Augustine and the Old Testament Canon -- By: Samuel J. Schultz

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 112:447 (Jul 1955)
Article: Augustine and the Old Testament Canon
Author: Samuel J. Schultz


Augustine and the Old Testament Canon

Samuel J. Schultz

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Schultz is the Samuel Robinson Associate Professor of Bible and Theology at Wheaton College and acting Chairman of the Bible and Philosophy Department. This article was read at the Conference on Augustinian Thought at Wheaton College November 12, 1954.]

That Augustine was a great philosopher, theologian, and saint has been disputed by few who have considered his voluminous writings as well as his influence throughout the centuries. What place he has as a critic or how far we may trust his judgment in the matter of the extent of the canon needs to be carefully evaluated on the basis of his qualifications as a scholar. Since he has exerted such a wide and lasting influence in Christendom it is indeed fitting and proper that a careful analysis be made of the problem of the canon as related to Augustine.

The List of the Councils

The most notable discussion of the canon comes to us from the pen of Augustine in his treatise, On Christian Doctrine, written in A.D. 397. In this statement it is apparent that his New Testament list of books is identical with our present canon of 27. The crux of the whole problem is found in his listing of the Old Testament.

He writes as follows: “Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books:—Five books of Moses, that is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; one book of Joshua the son of Nun; one of Judges; one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to belong to the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings, and two of Chronicles—

these last not following one another but running parallel, so to speak, and going over the same ground. The books now mentioned are history, which contains a connected narrative of the times and follows the order of events. There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of the Maccabees, and two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next are the prophets in which there is one book of the Psalms of David, and three books of Solomon, viz. Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a semblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books since they have attained recognition ...

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