Thursday, March 5, 2009

Old Testament Canon

I have been asked this question about three different times over the last couple of weeks, so I thought that I would post my notes on the subject. I compiled this when I taught Biblical Survey at College of the Ozarks and Old Testament History at SBU. I think I got most of this from OT survey by LaSor, Hubbard and Bush and I may have borrowed from Arnold and Bayer as well.
Long, but really only one page of a word doc.


The Church was born with a canon in its hands already. It is called canon because it comes from the Sumerians and their word for reed. Reeds were used as measuring sticks. The word has come to have a variety of meanings related to measurement: rule, standard, law, boundary, list, index…

How did the books that are compiled into our OT (or the Hebrew Bible) come into being?

By the canon of Scripture, we mean the authoritative collection of writings, the teachings of which are binding on believers.

Formation of the OT Canon

Four closely related yet readily distinguishable steps were involved in the formation of the OT canon: authoritative utterances; documents; collections of writings; and a fixed canon.

Authoritative Utterances – For the people of Israel, the principle of canonicity began when they received the laws through Moses at Mt. Sinai. God gave strong words, the people pledged themselves to abide by them, and Moses put them in writing (Exodus 24.3f). (This had already begun in that the people, aware of Israel’s peculiar role in redemptive history, treasured the commands and promises given to the patriarchs.

Authoritative Documents – In Deut. 31.24-26, Moses “finished writing the words of this law in a book” and commanded the Levites to “put it by the side of the Ark of the Covenant…that it may be there for a witness against you.’

Authoritative Collections of Writings – The traditional threefold division of the Hebrew scriptures into Law, Prophets, and Writings probably indicates stages in the formation of the canon as well as differences in subject matter.

Fixed Canon – evidence for the threefold catalog of sacred writings is found prior to 150 BC. In a preface to a work (Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sirach) which was translated into Greek in ca. 132, the author refers to “the Law and the Prophets” as well as “the other (books) that follow after them.” We find another Jewish reference to the canon in the Talmud where the threefold division is implied clearly, and authors are listed for most books, all of which are in the present Protestant canon. In the NT Jesus alludes to “the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms (Luke 24.44).

(The works found in the Apocrypha are never cited directly. No evidence suggests that either Philo or Josephus, both contemporary with the NT, included books not in the present OT.

We do not have a definitive narrative of how the books that are in the canon were selected. With the temple lost with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and their faith contested by the rise of Christianity, the Jews clung to their Scriptures for security and unity. This attention to Scripture led to the recognition of the Hebrew canon as now known. The Jewish religious headquarters at Jamnia in SW Judah became the hub of discussions about the canon. The exact process by which the rabbis came to a final verdict came through a general consensus reached by common usage.


The MAN Fan Club said...

How much was written that was parallel to what is in the bible that was either lost or still around? Kind of like your funny video. Is there some historical facts about Jesus that isn't included in the bible. Or facts of the OT that isn't in the bible. YOU'D know!

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