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A Question about the Canon.


To sort the matter out, we need to recall our words about the fact that originally only the Torah-Law, i.e. the five books of Moses were in the full sense of the word the Holy Scripture, the Law for the Old-Testament Church.

The other books, which are now included into the Bible, were for an ancient pious Hebrew the same continuation of the Law, its development, but not its part, as for us the works of the apostles, holy fathers, the lives of saints and Patericks are, up to the creations of such contemporary writers as Theophan the Recluse, father John of Krondstadt, Metropolitan Anthony.

The similar attitude to the Holy Books in ancient Israel was preserved till the époque of returning from the Babylonian captivity (500 years B.C). The separated by that time from the Hebrews Samaritans accept that only the Pentateuch of Moses is the Holy Scripture, though they are aware of existence of some other books of the Bible, as of the edifying ones.

Having assimilated this information, we shall clearly understand, how the question about the canon of the Old Testament Church arouse, i.e. the question about which of the Scriptures can be of such high authority to be put together with the Sinai Law, and which cannot. It is clear that for us as well some of the works of the church writers have more authority, and some — less. This is especially true in the relation to the most recent, less glorified in their holiness writers.

The question about canon, i.e. about which of the pious scriptures can be counted as the authentically God-inspired and could be put together with the Torah, interested the Old Testament Church during the latest centuries before the Navity of Christ. But the Old Testament Church did not establish any canon, though it fulfilled all the preparatory work. One of the stages of this preparatory work is stressed in the 2d Book of Maccabees, saying that Nehemiah "founding a library gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings" (2:13). To the greater extent the establishment of the canon was prepared by the process of selection of the books for the translation of 70 interpreters, which was triumphantly fulfilled in the council manner by the Old Testament Church.

Both the events with some right could be counted as the establishment of the canon, if we had a list of the books, which righteous Nehemiah collected as holy or which were selected by the God-chosen interpreters. But we do not have the exact list neither of the first nor of the second.

The separation between the accepted and unaccepted, canonic and non-canonic was established by the Hebrew community only after the denial of Christ the Savior by the leaders of the Hebrew people, after the destruction of Jerusalem, on the border of the 1st and 2d centuries after the Navity of Christ, by the council of the Jewish rabbis in the city of Jamnia in Palestine. Among the rabbis the most outstanding were Rabbi Akiba and Gamaliel Junior. They outlined the list of 39 books, which they skillfully reduced up to 24 books, connecting in one unit the books of Kings, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and the 12 books of the Minor Prophets, according to the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This list was accepted by the Jewish community and sent over to all synagogues. This is that "Canon," according to which the books of the Old Testament are called canonical or non-canonical.

Surely, this canon, established by the Jewish community, which rejected Christ the Savior and therefore stopped being the Old Testament Church, which lost any right for the Divine legacy, which is the Holy Scripture, — such a canon cannot be obligatory for the Church of Christ.

Nevertheless, the Jewish cannon carried great weight with the Church, for example, the list of the holy books, which was established by the Local Holy Laodicean Council, obviously was composed under the influence of Jamnia list. This list includes neither the books of Maccabees, nor the Tobit, Judith, Proverbs, nor the 3d book of Ezra. Though this list does not fully coincide to the list of the Jewish canon, for the list of the Laodicean Council includes the book of prophet Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah and the second book of Ezra, excluded by the Jewish canon (in the New Testament the Laodicean Council did not include into the Canon the Revelation of St. John the Theologian).

But in the life of the Church the Laodicean Council did not acquire the prevailing importance. In the definition of Its holy books, the Church is led in the greater degree by the 85th Apostolic Rule and the Epistle of Athanasius the Great, including into the content of the Bible 50 books of the Old, and 27 books of the New Testament. This, broader selection was caused by the list of books of the 70 interpreters (the Septuagint).

The thing that the so-called "non-canonical" books were accepted by the Church is proved by the fact that in the divine services they are used in the same way as canonical ones, and, for example, the book of Songs of Solomon, rejected by the Jewish canon, is the most read book of the Old Testament at divine services.

The 11th chapter of the Book of Wisdom of Solomon equally prophetically says about the sufferings of Christ, as maybe no other extract from the Old Testament, except the book of Prophet Isaiah. Is not it on that reason that the rabbis, who gathered in Jamnia, rejected that book?

Christ the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount quotes, though without any references, the words from the book of Tobit (compare Tob. 4:15 with Math. 7:12 and Luke 4:31, Tob. 4:16 with Luke 14:13), from the book of Sirach (comp. 28:2 with Math. 6:14 and Mark 2:25), from the Book of Wisdom of Solomon (comp. 3:7 with Math. 13:43). Apostle John in the Revelation takes the words and images from the book of Tobit (comp. Rev. 21:11-24 with Tob. 13:11-18). By Apostle Paul in His Epistles to Romans (1:21), to Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:20-27; 2:78), to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:15) we find the words of Prophet Baruch. Apostle James has many phrases in common with the book of Sirach. The Epistles to Hebrew of Ap. Paul and the Book of Wisdom of Solomon are very similar, in the way that some, moderately negative critics counted them to be the works of one and the same author.

All the countless legions of the Christian martyrs of the first centuries were inspired for their exploit by the holiest example of the Maccabees’ martyrs, about whom narrates the second book of Maccabees.

Metropolitan Anthony absolutely precisely defines: "The holy books of the Old Testament are divided into canonical, which are accepted by the Christians, the Jews, and non-canonical, which only the Christians accept, and the Jews have lost them" (The Experience of the Christian Orthodox Catechism, page 16)

All this undoubtedly testifies to the high authority and Divine inspiration of the holy books of the Bible, which are incorrectly, or to be more precise, ambiguously called non-canonical.

We paused on this question and discussed it in detail, for the Protestantism, obediently following the Jewish canon, rejects all the books, denied by the Jews.

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