Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



111.The Canon Of Scripture

 (The Depository of Revelation.)

The inspired record of god's revelation to man is useless unless it is written and preserved so that it can be read, studied and consultant at any time.  The Christian faith holds that the record has been preserved in the collection of books which call the Bible.  At this point several questions arise. Are all the books of the Bible inspired?  If so, what is meant by the canon of Scripture?

(1). The meaning of Canonicity. 

The work "canon" is the Greek word. It originally meant a piece of reed or wood and came to mean a rule or measuring rod. From this several interesting meanings arose e.g. rules of philosophers, lists, indexes or catalogues.  Another meaning arose that concerns us i.e. the collection of writings which are divinely inspired and which have therefore become the standard of faith. 

The word, however has always had both on active and passive meaning.  Actively it has meant a standard of measurement and passively that which has passed the standard.  So objectively the canon of Scripture means those books which have measured up to the divine standard, and subjectively those same books used as our standard or rule of faith. The word was not used in these senses before the fourth century.

The books of the Bible are not inspired because they are Canonical or in the Bible, they are canonical because they are inspired and have an innate authority. The exact way in which the present collection of books which form our Bible came together cannot be explained.  The church is not being responsible for selecting them; she has only recognized that they had a right to the place they had come to take.  In the providence of God the books have come together through the centuries by the silent yet unmistakeable supervision of the Holy Spirit.

(2). The Old Testament Canon.

(a). The Divisions of the Old Testament.

There are three divisions in the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible-the Law (Torah), which included the Pentateuch, the Prophets, (Nebiim), which were divided into the former Prophets-Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings and the latter Prophets-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets; the writings (Kethubim), which contained 11 books-Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles and the five scrolls (Rolls or Megilloth) which were the song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. 

This made 24 books in all, though sometimes Lamentations was included with Jeremiah and Ruth was Judges and the number was reckoned to be 22 books in the Old Testament.  Sometimes the divisions were called the law, the Prophets and the Psalms. (Matthew 11:13, Luke 16:16, Acts 26:22 and Romans 10:5).

(b).  The growth of the Canon.

The beginnings of the Canon are shrouded in mystery although there are references at different times to the writings of books and of the law. (Deut 31:26; 17:18,19, Joshua 24:26, 1 samuel 10:25, 2 Chronicles 17:9).

From the commencement the law was accepted by the people as coming from God and the books of Moses as written at God`s command. The Prophets spoke as" thus saith the Lord" and finally all the books of our Old Testament came to be recognized by the people as" manifestly the utterances of men inspired by god to receive his word." 

The order in which the Scriptures were accepted as canonical is the same as the order of the divisions mentioned above. The first historical statement as to the acceptance of the law as canonical is found in the mean of Josiah on his discovery of the book of the Law in the temple in 621 B.C.(2Kings 22:8-10, 23:1-3).

There are earlier references to the law but no hint as to how much of the law was included.  The second great landmark was the promulagation of the law in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. (500-450 B.C.) and this is perhaps why these books and Chronicles were not included with the Prophets.  Reference to Jeremiah is found in the book of Daniel (ch.9:2), and to the 12 prophets in the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus which is written about 180 B.C. The prophetical canon can be regarded as closed by 200 B.C.. 

The final stage concerns "the writings".  The first reference to these as a group occurs about 130 B.C. and this third division of the Old Testament canon was closed about 100 B.C.

(c). Witnesses to the authority of the Old Testament.

We have already mentioned the Samaritan Pentateuch which is a very strong witness to the first five books of the Bible another witness is the Septuagint version this was a translation of the old testament into Greek made about 280-130 B.C..  It was made for Greek speaking Jews and was called the Septuagint because it was reputed to have been translated by 70 scholars. Septuginta is the Latin for 70.  This bears witness to the hole of the Old Testament. 

While there are differences between the two versions, they are substantially the same.  A third witness is the historian Josephus.  He was a Jew, and not a Christian. He wrote a history of his people in Greek around about 70-80A.D.. Again the main history of the events narrated are the same as the Old Testament. 

Sometime later Josephus wrote about the Hebrew Scriptures," for we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from, and contradicting one another, but only 22 books which contain the records of past times; which are justly believed to be design; and of them finds belong to Moses, which containe his laws and traditions of the origin of man kind on till his death..... the Prophets wrote down what was done in their time in 13 books. 

The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of a human life." The highest witness to all, however, is that of Christ and the New Testament.  Christ and the New Testament writers quite clearly took the books of the Old Testament as the word of god, as authentic and as inspired.  One other point should perhaps be mentioned.

There are a number of ancient stories and traditions which the Hebrew religion as in common with other ancient religions. When these stories and traditions are compared how much more much more restrained, sober and sensible is the account given the Old Testament.

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