The Idea of Canon (Part 1) (The Covenant & the Cross #16)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Matthew 28:19-20 which reads: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Patrick Henry. He said: “The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed.”

Our topic for today is titled: “The Idea of Canon (Part 1)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin

Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus became the first “canon.” This concept is crucial. The word canon (referring to a group of writings regarded as authentic) is used to describe the body of literature we call the Bible or Scripture. This English term is a transliteration from the Latin, which borrowed it from the Greek, which in turn had taken it from a Semitic language, probably from Hebrew “ga-neh,” meaning “reed” or “measuring stick.”

As we look over the following fifteen hundred years of biblical history, we see that the canon as we have it today developed gradually. What we mean is that various books were added to the three given at Sinai as God deemed necessary. Most of the material was written in Hebrew. The Hebrew text of the original three books was very close to (but not exactly) what we have today. At times editorial comments were added. (For example, Gen. 26:33 states that the city of Beersheba was called by that name “to this day,” and Josh. 7:26 notes that a great heap of stones stands “to this day.”) Moreover, at times some elements of the Hebrew language were apparently updated, as is done with modern translations, though very often the community retained even archaic linguistic features. Such revisions, however, were apparently no longer being made by New Testament times.

If the book of Job was composed at an early date, it was likely included in the first canon, along with Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus. The first actual new book added to this initial canon would have been Numbers, a travelogue that records how the fledgling nation journeyed from Sinai to the Trans-jordan. Numbers was followed by Deuteronomy, which records the renewal of the covenant (the treaty between God and the nation) across the Jordan River from Jericho just before Moses died. The rest of the books of the Old Testament were added over the next thousand years, as we shall trace in the following chapters.

Near the end of the process, parts of some books were written in Aramaic. This language, which is closely related to Hebrew, became the lingua franca (the international trade language) of the Ancient Near East as early as the eighth century BC, and it was adopted by the Jews at the time of the Exile. The Aramaic segments of the Old Testament are confined to three passages that apparently deal with issues of primary relevance to the Gentiles.

After the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and the Israelites’ return from the Exile, the Old Testament canon was completed. This does not mean that the Jews stopped writing books. The community of God-fearers, however, did not consider the books written after this time as measuring up to the original standard. Some of these later writings constitute what we today call the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.


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