Our Confession states concerning these canonical books that against them “nothing can be alleged.” This is, of course, already implied in the very idea of the canon. The canon is normative. It is the only infallible rule for the faith and life of believers. A canon against which things can be alleged would be a very untrustworthy norm; in fact, it would not be worthy at all of being acknowledged as a norm. This is true in everyday life. If a carpenter has a measuring rule against which it can be alleged that it measures only eleven and a half inches to the foot, or concerning which it can be claimed that its markings are not regular or are not clear, such a measuring rule would be absolutely untrustworthy and not fit to be used. And thus it is with the Scriptures. If ought could be alleged, that is, rightfully claimed, against the canonical books, they would not be trustworthy and would not be fit to serve as a norm for our faith and life.
The question may well be asked: in what sense is it true that naught can be alleged against the canon? Does the article mean to refer by this statement to thecontents of these books? In that case, of course, the statement, “against them nothing can be alleged,” would emphasize that the various books are inerrant, infallibly inspired. Or does this statement of Article IV refer to the authenticity of these books? In that case this statement means to emphasize that nothing can rightfully be claimed against the fact that these books are canonical, that they together form the Holy Scriptures.
The Confession itself furnishes no further elucidation of the matter. In the light of the fact that this statement appears in an article concerning the canon, however, one would be somewhat inclined to think that the viewpoint of the statement is that of the authenticity or canonicity of the books of Scripture. They are canonical, and against the fact that they are canonical nothing can be alleged. At the same time, however, we may observe that the two possible interpretations of this statement are not far removed from one another. For, as we have remarked before, the canonicity and the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures are intimately related. And they are related in such a way that the canonical character of any book would fall away completely if it were not infallibly inspired. In such a case it could not possibly be acknowledged as canonical. Hence, in our interpretation of this statement of Article IV we must maintain both that nothing can be alleged against these books as to their contents, and that nothing can be alleged against these books as to their place in the canon. They are both authentic and inerrant.
The Formation of the Canon
The question is often raised: how did the church arrive at the faith and confession that these books are canonical? And this is indeed an important, and also an interesting, question.
This question we now consider briefly, and that from a two-fold point of view. In the first place, we shall consider it historically. And secondly, we shall consider it principally.
As far as the Old Testament is concerned, we have the testimony of Scripture itself in the New Testament record of the words of Christ and His apostles. Their references show very plainly that there was at that time a recognized canon of the Old Testament, very generally known and acknowledged as such by them and by contemporary Jewry. But above all, the testimony of Christ Himself and of the apostles after Him seals beyond any question the authority of that Old Testament canon. Let us take note of a few such references in the New Testament Scriptures, and see at the same time how significant they are. There are, of course, many references in the New Testament to individual books of the Old Testament. Already in the first two chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew no less than four of the prophets are quoted, and only one of them by name. This in itself is proof not only of the authority of the individual prophetic books quoted, but also of the fact that these authoritative books were so well-known and generally recognized and acknowledged as authoritative that it was not even necessary to mention a prophet by name, but simply to refer to him as “the prophet.” Examples of such references to the Old Testament may be multiplied. In fact, if we take into account the fact that the Minor Prophets were commonly considered one book, we may say that only five of the Old Testament books are not quoted from and used directly in the New Testament. But, in the second place, there is an abundance of general references to an Old Testament canon—references which amply prove that such a canon of the Old Testament was simply taken for granted among the people of God at that time. Such a reference you find in Matthew 5:17, 18: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Notice here that in verse 17 Jesus refers to the law and the prophets; but notice, in the second place, that in verse 18 this simply becomes the law. In Matthew 7:12 we find the well-known words of the so-called Golden Rule, followed by: “for this is the law and the prophets.” In His discourse concerning the significance of John the Baptist the Lord Jesus says: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Matt. 11:13. And in Luke 24we find several references which are significant. First of all, Jesus rebukes the two disciples on the way to Emmaus as follows: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” vs. 25. This is followed by the statement of verse 27: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Notice here that Moses and all the prophets are equated with all the scriptures. And thus it was in the minds of the two disciples also; for they “said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” The same chapter of Luke records the appearance and words of the risen Lord to His disciples at Jerusalem, as follows: “And he said unto them, These-are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved the Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.” And thus it was with the apostles as well. They cite individual prophets. They recognize and acknowledge the Scriptures. Paul persuades the Jews concerning Jesus, “both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.” Acts 28:23. And to Timothy, a Grecian Jew, he writes: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” II Tim. 3:15, 16.
Nor must we misunderstand the use of the terms the law and the prophets. These terms do not merely designate various divisions of the Old Testament, but are also used very generally to designate the entire Old Testament canon. It is rather well-known that among the Jews, probably dating from about the 4th century A.D., the Old Testament Scriptures are classified as the law, the prophets, and the writings. But in the usage of Jesus and the apostles there was no rigid classification of this kind. Sometimes the general term scriptures is used, denoting the entire Old Testament. Sometimes those scriptures are calledthe law and the prophets. Sometimes those same scriptures are simply the law. Elsewhere they are simply designated as the word of the prophets. In one instance cited above the psalms were added to the law and the prophets. But the proof that there was no rigid division of the Old Testament canon is clear in Scripture. David is recognized as a prophet in the New Testament although his psalms belong to the classification called “the writings.” Cf. Acts 2:25-30. Besides, Jesus refers to a psalm of David as belonging to the law: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” John 10:34. Hence, it cannot be claimed that the New Testament recognizes only part of the Old Testament canon. But very definitely, though it does not mention all the books of the Old Testament, and though it does not even directly use all the books of the Old Testament, it assumes throughout that there was a very definite set of scriptures, known and acknowledged by the church of that time. Not only so, but the New Testament attaches supreme authority to that Old Testament canon. It does so not only implicitly by all its references to the historical and prophetical record of the Old Testament, but also very explicitly. Paul writes to Timothy that the holy scriptures are able to make him wise unto salvation. II Tim. 3:15. Jesus insists, in His argument with the Jews, that “the scripture cannot be broken.” John 10:35. And in John 5:39, ff., the Lord speaks in unmistakable language concerning the authority of those Old Testament Scriptures, as follows: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me . . . Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” And to mention no more, the Lord implies in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that one who rose from the dead would have no more authority and no more convincing power than Moses and the prophets: “Abraham saith unto .him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Luke 16:29-31. Plain it is, therefore, that there was in Jesus’ time a fixed canon of the Old Testament, to which Jesus Himself attributes such unique authority that one who does not believe Moses (and the entire Old Testament) does not believe Jesus, and one who does not believe in Jesus does not and cannot believe Moses and the Old Testament.
But can we in any way learn which books were included in the canon of the Old Testament as it was thus acknowledged by Jesus? Indeed we can. And this might be expected too, due to the fact that these Scriptures were so widely and commonly acknowledged at that time. Do not forget that the Old Testament Scriptures were not only known and acknowledged in Palestine, where our Lord lived and walked. There were Jews all over the civilized world at that time. And wherever the Jews went, there they took with them the Old Testament. In fact, they were very careful to preserve the sacred writings. We encounter this fact in the New Testament also. James says at the so-called council at Jerusalem, according to Acts 15: “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” And when we go along with the apostle Paul on his journeys, even as far as Rome, we find that everywhere he meets the Jews, Jews who possess and are so well-versed in the Scriptures that the apostle can reason with them out of those Scriptures. Hence, one might expect to find reference in secular history to those Scriptures also. One very clearreference is made by Flavius Josephus. Writes he: “For we have not tens of thousands of books, discordant and conflicting, but only twenty-two, containing the record of all time, which have been justly believed to be Divine. And of these five are the books of Moses, which embrace the laws and the tradition of the creation of man reaching up to his (Moses’) death. Next the prophets who succeeded compiled the history of the period from Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, the successor of Xerxes, king of Persia, in thirteen books, relating severally what was done in their times. The remaining four books embrace hymns to God and practical directions for men. From the time of Artaxerxes to our own time each event has been recorded; but the records have not been deemed worthy of the same credit of those of earlier date, because the exact succession of the prophets was not continued. But what faith we have placed in our own writings we have shown by our conduct; for though so long a time is now passed, no one has dared either to add anything to them, or to take anything from them, or to alter anything. But the Jews are instinctively led from the moment of their birth to regard them as decrees of God, and to abide by them, and, if need be, gladly to die for them.” In explanation of the above, we may note: 1) That if proper allowance is made for the peculiar arrangement of the books of the Old Testament which Josephus follows, it is not difficult to show that his twenty-two books are exactly the same as the thirty-nine now contained in our Old Testament. 2) He does not classify the Apocryphal books with the Scriptures.
(to be continued)