International Standard Bible EncyclopediaBIBLE, THE, IV CANONICITY
IV. Literary Growth and Origin-Canonicity.
Thus far the books of the Old Testament and New Testament have been taken simply as given, and no attempt has been made to inquire how or when they were written or compiled, or how they came to acquire the dignity and authority implied in their reception into a sacred canon. The field here entered is one bristling with controversy, and it is necessary to choose one's steps with caution to find a safe way through it. Details in the survey are left, as before, to the special articles.
1. The Old Testament:
Attention here is naturally directed, first, to the Old Testament. This, it is obvious, and is on all sides admitted, has a long literary history prior to its final settlement in a canon. As to the course of that history traditional and modern critical views very widely differ. It may possibly turn out that the truth lies somewhere midway between them.
(1) Indications of Old Testament Itself.
If the indications furnished by the Old Testament itself be accepted, the results are something like the following:
(a) Patriarchal Age:
No mention is made of writing in the patriarchal age, though it is now known that a high literary culture then prevailed in Babylonia, Egypt and Palestine, and it is not improbable, indeed seems likely, that records in some form came down from that age, and are, in parts, incorporated in the early history of the Bible.
(b) Mosaic Age:
In Mosaic times writing was in use, and Moses himself was trained in the learning of the Egyptians (Exodus 2:10 Acts 7:22). In no place is the composition of the whole Pentateuch (as traditionally believed) ascribed to Moses, but no inconsiderable amount of written matter is directly attributed to him, creating the presumption that there was more, even when the fact is not stated. Moses wrote "all the words of Yahweh" in the "book of the covenant" (Exodus 21, 22, 23; Exodus 24:4, 7). He wrote "the words of this law" of Deuteronomy at Moab, "in a book, until they were finished" (Deuteronomy 31:9, 24, 26). This was given to the priests to be put by the side of the ark for preservation (Deuteronomy 31:25, 26). Other notices occur of the writing of Moses (Exodus 17:14 Numbers 33:2 Deuteronomy 31:19, 22; compare Numbers 11:26). The song of Miriam, and the snatches of song in Numbers 21, the first (perhaps all) quoted from the "book of the Wars of Yahweh" (Numbers 21:14), plainly belong to Mosaic times. In this connection it should be noticed that the discourses and law of Deuteronomy imply the history and legislation of the critical JE histories (see below). The priestly laws (Leviticus, Numbers) bear so entirely the stamp of the wilderness that they can hardly have originated anywhere else, and were probably then, or soon after, written down. Joshua, too, is presumed to be familiar with writing (Joshua 8:30-35; compare Deuteronomy 27:8), and is stated to have written his farewell address "in the book of the law of God" (Joshua 24:26; compare Joshua 1:7, 8). These statements already imply the beginning of a sacred literature.
The song of Deborah (Judges 5) is an indubitably authentic monument of the age of the Judges, and the older parts of Judges, at least, must have been nearly contemporary with the events which they record. A knowledge of writing among the common people seems implied in Judges 8:14 (American Revised Version, margin). Samuel, like Joshua, wrote "in a book" (1 Samuel 10:25), and laid it up, evidently among other writings, "before Yahweh."
The age of David and Solomon was one of high development in poetical and historical composition: witness the elegies of David (2 Samuel 1:17; 2 Samuel 3:33, 34), and the finely-finished narrative of David's reign (2 Samuel 9-20), the so-called "Jerusalem-Source," admitted to date "from a period very little later than that of the events related" (Driver, LOT, 183). There were court scribes and chroniclers. David and the Monarchy: David, as befits his piety and poetical and musical gifts (compare on this POT, 440), is credited with laying the foundations of a sacred psalmody (2 Samuel 23:1; see PSALMS), and a whole collection of psalms (Pss 1-72, with exclusion of the distinct collection, (Psalm 42-50)), once forming a separate book (compare Psalm 72:20), are, with others, ascribed to him by their titles (Psalms 1, 2, 10 are untitled). It is hardly credible that a tradition like this can be wholly wrong, and a Davidic basis of the Psalter may safely be Assumed. Numerous psalms, by their mention of the "king" (as Psalms 2; 18; 20; 21; 28; 33; 45; 61; 63; 72; 101; 110), are naturally referred to the period of the monarchy (some, as Psalm 18 certainly, Davidic). Other groups of psalms are referred to the temple guilds (Sons of Korah, Asaph).
(e) Wisdom Literature-History:
Solomon is renowned as founder of the Wisdom literature and the author of Proverbs (1 Kings 4:32 Proverbs 1:1; Proverbs 10:1 Ecclesiastes 12:9; Ec itself appears to be late), and of the So (Songs 1:1). The "men of Hezekiah" are said to have copied put a collection of his proverbs (Proverbs 25:1; see PROVERBS). Here also may be placed the Book of Job. Hezekiah's reign appears to have been one of literary activity: to it, probably, are to be referred certain of the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 46, 48; compare Perowne, Delitzsch). In history, during the monarchy, the prophets would seem to have acted as the "sacred historiographers" of the nation. From their memoirs of the successive reigns, as the later books testify (1 Chronicles 29:29 2 Chronicles 9:29; 2 Chronicles 12:15, etc.), are compiled most of the narratives in our canonical writings (hence the name "former prophets"). The latest date in 2 Kings is 562 B.C., and the body of the book is probably earlier.
(i) Assyrian Age:
With the rise of written prophecy a new form of literature enters, called forth by, and vividly mirroring, the religious and political conditions of the closing periods of the monarchy in Israel and Judah (see PROPHECY). On the older view, Obadiah and Joel stood at the head of the series in the pre-Assyrian period (9th century), and this seems the preferable view still. On the newer view, these prophets are late, and written prophecy begins in the Assyrian period with Amos (Jeroboam II, circa 750 B.C.) and Hosea (circa 745-735). When the latter prophet wrote, Samaria was tottering to its fall (721 B.C.). A little later, in Judah, come Isaiah (circa 740-690) and Micah (circa 720-708). Isaiah, in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, is the greatest of the prophets in the Assyrian age, and his ministry reaches its climax in the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2 Kings 18; 2 Kings 19 Isaiah 36 Isaiah 37). It is a question whether some oracles of an Isaianic school are not mingled with the prophet's ow n writings, and most scholars now regard the 2nd part of the book (Isaiah 40-66) as exilian or (in part) post-exilian in date. The standpoint of much in these chapters is certainly in the Exile; whether the composition of the whole can be placed there is extremely doubtful (see ISAIAH). Nahum, who prophesies against Nineveh, belongs to the very close of this period (circa 660).
(ii) Chaldean Age:
The prophets Zephaniah (under Josiah, circa 630 B.C.) and Habakkuk (circa 606) may be regarded as forming the transition to the next-the Chaldean-period. The Chaldeans (unnamed in Zephaniah) are advancing but are not yet come (Habakkuk 1:6). The great prophetic figure here, however, is Jeremiah, whose sorrowful ministry, beginning in the 13th year of Josiah (626 B.C.), extended through the succeeding reigns till after the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.). The prophet elected to remain with the remnant in the land, and shortly after, troubles having arisen, was forcibly carried into Egypt (Jeremiah 43). Here also he prophesied (Jeremiah 43 Jeremiah 44). From the reign of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah consistently declared the success of the Chaldean arms, and foretold the 70 years' captivity (Jeremiah 25:12-14). Baruch acted as his secretary in writing out and editing his prophecies (Jeremiah 36 Jeremiah 45).
(g) Josiah's Reformation:
A highly important event in this period was Josiah's reformation in his 18th year (621 B.C.), and the discovery, during repairs of the temple, of "the book of the law," called also "the book of the covenant" and "the law of Moses" (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Kings 23:2, 24, 25). The finding of this book, identified by most authorities with the Book of Deuteronomy, produced an extraordinary sensation. On no side was there the least question that it was a genuine ancient work. Jeremiah, strangely, makes no allusion to this discovery, but his prophecies are deeply saturated with the ideas and style of Deuteronomy.
(h) Exilian and Post-Exilian:
The bulk of Isaiah 40-66 belongs, at least in spirit, to the Exile, but the one prophet of the Exile known to us by name is the priestly Ezekiel. Carried captive under Jehoiachin (597 B.C.), Ezekiel labored among his fellow-exiles for at least 22 years (Ezekiel 1:2; Ezekiel 29:17). A man of the strongest moral courage, his symbolic visions on the banks of the Chebar alternated with the most direct expostulation, exhortation, warning and promise. In the description of an ideal temple and its worship with which his book closes (chapters 40-48), critics think they discern the suggestion of the Levitical code.
(i) Daniel, etc.:
After Ezekiel the voice of prophecy is silent till it revives in Daniel, in Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors. Deported in 605 B.C., Daniel rose to power, and "continued" until the 1st year of Cyrus (536 B.C.; Daniel 1:21). Criticism will have it that his prophecies are product of the Maccabean age, but powerful considerations on the other side are ignored (see DANIEL). Jonah may have been written about this time, though the prophet's mission itself was pre-Assyrian (9th century). The rebuilding of the temple after the return, under Zerubbabel, furnished the occasion for the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah (520 B.C.). Scholars are disposed to regard only Zechariah 1-8 as belonging to this period-the remainder being placed earlier or later. Malachi, nearly century after (circa 430), brings up the rear of prophecy, rebuking unfaithfulness, and predicting the advent of the "messenger of the covenant" (Malachi 3:1, 2). To this period, or later, belong, besides post-exilian psalms (e.g. Psalms 124; 126), the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronciles, Esther and apparently Ecclesiastes.
(j) Preexilic Bible:
If, in this rapid sketch, the facts are correctly represented, it will be apparent that, in opposition to prevalent views, large body of sacred literature existed (laws, histories, psalms, wisdom-books, prophecies), and was recognized long before the Exile. God's ancient people had "Scriptures"-had a Bible-if not yet in collected form. This is strikingly borne out by the numerous Old Testament passages referring to what appears to be a code of sacred writings in the hands of the pious in Israel. Such are the references to, and praises of, the "law" and "word" of God in many of the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 1; 19; 119; 12:06; 17:04; 18:21, 22), with the references to God's known "words," "ways," "commandments," "statutes," in other books of the Old Testament (Job 8:8 Hosea 8:12 Daniel 9:2). In brief, Scriptures, which must have contained records of God's dealings with His people, a knowledge of which is constantly presupposed, "laws" of God for the regulation of the heart and conduct, "statutes," "ordinances," "words" of God, are postulate of a great part of the Old Testament.
(2) Critical views.
The account of the origin and growth of the Old Testament above presented is in marked contrast with that given in the textbooks of the newer critical schools. The main features of these critical views are sketched in the article CRITICISM (which see); here a brief indication will suffice. Generally, the books of the Old Testament are brought down to late dates; are regarded as highly composite; the earlier books, from their distance from the events recorded, are deprived of historical worth. Neither histories nor laws in the Pentateuch belong to the Mosaic age: Joshua is a "romance"; Judges may embody ancient fragments, but in bulk is unhistorical. The earliest fragments of Israelite literature are lyric pieces like those preserved in Genesis 4:23, 24; Genesis 9:25-27 Numbers 21; the So of Deborah (Judges 5) is probably genuine. Historical writing begins about the age of David or soon thereafter. The folklore of the Hebrews and traditions of the Mosaic age began to be reduced to writing about the 9th century B.C.
(a) The Pentateuch:
Our present Pentateuch (enlarged to a "Hexateuch," including Joshua) consists of 4 main strands (themselves composite), the oldest of which (called Jahwist (Jahwist), from its use of the name Yahweh) goes back to about 850 B.C. This was Judean. A parallel history book (called E, from its use of the name Elohim, God) was produced in the Northern kingdom about a century later (circa 750). Later still these two were united (JE). These histories, "prophetic" in spirit, were originally attributed to individual authors, distinguished by minute criteria of style: the more recent fashion is to regard them as the work of "schools." Hitherto the only laws known were those of the (post-Mosaic) Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23). Later, in Josiah's reign, the desire for centralization of worship led to the composition of the Book of Deuteronomy. This, secreted in the temple, was found by Hilkiah (2 Kings 22), and brought about the reformation of Josiah formerly mentioned. Deuteronomy (D), thus produced, is the third stra nd in the Pentateuchal compilation. With the destruction of the city and temple, under the impulse of Ezekiel, began a new period of law-construction, now priestly in spirit. Old laws and usages were codified; new laws were invented; the history of institutions was recast; finally, the extensive complex of Levitical legislation was brought into being, clothed with a wilderness dress, and ascribed to Moses. This elaborate Priestly Code (PC), with its accompanying history, was brought from Babylon by Ezra, and, united with the already existing JE and D, was given forth by him to the restored community at Jerusalem (444 B.C.; Ne 8) as "the law of Moses." Their acceptance of it was the inauguration of "Judaism."
In its theory of the Pentateuch the newer criticism lays down the determinative positions for its criticism of all the remaining books of the Old Testament. The historical books show but a continuation of the processes of literary construction exemplified in the books ascribed to Moses. The Deuteronomic element, e.g. in Joshua, Judges, 1, 2 Sam, 1, 2 Ki, proves them, in these parts, to be later than Josiah, and historically untrustworthy. The Levitical element in 1, 2 Chronicles demonstrates its pictures of David and his successors to be distorted and false. The same canon applies to the prophets. Joel, e.g. must be post-exilian, because it presupposes the priestly law. The patriarchal and Mosaic histories being subverted, it is not permitted to assume any high religious ideas in early Israel. David, therefore, could not have written the Psalms. Most, if not practically all, of these are post-exilian.
(c) Psalms and Prophets:
Monotheism came in-at least first obtained recognition-through Amos and Hosea. The prophets could not have the foresight and far-reaching hopes seen in their writings: these passages, therefore, must be removed. Generally the tendency is to put dates as low as possible and very many books, regarded before as preexilian, are carried down in whole or part, to exilian, post-exilian, and even late Greek times (Priestly Code, Psalter, Job, Proverbs, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Second Isaiah, Joel, Lamentations). Daniel is Maccabean and unhistorical (circa 168-167 B.C.).
It is not proposed here to discuss this theory, which is not accepted in the present article, and is considered elsewhere (see CRITICISM; PENTATEUCH). The few points calling for remark relate to canonical acceptance.
(3) Formation of the Canon.
The general lines of the completed Jewish canon have already been sketched, and some light has now been thrown on the process by which the several books obtained a sacred authority. As to the actual stages in the formation of the canon opinions again widely diverge (see CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT).
(a) Critical Theory:
On theory at present in favor, no collections of sacred books were made prior to the return from Babylon. The only books that had authority before the Exile were, perhaps, the old Book of the Covenant, and, from Josiah's time, the Book of Deuteronomy. Both, after the return, were, on this theory, embodied, with the JE histories, and the Priestly Code, in Ezra's completed Book of the Law (with Joshua(?)), in which, accordingly, the foundation of a canon was laid. The fivefold division of the law was later. Subsequently, answering to the 2nd division of the Jewish canon, a collection was made of the prophetic writings. As this includes books which, on the critical view, go down to Greek times (Jonah; Zechariah 9-14), its completion cannot be earlier than well down in the 3rd century B.C. Latest of all came the collection of the "Hagiographa"-a division of the canon, on theory, kept open to receive additions certainly till the 2nd century, some think after. Into it were received such late writings as Ecclesiastes, the Maccabean Psalms, Daniel. Even then one or two books (Ecclesiastes, Esther) remained subjects of dispute.
(b) More Positive View:
It will appear from the foregoing that this theory is not here accepted without considerable modification. If the question be asked, What constituted a right to a place in the canon? the answer can hardly be other than that suggested by Josephus in the passage formerly quoted-a real or supposed inspiration in the author of the book. Books were received if men had the prophetic spirit (in higher or lower degree: that, e.g. of wisdom); they ceased to be received when the succession of prophets was thought to fail (after Malachi). In any case the writings of truly inspired men (Moses, the prophets, psalmists) were accepted as of authority. It was sought, however, to be shown above, that such books, many of them, already existed from Moses down, long before the Exile (the law, collections of psalms, of proverbs, written prophecies: to what end did the prophets write, if they did not mean their prophecies to be circulated and preserved?); and such writings, to the godly who knew and used them, had the full value of Scripture. A canon began with the first laying up of the "book of the law" before Yahweh (Deuteronomy 31:25, 26 Joshua 24:26). The age of Ezra and Nehemiah, therefore, is not that of the beginning, but, as Jewish tradition rightly held (Josephus; 2 Maccabees 2:13; Talmud), rather that of the completion, systematic delimitation, acknowledgment and formal close of the canon. The divisions of "law, prophets, and holy writings" would thus have their place from the beginning, and be nearly contemporaneous. The Samaritans accepted only the 5 books of the law, with apparently Joshua (see SAMARITAN PENTATEUCH).
(c) Close of Canon:
There is no need for dogmatism as to an absolute date for the close of the canon. If inspired voices continued to be heard, their utterances were entitled to recognition. Books duly authenticated might be added, but the non-inclusion of such as a book as Sirach (Ecclesiasticus: in Hebrew, circa 200 B.C.) shows that the limits of the canon were jealously guarded, and the onus of proof rests on those who affirm that there were such books. Calvin, e.g. held that there were Maccabean Psalms. Many modern scholars do the same, but it is doubtful if they are right. Ecclesiastes is thought on linguistic grounds to be late, but it and other books need not be so late as critics make them. Daniel is confidently declared to be Maccabean, but there are weighty reasons for maintaining a Persian date (see DANIEL). As formerly noticed, the threefold division into "the law, the prophets, and the rest (ta loipa, a definite number) of the books" is already attested in the Prologue to Sirach.
2. The New Testament:
Critical controversy, long occupied with the Old Testament, has again keenly attached itself to the New Testament, with similar disturbing results (see CRITICISM). Extremer opinions may be here neglected, and account be taken only of those that can claim reasonable support. The New Testament writings are conveniently grouped into the historical books (Gospels and Acts); Epistles (Pauline and other); and a Prophetic book (Rev). In order of writing, the Epistles, generally, are earlier than the Gospels, but in order of subject, the Gospels naturally claim attention first.
(1) Historical Books:
The main facts about the origin of the Gospels can perhaps be distinguished from the complicated literary theories which scholars are still discussing (see GOSPELS). The first three Gospels, known as the Synoptics, evidently embody a common tradition, and draw from common sources. The Fourth Gospel-that of John-presents problems by itself.
(a) The Synoptics:
The former-the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke)-fall in date well within the apostolic age, and are, in the 2nd century, uniformly connected with the authors whose names they bear, Mark is spoken of as "the interpreter of Peter" (Papias, in HE iii.39); Luke is the well-known companion of Paul. A difficulty arises about Matthew, whose Gospel is stated to have been written in Aramaic (Papias, ut supra, etc.), while the gospel bearing his name is in Greek. The Greek gospel seems at least to have been sufficiently identified with the apostle to admit of the early church always treating it as his.
The older theory of origin assumed an oral basis for all 3 Gospels. The tendency in recent criticism is to distinguish two main sources:
(1) Mk, the earliest gospel, a record of the preaching of Peter;
(2) a collection of the sayings and discourses of Jesus, attributed to Matthew (the Eusebian Logia, now called Q); with
(3) a source used by Luke in the sections peculiar to himself-the result of his own investigations (Luke 1:1-4).
Matthew and Luke are supposed to be based on Mark and the Logia (Q); in Luke's case with the addition of his special material. Oral tradition furnished what remains. A simpler theory may be to substitute for (1) a Petrine tradition already firmly fixed while yet the apostles were working together in Jerusalem. Peter, as foremost spokesman, would naturally stamp his own type upon the oral narratives of Christ's sayings and doings (the Mark type), while Matthew's stories, in part written, would be the chief source for the longer discourses. The instruction imparted by the apostles and those taught by them would everywhere be made the basis of careful catechetical teaching, and records of all this, more or less fragmentary, would be early in circulation (Luke 1:1-4). This would explain the Petrine type of narrative, and the seeming dependence of Matthew and Luke, without the necessity of supposing a direct use of Mark. So important a gospel could hardly be included in the "attempts" of Luke 1:1.
(b) Fourth Gospel:
The Fourth Gospel (Jn), the genuineness of which is assumed (see JOHN, GOSPEL OF), differs entirely in character and style. It is less a narrative than a didactic work, written to convince its readers that Jesus is "the Son of God" (John 20:31). The gospel may be presumed to have been composed at Ephesus, in the last years of the apostle's residence there. With this its character corresponds. The other gospels had long been known; John does not therefore traverse the ground already covered by them. He confines himself chiefly to matters drawn from his personal recollections: the Judean ministry, the visits of Christ to Jerusalem, His last private discourses to His disciples. John had so often retold, and so long brooded over, the thoughts and words of Jesus, that they had become, in a manner, part of his own thought, and, in reproducing them, he necessarily did so with a subjective tinge, and in a partially paraphrastic and interpretative manner. Yet it is truly the words, thoughts and deeds of his beloved Lord that he narrates. His gospel is the needful complement to the others-the "spiritual" gospel.
The Acts narrates the origin and early fortunes of the church, with, as its special motive (compare Acts 1:8), the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles through the labors of Paul. Its author is Luke, Paul's companion, whose gospel it continues (Acts 1:1). Certain sections-the so-called "we-sections" (Acts 16:10-17; Acts 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16)-are transcribed directly from Luke's journal of Paul's travels. The book closes abruptly with Paul's 2 years' imprisonment at Rome (Acts 28:30, 31; 60-61 A.D.), and not a hint is given of the issue of the imprisonment-trial, liberation or death. Does this mean that a 3rd "treatise" was contemplated? Or that the book was written while the imprisonment still continued? (thus now Harnack). If the latter, the Third Gospel must be very early.
(2) The Epistles.
Doubt never rested in the early church on the 13 epistles of Paul. Following upon the rejection by the "Tubingen" school of all the epistles but 4 (Rom, 1, 2 Cor, Gal), the tide of opinion has again turned strongly in favor of their genuineness. An exception is the Pastoral epistles (1, 2 Tim, Tit), still questioned by some on insufficient grounds (see PASTORAL EPISTLES). The epistles, called forth by actual needs of the churches, are a living outpouring of the thoughts and feelings of the mind and heart of the apostle in relation to his converts. Most are letters to churches he himself had founded (1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians(?), Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonains): two are to churches he had not himself visited, but with which he stood in affectionate relations (Romans, Colossians); one is purely personal (Philemon); three are addressed to individuals, but with official responsibilities (1 Timonty, 2 Timothy, Titus). The larger number were written during his missionary labors, and reflect his personal situation, anxieties and companionships at the places of their composition; four are epistles of the 1st Roman imprisonment (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon): 2 Timothy is a voice from the dungeon, in his 2nd imprisonment, shortly before his martyrdom. Doctrine, counsel, rebuke, admonition, tender solicitude, ethical instruction, prayer, thanksgiving, blend in living fusion in their contents. So marvelous a collection of letters, on such magnificent themes, was never before given to the world.
The earliest epistles, in point of date, are generally held to be those to the Thessalonians, written from Corinth (52, 53 A.D.). The church, newly-founded, had passed through much affliction (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 4, etc.), and Paul writes to comfort and exhort it. His words about the Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13) led to mistaken expectations and some disorders. His second epistle was written to correct these problems (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, etc.).
Corinth itself received the next epistles-the 1st called forth by reports received at Ephesus of grave divisions and irregularities (1 Corinthians 1:11;
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Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
) The state or quality of being canonical; agreement with the canon.