The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
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Bible Study

 
Growth of the Bible Canon and it's Completion
 
    The canon of the Bible is the catalogue or collection of books which have been inspired by the holy spirit of God. "Canon" comes originally from the Hebrew word qaneh, which means "reed". The corresponding Greek word is kanon, which also means "a reed, or a measuring rod, a straight edge", something by which measurements can be made and also straight lines can be drawn. In other words, the canon of the Bible is the straightedge by which one may determine what is straight truth or straight doctrine.

    The canon first began to be committed to writing in the time of Moses, and it was very appropriate that Jehovah God should early contribute to it by writing the Ten Commandments. Then Jehovah God told Moses to write down in legible form the laws, ordinances, statutes and regulations for the typical Theocracy. From then on the canon of the Bible underwent a steady growth and addition.

    The canon of Hebrew Scriptures continued till the writing of the last book, Malachi. These books, from Genesis to Malachi, do not follow the same order of arrangement as is in the present-day English Bibles. The divisions and subdivisions of these books and the order of their occurrence in Hebrew Bibles are as follows:
1. The Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
2. The Prophets: Former: Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Latter: (Major) Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel; (Minor) Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
3. The Hagiographa (a Greek word meaning "holy writings" ; the Hebrew is Eethubim, meaning "things written" or "writings"): Psalms,, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

    The Devil always tries to cause a 'dead fly to get into the ointment and to cause it to stink'. (Eccl. 10:1) He tries to cause confusion as to the Word of God and to adulterate or to mix it with that which is false and erroneous. He would therefore endeavor to add to the Word of God that which did not belong to it. (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18) God decreed that there should be an end of the books of the Hebrew canon, and the end of such books was made with the production of the prophecy of Malachi. The canon of the Hebrew Bible was nearly, if not actually, complete with the scribe Ezra, in the fifth century before Christ. It is possible that only the prophecy of Malachi was yet to be appended thereto.

    In trying to determine the time of writing of certain Bible books, many "higher critics" contend that the books were written much later than they actually were, basing such claims on the fact that things are recorded that certainly could not have been put there by the original writer, since they occurred after his death. But this does not necessarily set the time of composition at a later date. A major fact ever to be remembered is that the holy spirit of God was working till the very end of the production of the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence, if there were any additions made in the books thereof, and which additions are anachronisms (misplacing events in order of time), these insertions or additions would be approved by God because his servants would make these additions under the guidance of the same spirit of God that inspired the original composition of the books.

    The first version or translation of the Hebrew canon was into the Greek, and it was known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint as it exists today contains apocryphal books, but originally it did not. It harmonized with our present Jewish canon of the Scriptures.

    That the Hebrew canon is correct, we have ancient proof. Some, however, may say, "Well, how can the Hebrew canon be correct, in view of the ancient manuscripts or codices, such as the Alexandrine MS. of the fifth century after Christ, the Vatican MS. of the fourth century after Christ, the Sinaitic MS. of the fourth century after Christ, and the Beza MSS. of the sixth century after Christ, all containing some apocryphal books?" On this point the following facts are noted: During the first four centuries of the Christian era, that is, running down to the end of the fourth century (to the year 397, to be specific), the only Christian catalogues of inspired books of the Hebrew Bible that were accepted by the Christian congregations were those catalogues which included solely the Hebrew canon of Scripture. Those catalogues excluded the Apocrypha.

    It was the Roman Catholic "Saint" Augustine who, at the Council of Carthage in the year 397, submitted an enlarged canon, which included the apocryphal books. That council decreed what should be rated as inspired canonical books in the "Old Testament". But this catalogue as set up by this council was not approved or accepted by any Greek authority, that is to say, by any Eastern church organization. Even in the west, however, there were those associated with the Roman Catholic Hierarchy and prominent in their ecclesiastical circles who held to the Hebrew canon of Scriptures excluding the Apocrypha; and this line of adherents thereto continued all the way down to the Protestant Reformation.

    The Council of Trent (1546) in its fourth session decreed that all the books set out in its enlarged canon, which included the apocryphal books, were of "equal veneration". This decree was passed by the majority, yet not without opposition. Confusion exists within Catholic ranks as to what is the Bible canon, but Jehovah's witnesses have assurance that it is complete as in the Bibles now in widest use.


    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
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 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.

    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.—Psalm 100: 5; 1 Peter 1: 23, 25.