Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Oracles of God

The evidence from times before the canon was explicitly defined as a list of books is relevant. When this evidence is properly examined, we can draw conclusions from it that leave no reasonable doubt about the existence of a canon and little doubt about its contents.

This leads to the second problem with nearly all current theories. They attempt to use a later definition of canon as a list of accepted authoritative books as a part of their investigation of the canon. However, the concept of the canon as a list may be only a later development due to historical circumstances. Given the evidence, I would propose that the canon came to be a list as a result of one extremely important event: the fall of Jerusalem and its Temple to the Romans in AD 70. Before this time there was little need for lists to define the canon. The canon was the collection of holy, inspired, authoritative books in the Temple. The canon would be assumed to be known and acknowledged by most Jews because of this normative archive. (This explains the references in the NT which assume the existence of a commonly agreed upon Scripture.) Only with the destruction of the Temple did there arise a need to define the canon as a list that could gain common acceptance.

What has not been noted heretofore is the significance of the Temple archives in shaping how explicitly the canon was defined. As long as the Temple archives existed, phrases such as “the Law and the Prophets” or “the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms” were adequate. It is likely that no one felt a pressing need for further definition. Only after the fall of the Temple, when an official archive could no longer be maintained, was the need for such a definition pressed upon Jews and Christians.

From this perspective, it makes little sense to argue about which way of listing and organizing the books is older–the Christian twenty-two books in four divisions or the Jewish twenty-two books in three divisions. While the roots of the Christian twenty-book book enumeration appears to be slightly older (Josephus and Palestinian Jews), so do the roots of the three-division scheme followed by Jews. However, the final products of the differing Christian and Jewish organization of canon appear to be the results of parallel developments. In fact, from the common groupings of books in each, it would appear that they are both children of a common heritage of canonical organization that may be much older.
A. Steinmann, The Oracles of God: The Old Testament Canon (Concordia 1999), 185, 193-194.

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