Internal evidences help us confirm that thirty-nine books comprise the complete Old Testament canon
The first five books of the Old Testament - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (known as the Law, the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, or the Torah) - are followed by the twelve books written to present God's programme for Israel, Judah and the Gentile nations (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther) to form a group of seventeen historical books. We find the five books of poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) divinely inserted between this first group of seventeen books and a second group of seventeen books comprising five books of the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel) followed by the twelve books of the minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). Thus we see that the 39 books are in fact ordered in a way that might not be appreciated by a first-time reader. We do not believe that it is by chance that the Books of Moses and the books of history form this first group of seventeen books which precede five experiential books, the five books of poetry, followed by seventeen prophetical books. It is for this reason that some have referred to these books of poetry, which deal with the condition of the human heart, as the "heart of the Old Testament." When 30 writers from all walks of life and massively diverse circumstances contributed to the Old Testament over at least 1200 years they would have had no idea that the work God had gifted them with would one day be compiled into this testament of His justice and mercy. It has been so preserved as a source of knowledge and a guide to putting our faith into practice, that the apostle Paul continued to hold the ancient records in the same high esteem that Jesus had repeatedly emphasized in His ministry. Jesus affirmed the accuracy of the Old Testament by repeatedly quoting from it, as when He rebuked Satan with Scripture (Matthew 4:4-10), emphasizing, "it is written." We find the repeated emphasis throughout His ministry:
Mt 11:10 "This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.'
Mt 21:13 And He said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN."
Mt 26:24 "The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."
Mt 26:31 Then Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, 'I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.'
Mr 1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY;
Mr 7:6 And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
Mr 9:12 And He said to them, "Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?1
Finally, He affirmed the inviolability of Scripture:
Mt 5:18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.1
It is little wonder then that Paul wrote in Romans 15v4:
"For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."1
Thus the Old Testament teaches us about the relationship that God desires in the covenant with us and the ways in which He expects us to approach Him. Equally we have a clear picture of a God who desires the nations to humble themselves before Him (Lev. 16:29-31; 23:29) and one who executes perfect righteous judgment on both the individual and families within the nations (Ezekiel 3:17-21 and Ezekiel 18). All of these facets of Old Testament truth come alive to us as we recognize the importance of the canon which so perfectly prepared the way for the appearance, death and resurrection from the dead of our great Shepherd of the sheep who purchased us with His own blood in an eternal covenant (Ac 20:28; Heb 13:20).
In the five groupings explained above we have the recorded history of Israel and Judah from the very creation in eternity past to the days of Malachi (~400BC). The entire history of the Jewish nation from the book of Genesis through the time of Nehemiah, when he returned to rebuild the Jerusalem wall (444BC), is contained in these books of the Law and the books of history with the exception of Malachi (written after Nehemiah in ~400BC) and Joel which may be post-exilic (Babylonian). Esther, and the books of poetry and the major and minor prophets, take us into the time period covered by the books of history. Knowing these facts will help any reader understand the purpose and design of the Old Testament.
The books of the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the books of history (Joshua to Esther) were written to present the historical details of God's dealings with Israel, Judah, and the Gentile nations, and were therefore written from the viewpoint of the historian who was vitally interested in the facts he observed and the way they impinged on the Northern and Southern kingdoms. They were often written by later authors, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to record the details of Jewish history and her interactions with her neighboring nations and enemies. The major and minor prophets were gifted by God to both foresee the future for the guidance of His people, but also to observe the situation on the spot and warn the people of their present failings in their relationship with the Living God. We should never forget the entirely hazardous nature of Old Testament prophecy for, just as a War correspondent might risk his life in modern-day theatres of war to gain close-up insight, the prophet of God was at risk from both sides of the prophetic coin - his own people would hate him for his accuracy in seeing into their heart condition, and false prophecy would result in certain death (Deut. 13:1-11 and 18:18-22).
Despite all the evidences available to us today - and authorities have emphasised that we have as much, or more, reason to believe in the accuracy of the Old Testament today than in any time past - it is common for people to question the validity and inspiration of the canon of 39 books which are found in Protestant Bibles. Today we still have the cults, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) who claim their "Book of Mormon" to be "another Testament of Jesus Christ" and to supercede the whole of the Bible in its absolute accuracy. But of far longer historical dispute is the position of the apocryphal writings (known as the "Apocrypha") which is included in Bibles of those (usually) of a Roman Catholic persuasion, swelling the number of books to 46 in the Old Testament. These fifteen, or so, apocryphal writings include First Book of Esdras, First Book of the Maccabees, Second Book of the Maccabees, Book of Tobit, Book of Judith, Book of Wisdom, Book of Sirach, Book of Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Book of Susanna, Prayer of Azariah, Prayer of Manasseh, and Book of Bel and the Dragon, and were written between 200BC and 100AD. We need to examine the proofs, if they exist, for our confidence in our Old Testament as it stands - is it really and fully the Word of God, or are these other writings worthy to be considered as part of divine inspiration.
One of the most obvious problems we will quickly come across if we embrace these apocryphal books as part of our Old Testament are of an obvious doctrinal nature,3,4 for in Baruch 3 verse 4 we read:
"O Lord Almighty, thou God of Israel, hear now the prayers of the dead Israelites, and of their children, which have sinned before thee, and not hearkened unto the voice of thee their God: for the which cause these plagues cleave unto us."5
And this false teaching is perpetuated in:
(i) 2 Maccabees 12:43:
And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection.5
(ii) 2 Maccabees 12:44:
For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.5
(iii) 2 Maccabees 12:45:
And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.5
Praying for the deceased is in direct opposition to Luke 16:25-31, where we discover that the rich man had no hope of a second chance:
25 "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.
26 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and [that] none may cross over from there to us.'
27 "And he said, 'Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house--
28 for I have five brothers--that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'
29 "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'
30 "But he said, 'No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!'
31 "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.'" 1
We notice that, most tellingly, Jesus emphasises (v29-31) the inviolability of Moses and the prophets - sufficient, with no addition of Apocrypha, any other writing, or even a miraculous resurrection from the dead, to lead men to salvation! Many other Scriptures tell the self-same story, including Hebrews 9v27:
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this [comes] judgment 1
as if this alone was insufficient for us to reject the apocryphal writings, we also find they contain God being petitioned to assist Judith in a lie (Judith 9:10-13):
10 Smite by the deceit of my lips the servant with the prince, and the prince with the servant: break down their stateliness by the hand of a woman.
11 For thy power standeth not in multitude nor thy might in strong men: for thou art a God of the afflicted, an helper of the oppressed, an upholder of the weak, a protector of the forlorn, a saviour of them that are without hope.
12 I pray thee, I pray thee, O God of my father, and God of the inheritance of Israel, Lord of the heavens and earth, Creator of the waters, king of every creature, hear thou my prayer:
13 And make my speech and deceit to be their wound and stripe, who have purposed cruel things against thy covenant, and thy hallowed house, and against the top of Sion, and against the house of the possession of thy children.5
The apocrypha also contains demonstrable errors such as Tobit supposedly being alive when Jeroboam staged his revolt in 931 BC, and to still be living at the time of the Assyrian captivity (722 BC), yet the Book of Tobit says he lived only 158 years2 (Tobit 1:3-5; 14:11)
Tob 1:3 I Tobit have walked all the days of my life in the ways of truth and justice, and I did many almsdeeds to my brethren, and my nation, who came with me to Nineve, into the land of the Assyrians.
Tob 1:4 And when I was in mine own country, in the land of Israel being but young, all the tribe of Nephthali my father fell from the house of Jerusalem, which was chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, that all the tribes should sacrifice there, where the temple of the habitation of the most High was consecrated and built for all ages.
Tob 1:5 Now all the tribes which together revolted, and the house of my father Nephthali, sacrificed unto the heifer Baal.
Tob 14:11 Wherefore now, my son, consider what alms doeth, and how righteousness doth deliver. When he had said these things, he gave up the ghost in the bed, being an hundred and eight and fifty years old; and he buried him honourably.5
The introduction of the notion that God hears prayers for the dead immediately causes problems such as "soul-sleep," embraced by cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, and "purgatory" which has been the realm of the Roman Catholic church since Pope Gregory I established the doctrine in 593AD. We need to establish the credentials of the 39 books of the Old Testament to circumvent the possible introduction of such bizarre doctrines as these into our congregations. The logic and sound reasoning exemplified by the apostle Paul (Ac 17:17 ; 18:4 ; 19:8-9), in the power of the Holy Spirit in his arguments with the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, should be our goal as we seek to fully endorse the Old Testament as the divinely inspired Word of God.
In Luke 24:44 we find the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:
'Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."'1
The three divisions recognized as Scripture by the Jews in New Testament times - Law, Prophets, Writings - are fully endorsed here by our risen Lord. We can notice that arguments for "new and additional revelations," such as the Book of Mormon, are dealt with fully by Scriptural evidence. Coupled with this evidence we have the clear warnings given by the apostle John in Revelation 22:18-19:
"I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book"1
The Jewish historian priest, Flavius Josephus (37AD to ~97AD) had all the training and skills necessary to keeping flawless records and to affirm to us the writings which the Jews considered Scriptures. We therefore have good reason to take notice of his analysis and testimony of the events of this period. We read from his writings "Flavius Josephus Against Apion", Book 1:8:
"For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life."2
So we find that Josephus also recognized these three divisions of the Old Testament in his time - confirming that this grouping alone was known as Scripture. It is also interesting to note that in this same passage to Apion he affirms the difference between the God-fearing reverence in which Old Testament Scripture was regarded by his people and the casual approach of the Greeks - and also his contempt for those who make claim to be historians but, in his eyes, are an insult to the name!
"It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them. For it is no new thing for our captives, many of them in number, and frequently in time, to be seen to endure racks and deaths of all kinds upon the theatres, that they may not be obliged to say one word against our laws and the records that contain them; whereas there are none at all among the Greeks who would undergo the least harm on that account, no, nor in case all the writings that are among them were to be destroyed; for they take them to be such discourses as are framed agreeably to the inclinations of those that write them; and they have justly the same opinion of the ancient writers, since they see some of the present generation bold enough to write about such affairs, wherein they were not present, nor had concern enough to inform themselves about them from those that knew them; examples of which may be had in this late war of ours, where some persons have written histories, and published them, without having been in the places concerned, or having been near them when the actions were done; but these men put a few things together by hearsay, and insolently abuse the world, and call these writings by the name of Histories."2
An enquirer might ask us how we equate our 39 books Old Testament books with the 22 books mentioned by Josephus? We need to take a careful look at the original arrangement of the Jewish Old Testament. The Jews clearly recognized the Law - the first five books of the Old Testament - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The second grouping called the prophets contained two sections called "the former prophets" - containing Joshua, Judges and Ruth as one book, 1 and 2 Samuel as one book, and 1 and 2 Kings as one book - to make a total of four books. The second section of the prophets, known as "the latter prophets," contained Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations, Ezekiel and twelve minor prophets as one book, to make a total of four books. In the third division we find the Psalms, or Writings, consisting of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel (who the Jews did not consider a prophet, but a statesman), Ezra-Nehemiah as one book, and 1 and 2 Chronicles as one book - to complete the third division total of nine books. Thus, in summation, we have:
Nine books in "The Writings;"
Four books in "The Latter Prophets;"
Four books of "The Former Prophets;"
Five books in "The Law;"
Total: Twenty-Two Books
The 22 books recognized by Josephus and contained in the three divisions - the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms - were also recognized by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and they equate exactly with the 39 books we have today in our Old Testament. So, following on from this logical summation, we find that the apocryphal books are superfluous to the Old Testament canon and therefore we have total confidence in their eternal exclusion.
There is additional proof that the 39 books comprise the entire Old Testament canon. When we turn to Luke 11v51 we read the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to the religious leaders of His day:
"from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation."1
We need to acknowledge the devastating impact this statement would have had on the listeners. The record of the martyrdom of Zechariah, in ~800BC, is found in 2 Chronicles 24v20-23:
20 Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, "Thus God has said, 'Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.'"
21 So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD.1
So Jesus made it clear that all of the blood of Abel (just after the fall of Adam in the Garden) and all of the martyrs down through history to Zechariah would be required of that current generation.
We tremble before the Son of God who declares that the deaths of all these innocent servants of God would be brought down on the heads of the unrepentant rebels against God!
Some people consider that there is an apparent problem with this statement by Jesus for, when we turn to Jeremiah 26v20-23 we read:
20 Indeed, there was also a man who prophesied in the name of the LORD, Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim; and he prophesied against this city and against this land words similar to all those of Jeremiah.
21 When King Jehoiakim and all his mighty men and all the officials heard his words, then the king sought to put him to death; but Uriah heard it, and he was afraid and fled, and went to Egypt.
22 Then King Jehoiakim sent men to Egypt: Elnathan the son of Achbor and certain men with him went into Egypt.
23 And they brought Uriah from Egypt and led him to King Jehoiakim, who slew him with a sword, and cast his dead body into the burial place of the common people.1
Thus we see that Uriah (Urijah in the King James Version of the Bible) was a prophet of God slain during the time of Jeremiah in 600BC. People have questioned whether the Lord Jesus Christ meant to include the death of Uriah. How are we to reconcile the Scripture to an apparent problem? By turning back to the structure of the Jewish Old Testament we now recognize where the apparent problem lies: the first book of their Old Testament was Genesis and the last book of their Old Testament was Chronicles, whereas the first book in our Old Testament today is Genesis but the last book is Malachi. Therefore the murder of Uriah contained in the book of Jeremiah is contained in the latter part of the Old Testament text as used by the Jews in the days of Jesus and this means that His words, naming Abel to Zechariah, were not necessarily meant as a chronological statement including all time from the Fall of Adam in Genesis to the time of Zechariah in 800BC, but was instead intended as a literary statement from this first death recorded in Genesis to the last death recorded in Chronicles. So, from the first book to the last book of the Old Testament, the blood of all the martyred prophets contained in Scripture - Genesis to Chronicles - was to be required by this generation named by the Lord Jesus Christ. So once again in Scripture we have an example of God revealing to His saints the magnificent divinely inspired record of the 22 books of the Jews - Genesis to Chronicles - and showing that it is still fully equivalent to our modern-day 39 books of the Old Testament - Genesis to Malachi. Nothing needs adding and there is nothing to be taken away from the inspired Word! Alleluia!
(Continued on page 474)