So how do we know that the right books are in the Bible, and specifically the OT? There are loads of ancient Jewish writings, many of which refer to the Judeo-Christian God.
Briefly, there are standards. “Canon” means nothing more than standard or measure. While there are many ways in which we can set and apply the standards. There are some general rules of thumb, and then some further evidences that we look for.
The general rules (Geisler/Nix: GIB) are:
- Was the book written by a prophet of God?
- To know that, we ask, was the writer confirmed by the acts of God?
- Does the message consistently tell the truth about God?
- Did it come with the power of God, i.e. does it change lives?
- Was it accepted by the people of God?
From there we move to historical testimony:
- Was it part of the Massoretic text? The original Hebrew scriptures consisted of three volumes, the Torah, the Nebi’im and the Sepher Kavuhim, which encompasses all the books of the OT as we know it today.
- The testimony of Jesus – Luk 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Jesus Himself mentioned the 3 volumes, which was historically dated to before His birth.
- Was it part of the Septuagint? This was the library of Alexandria’s translation of the Scriptures from the Hebrew and Aramiac into Greek by 72 distinguished Jewish scholars. The translation source of the books are what we see included today, nothing more or less.
- The testimony of the NT – there are many quotes from the OT in the NT, all from the books currently included in the OT, again nothing more or less.
- Was it part of the history as described by Josephus, the Jewish military historian? He wrote ““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…(Contra Apion 1:8)” The 39 books of the OT was condensed into 22 in the Jewish scriptures. he specifically wrote against any other of the writings of the time: ““It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes, very peculiarly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time.” (Contra Apion 1:8)”
- The council of Jamnia came together in 90 AD to recognize and reconfirm the Jewish Scriptures after the war of 70AD. OT canon was confirmed there.
- The Dead Sea scrolls confirmed that the community at Qumran held to essentially the same canon, and provides earlier dates for that confirmation.
So we can be pretty sure that what we have today is consistently and reliably the very word of God. Some who remain in the dark ages with little or no knowledge of higher criticism will contend these facts, and will also contend for the borrowing from other ancient near-east legends.
More about that later.