A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)

Hahneman-book coverIn the last post, we looked at Geoffrey Hahneman’s reasons for a fourth-century date for the closing of the Old Testament canon. In this post, I supply some response to his interpretation of the evidence.

(1) Hahneman began with the evidence of the New Testament (74–5). Though NT usage of religious literature will continue to be debated, Oskar Skarsaune, in a significant essay in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. 1, concludes:

There has been much scholarly debate on the question of whether “circumstantial evidence” (i.e. the actual use of authoritative books) in the first century CE supports or contradicts the notion of a “closed” canon in that period. If quotation frequency is regarded as significant circumstantial evidence, the New Testament seems to indicate that its authors (with the one exception mentioned [1 Enoch in Jude]) quoted the Hebrew canon, and its books only, as Scripture (445).

According to formal quotation or citation, the NT only uses books from the Hebrew canon. Sundberg and Hahneman argue that NT authors reflect on books from a wider body of literature, but the question is whether that usage constitutes the same appeal to authority as direct quotation/citation. Skarsaune and most discern a difference. Continue reading “A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)”


Canon, Codex, and Biblical Theory

Codex SinaiticusCanon and Codex. Surely, the alliteration indicates that these ideas are co-extensive, right? Depends on whom one asks. Armin Lange in the same article referenced here says:

I have also referred repeatedly to the invention of the mega-codices as a catalyst in the development of the Christian canon. It was only the mega-codex [full collection of Old and New Testament books] format that made it possible to combine all biblical Scriptures (Old and New Testament) into one book. Consequently, the question of which books should be included in such a mega-codex as the one Bible will have brought the issue of canon to the attention of Christian thinkers and officials…. It is all the more interesting that none of the three preserved mega-codices [Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus] corresponds precisely in its table of contents with any of the canon lists of the fourth century (pp. 74–5).

In this section, Lange cites an article by Robert Kraft, “The Codex and Canon Consciousness” (pp. 229–33) in the The Canon Debate (among other scholars). I presume he had these thoughts of Kraft in mind:

…I suspect that the new possibility (and concept) effected a major paradigm shift in how Christians henceforth thought about their “Bible” and its canonical cohesiveness. That is, “biblical canon” took on a very concrete meaning in the shadow of the appearance of the Bible as a single book in codex form (p. 230).

And again:

But once it was possible to produce and view (or visualize) “the Bible” under one set of physical covers, the concept of “canon” became concretized in a new way that shapes our thinking to the present day and makes it very difficult to recapture the perspectives of earlier times. “The canon” in this sense is the product of fourth-century technological developments. Before that, it seems to me, things were less “fixed,” and perceptions, accordingly, less concrete (233).

Kraft and Lange, among others we could cite, define the Christian biblical canon in terms of what books were placed between physical covers. No doubt, Christian scribes and bishops made choices on which books to include and exclude from the codex and no doubt the new physical form changed the concept of the Bible. The question, however, pertains to (1) whether codex technology and physical form actually motivated the fixing of the canon in the fourth century and (2) whether the discrete books within the codex were all viewed as having equally authoritative status.

For whatever change in perception of the material form of “the Bible” these developments brought—I assume change in perception did occur—there is very little evidence that would suggest that these codices brought about the fixing or concretizing of the canon. There’s not space to detail the similarity between the few second- and third-century lists and the later fourth-century lists that would actually show a remarkable conservatism (with some change of course) in canon formation in these centuries. Therefore, it remains unclear to me what kind of “change” did occur once Christians put their books between two covers. Certainly, the codex would have come as a wonderful advance from the standpoint of hermeneutics and being able to organize knowledge and concepts more efficiently. But whether it brought development to the canon or not still remains fuzzy and less concrete to me.

Many Eastern lists contain the books of the narrower Hebrew canon (see post on Epiphanius). Some fourth century lists, both Western and Eastern, contain those canonical books and “useful scriptures” in distinct categories. It is probable that the drafters of these canon lists would have no difficulty with codices that contained these books between two covers since the distinctions between books would still be conceptualized. Another possibility could be that the codices agree with later Latin lists which attest the wider canon; that is, they include the six deutercanonical books. But at this point it is insightful to look at the specific books in these codices to see if their compilers considered these deuterocanonical books as stable as the canonical ones.


Codex Sinaiticus: 1. PENTATEUCH (defective); 2. JDG (defective), CHRON (defective) EZRA–NEH, ESTHER, TOBIT, JUDITH, 1 & 4 MACCABEES; 4. ISAIAH, JER + LAM, EZEK (defective), SUS + DANIEL + BEL (defective), THE TWELVE; 3. PSS, PROV, ECCL, SONG, WISDOM, ECCLESIASTICUS, JOB.


The three codices agree on inclusion of Judith, Tobit, Wisdom, and Ben Sira / Ecclesiasticus though not on their order and placement. They do not all contain the books of Maccabees with only two including 1 and 4 Maccabees and only Alexandrinus containing 2–3 Maccabees. The later Latin canon lists of Augustine and Innocent I, for example, do not include 3–4 Maccabees, only 1–2 Maccabees. Thus the codices and those lists do not agree on these books, and therefore the codices may not be a stable guide to canon regarding them. But what about the other four books? It is possible the compilers considered these books canonical because they chose to include them. But in the absence of explicit statements to this effect, it might be more reasonable to conclude with the majority of the canon lists (most of the early ones) that these books are simply useful scriptures and were not considered to be authoritative in matters of doctrine. That is, codex does not equal canon.

Modern canon scholarship has emphasized the codex and manuscripts in general for determining the Christian canon and describing how that canon was conceptualized. No doubt, the invention of the codex brought development to the concept of the Bible. But moderns continue to envision the canon lists in tension with the codex, perhaps irresolvable contradiction (see Lange’s statement above). However, have we committed anachronism? Have we read the canonical significance and conceptualization of our physical Bibles back into the ancients’ codex? If we have, how would we know? The main line of evidence that may offer a corrective and a way forward is the ancients’ statements themselves. Serious consideration of those statements and lists need to be reintroduced into the conversation so that a more balanced and reasonable, though no less complex, picture may emerge.

Summary of Epiphanius’s Biblical Theory (Part 4)


Patristic biblical theory is complex, and reductionism is difficult to avoid. For reasons I do not understand, folks still frame the complex situation in terms of “the church fathers read the Greek Septuagint” or the church “created its own Septuagint Canon” as if the Hebrew canon and text had only minimal impact on the Christian Bible. As I cited in Part 1 of this series (Parts 1, 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3), Albert Sundberg said that Epiphanius “argued that the Greek translation was actually better than the Hebrew text.” But Sundberg has missed the role of the Hebrew in Epiphanius’s description of the matter and what role it has in his overall theory. As long as these comments and thoughts persist, the complexity of the matter of patristic biblical theory will continue to be reduced to rather simplistic forms. We have looked at Epiphanius’s biblical theory over the last several posts, which is only a very small part of the much larger picture of patristic biblical theory. In what follows, I offer a few summary comments. Continue reading “Summary of Epiphanius’s Biblical Theory (Part 4)”

More On God as Creator from II Maccabees


As I was reading through II Maccabees again, I was struck by the references to God as creator and the Jewish mother’s exact confession of God as Creator in chapter 7.  Regardless of whether chapter 7 was originally in Jason’s history (2:19-23) or an interpolation of the epitomator, the view she confesses is still from the second century BC at latest (see NETS, 503, for details).

Texts Pertaining to Creation

7:23 τοιγαροῦν ὁ τοῦ κόσμου κτίστης ὁ πλάσας ἀνθρώπου γένεσιν καὶ πάντων ἐξευρὼν γένεσιν καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὴν ζωὴν ὑμῖν πάλιν ἀποδίδωσιν μετ᾽ ἐλέους, ὡς νῦν ὑπερορᾶτε ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τοὺς αὐτοῦ νόμους.

Therefore indeed the Creator of the world, the one who formed the beginning of humanity and invented the beginning of all things will give both spirit and life to you again with mercy, as/because now you watch yourselves on account his laws.

7:28 ἀξιῶ σε, τέκνον, ἀναβλέψαντα εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς πάντα ἰδόντα γνῶναι ὅτι οὐκ ἐξ ὄντων ἐποίησεν αὐτὰ ὁ θεός, καὶ τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος οὕτω γίνεται.

I ask that you, child, after looking into heaven and earth and seeing all things in them, know that God did not make them from existing matter/things, and the race of men came about in the same way.

Some observations that stand out: 1) God invented the beginning of all things, which has to include all matter.  2) This view of creation is the ground for believing that God will raise the dead and supply them again with spirit and life.  Thus the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo functions as the ground for the life in the new creation.  3) 7:28 expresses negatively what was already expressed positively in 7:23: God did not make them (the heavens and the earth) from existing things.


Although these texts are late compared to the rest of the OT, these texts depend on the doctrine of creation contained therein.  The Jews were certainly reading the text that we have, and concluding from it that God created all things and he did not create them from existing matter.  Their interpretation is not inspired, but it certainly enjoys a long tradition, and it is also the conclusion of the Author to the Hebrews in 11:3: Πίστει νοοῦμεν κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι and the Gospel of John 1:3: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν and other place in the NT.

The English Standard Version on Daniel 7.27

The English Standard Version or the ESV is a very popular English translation and on the whole it is a very faithful translation of the original text.  However, they simply blundered on Daniel 7.27 and here is why.

The ESV: And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’

The Aramaic Text: וּמַלְכוּתָה וְשָלְטָנָא וּרְבוּתָא דִּי מַלְכְוָת תְּחוֹת כָּל־שְמַיָּא יְהִיבַת לְעַם קַדִּישֵי עֶלְיוֹנִין מַלְכוּתֵהּ מַלְכוּת עָלַם וְכֹל שָלְטָנַיָּא לֵהּ יִפְלְחוּן וְיִשְתַּמְּעוּן׃

The Problem Continue reading “The English Standard Version on Daniel 7.27”

The Ancient Versions on Isaiah 7.14

Fewer texts in the OT have been more important to the Christian church than Isaiah 7:14. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho is a great example of the controversy between Jews and Christians over this crucial text.  However, Justin and Trypho argue on the basis of Greek versions alone, and the controversy never descends to the meaning of the Hebrew Bible.  The Versions listed below are translations from the Hebrew text, and I offer some commentary on each one. Continue reading “The Ancient Versions on Isaiah 7.14”