The ancient Jewish scriptures (the "law and the prophets") consisted of 22 books. The ancient people of Israel had no difficulty
in deciding which books were truly God's message to man (see Ezekiel 33:33 for example and the Prophets
page for more details). As proof of this, I offer two examples:-
- Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders debated the Old Testament (Matthew 22:15, Luke 10:25, etc). The Jewish leaders tried to trap Jesus using issues which they considered controversial. They were trying to show that the Old Testament is ambiguous, and so it was in their interest to claim that the canon of the Old Testament is not settled, but they did not.
- Josephus, the first century Jewish historian summarizes: "For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain all the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine...From Artaxerxes to our times a complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets" [Flavius Josephus, "Flavius Josephus against Apion, 1", Josephus, Complete Works, Translated by William Whiston, Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 1960, p8, p41].
Josephus goes on to list these books. Note that Josephus was not a Christian, and that he was not revealing a secret – just mentioning a well known fact about the Jewish nation. Note also how Josephus adds that Jewish writings post-Artaxerxes (400 BC) have not been recognized as scripture (messages from God).
Even today, the Jewish scriptures consist of the same books. In the fifth century AD, the Jews split Judges into Judges and Ruth, and "Jeremiah" into Jeremiah and Lamentations, making the number of books 22 + 1 + 1 = 24. In the Christian Bible, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles have been split into two parts each. The minor prophet book has been split into 12, and Ezra-Nehemiah has been split into two (Ezra and Nehemiah). Thus the OT consists of 24 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 11 + 1 = 39 books. The Christian Bible arranges these books in an order different from that used by the ancient Jews.
The Lord Jesus and the apostles frequently referred to these books (as we can see from the Bible), and no other. These same books make up the Old Testament of the Bible. When Jesus mentions "Abel to Zacharias" (Luke 11:51) we recognize the Old Testament that Jesus approved of: the same 39 books, beginning with Genesis (in which we read of Abel) and ending (in the book order used by the Jews) with 2 Chronicles (in which we read of Zacharias).
In about 585 BC, a group of Jews decided to militantly disobey God and go to Egypt
(see Jeremiah 42:1 onward). Thus, an (apostate
) Jewish community was established in Egypt. God cursed them for their insistence on rebelling against Him. The Greek king Ptolemy Philadelphus tried to honor these Jews by translating the Old Testament to Greek (this translation is called the Septuagint). These Egyptian Jews also added
varying numbers of Greek books by Jewish authors to their Greek Bibles. In 1546, the Roman Catholic Church, which is inconsistent with the Bible
, decided that seven of these books should also be included in the Bible.
Apart from the Egyptian Jews, another apostate group was the Samaritans, who were not even Jews (see the answer to the next question below) but people who were deported to Israel after most of the Old Testament was written. They accept only the first five books of the Old Testament. Needless to say, the stance of the Roman Catholic Church and the Samaritans lack sound basis (if you're not sure, look again at the pink text above!).
The New Testament consists of 27 books written by the disciples of the Lord Jesus. God gave some Christians the spiritual gift of discernment (1 Corinthians 12:10) to discern between spirits – one of the purposes was to distinguish between genuine books of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and spurious books. A couple of examples:-
- Peter recognizes Paul's writings as scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Note that this is the same Paul who had censured Peter (Galatians 2:11). Personal ego did not interfere with the recognition of scripture.
- Paul recognizes Luke as scripture (compare 1 Timothy 5:18 with Luke 10:7 - the same Greek word has been rendered "hire" in Luke and "reward" in Timothy). Paul was a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5) while Luke was probably Greek. No parochiality interferes with the recognition of scripture.
Various other books appeared at the same time the New Testament was being written (first century AD) and later. But they did not receive any major acceptance because they failed to get recognition as divine revelation as shown above. Some of these books were lost in history and are being "discovered" in modern times. Those who claim that these books ought to be included in the Bible should note that the only thing that makes a book worthy of inclusion in the Bible is that it is divine revelation. If you think these "lost" books are divine revelation, are you obeying them and following them?
Thus, for those willing to face it, the canon of the Bible is unambiguous – the Bible consists of 39 books in the Old Testament (written originally in Hebrew), and 27 books in the New Testament (written originally in Greek).
- The Books of the Bible
- Further Discussion
- Patzia, Arthur G. The Making of the New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1995
- Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988