This is Part 5 of 9 parts answering the basic and very important question, “What does Canonicity mean and why is it important?” Parts 6-9 will be posted on succeeding days.
We have looked at the Lord Jesus’ view of the Old Testament and some of the guidelines men used to acknowledge which books were considered Canon. Let’s look at several examples of the Divine nature of the text and how God was consistent even while using different authors. Compare what Joshua said and a prophetic fulfillment of it,
Then Joshua charged them at that time, saying, “Cursed be the man before the LORD who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates.” (Josh. 6:26 NKJ) Now look at 1 Kings 16:34,
In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the LORD, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34 NKJ)
In other words, both of his sons died, Abiram and Segub, because he went against the curse to rebuild Jericho. What Joshua declared came to pass, therefore Joshua was considered inspired, as well as 1 Kings.
Here is another example. Compare Daniel 9:2, “…in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.” (Dan. 9:2 NKJ) Now compare this with Jeremiah 25:11-12, “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 `Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD; `and I will make it a perpetual desolation.” (Jer. 25:11-12 NKJ) These and hundreds of other examples show that there is a prophetic fulfillment that is recorded within the books of Scripture, which shows that they are have a Divine nature, that is inspired by God, and Canon.
Let me give you one more example. Note Isaiah 1:1-2,
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me.” (Is. 1:1-2 NKJ)
The Lord God led Israel, but because of their rebellion, He sent them into captivity away from the Promised Land because of their rebellion. Ezekiel recorded the fulfillment of that consequence of their rebellion,
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. 2 On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, 3 the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was upon him there. (Ezek. 1:1-3 NKJ)
And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” (Ezek. 2:1 NKJ)
Scripture is consistent with itself because of the Divine nature. God moved through men who wrote Scripture, which insured the consistency.
This is why there was practical test of a prophet in the Old Testament. It is recorded in Deuteronomy 18:20, which tested the authenticity of a prophet. Listen to the prophecies he made and then note if he was 100% accurate. If he was not 100% accurate, then he was a false prophet and removed from Israel (executed, lest he draw people away from the Lord), “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” (Deut. 18:20 NKJ) If God were speaking through him, everything he said would come true. If God were speaking through him, there would be a Divine nature to what he said.
Scripture is not merely a collection of stories. It is a collection of writings that were written by one Divine Author who moved through the original writers so that there would be consistency within and between all the books of Scripture.
A third major way men acknowledge Scripture was to ask the question, “Is it true in what it says about God?” Does it adhere to already known truth about the character of God? This is why the Apocrypha and Pseudipigrapha were rejected, both of which will be examined later.
A fourth major way men acknowledged Scripture was to ask, “Does it possess the power of God to change lives?” For example, Paul wrote to Timothy how the Holy Scriptures made Timothy wise, “…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15 NKJ) Another example is God’s promises to complete the work He began at Salvation, “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6 NKJ) There is a great passage that records both the Divine side and the human responsibility,
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13 NKJ)
Scripture enlightens the eyes and converts the soul (Ps. 19:7-10). Daily reading and meditation will transform your soul.
There were books that were questioned. The books which were accepted had to have edifying originality and power in order to be considered canonical. A couple of those books which were questioned were the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. These were subject to doubt, because their content was not readily understood. Could a book that is sensual (Song of Solomon) or another that is skeptical (Ecclesiastes) be of God? Some say “absolutely not” so they initially interpreted the book only spiritually. As the books were realistically studied, the messages were realized that they were about real life people and circumstances, and they teach us about ourselves.
A fifth major way men acknowledge Scripture was to ask, “Was it received? Was it accepted by the people of God?” In other words, did people throughout history receive the Divine book as truly written by the hand of God through men? We see an example of this in the book of Nehemiah, “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.” (Neh. 8:5 NKJ) They had great respect for it.
However, some people did not accept the word of God when it was spoken. An example of that is Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who rejected Moses as God’s appointed leader of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land. Their rejection of God’s Word through Moses had disastrous consequences – they were consumed by the Lord (swallowed up by the earth!). You can read about that in Numbers 16!
A sixth major way men acknowledge Scripture was to note that it had to have been written between the time of Moses and Artaxerxes, which means it was written between B.C. 1440 and B.C. 420.
A seventh way men acknowledge Scripture was to examine the acknowledgment by later prophets in the Old Testament times. For example, the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible) was recognized by many books (see Josh. 1:7-8; 23:6 1 Kings 2:3 above and 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8; 23:25; Ezra 6:18)
Joshua and the events in the book by his name are referred to in the book of Judges (Jdg.1:1,20,21; 2:8).
Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?” (Judg. 1:1 NKJ)
Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?” (Judg. 1:20-21 NKJ)
8 Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died when he was one hundred and ten years old. (Judg. 2:8 NKJ)
Ruth originally was attached to Judges and refers to the days when the judges ruled, “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.” (Ruth 1:1 NKJ)
First & 2 Chronicles parallel history to Samuel and Kings. This shows the acknowledgement of later prophets (writers) and the consistency of Scripture even though each of the books view Old Testament history from a different perspectives. One very interesting fact is how Ezra begins with the same two verses that close 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. Here is the passage in 2 Chronicles,
22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 23 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up! (2 Chron. 36:22-23 NKJ)
And here is the passage in Ezra,
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. (Ezra 1:1-2 NKJ)
The repetition may be a strong indicator that Ezra wrote the history in Chronicles and his repetition in Ezra shows the historical context for the book named after himself.
Ezra also refers to the Law of Moses, which demonstrates Ezra as a later prophet considered the Law of Moses as Divine writing,
2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. (Ezr. 3:2 NKJ)
Several other acknowledgements from later prophets to previously written scripture include Nehemiah’s recall of Israel’s entire history from Genesis to the captivity and restoration (Neh. 9). Ezekiel mentions Job and Daniel. Parts of Psalms also occur in the historical books of Samuel and Chronicles. There is the acknowledged fact that David spoke by the Holy Spirit, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.” (2 Sam. 23:2 NKJ) Additionally, many of the prophets quote from or refer to the inspired writings of their predecessors. Micah quoted from Isaiah (Mic. 4:1-3 quoted Is. 2:2-4).
The eighth way men acknowledged Scripture was to highlight the earliest extra-biblical designation of the Old Testament as holy writings is by Josephus, who lived in the first century. He distinguished it from every other form of literature in his letter ”Against Apion” I, 38ff. He was in complete agreement with official Judaism as written in the Talmud (Josephus 1.8.38-41)
The Talmudic Tractate “Baba-Bathra” 14b-15a refers to the men of the Great Synagogue 400 B.C. the Tradition of the Great synagogue is that of those Jewish scholars in the 5th to the 3rd Centuries B.C. who followed Ezra in the of the Law (Neh. 9-10). it is believed that they formed an assembly which was responsible for the recognition and preservation of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament possessed the Divine nature, which men systematically analyzed various writings and acknowledged them as Canon. What about those writings that they did not consider Canon? What are those examples and what were the guidelines they used to reject them as Canon? The Apocrypha is an example of rejected books as Canon. Tomorrow, we’ll look at that.
Part 6 will be posted tomorrow.