The Canon: Why These Sixty-Six Books? - Part 1

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  February 8, 2004
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Well, we want to get started tonight because there's a lot we want to discuss, and I don't think we're going to get done, tonight, and I'm, don't worry, I'm not going to take an hour which is what I have, at least I don't think I am. I'll give you a little time to fellowship, but I want to get started because there's so much to say about the issue of the canon.

When I was at Grace Church (because it's an inner-city church in many ways), there are a lot of strange, bizarre things that happened there. One episode that comes to mind is a man that wandered in one morning and was walking around the campus with a Medieval Times-type helmet on his head. I'm not making this up. Well, there was a need for security there because of some of these issues, and so the security guy kind of stepped in behind him and followed him around campus, and he walked into the worship center, and it wasn't long before he sort of made some genuflecting kind of motions, and took off the helmet, set it on the bench next to him and sat down on the pew. Well the security guys wandered over and just struck up a friendly conversation. And after a few minutes of chit-chat they said, "So, you know, what's with the helmet?" Well, he looked back at them like they were sort of lost in space and he said, "Well, that's the helmet of salvation!" And the security guys, when they told me the story said, "Well, we just wanted to make sure he wasn't carrying the sword of the Spirit."

But by far the most bizarre incident that ever happened to me personally at Grace Church was one Sunday night, we typically had baptisms on Sunday night, and the baptism was this particular Sunday night, and the elders had gathered in our elders' prayer time before the evening service, and in came a young man with his clothes in hand, and he was there to be baptized. Well, that wasn't unusual, and he seemed to have all of the clothes that he needed and everything seemed to be appropriate. He acted like he knew what he was doing and had probably been through the process. There was a process that led up to the actual baptism, but he seemed like he'd been through that process. And so, he actually sat down onto the chair next to John MacArthur and John asked him, "So, can we help you?" and he said, "Yeah, I'm here to be baptized." And so, he said "Oh, it's just around the corner and down the stairs," and a couple of us showed him how to find his way down.

Well, we had our elders' prayer time, and I had to linger with another elder because of a problem situation that had come up and all the other elders had left the room for the evening service, and in fact the evening service had just begun. And in walked one of, our baptism helpers from downstairs, and he had this young man in tow. And I could tell something was desperately wrong because he looked at me with sort of a wild-eyed look, and the young man was standing behind him and he said, "Tom, you may want to talk with this man. His testimony is a little different than most we normally hear."

Well, you know, at first thought I thought, "well here's a guy who really, maybe, isn't clear on the gospel, he's somehow made it through the process and yet there're issues that need to be addressed, so I said "Sure, I'll be happy to." So I and the other elders sat in this room with him and began to talk to him. Well, it wasn't long, about 20 minutes into the conversation, we began to discover a little bit of the nature of this young man's problem because I could sense that there was a tendency to be very subjective and sort of feel like God was talking to him and so forth, and so I pointed that out and I said, "You know I really think that the best thing for you is to go to our "Fundamentals of the Faith" class and begin to get a solid foundation for your faith where you can be confident of it and we can as well before you proceed with baptism."

Well at that point he sort of looked this way and that, and there were only 3 of us in the room. That was my first sort of tip-off that something wasn't quite right, and his eyes got round as saucers. It's the only time I've ever seen anyone where you could literally see white all the way around his eyes. And he said, "I have to tell you something." He said, "Not long ago I was reading my Bible in the book of Revelation and God spoke to me." My first response was, "Really?" I said, "Well, what'd He say?" And he said – and this was where it turned from weird to bizarre – he said, "He told me I was Jesus Christ." And I said, "And did you believe Him?" And he said, "Well, let me tell you what happened." And he went on to describe how that, he would think of things that should be addressed in the Christian community, and he'd turn on his radio, and he'd find Christian speakers addressing it. And so he assumed that he was sending these sort of telepathic signals through the air to these radio preachers.

Well, the funniest part of this story is I later found out what had happened downstairs in the baptistery. In the room where they were preparing for the baptistery, for the baptism. This man came in and as typically, you share your testimony, and so the man who was doing baptisms that night said, "Well, tell us what you plan to say when you get up in front of the congregation." And he said, "Well I don't really have any prepared remarks." Well, Jim Stitzinger was doing the baptism that night, and he said, "Well, I understand, maybe you don't have any notes to take in with you, but just tell us what you plan to say." And he said, "Well, I plan to tell everyone what God has told me, that I'm Jesus Christ." And of course, Jim almost fell out of his chair, and he said, "Oh no you're not." And that's when this baptism helper brought this young man up in tow and said, "This testimony is a little different than most we normally hear."

I found myself waking up at night chuckling about that little interchange he and I had. Well, the story doesn't end there. A few months later, I got a visit from the secret service. This same young man had made a threat against the President of the United States, and they were there to investigate it. And then I began to get a series of letters from this man, very troubled young man. And, I spoke very directly to the issues in his life that evening. But, he began to write a series of letters, and he wrote them with the same wording and feel as the letters to the seven churches in the first chapters of Revelation. And he always signed them with his name in parentheses and then "Jesus Christ".

Well, that's the most bizarre example I have ever come across of someone adding to the Scripture. But unfortunately, that whole concept of adding to what God has revealed is not uncommon at all. Whether you're talking from everything from Ellen G. White to Joseph Smith, it is extremely common for someone to come along and say, "I have something that God has revealed to me that I want to add to the Scripture" or, in some cases, even replace it. Well tonight and next week, I want to examine together the issue of the canon of Scripture. You see, God has revealed Himself, but He has revealed Himself finally in a Book. So the question that concerns us is, how do we know that this young man I just described or Ellen G White or Joseph Smith, don't in fact have a bona fide revelation from God that should be added to this Book, and why are these 66 books included? That's the question.

I want us to look over (tonight and next week) 4 issues about the canon of Scripture, four specific issues. We're going to begin by looking at the meaning of the word "canon". What does it mean? Before we can talk about which books are included we need to sort of define our approach here.

First of all, the word canon comes to us from, through the Latin from the Greek word "kanon". It's an interesting word to see develop. Originally the word meant "a rod" or "a rule," "a straight rod used as a rule," something to measure the straightness of something against, or even to measure its length. The Greek word appears in several New Testament texts, they're not important for us to look at, but it appears in 2 Corinthians 10:13, 10:15, 10:16, then in Galatians 6:16 and Philippians 3:16. In all of those cases it's translated with a, an English word like "rule" or "line". From that it came to mean "a rule or a standard". You can see the progression of this word just as our English words tend to sort of develop in meaning, you can see how this word began to develop a meaning. From a straight rod or a rule it came to mean a rule or a standard, something that other things should be judged by. But a straight rod or a rule is often marked into units like our rulers. You know, we have inches or centimeters on our rulers. So, from this use of the word it came to be used not only for the ruler itself, but for the series of marks on the ruler; so therefore, as a result, it came to speak of a series or a list.

But what do we mean when we refer to the canon of Scripture? Well, in reality we take 2 of these and together they comprise a definition of the canon of Scripture. Basically, these 2 parts: first of all, when we speak of the canon of Scripture, we mean the list of books that are acknowledged to be inspired of God, the list of books that are the breathed-out revelation of God. And because they are breathed out by God, they become the rule or standard of belief or practice. So, when we speak of the canon, those are the two ideas we have in mind: a list of books that we say are those breathed out by God, and because of that, they become the standard for what we believe and for how we live, for faith and practice or belief and practice.

By the way, it's important to see right away a key difference between the view that we hold, as Protestants, of the canon versus that of Roman Catholic theology. You see, Rome is willing to admit the first, that there is this list of books. Now, they add to this list. Without proper authority, they add some of the books of the Apocrypha, which we'll talk about next week Lord-willing, and they also add some to some of the inspired books, some sections to a couple of the inspired books. But they admit that there's this list. What they fail to agree with is that the Scripture alone is the sole rule of what we believe and what we practice.

This is the battle the Reformers fought, this second part of the idea of a canon of Scripture, that Scripture not only contains these books, but it is the sole authority for determining what we believe and what we practice. Again, come back to that idea of a rod against which you lay things to see if they're straight. The same thing that, or against which you measure something. The same thing is true of the Scripture. It becomes the rod or measuring line of what each of us believes. It also becomes the rod or measuring line of how each of us lives. That's what we mean by the canon.

The Catholic Church accepts the first of these, again although they add to it, but they will not accept the second. What do they add in addition to the Scripture as a rule for what they believe and what they practice? The Magesterium – all of the rulings of the church down through the years, those become what is accepted. Those become as binding on the conscience as the Word of God. That's what we reject.

I've often said, and the elders I know agree with me in this, that my authority as an elder, their authority as elders, ends with what's in this Book. I have no right or authority to tell you where to live, what kind of car to buy, what color socks to put on. My authority ends with the Word of God, and that's because of this principle of the canon of Scripture.

The practical implication of this definition is that, whatever books are determined to be inspired, are God's rule or rod for determining what we should believe and how we should live. In other words, those books should be authoritative in every issue of our doctrine and our practice. And I say that we should agree together to change our long-standing beliefs or practices if shown from Scripture. That's what Martin Luther said, wasn't it, at the Diet of Worms when he was asked about his beliefs of justification by faith. He said, "Here I stand, and there's nothing else I can do." He said, "But I will change if I can be shown from the Scriptures, what has been revealed, that I'm wrong."

The practical application of this for us is I think, without exception, as we go through our studies on Sunday nights and even as we study on Sunday morning, we will come across passages, we will come across studies, that stand in the face, that contradict, our previously-held opinions. "Well, this is what Mama always taught me." "This is what I've always heard." What is the rule or rod for what we believe and what we practice? The question we should always ask when what you're hearing me teach or anyone else in this church teach contradicts what you have always embraced, the question should be, "But what does the Bible say?" Because it's the rod, it's the measuring line for what we believe and how we practice it.

Alright, the second question we want to, the second issue we want to address, not only the meaning of "canon," but let's move onto the official church recognition of these list of books. How is it that the church came to acknowledge these 66 books? Well, the earliest Christians didn't address the issue of canon as to establish any criteria for determining what books would be accepted in the canon. They simply accepted the Old Testament Scriptures as they had received them. Why? Well, for 2 reasons: One, because Christ had accepted them and taught them as the Word of God. And everywhere, secondly, everywhere the apostles went, they carried with them their most precious possession, the Old Testament Scriptures. I love that verse at the end of 2 Timothy, where Paul is in prison soon to die. What's he concerned about? Well, he's a little bit concerned about his own personal comfort, he needs his cloak for winter's coming, but the thing that really consumes him is what? "Timothy, bring me the scrolls, bring me the books." The apostles held these to be precious – the Old Testament Scriptures – and they held them over the people as their absolute authority. Therefore the people accepted the Old Testament, just as they had as, the Jewish people had as, for many years before and the Gentiles now with the authority of Christ and the disciples did.

In addition to the Old Testament, the words and teaching of Christ and his apostles, whether orally or in writing, had equal authority. We've seen that in our study of inspiration. But early in the history of the church, there arose a need to discern the one who was really speaking from God as opposed to those who were false prophets. You begin to see this even within the, the age of the apostles. Turn for a moment to 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 12. Notice verse 10. One of the spiritual gifts that was given to the early church was the distinguishing of spirits. That's because there were those who would come along and claim to be of Christ, but in fact, were not.

So, some members were given this ability, or this gift to discern between what was true and what was false. What was the criterion that they used? Well, look back in verse 3. "Therefore, I made known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." That doesn't mean anyone can say those words. Here's what Paul was saying: the decisive criterion for the one who spoke for God was his doctrine of Jesus Christ.

John makes the same point. Turn to 1 John 4:2. Let's start at verse 1.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. [In other words, there is a chance for God's people to be deceived. How do they keep from being deceived? Well, here's one of the tests, here's one of the primary characteristics of false teachers:] By this you may know the spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now is already in the world.

He said, "Listen, you want to distinguish between the true and the false, and one way you can do that is through their doctrine of Jesus Christ." The chief factor is their doctrine of Christ.

Now those tests were very basic. But they were the foundation for later tests of orthodoxy in the church. The orthodoxy of the teachers' content. It started with "what do they have to teach about Jesus Christ?" And by the way, that's still a, a great starting point for discerning false prophets and false teachers. Ask the guy or gal who knocks at your door what they believe about Jesus Christ and press them to really understand what they believe and who they believe He is.

When Paul wanted (another test that came up early in the church, in addition to these doctrinal ones, was when Paul wanted) to ensure that his readers, that the letters that were circulating were authentic, they were actually from Paul, he devised a temporary test that he would use occasionally. It was his own distinctive handwriting. Although he normally used a scribe, he would in essence sign the letter to authenticate it.

Look at 1 Corinthians 16:1. "The greeting is in my own hand, Paul." It was like his own signature. It was his way of authenticating what he wrote as it was circulated among the churches so that someone who wanted to teach the churches error couldn't circulate a letter with Paul's name on it and teach error. Instead, he signed it to prove that, in fact, it was from him, and you see that in a number of other places. We won't take time to turn there, Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, and even Philemon 19.

So, these were the early tests. They were just preliminary tests of what was acceptable to God. It started with the doctrinal tests of how they believed about Christ, and then there-there came to be even a need to validate the letters that were circulating by Paul's own handwriting. But when we come to the second century A.D., we see the first attacks on the canonicity of certain biblical books. About 160 A.D., a Gnostic heretic named Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament. He said "It's not from God." In addition, he accepted only a heavily-edited version of Luke and Acts, and 10 what he called "corrected epistles of Paul". That was his canon, Luke and Acts edited down, and 10 of Paul's epistles, also corrected.

When this happened, the church began to respond. The church began to look in detail at how the canon should be formed. So, they began to discuss ways to argue for the authenticity of the books that, up to this time, had almost been universally accepted. Oh, there were a couple of books, and we'll talk about them shortly, that were, occasionally questions were raised. But the-the widest testimony, the most universal testimony, was to accept the books that we have in our canon. But they began to discuss ways to argue for the authenticity of certain books, in the face of attacks like that from Marcion. And they devised some criteria to assess individual books, and here were the tests.

First of all, "Apostolicity". Was the given book written by an apostle or by one who received his endorsement? Was it written by an apostle or someone whom he endorsed?

Secondly, "Antiquity". Was it written during the apostolic age, since only books from that era should be considered? It's interesting, early on they assumed that the canon was closed; that is, God wasn't revealing any more, and that the final revelation from God, according to Hebrews 1, was in His Son and so they assumed that the final revelation would come in Christ and those He appointed as apostles. Therefore, if they were going to accept a book it had to go back into the time of Christ and the apostles.

"Orthodoxy", was a book doctrinally correct and in agreement with the apostolic faith, particularly concerning Christ?

A fourth test was "Catholicity". Don't be confused by that word. The question is, was the book virtually universally accepted throughout the church? Was it essentially universally accepted as inspired?

And then, "Lection", not election, "lection". Was the book being widely read and used in the churches, was the idea? Were the churches not only acknowledging it but, was it being widely read and used in the spiritual life of the church?

And then finally, "Inspiration". Did the book have the qualities of an inspired writing as compared that with other already-accepted biblical writings? It's a very subjective thing to decide, but they're comparing the sort of quality of the content, if you would. And you can see this, if you read some of the Apocrypha for example, you'd get a number of historical errors. You'd get these sort of wild-eyed fancy stories at times in some of the books, and so this is the kind of thing that they were evaluating. Does it pass the test of the qualities of inspired writing?

Now, that's the criteria. What was the process? Let me just give you a little bit of the history. The process of identifying the New Testament canon, and that's where most of the dispute came, began with the age of the apostles. It started with Paul recognizing Luke's writing as equal to the Old Testament, and we won't turn there because we've already looked at it in detail when we looked at inspiration, but you remember in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Deuteronomy, particularly Deuteronomy 25:4, and he quotes Luke 10:7, and he calls both of them "Scripture".

So, you begin to see, even in-in the age of the apostles, this sort of canon form because Paul is calling Luke's writing "Scripture". You also see it with Peter, and again you remember we looked at this verse in detail when we were dealing with inspiration. In 2 Peter 3:15 and 16, Peter acknowledged that Paul's letters were Scripture. You remember, he talked about those that were unstable, distorting the Scriptures, distorting Paul's letters in those difficult places, as he says "as they do the rest of Scripture". So you begin to see, even within the time of the apostles, the identification of those books that fit within the canon, the identification of that list of books breathed out by God. The churches were reading these letters to their congregations and they were circulating them. You see that in Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27. There was this recognition that was beginning to take place.

But most of the official recognition of the canon came after the apostles. Let me just run through this, just give you a brief overview. I'm not going to spend a lot of time here, but I think it would be important for you to see sort of how the official church recognition, after the death of the apostles of the canon came about. Let's start with Clement of Rome. In his writings, 8 of the New Testament books are mentioned as Scripture. By the way, when I say they mentioned a certain number, that doesn't mean that they rejected the rest, it simply means that in the process of writing their various letters and, and correspondence, they mention these books as Scripture.

The fact that they didn't mention the others doesn't mean they didn't believe they were inspired, it simply shows that these were. So, Clement in 95 A.D. mentioned 8 of the New Testament books. Ignatious, in about 115 A.D., mentioned 7 books. Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, about 108 A.D., he acknowledged 15 of the New Testament books. Irenaeus, and you can see we're moving now further away from the time of the apostles, Irenaeus in about 185 listed 21 of the New Testament books that we have in our possession. Dipolotus, in 170-235, he acknowledged 22 of the books we have in our Scriptures.

At that time, those books that were questioned by some, not universally questioned, but questioned by some, there were – let me, let me back up and describe it for you this way. If you could picture as you did in school a Venn Diagram, where there's this large circle, and within that circle are all the books of the New Testament. Within that circle there were those that were never questioned really by anyone. But there were a small number, if you can make a little small circle of that larger circle, there were a small number of New Testament books that were questioned by some.

Those were called "The Antilegomena". Don't be scared by the word, it comes from 2 Greek words, "anti" to speak against, or to speak, or "anti" is against, "legomena" is "to speak", so it means "to speak against". There're books that some people raised issues or questions about. At this time, those books were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John, and there are reasons for each of those. But one of the overarching reasons, let me just back up and give you a reason that anyone would have raised a question about those books.

Remember at this point it's not like there's a Bible circulating. A given church, let's take the church in Ephesus for example, it receives letters, it receives a copy from, from an apostle or from, sent from a church where Paul has been, copies of letters or copies of the gospels or the book of Acts. It adds those to its library of books. But it takes time for all of those letters to circulate through all of those churches and so, maybe one church, the church in Ephesus, has received 22 of the books but they haven't seen the other 5, and so, there's a question in their mind when those books come along as to whether or not those actually fit in the canon.

But there's another church somewhere else that under apostolic authority has received those letters, they know them to be the Word of God. But it takes time for that to circulate and make its rounds throughout the Christian church. That's why there would be any books spoken against. Then there's an important document called the "Muratorian Canon" in about 170 A.D. It's a compilation of the books that were acknowledged to be canonical at that time, basically universally canonical. In other words, none were included that were questioned at all, and this included, this list included all of the New Testament that you and I possess except for Hebrews, James, and the epistles of John. Athanasius, in 367, cited the 27 books of the New Testament as being the true books from God.

Then you have the Council of Laodicea in 363 A.D. At this council, they stated that only the Old Testament that you and I possess and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. In other words, they're the only authoritative Word from God. In 393, at the Council of Hippo, they affirmed the 27 books that you and I have in our Bible, and then again at the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D., they affirmed that only the canonical books, those we possess in our Old Testament and New Testament were to be read in the churches.

Now, what I want you to see is that those decisions were made by measuring the individual books against the criteria that I just showed you. Although those tests are helpful to some degree, they do not settle the issue of canonicity decisively. In other words, don't lean your faith on those tests and some men sitting around in a council determining what's in and what's out. It's true that God used and directed Spirit-controlled men to help discern those things that were from God. But the process, if you accept solely that process of a group of men sitting around a table, even godly men, determining what's in and what's out, that's not much different than the Roman Catholic Church deciding what books to grant its authority.

Instead, there was another way and a better way. It's the way that those who first received these 66 books knew in their lifetimes that they were, in fact, the Word of God. Let me say that again. When these books were received, they were received in their times from the authors who wrote them as the very Words of God.

That is the basis of our faith, and I want to take you back through what we'll call the biblical criteria for forming a canon, because the Scripture itself shows us why we should put our confidence in these 66 books. It's going to take me the rest of our time together tonight (we'll just kind of get started) and, and our time next week to lay this out but I trust that when we're done, you will have a solid foundation for your faith. Not only will you have the work of history and godly men who've affirmed that books, the books in our Scriptures are from God, but when we're done, you'll also have the certification of God Himself and of Christ Himself that these books are, in fact, the ones we should embrace, and no other.

The arguments that I'm going to present to you are adapted from a book that I would highly recommend to you if you're really into further study of this topic. Its can be heavy sledding in places, so I just warn of that, but it's a book by R. Laird Harris called The Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures. It was Christian Book of the Year in 1969 and, frankly, I've found nothing better to lay out the biblical arguments for why these books should be included than what you'll find there.

What we're going to do is we're going to start with the Old Testament, and next week we'll probably finish the Old Testament and get to the Apocrypha and then to the New Testament. But let me just walk you through some basic criteria for understanding why we accept the books in the Old Testament. First of all, and I'm going to give you several different arguments before we get to the heart of the arguments so bear with me. When you look at the Jewish canon, that is the books that the Jews include in the Old Testament, it contains exactly the same content of our English Old Testament, although the Jews list the books differently.

While we have 39 books, they originally counted only 24, and that's because they combined some books. For example, they combine 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah into one book, and the 12 minor prophets that we separate out into 12 books they made 1 book. And so, by their count, originally, there were 24. By our count, there are 39. But the content, the exact books that are there are exactly the same.

When you come to the time of Christ, the Hebrew Old Testament, this canon, this Jewish canon, was divided into 3 parts. First of all, "the Law," and that was those books that were written by Moses – the first 5 books – all that which Moses wrote. Well I say "all that," I guess there is a Psalm by Moses but, the basic thrust of Moses' writing in the Old Testament.

The second was called "the Prophets". Now these were all those books that were written by those who actually held the prophetic office, those the Jewish Rabbis believed held the office of a prophet. They combine those books into a group. And of course, the major and minor prophets would fall within that, but there were others as well, like Samuel, for example.

And then the third group was "the Writings", the Writings. These were subdivided based on their contents, or the purpose for which they were used. So, when you looked at the Writings, there were several categories.

First of all, there were the poetical books: Psalms, Proverbs, and Job.

Secondly, there was the Megillot. These were those books that were read at Jewish feasts. For example, the Song of Solomon was read on Passover, Ruth was read at Pentecost, Lamentations was read on the Fast on the Month of Av, which is the fifth month on the Jewish calendar roughly corresponding to our month of July. Ecclesiastes was read at Tabernacles. That's a fascinating one, and one at some point I'll get to because Tabernacles was a time of feasting and celebration and yet Ecclesiastes was read. Most people don't understand that because, they, I think, misunderstand the whole purpose of Ecclesiastes, and so it doesn't seem to fit that you would read a book that seems like such a downer, if you will, at a great feast like Tabernacles. But, as we'll find out later. at some point I'll give you an overview of the book of Ecclesiastes. I think it fits very well, as the Jews thought, with Tabernacles. And then Esther was read at Purim, that wonderful victory that they had when the Jewish people were spared. So, those books were called the Megillot because of how they were used at the various feasts.

And then the third category under "Writings" was what are called (and this is a long tag but it will give you the idea), the "non-prophetical historical books". In other words, those books that have something of the history of Israel but weren't written by those who actually were officially prophets; maybe they had the function of a prophet but they weren't really officially in the office of a prophet. For example, these books would be Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. Now that's how the Jewish Old Testament is broken down, and it was at the time of Christ.

Now let me show you in light of that, a very interesting fact, and that is that Christ endorsed this canon: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Turn to Luke 24:44. This is one of his post-resurrection appearances, and He said to His disciples, "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," and by the way, the "Psalms" was a sometimes short-hand way of referring to "the Writings," "must be fulfilled".

Here Christ endorses the canon of the Old Testament, the canon that falls under the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. In other words, He was endorsing exactly the 39 books that make up our Old Testament, not necessarily broken up as 39 books, but the content that's in the 39 books that you and I hold in our hands. So Christ was settling forever the question of the canon of the Old Testament. The truth is, even before the time of Christ, this canon was settled. The common view of Jewish scholarship says this, here are two men from the 1100s and the 1400s, 2 Jewish scholars wrote this: "The final collection of the Old Testament canon was essentially finished by Ezra and the members of the great synagogue 500 years before Christ," actually it'd have been 400 years before Christ. But they're saying the canon was closed at that time, 400 years before Christ.

Now, why would they say that? Well, it really takes us to another man who is an interesting character, some of you may have had an opportunity to read some of the works of Josephus. The story of Josephus is really a fascinating one. He was a Jewish general, and he was captured by the Romans, and he actually became a friend of the Romans. In fact, he considered Titus to be a close friend. He wrote in the middle of the, middle to end of first century, and when Josephus writes, he includes the same three-fold division: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. But what's interesting about what Josephus says, he argues just as those men from the, the 1200s and 1500s argued, he argued that the canon, the Old Testament canon was essentially completed during the reign of Artaxerxes.

Now who was Artaxerxes? He was the king in the time of Ezra. His life essentially overlapped Ezra. He ruled from 465 to 424, again, roughly corresponding to the life of Ezra. He argues that there was a great synagogue of Jewish leaders headed by Ezra that formed the canon, that determined what books actually fit into the canon. Ezra was a likely candidate. Let me show you some things about Ezra. Turn back to Nehemiah 8:1: "[Now] … all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the water gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the LORD had given "to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could listen with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which is in front of the water gate from early morning until midday in the presence of all of those that could understand, and all of them were attentive, they all listened." Verse 8, "They read from the book, from the Law of God, translating" [literally explaining,] "to give the sense so that they understood the reading."

Here is the first clear-cut example of expository preaching. He read the text and he explained what the text had to say, what it meant. Notice again in Nehemiah 12:36, you see a little bit about this man. You have Ezra the scribe listed but you see a little more about him in his own book, Ezra verse 6 of chapter 7, Ezra 7:6: "This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe," watch this, "skilled in the Law of Moses which the LORD God of Israel had given [him], and the king granted him all that he requested because the hand of his God was upon him." Notice verse 11: "Now this is the copy of the decree which the king Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in the words of the commandments of the Lord and His statutes to Israel."

Here was a man who was absolutely committed, of course you're all familiar with that wonderful passage about this man, how he prepared his heart to study, to do, and to teach the Law of God. This man was involved in finalizing the canon of the Old Testament. By the way, he probably, Ezra probably wrote not only Ezra but probably Nehemiah, although much of Nehemiah is taken from Nehemiah's personal journals. Another interesting fact that you should plug away is Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi were contemporaries. In fact, Jewish tradition says that both Ezra and Malachi were part of that great synagogue that collected and preserved the Scriptures. All 400 years before Christ. So, the Old Testament canon according to Jewish scholarship, was closed 400 years before Christ came.

But that doesn't answer the question, because the question is, how? How is it that these books that they agreed upon 400 years before Christ were the Word of God, how did they decide those books were to be included? How did they decide that those should be universally accepted that the inspired Word of the living God? And that brings us to the heart of our study, and I'm going to take 5 minutes and introduce it to you, and then we'll finish it next week, Lord-willing.

Our first hint is this: Jewish theologians (and some of those I've just described for you) distinguished between what is authoritative and every other writing by referring to this first group, this authoritative group, as being from Sinai. Now why would they call all of the Old Testament books that are inspired of God "from Sinai"? Well remember that God was Israel's ultimate canon of what they should accept. God is the One that Who is really the measuring line for what you believe and what you practice. And listen carefully, God unmistakably and undeniably chose Moses as His mouthpiece to the people. Turn back to Exodus 19. This is so foundational, folks. Trust me, if you'll stay with me you'll see the importance of this over the next 2 weeks as we look at it. Exodus 19. The scene of course is the children of Israel have, after a brief journey, arrived at Sinai. Verse 10,

The LORD … said to Moses, "Go to the people, consecrate them today and tomorrow and let them wash their garments. And let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. [He] … shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him that he shall surely be stoned or shot through, whether beast or man he shall not live.' [Some view of the holiness of God.] "When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain." So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated them and they washed their garments. He said to the people, "Be ready for the third day, for do not go near a woman."

So, it came about on the third day when it was morning, that there was thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled." [Now, remember, get the picture of what's going on here. They're at the foot of this mountain, they've been warned that God's going to descend, there's all of a sudden all around the cap of Mount Sinai, there's thunder and lightning and there's this thick cloud, and there's this loud trumpet that just keeps blowing louder and louder.] Verse 17, And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire, and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. [so add those pieces to the puzzle. Now there's this smoke encircling the mountain and ascending like from a huge furnace. And the mountain itself is shaking as the people approach it.] Verse 19, when the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder. [Here are the people watching. Moses speaks and God responds with thunder.] The LORD came down, [verse 20,] on Mount Sinai, the top of the mountain, and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain and Moses went up.

So, Moses ascends the mountain in full view of the people as they see all of these amazing things happening on the top of the mountain. God, then, speaks, verse 1 of chapter 20, as all of this is going on, all of a sudden the blowing trumpet stops and there's a deadly silence and into that silence God speaks, and He speaks the 10 Commandments. But notice the people's response in 20:18:

All the people perceived the thunder and lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, [they all, they all got it,] and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. [What a picture of the glory and majesty and holiness of God.] Verse 19, Then they said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen, but let not God speak to us, or we will die." [You ever wanted God to speak to you? He did to these people and they didn't want any more.] Verse 20, Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid, for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him might remain with you, so that you may not sin.'" So, the people stood at a distance while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.

Again, what I want you to see is that God is, through this episode, affirming "Moses is My man, he is My spokesman". There wasn't a single one of those 2 million-plus Israelites gathered around Mount Sinai that had any question that Moses spoke for God.

Turn to Numbers 12, and this is affirmed again for all of the people to witness. You'll remember this chapter, we went through it some time ago so I won't go through it verse by verse, but let me just remind you of the scene. Miriam and Aaron are jealous. They're jealous of the power that Moses wields among the children of Israel, and so they choose an excuse to attack him, and this is always the way it happens. People who are hungry for power find something they can latch onto and in this case they accused him of wrongly marrying. And they say in verse 2, here's the real issue, "… Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? [and] not … through us as well?" [And verse 2 ends with chilling words:] "And the LORD heard it." Verse 4,

Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, "You three come out to the Tent of the Meeting." So, the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent and He called Aaron and Miriam. [And] When they had both come forward, [this is what] He said, "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak to him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?" So, the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed.

And, of course, you know the story. Miriam, who seemed to have been the ring leader, is struck with leprosy. Again, God is punctuating for those 2 million-plus Jewish people that Moses is in a special way "My spokesman" – don't mess with Moses. You can bet the word spread through the camp because they all saw the pillar of cloud. They all saw God call the 3 of them out, and they all heard the results, and they saw it with Miriam. She had to be put outside the camp because of her leprosy. They got the message: Moses was God's messenger. They understood when Moses wrote, when Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Old Testament, he was writing the Words of God. No one would argue that those were in fact the words of God. That is the foundation for the acceptance of the rest of the Old Testament, which we'll discover next week.

Let's pray together.

Father, we are awed by Your holiness, even as we've seen it in this text. Lord, forgive us for taking You lightly. Lord, I pray that You would help us to see You in the vision of Who You are, even as Isaiah did, in all of Your holiness, in all of Your greatness and power. Lord, help us to stand at the foot of Sinai and tremble as we behold You.

And Lord, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that You have affirmed Your Word, that we stand on the solid foundation, beginning with Moses, that You have provided Your solemn Word.

Lord, help us to take it seriously as well. Help us to commit ourselves to reading it, to learning it, and to doing it.

We pray in Jesus' Name, amen.