History of Progress Toward Canonization for the OT

At the time of Christ, the OT canon included the 39 OT books which are found in today’s English Bible. This is confirmed in the writings of the great Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37-95). The compilation of the 39 books is discussed in greater detail in Article 4 of this series.
However, if you were to look at the table of contents of a Hebrew Old Testament, you would notice two differences from today’s English Old Testament. First, the English OT has only 22 books, not 39. The content, though, is identical; it is just that the Hebrew Bible combines certain books. (For example, books such as 1 and 2 Samuel are combined into one, and other smaller books are attached to larger ones.)
A second difference is that the order of the books is rearranged. It is interesting to note that the last book of the Hebrew Bible is not Malachi but Chronicles. With an understanding of this arrangement of books, Erwin Lutzer provides further proof in support of the opening comment of this article.

“Now let me share an incidental proof that Christ’s Bible was the same in content as the Hebrew Old Testament we have today. The first murder in the Old Testament was, of course, when Cain killed Abel; the last murder, according to the Hebrew order of books, was when the prophet Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was stoned to death in the temple (2 Chronicles 24:20-21). Only now are we prepared to understand the words of Jesus, ‘Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar (Matthew 23:34-35).’ Given the order of the Hebrew Old Testament, Christ gives a sweeping panorama of its entire history. These two murders are ‘bookends’ for the whole of the Hebrew canon. In New Testament terms we would say, ‘From Genesis to Revelation.’ This is further proof that Christ’s Bible was that of the Jewish Hebrew Canon (though arranged differently), as our own Old Testament.” (Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust The Bible, pgs. 169-170)

Skeptics maintain that a group of “old men” (religious scholars} came together in 95 A.D.–the Synod of Jamnia–to decide what books were to be included in the OT. Nothing could be further from the truth! It has already been demonstrated that by the time of Christ, the OT was already compiled and considered to be canonical scripture (see Article 4). Josephus maintains the OT canon had been closed for five centuries. The Synod was a gathering of Jewish scholars who had no authority for Judaism, and they did not add to nor delete from the 39 books already in use.

  • Our next article looks at the External Evident Supporting the Reliability of the OT.
  • Return to our Introduction Post to see a list of all articles in this series.

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