Factors Promoting The Formation Of The Old Testament Canon -- By: R. Laird Harris

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 10:1 (Winter 1967)
Article: Factors Promoting The Formation Of The Old Testament Canon
Author: R. Laird Harris

Factors Promoting The Formation Of The Old Testament Canon

R. Laird Harris

Extra-Biblical witness to the origin of the Old Testament books is lacking. There are no copies of the Old Testament writings earlier than about 250 B.C. and no parallel ancient literature referring to them. Only two sources are available, therefore, for the present study: the claims of the Old Testament for itself, and the infallible teachings of Jesus Christ who, Christians believe, knew perfectly all the facts.

If the topic concerned the collection of the Old Testament books and the acceptance of the Old Testament canon there would be a bit larger room for the investigation of post-Old Testament literature. Thanks to the Dead Sea discoveries and new knowledge of apocryphal books and similar literature one can trace back the recognition of some of the Old Testament books rather well. Still, the extra-Biblical witness fails to reach back to the Old Testament period.

As to the formation of the Old Testament canon, historic Christianity insists that the Old Testament books were written by special divine inspiration. They therefore came with inherent authority and were accepted by the faithful in Israel at once as the Word of God. In short, the canon was formed over the centuries as the books were written under the inspiration of God.

This view is usually thought of as the Protestant view, but the Roman Catholic Council of Trent and the Vatican Council I are in basic agreement with it. The latter says that the books of the Bible are held by the church to be “sacred and canonical, not because, having been carefully composed by mere human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation, with no mixture of error, but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.” (Chap. II). Observe that the claim is here made that the Scriptures are inherently authoritative because God has written them and the Church merely recognizes this fact. The one factor promoting the formation of the Old Testament canon is therefore, according to this view, the divine authorship of certain books.

It might be said that this answer is too easy. How did men know which books were divinely inspired? It is true, this second question is vital, but it must not minimize the insistence that the Old Testament canon was formed piece by piece as the books were written.

Anti-supernatural thought of course cannot accept these conclusions. By rationalist standards no book can be divinely inspired in the fullest sense, just as no true miracles can be allowed. Like the Sadducees, modern sceptics accept neither ...

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