History Lesson: Why Not All Bibles are the Same

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

14 Responses

  1. Always helpful to remember this stuff… I like, especially, the nod to not being “people of the book” but followers of the living way. I think, while Guttenberg helped a LOT with his printing press, the wide distribution of the text has made modern Christianity more of a intellectual exercise rather than a living, breathing faith. We use the book, sure… but our primary revelation is Jesus, the crucified and resurrected…

    Normally I’d reshare this… but I’m afraid, considering current context around my own blog and feeds, folks might get confused and see it as a tacit denial of the inspiration of Scripture…

    • I originally had a bunch of tough questions at the end of this post about what it could mean for our theology of Scripture. I decided to scrap it and stick to a mostly factual one because people would probably start asking those questions anyway.

  2. Andrew Mugford says:

    Ryan, do you have any sources for the council of Jamnia? The very existence of this council seems hotly contested.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I had heard it talked about several times, including I’m pretty sure in seminary classes, but a quick Google search agrees that there is no reason to believe this actually happened and that most scholars no longer accept it. I’ll change the post accordingly.

  3. Justin Boulmay says:

    I don’t know if you’re planning to do another post on the issue, but I’ve heard Protestants claim that the 7 books aren’t to be included because the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God (per Romans 3:2) and they didn’t see them as Scripture. Any thoughts?

    • Yes, that is the usual claim as to why Luther, Calvin, and others opted for the smaller Jewish canon. I’m not sure if they directly said that themselves or not, but it does make a lot of sense.

      I would probably argue that like many other things, the early Protestants were often just trying to find whatever ways they could to distinguish themselves from Catholics and this was a fairly obvious differentiation to take.

      I also wonder if the spiritual-warfare theme that is extremely strong in the deuterocanon was enough of a threat to the predestination worldview to also be another motivation. Those texts tend to make it pretty clear that while God always wins, there are other wills – human, demonic, angelic – also at play.

      Doesn’t mean they were wrong to take those books out – I personally do think that the Jewish argument makes a lot of sense – but I’d bet that the other two were also motivations.

      • One thing we talked about in seminary concerning the canonization of Scripture is that the canon is the acceptable books of the Bible indicated as specifically the “standard” against which all other writings were to be tested… This goes back BEFORE the Reformation to the original canonization. The distinction that people miss in this is that this does NOT proscribe or prevent the believer from reading OTHER writings that are written, including the deuterocanonical writings, as they may also have texts that are inspirational in them… but that they were to be tested against the canon for veracity and faithfulness to accepted teachings…

        This helped me a lot, actually, because it meant that there should be no fear of reading from, learning from, quoting from folks like Ignatius, Augustine, etc., in discussing theology, but that there was simply a standard against which those writings could be compared to aid in discerning truth.

  4. Harry Fox says:

    The Jews in Jesus’ day had three divisions, the Law, Prophets and the Writings. But the first book in the writings, and by far the largest book, was the Psalms, so the divisions were sometimes called the Law, Prophets and Psalms. That is why the risen Christ, when He wanted to explain that the entire Bible (our Old Testament) testified about Him, He specifically listed the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). So you are in error when you say that the writings were not canonized until later.

    • On the off-chance that every one of my professors and pastors have been wrong, can you please provide a good scholarly source?

      • Harry Fox says:

        I thought I did — Doctor Luke.

        • That passage proves that Psalms was considered worth listening to, probably even inspired in some sense, which is what I said above. It says nothing about official canonization. Every thing I can find on the topic still suggests that the Writings were not official canon until late first century after the fall of the Temple.

          • Harry Fox says:

            Let me be as kind as possible. You need to consider the possibility that you have been highly selective in your sources. So let me help you out.

            One source that I like is The Expositors Greek Testament (TEGT), which makes the point that Luke 24:44 refers to three divisions comprising the Old Testament canon. The portion of the TEGT on Luke (by A.B. Bruce) cites Meyer – Comentary on the New Testament (6th ed.) Meyer — 8th ed. by J. Weiss; Hahn — Das Evangelium des Lucas (two vols.).

            Most modern commentaries make the same point –see Ray Summer’s Commentary on Luke.

            You might look at the writings of Josephus (A.D. 37-95) Contra Apionem who holds to the three-fold division, and also maintained that the writing of inspired scripture ended at the time of Artaxerxes (i.e. Malachi was the last canonical book). This is the same three-fold division as the Masoretic text.
            He used a 22 book canon, but the content was the same as our 39 books.

            This agrees very well with the list composed by Bishop Melito of Sardis, written ca. 170 A.D.

            Note also that the apocryphal book, Ecclesiaticus (ca. 190 B.C.) by Jesus ben Sirach refers to a three-part canon. Even The Cambridge History of the Bible (Volume 1, page 136 admits that the antiquity of the three-part division is strong. This means that according to the Cambridge scholars the three parts of the OT canon were present in the time of Jesus.

            The same point is made (see pp. 70-71) in Gleason Archer’s classic work “A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.”

            I turned up all this in about five minutes, from the shelves of my tiny library. Are you sure that your can’t find ANY evidence of a three-part canon at the time of Jesus?

            You might want to look at your professors and pastors with a tiny bit of skepticism.

          • Ah, some sources! Thank you. That’s what I was looking for.