Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Old Testament Cannon

Moses Stuart points out that there was significant rivalry between the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essences. (Beckwith 86) These three groups disagreed on practically every issue. Beckwith points out that since there is no record of disagreement between these three groups on the contents of the canon we can assume that the canon was well established before the first century A.D. (Beckwith 86) Further evidence of a unified canon is that the Essences made no protest of the Pharisees condemnation of the Essences beloved Apocalypses as not being scripture. (Beckwith 86) If there was on going debate over the canon one would expect a record of it. There appears to be no record of intense debate between these groups who could agree on so little.

A common objection to Beckwith is that the Sadducees rejected all law accept the Pentateuch. However, scholars commonly note that the Sadducees also rejected angles which are quite common in the Pentateuch. The Sadducees rejection of the angles is probably a rejection of the time periods new wave of angles. If the Sadducees had truly rejected angles they would also have had to reject the Pentateuch. Similarly the Sadducees rejection of law other than Moses probably refers to their rejection of the widely increasing oral traditions of the Pharisees rather than their rejection of the prophets and writings.

In fact the Sadducees must have accepted books other than the Pentateuch as part of the canon. The majority of the priests after John Hyrcanus were Sadducees.

The temple during the period under their control clearly had other scriptures other than the Pentateuch that were used in worship. It seems difficult to rectify the Sadducees control of the temple and books not part of the canon being used there. (Beckwith 90) The Sadducees are also recorded in the New Testament as resenting Jesus calling himself the son of David. It seems difficult to find a good explanation for this resentment if the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch. (Beckwith 89)

The New Testament also offers much testimony pointing toward a completed canon. The New Testament is a valid pointer toward what the Hebrew Scriptures consisted of before the first century A.D. because Christianity arises out of the Jewish worldview and takes on the Jewish scriptures. The New Testament also records the debates between the early Christians and the Jews. A striking feature of this heated debate is that there is no mention of resentment of the books each group considers authoritative. This points toward a canon that was widely know and attested to at the time.

An objection to the New Testament witness is that the early Church took on the Apocrypha and that the closure of the Jewish canon was a reaction to this. Green notes that the New Testament writers quote freely from the Old Testament, but never quote from the Apocrypha. He notes that all the New Testament similarities with the Apocrypha are either very vague and nothing like citations or they are held in common with the Old Testament. (145)

The Apocrypha also do not clearly have the status of the other books in the early church’s canon. There are numerous disputes in the early church over the books of the Apocrypha. The protestant rejection of the Apocrypha follows in the line of Jerome and his followers on the issue. Because Christianity arose out of Judaism the Apostles would be assumed to be accepting the Jewish scriptures unless they made comments to the contrary. (Green 145) In fact Christ and the apostles never make any claim that charges the Jews with corrupting the scriptures or of excluding any of the scriptures. (Green 141) The Christ and the apostles do not hint that the Jewish choice of scriptures was lacking in any way. (Beckwith 91-92)

Christ and the Apostles used the scriptures to debate with the Jews on points of contention. The gospel of Acts points to many Christian and Jew debates where both sides shared and used the same scriptural texts to support their positions. (Beckwith 92) The apostles in fact accused the Pharisees of making void the word of God with their traditions. The position of Christ and the Apostles was thus one that affirmed the scriptures as being the final authority in all debates. This dialogue between the early church and the Jewish leaders should point toward a largely unified picture of the canon. One would expect there to be much record of dispute if Christ and the Apostles affirmed a different canon than the Jews.

The New Testament directly quotes from all the Old Testament books except Ezra, Nehemiah, Ester, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. The lack of quoting from these books is probably due to the fact they were not needed to prove the New Testament’s points rather than a disagreement in the canon. (Green 143) Leiman notes that the New Testament frequently bears witness to the Torah and Prophets as separate units in the canon. Leiman notes that the canonicity of the writings is assumed by the New Testament. (40)

Scholars frequently sight Jesus’ words in Luke 24:44, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” as pointing to the complete collection of Jewish scriptures. They point toward the psalms as the completion of the Jewish scriptures and thus pointing toward Jesus referring to the totality of the Jewish canon. Psalms is also the most quoted book of the New Testament so it seems likely that the writings were held as part of the canon by the Apostles.

The evidence presented here presents a brief outline of the case for a canon set before the first century A.D. Other evidence such as the Apocryphal books could also be brought into the argument. This paper has avoided a discussion on the dating of the writing of the Jewish scriptures. Recent scholarship has tended to push the dates of authorship very close to the first century A.D. There are reasons in support of this, but this is not necessarily a correct. Until the enlightenment the date of the books authorship was considered far more ancient. This paper assumes that the canon is, likely like the church had a consensus on until the enlightenment, a more ancient canon. That discussion of course is far beyond the scope of this paper.

In conclusion if one assumes that the writings of the books are more ancient than recent scholarship argues than there are many good reasons to affirm a set pre-A.D. canon. This paper has outlined four main arguments for this thesis. There is also ample evidence from the Apocrypha on the issue. This paper avoids that evidence because scholars have had much more widely ranging debates and more disunity on that subject than other issues. In summery this paper assumes the canons completion sometime before the first century A.D. is a reasonable stance and falls in line better with the New Testament and Jewish testimony.

Works Cited

Beckwith, Roger T. The Old Testament canon of the New Testament Church and its background in early Judaism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.

Cohen, Shaye J.D. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987

Green, William H. General introduction to the Old Testament. New York: C. Scribner's sons, 1899.

Harris, Laird R. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible; an historical and exegetical study. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957.

Leiman, Shnayer Z. The canonization of Hebrew scripture: the Talmudic and Midrashic evidence. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1976.

Kline, Meredith G. The structure of Biblical authority. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.
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