Thursday, May 20, 2010

The canon of Scripture

To add to or subtract from God’s words would be to prevent God’s people from obeying him fully, for commands that were subtracted would not be known to the people, and words that were added might require extra things of the people which God had not commanded.

Deuteronomy 4:2

“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

If we are to trust and obey God absolutely we must have a collection of words that we are certain are God’s own words to us. If there are any sections of Scripture about which we have doubts whether they are God’s words or not, we will not consider them to have absolute divine authority and we will not trust them as much as we would trust God himself. The earliest collection of written words of God was the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 31:18

“And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

The content of the Old Testament canon continued to grow until the time of the end of the writing process. If we date Haggai to 520 B.C, Zechariah to 520-518 B.C, and Malachi around 435 B.C, we have an idea of the approximate dates of the last Old Testament prophets. Roughly coinciding with this period are the last books of the Old Testament history-Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Ezra went to Jerusalem in 458 B.C, and Nehemiah was in Jerusalem from 445-433 B.C. Esther was written sometime after the death of Xerxes-1 (=Ahasuerus) in 465 B.C, and a date during the reign of Artaxerxes 1 (464-423 B.C.). Thus approximately 435 B.C. there were no further additions to the Old Testament canon.

Josephus (born A.D. 37/38) explained “From Artaxerxes to our own times a 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” (Against Apion 1.42) This statement by the greatest Jewish historian of the first century A.D. shows that he knew of the writings now considered part of the “Apocrypha” (The Apocrypha is a collection of uninspired, spurious books written by various individuals) but that he and many of his contemporaries considered these other writings “no worthy of equal credit” with what we now know as the Old Testament Scriptures. There had been, in Josephus’s viewpoint, no more “Words of God” added to Scripture after about 435 B.C

In the New Testament, we have no record of any dispute between Jesus and the Jews over the extent of the canon. Apparently there was full agreement between Jesus and his disciples, on the one hand, and the Jewish leaders or Jewish people, on the other hand, that additions to the Old Testament canon ceased after the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The fact is confirmed by quotations of Jesus and the New Testament authors from the Old Testament. According to one account Jesus and the New Testament authors quote the various parts of the Old Testament Scriptures as divinely authoritative over 295 times, but not once do they cite any statement from the books of Apocrypha or any other writings as having divine authority. The absence of any such reference to other literature as divinely authoritative, and extremely frequent reference of hundreds of places in the Old Testament as divinely authoritative, gives strong confirmation to the fact that the New Testament authors agreed that the established Old Testament canon, more and no less, was to be take as God’s very words


  1. I've never heard the term "Cannon" before. Where did that come from?

  2. The term Canon or "Literary Canon" is a classification of literature. Its used most frequently when referring to literary works that are considered important of a particular time period/place.