The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible. The Bible, the Apocrypha and history all testify to the historical development of the Old Testament canon.
Testimony of Old Testament
- The 10 commandments were the first words of Scripture, which God wrote on two stone tablets (Exodus 32:16).
- Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Bible (Exodus 24:4; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:2-26).
- Joshua wrote the last verses of Deuteronomy (about the death of Moses) and the book of the conquest (Joshua 24:26).
- The rest of Scripture was written or authorized by the prophets of God.
- Sometimes “written” means the prophet wrote the book himself. Other times “written” means he collected and edited the oral traditions that had been passed down into the final copy of the book.
1Samuel 10:25: Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship , and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home.
1Chronicles 29:29: Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer,
2Chronicles 20:34: Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, from first to last, are written in the chronicles of Jehu (note 1Kings 16:7) the son of Hanani, which are recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel.
2Chronicles 26:22: Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amos wrote.
2Chronicles 32:32: Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and his good deeds, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet the son of Amos, in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
Jeremiah 30:1-2: The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord. Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.
The content of the Old Testament was closed approximately 435 BC with the completion of Malachi (approximately the time of Esther & Artaxerxes).
Testimony of the Apocrypha
After Malachi, the history of the Jewish people was recorded in other writings. These writings were not considered worthy to be included in Scripture, because no prophets authorized them.
The Apocrypha testify that there were no prophets when they were written:
- The Gentiles had burned a pig on the Jewish altar to offend and horrify the Jews. The altar was now unclean and the people were wondering what to do with the defiled altar. 1Maccabees 4:45-46 (164 BC): “And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them.“
- 1Maccabees 9:27 (about 160 BC): “So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.“
- 1Maccabees 14:41: “The Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise,“
Josephus was a Pharisee and a reliable Jewish historian who lived from 39-100 AD. He explains the Jewish Scriptures:
“We do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time. Of these, five are the books of Moses, comprising the laws and the traditional history from the birth of man down to the death of the lawgiver. This period falls only a little short of three thousand years. From the death of Moses until Artaxerxes [time of Esther], who succeeded Xerxes as king of Persia, the prophets subsequent to Moses wrote the history of the events of their own times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life. From Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets. We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them.” – Josephus, Against Apion 1.38-42 (written 95 AD):
The ancient Jews recognized 22 books as the Scriptures because the books were grouped differently:
- 5 books of the Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy:
- 7 books of the Prophets: Joshua, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah/Lamentations, Ezekiel, The Twelve (Hosea to Malachi)
- 10 books of The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth/Judges, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, Chronicles.
- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11a: “Our Rabbis taught: Since the death of the last prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachai, the Holy Spirit [of prophetic inspiration] departed from Israel; yet they were still able to avail themselves of the Bath-kol. [literally , “daughter of a voice”; that is, an echo or a voice from heaven]. Once when the Rabbis were met in the upper chamber of Gurya’s house in Jericho, a Bath-kol was heard from Heaven, saying: ‘There is one amongst you who is worthy that the Shechinah should rest on him as it did on Moses, but his generation does not merit it.’ The Sages present set their eyes on Hillel the Elder [active 30 BC – 10 AD]. And when he died they lamented and said: ‘Alas, the pious man, the humble man, the disciple of Ezra [is no more].’” (Similar story in Tosefta, Sotah 13:3, sections A-D; and b.Yoma 9b; SongR 3.9.3]
- Prayer of Azariah and the Prophet, Song of the Three Young Men 15 (1-2 century BC): “And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader.”
- Dead Sea Scrolls, The Scroll of the Rule 11 (before 70 AD): “Until the coming of the Prophet and the Anointed of Aaron and Israel.”
- Sirach 49.10 (180 BC): “May the bones of the twelve prophets revive from where they lie, for they comforted the people of Jacob and delivered them with confident hope.”
- Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 14b-15a: “Who wrote the Scriptures?—Moses wrote his own book and the portion of Balaam and Job. Joshua wrote the book which bears his name and [the last] eight verses of the Pentateuch. Samuel wrote the book which bears his name and the Book of Judges and Ruth. David wrote the Book of Psalms, including in it the work of the elders, namely , Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Yeduthun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korah. Jeremiah wrote the book which bears his name, the Book of Kings, and Lamentations. Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote (Mnemonic YM SHK) Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The Men of the Great Assembly wrote (Mnemonic KNDG) Ezekiel, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Daniel and the Scroll of Ester. Ezra wrote the book that bears his name* and the genealogies of the Book of Chronicles up to his own time. This confirms the opinion of Rab, since Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: Ezra did not leave Babylon to go up to Eretz Yisrael until he had written his own genealogy. Who then finished it [the Book of Chronicles]?—Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.” *This includes Nehemiah.
New Testament Testimony
- There is no record of any dispute between Jesus and the Jews over the extent of the canon, a fact confirmed by the testimony of other contemporary Jewish literature
- Jesus and his apostles quote the canonical books of the Old Testament over 295 times (depending on how you count quotes).
- Neither Jesus nor his apostles cite any of the books of the Apocrypha or any other writings as having divine authority.
- The earliest Christian list of Old Testament books (AD 170) by Melito of Sardis does not include the Apocrypha.
- Eusebius and Athanasius both rejected the Apocrypha as being part of the canon.
- When Jerome translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin, the Pope at the time insisted Jerome include the Apocrypha. The Roman Catholic Church did not officially declare the Apocrypha to be part of the canon (with the exception of 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh) until 1546 at the Council of Trent.
The Apocrypha and Pseudepigraha
The List of Sixty, dating to around the 7th century, lists the sixty books of the Bible. The unknown author also lists these several apocryphal books:
- Twelve Patriarchs
- Prayer of Joseph
- Eldad and Modad
- Testament of Moses
- Assumption of Moses
- Psalms of Solomon
- Apocalypse of Elijah
- Ascension of Isaiah
- Apocalypse of Zephaniah
- Apocalypse of Zechariah
- Apocalyptic Ezra
- History of James
- Apocalypse of Peter
- Itinerary and Teaching of the Apostles
- Epistle of Barnabas
- Acts of Paul
- Apocalypse of Paul
- Didascalia of Clement
- Didascalia of Ignatius
- Didascalia of Polycarp
- Gospel of Barnabas
- Gospel of Psuedo-Matthew
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology Chapter 3
- The New Testament Canon by Michael Kruger
- The Canon of Scripture by FF Bruce
- The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development and Significance by Bruce Metzger
- Introduction to the Old Testament