Jewish Literature in New Testament Times

The Old Testament Canon


Which Books were included in the Old Testament Canon?

Jerusalem Temple Coin

The word "Canon," literally meaning "cane," or "measuring rod," came to be used as the name of the list of books which were recognized as the genuine, original inspired, authoritative WORD OF GOD, the "rule" of Faith.

Early in history God began the formation of the Book which was to be the medium of His revelation of Himself to man:

Ten Commandments, written on stone (Deuteronomy 10:4, 5).

Moses' Laws, written in a book (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).

Copies of this book were made (Deuteronomy 17:18).

Joshua added to the book (Joshua 24:26) .

Samuel wrote in a book, and laid it up before God (I Samuel 10:25) . This book was well known 400 years later (II Kings 22:8-20) .

Prophets wrote in a book (Jeremiah 36:32; Zechariah 1:4; 7:7-12) . Ezra read this book of God publicly (Ezra 7 :6; Nehemiah 8: 5) .

Jesus and "the Scriptures"

In Jesus' day this book was called "The Scriptures," and was taught regularly and read publicly in synagogues. It was commonly regarded among the people as the "Word of God." Jesus himself repeatedly called it the "Word of God."

In the New Testament there are about 300 quotations from these "Scriptures"; and no book outside these "Scriptures" is thus quoted in the New Testament, with the single exception of words of Enoch in the book of Jude. Many of these quotations are from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which was in common use in New Testament times; and even though the Septuagint contained the "Apocryphal" books there is not one quotation from the Apocryphal books. This is evidence that neither Jesus nor the Apostles recognized the Apocryphal books as part of "The Scriptures."

These "Scriptures" were composed of the 39 books which constitute our Old Testament, though under a different arrangement. They were spoken of as the "Law," 5 books; the "Prophets," 8 books; and the "Writings," 11 books; thus:

The Law, the Prophets and the Writings

Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve.

Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.

Thus combining the 2 books each of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles into 1; and Ezra and Nehemiah into 1; and the 12 Minor Prophets (which were written on one roll) into 1; these 24 books are exactly the same as the 39 books of our Old Testament.

Just when this group of books was completed, and set apart as the definitely recognized Word of God, is involved in obscurity. The Jews' tradition was that it was done by Ezra. We believe that, as these books were written, beginning with Moses, they were, at the time, recognized as Inspired of God, and placed in the Tabernacle or Temple along with the accumulating group of Sacred Writings. Copies were made as needed. In the Babylonian Captivity theY were scattered, and many copies destroyed. Ezra, after Return from the Captivity, re-assembled scattered copies, and restored them as a complete group to their place in the Temple. From Temple copies, other copies were made for Synagogues.

Josephus and the Old Testament Canon

Josephus considered the Old Testament Canon as fixed from the days of Artaxerxes, time of Ezra. Here are his words:

"We have but 22 books, containing the history of all time, books that are believed to be divine. Of these, 5 belong to Moses, containing his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind down to the time of his death. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes the prophets who succeeded Moses wrote the history of the events that occurred in their own time, in 13 books. The remaining 4 books comprise hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life. 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, on account of the failure of the exact succession of prophets. There is practical proof of the spirit in which we treat our Scriptures; r, although so great an interval of time has now passed, not a soul has ventured to add or to remove or to alter a syllable; and it is the instinct of every Jew, from the day of his birth, to consider these Scriptures as the teaching of God, and to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to lay down his life in their behalf."

This testimony is of no small value. Josephus was born A.D. 37 in Jerusalem, of priestly aristocracy. He received an extensive education in Jewish and Greek culture. He was governor of Galilee and military commander in the wars with Rome, and was present at the destruction of Jerusalem.

These words of Josephus are unquestionable testimony to the belief of the Jewish nation of Jesus' day as to what books comprised the Hebrew Scriptures, and that that collection of books had been completed and fixed for 400 years preceding his time.

(As to the "22" books of Josephus see Bible History Online.)

The Septuagint and the Old Testament Canon

As to arrangement: the Septuagint translators re-classified them according to subject matter, which reclassification has been followed by Latin and English translators. The books of our Old Testament, though in different order, are identical with the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were not called the "Old Testament" till after completion of the "Christian Scriptures," to differentiate the two.

Also see The Apocrypha

and The Septuagint

Jewish Literature

Esther Scroll

John 10:34 "Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law.."

Rabbinical Literature and Second Temple Judaism

Jerusalem Temple CoinThe Rabbinic Writings, The Mishnah, and the Talmud. During the first century A.D. the Pharisaic rabbis created many commentaries on the Torah. When Jesus began his ministry He attacked the Pharisees for putting their traditions above the word of God. All the writings and commentaries of the first two centuries A.D. were compiled and organized into a collection by a man named Judah Hanasi around 200 A.D. forming a collection called the Mishnah. The Pharisaic rabbis were known as the "Tannaim" which in Hebrew is translated teachers, and these men were the teachers who regulated the law. There was another collection of their commentary which was much smaller, it was known as the Tosefta which in Hebrew means "enlargement". The later commentaries on the Mishnah were made by "expositors".

Brief Historical Background

The Jews and Torah
The Holy Scriptures
The Apocrypha
The Apocryphal Literature
The Oral Law
The Mishnah
The Gemara
The Halakah
The Haggadah
The Midrash
The Zugoth
The Tannaim
The Amoraim
The Tosefta
The Baraitha
The Talmud
The Tractates of the Mishnah
The Palestinian Talmud
The Babylonian Talmud

The Purpose and Heart of the Law - A Heart Message
Rabbinical Writings Chart

Historical Timeline

The Persian Period 430-332 B.C.
The Greek Period 331-167 B.C.
The Period of Independence 167-63 B.C.
The Roman Period 63 B.C. to the time of Christ
The Old Testament Canon
The Apocrypha
Other Writings
The Septuagint
The Text of the Old Testament
The Aramaic Language
The Targums
The Talmud
The Great Synagogue
The Sanhedrin
The Dispersion
Preparation for Christ




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