This is Part 16 of my series on the canon of Scripture. Please start with Part One if you haven’t been involved in this from the beginning! Although authors of Protestant popular literature promote the notion that the Old Testament canon was closed before the time of Jesus, or at least by the end of the first century, the information our hero has gathered from Protestant Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias and scholarly works tells a different tale – as one respected Protestant source puts it, there is “almost a total lack of evidence” for any date for the closing of the Old Testament canon. Second-century Jewish scholars were still arguing over whether Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Esther were canonical. Thus, the Jewish Old Testament canon may not have been settled until the second century A.D. or later, making it extremely hard to believe that the Jews of Jesus’ time had a settled canon of Scripture.
Our Protestant protagonist has encountered the “Council of Jamnia” – a meeting of Pharisees at the end of the first century. While it is doubtful that the Old Testament canon was settled by the Pharisees at Jamnia (since there is no actual record of that event), the rabbis did officially reject the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint in an effort to put the brakes on Christian evangelization of the Jews. Popular authors make a big deal over the supposed “Council of Jamnia” – the evidence for their premise that the Jewish leadership officially closed the canon of the Old Testament is so skimpy that they need an event like Jamnia to bolster their claims. However, the fact that Jamnia took place at the end of the 1st century A.D., nearly 70 years after the Resurrection, poses some serious problems for their contentions….
Many online sources suggested to you Moody Church’s Dr. Erwin Lutzer and his book, The Doctrines that Divide – chapter 8 of which is devoted to the subject of the canon and how it was determined. Pastor Lutzer doesn’t tell you when he thinks the Old Testament canon was closed, but he does tell you how he thinks it was closed, or as he calls it “the discovery of canonicity.” You read a quote from his work that states:
The criterion was, first, that the book had to agree with the Torah, the first five books of Moses. But this was not the only test. Some books that agreed with the Torah were also excluded. For example, Elijah wrote a book that likely met this standard; yet it was not a part of the canon. And, of course, we must ask how the Torah itself became accepted.
Second, and most important, these books were accepted because they were believed to be inspired by God. In other words, they were selected because they were recognized as having divine authority. This is not to say that the Jews gave these books their authority; these books were believed to have inherent authority. If a book is inspired by God, it would have authority whether men recognized it or not. A jeweler may recognize an authentic diamond, but his recognition does not make it so.
Now we’re getting somewhere! Here are the criteria that were used to discern the canon! The Jews decided their canon based on which books they recognized as having divine authority! It apparently wasn’t settled in Jesus’ time, but if the Council of Jamnia theory is correct, by the end of the 1st century they got it right! They closed the canon of Scripture. They asked themselves, “Which books among the many presenting themselves as Holy Scripture are clearly inspired by God?” Using that method, they eventually recognized all the books of the present-day Protestant Old Testament as having divine authority. Using the same method, they recognized that the books of the Apocrypha did not. And using that same method…
… they recognized that the New Testament books of the Christians had no divine authority, either!!!
Oh, my goodness, no! That can’t be the way we know which books belong in the Bible! If the Jewish leadership closed their canon of Scripture after the Resurrection of Jesus, they deliberately shut the door on the New Testament!
If the canon had been closed in, say, the 3rd century B.C., the authority of the Jewish leadership would have been legitimate and their judgment presumably sound – but after the establishment of the church, they had no right to rule on the canon! Would late 1st-century Christians still rely on the Jewish leadership to decide for them which books were in their Bible? Really?? Do we have any record of that?
Paul said that his Jewish brethren were blinded to the truth of the Gospel – yet we are supposed to believe that they were infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit nearly 70 years after their rejection of the Messiah in discerning the canon of Scripture? The same people who stated categorically that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, was heresy? Those people were empowered by God to make theological decisions binding on Christian believers?
We rely on the decision of the people who rejected the Gospel to tell us which books are Holy Scripture and which aren’t??
If the canon of the Old Testament was decided after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then it was the CHRISTIANS who had the authority to decide it!
But that brings up a major difficulty concerning the Apocrypha. If the authority to make binding decisions had been transferred from the Jewish leadership to the leadership of Christ’s church (and you know that it was, based upon Matthew 18:18!), then the late 1st-century Jewish leadership couldn’t rule on the canonicity of the Apocrypha, either, could they? Didn’t you just read that:
…the Church of the first centuries made no essential difference between the writings of the Hebrew canon and the so-called Apocrypha.
There can be no doubt that during the first two centuries all the books of the Greek Canon were regarded as Scripture.
In the ﬁrst centuries at any rate the Church seems to have accepted all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and treated them without question as Scripture.
So, even if we go along with the shaky assumption that the late 1st-century Pharisees at the Council of Jamnia closed the Old Testament canon, the Christians of that time OBVIOUSLY didn’t go along with their ruling!
It can’t be on the say-so of the Pharisees 70 years after the resurrection that we base our rejection of the Apocrypha! Are we claiming divine guidance for the men who refused to recognize the divine authority of the writings of the apostles?
What are these authors thinking??
On the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes
Deo omnis gloria!