Biblical Canon

Biblical Canon

Where did the Bible come from? How can we be sure it is valid? What is the Apocrypha? How was it translated into English? What are the different translations? Are the translations correct? A biblical canon is a list of books considered to be authoritative as true scripture. The word “canon” comes from the Greek word kanon, meaning “rule.” The Bible was written by 40 different authors, over a period of 1600 years, in 3 separate continents. In this article, we will discuss how this took place, and how the biblical canon evolved over time to what it is today.

The Old Testament

The first known instance of God’s Word being written down was when God wrote the ten commandments down on stone tablets on the top of Mount Sinai in the presence of Moses. This was most likely done in an ancient form of Hebrew and occurred around 1500 B.C. Later in his life, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; also in Hebrew. These five books are known as the “Pentaeuch” or the “Torah.”

Who wrote the rest of the books? The book of Joshua was probably written by Joshua for the most part. Some argue that Samuel wrote the last portion of Joshua. Samuel also most likely wrote Judges and Ruth. 1st and 2nd Samuel were probably written by Samuel with additions by Gad and Nathan. 1st and 2nd Kings were likely written by Jeremiah. 1st Chronicles, 2nd Chronicles, and Ezra were probably written by Ezra. Nehemiah wrote Nehemiah. Esther was likely written by Mordecai.

One book whose origin we are unsure of is the book of Job. Although we know the story probably took place around 2000 B.C., the author and the date it was written are unknown. It could have Moses, Solomon, David, Isaiah, Hezekiah, or even Job himself. Also, the introduction and conclusion of the book are written differently than the rest of the book, meaning that they might have been added at a later time.

King David wrote more than half of Psalms. The rest was split between the sons of Korah, Asaph, Herman, Ethan, Hezekiah, and Solomon. The first 29 chapters of Proverbs were written by Solomon, while Agur wrote chapter 30, and Lemuel wrote chapter 31. Solomon also wrote Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Isaiah wrote Isaiah. Jeremiah wrote Jeremiah and Lamentations. Finally, the prophets Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all wrote their own books.

All of the books of the Old Testament were written down on scrolls, which were usually made from sheep, and sometimes deer or cow. So for over a thousand years, the scrolls were passed down from generation to generation and were rewritten by Jewish scribes. The scribes were perfectionists when it came to copying. One wrong letter would result in rewriting several columns of text, similar to the more modern typewriter. By around 500 B.C., the Old Testament was completed.

How do we know that these Old Testament writings actually occurred so long ago? There are many reasons and arguments that can help prove the validity of the Bible, but here I only want to talk about the manuscripts. Biblical manuscripts are basically documents that contain parts of the Bible written on ancient scrolls, which we have in our possession today. The most notable of these manuscripts is the Dead Sea Scrolls which are a group of over 900 documents found between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. These scrolls date from 200 B.C. to 70 A.D. They contain the entire book of Isaiah, as well as portions of every other Old Testament book but Esther. In September 2011, five of the major Dead Sea Scrolls were made available in super high definition photographs online for the public for free here: Digital Dead Sea Scrolls. This was made possible with the partnership of the Israel Museum and Google. Other manuscripts that are still in existence of the Old Testament include the Geniza Fragments, the Ben Asher Manuscripts, the Aleppo Codex, and the Codex Leningradensis.

The Apocrypha

Next came the writing of the Apocrypha, which comes from the Greek word apokryfos, meaning hidden. These are the group of books that Catholics and Christians consider to have questionable authority, which were originally written in Greek. These include Baruch, Sirach, 1st and 2nd Esdras, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Prayer of Manasseh, Tobit, Wisdom of Solomon, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Azariah, and the rest of Esther. For a long time, they were considered to be part of the Bible. We will come back to this later.

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