The spirit of prophecy continued in the Israelite church, with intervals of intermission, down to Malachi. If any uninspired writing had been put forward as inspired it would have been immediately tested and rejected. Compare the instances, 1 Kings 22:5-28; Jeremiah 28; Jeremiah 29:8-32. At the same time the presence of the living prophets in the church caused the exact definition of the completed canon to be less needful, until the spirit of prophecy had departed. Accordingly (as the rabbis allege, compare 2 Esdras) it was at the return from the Babylonian captivity that Ezra and "the great synagogue" (a college of 120 scholars) collected and promulgated all the Old Testament Scriptures in connection with their reconstruction of the Jewish church. Nehemiah, according to 2 Maccabees 2:13, "gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David."
Zechariah (Zechariah 7:12) speaks of "the law" and "the former prophets" upon which the later prophets rested; the succeeding sacred writers, under inspiration, setting their seal to their predecessors by quotations from them as Scripture. Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:30) saith, "Thou testifiedst by Thy Spirit in Thy prophets." Daniel (Daniel 9:2) "understood by THE books (so the Hebrew) the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolation of Jerusalem"; probably Jeremiah's letter to the captives in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1-10), others explain it the books of the Old Testament or of the prophets. "The book of the law of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 17:9) was what the Levites under Jehoshaphat taught throughout all Judah. An increased attention to the law, the sanctified result of affliction during the captivity, was the probable cause under God of the complete abandonment of idolatry on their return (Psalm 119:67; Psalm 119:71).
Psalm 119, one continued glorification of the law or word of God, was probably the composition of Ezra "the priest and ready scribe in the law of Moses" (Ezra 7:6; Nehemiah 8:9). The restorer of the national polity based it on the law, the Magna Charta of the theocracy. Israel is the real speaker throughout; and the features of the psalm suit the Jews' position just after their return from Babylon. Their keenness to return to the law appears in Nehemiah 8:1-8; Ezra the priest read to "all the people gathered as one man into the street before the water gate ... from the morning until the midday." The arrangement and completion of the canon accounts for Ezra's honorable title "priest" becoming merged in that of" scribe." "The synagogue of scribes" (1 Maccabees 7:12) was a continuation probably of that founded by Ezra. Nehemiah and Malachi added their own writings as the seal to the canon.
The translator of Ecclesiasticus (131 B.C.) mentions the three integral parts, "the law, the prophets, and the remainder of the books," as constituting a completed whole; just as the Lord Jesus refers to the whole Old Testament: "the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms" (answering to the hagiographa or the Kethubim), Luke 24:44, compare Acts 28:23; and comprehends all the instances of innocent blood shedding in the formula "from Abel to Zacharias," i.e. from Genesis the first book to 2 Chronicles, the last of the Hebrew Bible (Matthew 23:35). So Philo, our Lord's contemporary, refers to "the laws, ... the prophets, ... and the other books." The law is the basis of the whole, the prophets apply the law to the national life, the hagiographa apply it to the individual. (See BIBLE.) Josephus refers to the 22 books of Scripture, namely, 5 of Moses, 13 of the prophets extending to the reign of Artaxerxes (the time of Nehemiah), 4 containing hymns and directions for life (c. Apion, 1:8): i.e. the FIVE of MOSES; THIRTEEN prophetical books, namely,
(2) Judges and Ruth,
(3) the two of Samuel,
(4) the two of Kings
(5) the two of Chronicles,
(6) Ezra and Nehemiah,
(9) Jeremiah and Lamentations,
(12) the twelve minor prophets,
(13) Job; and FOUR remaining, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon: the 22 thus being made to answer to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Joshua Judges, Job, etc., are reckoned, in the Jewish use of the term "prophet" for inspired historian or writer, among" the former prophets."
These sacred 22 are distinct from other Hebrew writings such as Ecclesiastes 12:12. Josephus says: "it is an innate principle with every Jew to regard them as announcements of the divine will, perseveringly to adhere to them, and if necessary willingly to die for them." "The faith with which we receive our Scriptures is manifest; for though so long a period has elapsed, no one has dared to add to, detract from, or alter them in any respect." The warnings: "add thou not to His words, lest He reprove thee and thou be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6), "neither shall ye diminish ought from it" (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32), fenced in the Old Testament canon as Revelation 22:18-19 fences in the New Testament The Lord and His apostles quote all the books of the Old Testament except Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, the Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and Ezekiel.
Josephus denies the Apocrypha the same authority: "from the time of Artaxerxes to our own everything has been recorded; but these accounts are not worthy of the same credit, owing to the absence of the regular succession of prophets." The Apocrypha was never in the Hebrew canon. The cessation of the prophetic gift marks the point of time in both Testaments when the canon was complete. Antiochus Epiphanes (168 B.C.) in persecuting the Jews sought out "the books of the law" and burnt them (1 Maccabees 1:56). To possess a book of the covenant was made a capital offense. Just so the persecution of Diocletian in New Testament times was especially directed against those possessing the Christian Scriptures. The New Testament writers have not one authoritative quotation from the Apocrypha.
Some quotations in the New Testament are not directly found in the canonical books; thus Judges 1:17 takes a portion of the uninspired book of Enoch, and by inspiration stamps that portion as true; Paul also refers to facts unrecorded in Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:8; Ephesians 5:14; Hebrews 11:24); see also John 7:38; James 4:5-6; 2 Timothy 3:8. Melito of Sardis (A.D. 179), after an exact inquiry in the East gives the Old Testament books substantially the stone as ours, including under "Esdras" Nehemiah, Ezra, and Esther. Origen excludes expressly 1 Maccabees from the canon though written in Hebrew Jerome gives our canon exactly, which is also the Hebrew one, and designates all others apocryphal. "Whatever is not included in the enumeration here made is to be placed among the Apocrypha" He puts Daniel in the hagiographa.
The Alexandrine Jews, though more lax in their views, had at the beginning of the Christian era the same canon as the Hebrew of Israel. But by admitting into the Septuagint Greek version of Old Testament the Apocrypha they insensibly influenced those Christian fathers who depended on that version for their knowledge of Old Testament, so that the latter lost sight of the gulf that separates the Hebrew canon from the Apocrypha. To the Jews, saith Scripture," were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2). It never accuses them of altering the Scriptures. Their testimony condemns the decree of Rome's council of Trent that the apocryphal books deserve "equal veneration" as Scripture, and that all are "accursed" who do" not receive the entire books with all their parts as sacred and canonical." (See APOCRYPHA.)
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