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Equipped For Every Good Work

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Lesson 8

COMPLETION OF THE BIBLE CANON

Between the canonical books of the Hebrew Scriptures and the beginning of the Greek Scriptures there exists a gap of centuries. We may ask, Why should there be a gap from before the year 280 B.C., when the Hebrew canon was translated into the Greek to comprise the Greek Septuagint? Evidently because what took place during the course of those centuries until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was not of any typical value. The time elapsing allowed for the development of religion among the Jews in a more subtle form than the gross idol-worship they formerly practiced. It was more subtle in that it professed to set aside or smothered the inspired canon of the Word of God and developed a great mass of traditional writings, which latter writings became known as the Hebrew Talmud.

Before passing on to the canon of the Greek Scriptures, the following may be said about the Hebrew canon and its completion, which gives real authority for accepting it. It finds its real confirmation in the sayings and writings of the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles. It was because they accepted the Hebrew canon as the inspired Word of God that they continually alluded to it and made larger or smaller quotations from it. McClintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia says that in the Greek Scriptures after Christ the writings quote from all books of the Bible excepting Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Song of Solomon, Lamentations and Ezekiel. The Greek New Testament as produced by Nestle, an eminent German scholar, shows that the Hebrew books of Ruth, Ezra, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes are the only ones not quoted or alluded to in the Greek Scriptures. Neither Christ nor the apostles or other Greek-Scripture writers quoted from any of the Apocrypha.

Jesus designated the Hebrew canon as the "Scriptures" or as the "Law"; and in Luke 24:44 he referred to the entire Hebrew canon as 'the law and the prophets and the

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Psalms', not meaning by "psalms" that the Psalms alone as a book were to be understood, but meaning the Hagiographa, the third part of the Hebrew canon. The Psalms were merely the opening book of the Hagiographa; and, just as the Hebrews designate the name of a book by its. opening word or words, so the Hagiographa would be designated by the opening book, which was Psalms. This shows that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was completed before the time of Christ. Jesus accepted and quoted it.

Though the Hebrew canon was complete when Christ Jesus was on earth, the Bible canon was not. It was yet to grow by twenty-seven books, the books of the Christian Greek Scriptures. The Lord Jesus Christ was opposed to oral traditions, the Mishnah. Hence. though Jesus did not himself do any writing of the Bible canon, it is sure that he would not leave to tradition the reporting of the things that concerned himself and his followers. They were established by the mouth of at least two or three witnesses. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded the testimony. Additionally, Jesus sent the holy spirit to bring to their remembrance all things, that there would be no error in recording the things which Jesus had said. —John 14: 26.

In addition to the four Gospel accounts there were added to the Bible canon the historical book of Acts, fourteen epistles by Paul, one by James and one by Jude, two by Peter, three by John, and placed last comes the highly prophetic book of Revelation. These writings were either general in their address or were addressed to congregations or representatives. The receivers prized them according to their high worth and preserved the original writings and caused copies thereof to be made and circulated abroad to Christians. Regardless of who were addressed by the originals, they were inspired and intended for wide circulation for general use and consultation. All the books of Scripture are profitable for all Christians, that they may be fully equipped for every good work. Peter in his second epistle testifies to the writings of Paul and classifies all his

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epistles with the other Scriptures. This indicates that they had become a part of the Bible canon; also that these Pauline epistles were by that time in general circulation, on a par with the Hebrew Scriptures. (2 Pet. 3:15,16) John, in the last decade of the first century of the Christian era, had the privilege of completing the Greek canon.

Now the question bobs up: Did the early church set a standard for us today in accepting these writings of the apostles and their associates? The second and third centuries of the Christian era were until recently blind-spot periods of time, that is, as to the existence of manuscript copies of the text of the Scriptures. They were a blind spot all the way down to the nineteenth century, when papyrus manuscripts of the Bible began to be brought to light and to be accumulated. Since the nineteenth century, we have papyrus Bible manuscripts such as P45, P46, P47, and the papyrus fragment of the "Fourth Gospel", written between A.D. 100 and 150, which do fill this blind spot, manuscripts written in the vulgar Greek language of that day, as is verified by thousands upon thousands of non-Scripture papyri which were not inspired. These Scripture MSS. existed in collected form and were circulated, showing that they were accepted as a part of the Bible canon.

We now come to an apparent difficulty, namely, that the ancient MSS. Alexandrine, Vatican and Sinaitic contain some apocryphal books, such as the epistles of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hernias, and the epistles of Clement. The question arises, therefore, How may one be sure that the present-day canon of the Greek Scriptures is complete without these apocryphal books? (Remember these manuscripts are of the fourth and fifth centuries.) Early Christian writers of the second and third centuries set forth personal catalogues of the inspired Scriptures and such catalogues agree with our canon of today. These catalogues do not include the apocryphal books.

Origen's famous Hexapla contained the same books as are included in the present-day canon. In Eusebius' catalogues

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of what books were inspired he lists these same books. There are at least ten ancient catalogues of the inspired books of the Greek-Christian writings, which catalogues are still extant. Of these, six agree exactly with our canon today; three of them omit only Revelation; and one of them omits Hebrews as well as Revelation. This means that these . catalogues, all prior to the Council of Carthage in 397, do not include the apocryphal books of the epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the epistle of Clement (Romanus) to the Corinthians, and the Apocalypse of Peter. Furthermore, the Council of Carthage in its decree set forth the same Greek canon as exists today.

What, then, is the sum of this? Are we dependent upon the catalogues of these early Christian writers, who were not inspired, and the catalogues of those ancient councils? Do the Vatican, Sinaitic, Alexandrine and Bezae MSS. of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries determine the Bible canon ? Acceptance of the Bible canon rests upon a higher authority. The thing that binds the whole Bible together is the holy spirit of God, that active force which began and concluded the recording of the canon. Internal evidence indicates it is inspired, because it harmonizes throughout. It is indestructible by its enemies, despite their efforts over thousands of years of time. —Ps. 100: 5; 1 Pet. 1: 23, 25.


REVIEW : 1. Why is there a gap of centuries between the ending of the Hebrew Scriptures and the beginning of the Greek Scriptures? 2. What developed during that period? 3. In what fact does the Hebrew canon find its real confirmation? and what further fact disqualifies the apocryphal books? 4. What shows Jesus' conception and acceptance of the entire Hebrew canon? 5. Why is it certain that Jesus would not leave to oral tradition the reporting of things concerning himself and his followers? 6. How was an accurate recording of truth assured? 7. What was the extent of growth of the Bible canon following Jesus' earthly ministry? and when was the canon complete? 8. What discoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries prove the early church's acceptance of these writings of the apostles and their associates as a part of the Bible canon? 9. How do you offset the presence of apocryphal books in the ancient manuscripts Vatican, Sinaitic and Alexandrine? 10. What higher authority and stronger reasons than the foregoing stamp the present-day Bible canon as complete?
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