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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

What Did Jesus Consider as Scripture?

When we discuss the makeup of the Bible, the New Testament is usually the center of discussion. Given the discoveries of various 2nd and 3rd century gnostic writings at Nag Hammadi, the success of The Da Vinci Code, and recent manuscript claims such as the Jesus' Wife fragment one can easily see why the question of which books belong in the Bible would center on the New Testament. However, people will question the legitimacy of the Old Testament canon as well.

The accumulation of books in the Old Testament is a much longer one than that of the New. The canon begins right where the Jewish faith begins, with the first five books of Moses. These books were called collectively the Laws of Moses or simply the Law. There are books by various prophets, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and so on that hold the definitive "Thus saith the Lord" pronouncements. They also provide the validation of predictive prophecy. We also have several books are historical in nature, such as Joshua, Judges, and the sets of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings. Because these documented God's dealing with the nation and they held stories about the various prophets interacting with the nation, they too were classified by the Jewish priests as part of the writings of the Prophets. Lastly there are the literary books, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes that were used in worship services. As well as other historical books like Daniel, the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and the two books of Chronicles. These were classified as the "Writings".

According to Norman Geisler and William Nix, "Philo the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, alluded to a threefold classification of the Old Testament, and Flavius Josephus arraigned the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Scriptures into three sections, saying that the twenty-two books ‘retains the record of all the past;… five belong to Moses, … the prophets who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their time in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain the hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life."1 There is evidence of a more ancient two-fold division, which would fold the writings into the prophetic section. This is used in the writings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as throught the New Testment writers.2

Jesus' Validation of the Old Testament

Jesus never provided a book by book list of the Old Testament canon. It simply wasn't necessary as the Jews of that day all knew what was meant by Scripture. He did refer to the Scripture as authoritative, though and we can see what He meant whenever he talked about them. First, Jesus would quote passages from various Scriptures and refer to them as such. He quoted multiple times from each of the books of Moses, and from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zecharaiah, Hosea, Micah and Malachi.3 He also quoted from the Psalms calling them scripture (John 10:24, John 15:25) and called Daniel a prophet of God (Matthew 24:15). So Jesus quotes from each of these three divisions in a way that recognized those books as authoritative scripture.

Further, Jesus referred to the collection of books several times. He talked of "the Law and the Prophets" in Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, and John 1:45. In Luke 24:44, He refers to the Scriptures in the threefold context, saying "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus rebuked one of the experts of Scripture by saying, "the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary." Abel is the first person to die in the Hebrew Bible and Zechariah is the last. This reference would be obvious to such an expert, but it also confirms the canon of the Old Testament was accepted as authentic.

So, while Jesus did not explicitly list the books of the Old Testament, He pointed to the Old Testament as the authoritative word of God and said that all written in "the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms" must be fulfilled. Therefore, we can hold a high level of confidence that the Old Testament is truly the word of God.


1. Geiseler, Norman and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986). 24.

2. Ibid. 23. 3. Robinson, Rich. "Jesus' References to Old Testament Scripture." Jews for Jesus Web site. Accessed 4/7/2014.


  1. This simply begs the question. It is not the case that there's Jewish agreement on what the Old Testament was composed of. You had the canon of the sadducees, Pharisees, and Greek Jews. So appealing to Philo and Josephus won't suffice because their canon was contested and it is exactly that contest we are trying to settle. Also, since each canon I mentioned was included in the latter, it also doesn't follow that he endorsed the fullness of that particular canon. All canon of the sadducees was included in the Pharisees canon, and the canon of the Pharisees was included in the Greek canon. Jesus confronted the sadducees and used their canon against them, demonstrating a resurrection in the pentateuch, but you wouldn't say he endorsed that canon. In the same way, just because he used the Pharisees canon against them, referring to the blood of the prophets, you wouldn't say he endorsed that either. It is much more likely he endorsed the last remaining canon, the Greek canon, which includes, but is not limited to, the two previous canons. Jesus did quote from the Greek old testament so we know if he quoted the previous canons, AT LEAST they were included. But as we see when he quotes from the Pharisees canon he expanded it. When he quotes from the Greek canon, we know it's at least that. But then, we know the Pharisees canon is too limited, and the thesis of this post is false.

  2. From the scholars I've read, Adrian, that doesn't seem to be the case. Although the Sadducees didn't recognize the authority of the Prophets above the Torah, they recognized the collection of prophetic writing as what one means when one speaks of the books of the Prophets. The same it true of the Writings. Walter Kaiser, in his book _The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?_ writes "One of the most popular pieces of misinformation repeatedly affirmed by all too many scholars in the past two centuries is that a group of scholars at a rabbinical council held in Jamnia in A.D. 90 decided which books of the Bible were ultimately to be included in the Old Testament canon... The books that were treated as canonical in their discussions did not differ from the list found in Josephus... Given the range of the Jamnia discussions, therefore, it appears that the canon already was recognized prior to A.D. 100." (p.32)

    Kaiser goes on to talk about exactly which books those recognized as canon would be. he states: "There can be little doubt that Jesus pointed to the books held in reverence by the Jews of his earthly pilgrimage and pointedly said: 'These are the Scriptures that testify about me" (Jn 5:39). And if it be asked just what was the scope of the books held in esteem as inspired and canonical at that time,the answer is found in Matthew 23:35 and its parallel text in Luke 11:51. There Jesus showed the sweep of the canon as he knew it to be the same twenty-four books which are the present English thirty-nine." (p.38)

  3. If you agree that the Sadducees didn't recognize the prophets as authoritative, presumably meaning the prophets are not properly canon, then this is the same as my claim which is the Jews were divided on the canon.

    If that's the case, then the latter part of Kaisers statement on pg. 32 is false and there was no recognized canon. (BTW, it is unclear from what you have quoted whether or not Kaiser believes such a council existed. Most scholars don't believe it actually existed. If by "jamnia discussions" he is referring to the council, then this does a lot of damage to his credibility on this point.)

    Besides, my challenge has not been answered. I'm no scholar, but still lol. If you don't wish to answer, that's okay. I imagine you're busy, but let me know so I'm not held in suspense. :-P To resurrect the problem I see, especially concerning Matthew 23:35, Jesus is condemning the Pharisees. In doing so, He's using the Pharasiac Canon. But in the previous chapter, when He condemns the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33, He uses the Sadduccees' canon. Specifically, He uses the Torah alone to prove the Resurrection (even though the Resurrection is much more easily proven from passages like Daniel 12:1-3, and 1 Samuel 28, and Psalm 16:9-10). That's because that was the canon used by the Sadduccees. So it simply won't do to say in 23:35 he affirms that canon because then you have to say he also affirms the Sadducees canon, and you'll have a contradiction on your hands. If you're looking for a confirmation of a particular canon, look to Acts 17:11, where St. Paul praises the Hellenistic Bereans for reading their Scriptures.

  4. Well, I’m still a bit confused as to your reticence. In Matthew chapter four, Jesus quotes three times from Deuteronomy to show Satan where he errs. I think we can both assume that he was using these Scriptures authoritatively and we can assume that Jesus would consider all five books of Moses as the Word of God. So, there should be no disagreement there.
    In Luke 7:22, when John the Baptist’s followers asked Jesus if he was Messiah on John’s behalf, He quotes from Isaiah. He also reads from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue and states that it 1) was a prophecy (which only God can give) and 2)He Himself is fulfilling it. He isn’t confronting Pharisees here, but declaring His Messiahship. So, I think we can safely conclude that Jesus saw Isaiah as the prophet of God and thus the book is the Word of God.
    In Matthew 10, Jesus is sending out His disciples and he quotes from Micah 7:6 when so doing. Further, in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:15), he specifically mentions Daniel and calls him a prophet. Again, only His disciples are present. Later, He quotes Zecharaiah 13:7 when He tells the disciples that they will be scattered. Again, this is predictive prophecy that Jesus is claiming will be fulfilled. He also quotes Psalm 64:9 as a prophecy referring to Himself in John 15:25. Lastly, we have Jesus quoting Psalm 22 from the cross, drawing attention to the prophetic nature of that passage.
    So we have Jesus using Scriptures from the Law, form the Prophets, and from the Psalms and writings all as authoritative Scripture and sometimes even as predictive prophecy of the events that are unfolding around him. Further, the disciples whom He taught for three years also pointed to the books of the Old Testament and in far greater range. The thirty-nine books accepted in the Old Testament would be within these larger categories of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.
    I see no need to doubt Jesus’ acceptance of all thirty-nine books any more than when a modern day preacher says he accepts the Bible as we have it today. The only real question is whether the Apocryphal books were considered scriptural or not. We can answer that question on the basis of their content and how other Jews treated them in that same era.

  5. You're right in the first part, whatever Jesus quotes with authority carries with it authority in and of itself. But I'm claiming that is not enough to determine the canon of the OT, a point I will return to.

    Concerning the supposed condemnation of the Pharisees I claimed was there, you're right again. I confused it with Luke 11 (hopefully you won't say Jesus wasn't condemning them there). I was going from memory, and Luke was mentioned, and I was in error juggling them. My apologies.

    So I'm agreeing with everything else up to here, "So we have Jesus using Scriptures from the Law, form the Prophets, and from the Psalms and writings all as authoritative Scripture and sometimes even as predictive prophecy of the events that are unfolding around him." My point is that this is too ambiguous. This could included the Pharisees canon or the Hellenistic one. We know it can't be the Sadducees canon, and we agree on that. But when you say, "...while Jesus did not explicitly list the books of the Old Testament, He pointed to the Old Testament as the authoritative word of God and said that all written in 'the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms' must be fulfilled" this sounds like a contradiction. We're dealing with the canon of the OT, and that canon is a list of books, your statement then reads, "while Jesus did not explicitly list the books of the OT, he pointed to the list of books of the OT as the authoritative word of God..." but that leaves us ignorant of what that list is, which is exactly what you attempted to do here with this post.

    My objection is not to the acceptance of these thirty nine books. I think I said earlier that all Christians accept at least those books. My problem is that the canon of the Pharisees, the canon you seem to support, stops there and excludes everything else. It accepts these 39, and these ONLY. I claim this latter half is unjustified. Jesus' employment of the canons is not an endorsement as I have argued with his experience with the Sadducees, and an appeal to Jewish consensus won't do either as we know that wasn't even settled in Jesus day, and we could further ask if their consensus even matters at that point as Christianity now had the authority to make declarations on the matter, and not the Jews during and after Jesus.


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