Was The Law And The Prophets Two-Thirds Of The Old Testament Canon? -- By: R. Laird Harris

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 09:4 (Fall 1966)
Article: Was The Law And The Prophets Two-Thirds Of The Old Testament Canon?
Author: R. Laird Harris


Was The Law And The Prophets Two-Thirds Of The Old Testament Canon?

R. Laird Harris

A dozen times in the New Testament and about four times in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the expression is used, “The Law and the Prophets” or a very similar phrase. The most exalted things are said about these collections. They are of more striking witness than a resurrection from the dead—Luke 16:31. They are eternal as the heavens, not a jot or tittle shall fail—Matt. 5:17, 18. Such statements have caused many students to come to the conclusion that the Old Testament canon is regarded as fixed and immutable in the New Testament. It has been held that these expressions of a two fold canon are equal to the terminology of the threefold division in Luke 24:44. The Dead Sea Scrolls do not show a threefold division at all, but their contemporary, the prologue to Ecclesiasticus, evidences a threefold division in 132 B.C. as does Josephus at about A.D. 90.

What is the meaning of these varying expressions? Orthodox Protestant students have equated all of them as merely variant names for the Hebrew Old Testament canon of our 39 books. The writer has previously argued that the twofold terminology came first and the three fold developed from that.

Liberal scholars for many years have held a development view of the Old Testament canon. They base much on the threefold division as reported in the Talmud of the fourth century A.D. Their claim is that the Pentateuch was canonized in Ezra’s time, about 400 B.C., the prophets soon after at about 200 and the Writings—eleven books in the Hebrew Bible—were not canonized until the Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90.

An additional problem arises in that the Septuagint includes seven extra books and additional portions of others. How may this be explained? Orthodox Protestants have said that this usage was probably not original in the LXX and in any case was not accepted in the early church. Liberals have held that the more inclusive LXX canon was due to the practice of the Alexandrian Jews which the Christian Church uncritically took over. This is the so-called Alexandrian theory. The Roman Church, of course, accepts these apocryphal books on the basis of alleged tradition.

This whole field is now being seriously re-examined. The Dead Sea Scrolls do show that the division into two parts, the Law and the Prophets, is pre-Christian and requires explanation. There has also been an attack upon the significance and even historicity of the Council of Jamnia (by jack Lewis of Harding College, “What do we mean by Jabneh?” Journal ...

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