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«Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 26.2 (June 1974) 55-60. [Cited with permission] Which Books Belong in the Bible? Paul M. McKOWEN ...»

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Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 26.2 (June 1974) 55-60.

[Cited with permission]

Which Books Belong in the Bible?


Following is an introduction and definition of basic terms (canon,

apocrypha, pseudepigrapha) the development of the Old Testament

canon is treated, followed by an appraisal of Old Testament

apocrypha. The second section treats the congealing of the New

Testament canon, and the vast literature of New Testament

apocrypha. The third section considers modern day questions of canon and apocrypha, both from the standpoint of deleting Scriptural books as well as from the viewpoint of adding "new scriptures" to the canon.

Introduction A person who is not yet a believer may offer a challenge, "I heard that in the 4th Century it was decided to leave some books out of the New Testament."

Or "Why did the Protestants decide to remove about a dozen books from the Old Testament?" Or even worse, "You claim the Bible is the very Word of God, and yet human beings decided which books should be in the Bible! Why 66 books? Why not 166 books, or why not just 26 books? It seems to be the word of man just as much as the Word of God!" We hope to answer these and other questions in

this paper. We limit ourselves to this particular topic:

"Which books belong in the Bible?" This means we do not have latitude to explore another question of great interest, "By what means did God's mind get communicated into the minds of the men who wrote the Scriptures?" For our purposes, let us assume that God succeeded in delivering his word authentically and accurately through chosen men. Let us assume the inspiration of God's Word. The question now before us is: How was the distinction made between books


given by the inspiration of God on the one hand, and on the other hand the books that are hoaxes, forgeries, or good human material but not meant to be included as Scripture?

Let us begin with two terms that are basic in a

discussion of "Which books belong in the Bible?"-Canon:

A normative or regulative standard as to what should be included in sacred writings; straight (orthodox) teachings; the Scriptures viewed as a rule of faith and conduct (from the Greek kanon, from the phoenician qana', Hebrew qaneh, meaning a rod, cane, or reed, usable for measuring).


Books rejected as unauthentic, of hidden origin, or uncanonical (from the Greek apokryphos, hidden away).

Closely related is the term pseudepigrapha, referring to books written under false (Greek pseudes) authorship (Greek epi + graphe, to write upon), such as Books of Enoch, Psalms of Solomon, etc.

A Consideration of the Old Testament Some argue1 that the Old Testament books, 39 in the Protestant Bible, were established as a canon as early as 444-400 B.C., in the time of Ezra, contemporary of the Persian King Artaxerxes (465-424 B.C.).

This view is supported by the writings of Flavius


Josephus (37-100? A.D.), Jewish soldier, statesman, and historian, who in his "Against Apion" states "We have but twenty-two books.... From the days of Artaxerxes to our own times every event has indeed been recorded; but these recent records have not been deemed worthy of equal credit with those which preceded them..." (Those twenty-two books were the same as our thirty-nine, since the twelve minor prophets were on a single scroll, and thus counted as one book.

Ruth was attached to Judges, and Lamentations tacked on to the Jeremiah scroll. Likewise Ezra and Nehemiah were together. And each pair of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles were treated as one book. This arrangement is well-known and well-accepted.) This view, which may be oversimplified in dating the canon closed at 400 B.C., has value in that it shows how Josephus, a first century Jew, from a practical point of view based on current usage, considered the canon "well-jelled" by 400 B.C., after which Josephus considered prophetic inspiration to have ceased.

A more precise study reveals that the Pentateuch (the law of Moses, the first five books) was in use canonically as early as 400 B.C.; that the Prophets, a second Jewish division of Scriptures, was closed canonically by 200 B.C.; and that the third division, the Writings, was closed in 100 B.C.2 (This three-fold division of Jewish Scripture is commonly known, and it has been designated by the acronym tanak, which means torah (law), nabiim (prophets), and Kethubim (writings).

An important date is 90 A.D. when the Council of Jamnia convened under Johanan ben Zakkai, officially congealing the Old Testament canon in its present form of thirty-nine books without Apocrypha.3 Prior to this the canon had been socially closed by usage and practice, and discussions about Ezekiel, Daniel, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, for example, were academic and not of historical and theological

–  –  –

significance. (Such discussions even continued after the formal closing of the canon in 90 A.D.) Perhaps the development of Christian literature, which was coming to the fore, made it prudent for the rabbis to take official action in closing their canon.

Old Testament Apocrypha The Apocrypha (and Pseudepigrapha) were produced between 250 B.C. and the early Christian centuries. The Apocryphal books, found in the Douay Version (Roman Catholic), can be roughly divided into

three groups:

1. Books that are allegedly additions and completions of existing books of the Old Testament canon.

(II Esdras adds apocalyptic visions given to Ezra; "The Rest of Esther" seeks to show God's hand in "Esther" in clearer focus; and three additions to Daniel, the

first two of which are based on the lion's den setting:

Song of the Three Holy Children, Bel and the Dragon, and History of Susanna, add to the heroic feats of Daniel. )

2. Books that can be called "wisdom literature", similar to Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. These are Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus.

3. Books that treat historical narrative, sometimes with apparent forthrightness, as I and II Maccabees, which relate the Jews' warfare for liberty (175-130 B.C.) against the Syrians under the ambitious and outrageous Antiochus Epiphanes; on other occasions the historical narratives appear legendary (I Esdras regarding Zerubbabel), or infused with romantic love (Tobit and Judith), or mere paraphrases from other

books (Baruch paraphrasing the prophets Jeremiah:

Daniel, etc.).

What has been the fate of these assorted books?

The rabbis did not want to accept them in the Old Testament canon because they appeared in Greek in the Septuagint translation in 150 B.C., and God's


language is Hebrew! (Four were originally written in Hebrew.) It is important to emphasize that Jewish usage rejected these books from their canon. They were definitely rejected at Jamnia in 90 A.D.

On April 8, 1546 The Council of Trent of the Roman Catholic Church declared some of these abovementioned apocryphal books to be canonical or deuterocanonical, offering an anathema against any who ventured a different view. The books were Tobit, Judith The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch (with the Epistle of Jeremy as Chapter 6) and I and II Maccabees. The Rest of Esther was added to canonical Esther and Daniel was expanded by The History of Susanna;

Song of the Three Holy Children, and Bel and the Dragon.

In the New English Bible the Apocrypha also includes I and II Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, which were rejected by the Council of Trent. It is evident that this Apocrypha is about equal in length to the New Testament.

Martin Luther, the German reformer, felt that some of these books favored papal doctrines. He also rejected the Apocrypha. Probably he was over-reacting, as these books are not theologically radical and heretical. More important is the principle that these books were never part of the Jewish canon of the Scriptures.

They found their way into the Bible via the Greek Septuagint version, and its translation into Latin in the second century, and the Latin Vulgate which was completed in 405 A.D. by Jerome. Once included alongside canonical Scripture, tradition tended to canonize these apocryphal books also.

It is worth noting that Jesus is not recorded as having quoted from these apocryphal books. There is no explicit reference to them in the New Testament canon. They are useful books in terms of understanding the life and thought of Judaism in the intertestamental period, as a bridge between Old and New Testaments.


We should not be threatened by these books or seek to burn them thinking they are devilish tools. But we do not see sufficient evidence for accepting them as canon material. Likewise historical investigations show the pseudepigraphal documents to be unauthentic and unacceptable.

Representative reading samples from the Apocrypha are offered as an introduction: (1) Additions and Completions, see Daniel's vindication of Susanna's innocence, in History of Susanna 49-64. (2) Wisdom Literature, see Wisdom of Solomon 14:23-26 for rituals of evil, and a passage to arouse Women's Lib, Eccle-siasticus 25: 19-26. Also 26:9-12 on the loose woman. (3) Historical Narrative, see I Maccabees 1:10, 20-24, 41-64 on the outrages of "that wicked man, Antiochus Epiphanes" who set up the "abomination of desolation" on the altar of the temple (175 B.C.).


A Consideration of the New Testament The Old Testament canon jelled between 400B.C. (first the Law in 400 B.C., then the prophets in 200 B.C. and finally the Writings in 100 B.C.) with a final definitive decision being made at the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. In like manner the New Testament canon jelled, between about 75 A.D. and 400. A.D.

Again we observe three stages of development in the New Testament canon, culminating in its congealing at the synods of Hippo Regius (393 A.D.) and Carthage (397, 419 A.D.).

(1) In the period of the apostolic church there were hints and allusions that make us suspect that authoritative Christian writings were in the making.

For instance, Jesus Christ was a person of authority who spoke with authority, e.g., "You have heard that it was said... but I say... ". One would expect that sooner or later such sayings would be recorded, along with his memorable parables, and narratives of his mighty deeds. Paul the apostle claimed, in his letter to the Galatians, to have received instructions directly from the risen and ascended Christ concerning the breadth of the gospel for both Jew and Gentile, and concerning all men being made right with God by faith; one would expect these apostolic revelations to be written. Indeed, Paul did develop his concepts in letters, and instructions were given to Christian churches to circulate these letters and read them. Peter referred to Paul's writings in his letters, comparing them with "other scriptures" (II Peter 3:16). Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, quotes the words of Jesus and refers to his source as "scripture". All this gives a feeling that there is developing a Christian canon, even as there was a Jewish canon.

As new false teachers arose here and there, Christian leaders in the generation following the apostles wrote letters to combat these wrong ways and encourage the Christians. In so doing, from 95 A.D. to 150


A.D. we find Clement of Rome quoting from half a dozen sources that we presently have in our New Testament canon. In like fashion the letters of Polycarp and Ignatius, the Didache, Papias, the Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, and Tatian all quote freely from authoritative sources that they had (although the New Testament canon was far from being jelled), and their sources read the same as they do in our New Testaments.

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