same in the thought of Athanasius. In addition, Athanasius also provides us with an important witness to the canon of the New Testament.
Jerome
Jerome was born around 348 A.D. in northern Italy. Jerome took up the study of Hebrew in order to occupy his mind with something other than the pleasures of Rome. His greatest work was the translation of the Bible into Latin. Jerome was one of the most important figures from Church history and few men influenced the Church more than he. Jerome was the greatest scholar of ancient Hebrew during his time. And he was one of the only Hebrew scholars of the church.
"Looking back over Jerome's account, it will be seen that he knows of the two Jewish numerations of the canonical books (both independently and attested in ancient Jewish sources), 22 and 24. He states the identity of the canonical books, as the Jews receive them, their order according to the first numeration, and their distribution among the Law, prophets, and Hagiographa according to both numberations."[8]
In summary then, we see that Christ maintained the traditional view of the Old Testament canon. In addition, we see the same view expressed by Paul in his writings. As we examine other evidence from the early Church and early Rabbinic literature, the support for the 39-book canon of the Protestant has overwhelming support from history.



[1] Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Great Britain; SPCK, 1985), 24.
[2] Ibid. 79.
[3] Beckwith, Roger. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Great Britain; SPCK, 1985), 117.
[4] Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1988), 34.
[5] Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2010), Vol. I, 200.
[6] Athanasius of Alexandria, “Festal Letters,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Henry Burgess and Jessie Smith Payne, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 552.
[7] Athanasius of Alexandria, “Festal Letters,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Henry Burgess and Jessie Smith Payne, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 552.
[8] Beckwith, Roger. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Great Britain: SPCK, 1985), 121.

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