How Do We Know What Books Go in Our Old Testament?

How do we know what books of the Old Testament were truly inspired? Although we might take it for granted, the contents of the Old Testament canon have been debated for a long time.

How Do We Know What Books Go in Our Old Testament?

(Photo: By Naval History & Heritage Command from Washington, DC, USA. CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The term canon is from a Greek word that means a “rule or “standard,” and it came to represent truth revealed in Scripture.1 For different Christians in different churches, however, the canon represented different books.

  • Some people held that the canon extended to encompass all the books read in the church for edification, which would include what is known as the Apocrypha and sometimes even the Pseudepigrapha (a collection of anonymous, apocalyptic writings).
  • Others held that the canon represented simply the Jewish Bible, which corresponds to the Protestant Bible of today.2
  • In 1546, when the Council of Trent made a formal statement that all who did not accept selected Apocryphal writings should be condemned, Protestants responded with an equally resolute voice.

This disagreement continues. However, it is an issue that needs resolution, for as the theologian Roger Beckwith aptly states, “With no canon there is no Bible.”3

So, how do we know what books go in our Old Testament?

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Why You’ll Never Find the Bottom of Your Bible

We have an inexhaustible text.

We have thousands of questions on dozens of issues the Bible never addresses. On other topics though, it seems it’s just the opposite. Scripture supplies liberal space to minutiae that seem trivial.

Why You'll Never Find the Bottom of Your Bible

(Photo by Photodune)

Let’s be honest. Have you wondered if we need all the Bible gives us?

  • Take genealogies, for example. Do we really need nine chapters of 1 Chronicles to tell us who begat who? I mean, would our faith fall apart if we didn’t know Hadad begat Bedad?
  • And what about Deuteronomy’s lengthy retelling of the Law?
  • Or even the huge amount of content devoted to repeating the same events of Peter’s visit to Cornelius?

These represent mere samples of what seem like a lopsided emphasis. I mean, if we only have so many verses in the Bible, could we not give a little less to the genealogies and more to, say, how to raise a teenager?

Amazingly, in spite of all the Bible doesn’t tell us, it still remains an inexhaustible book.

You’ll never find the bottom. Here’s why.

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What Do You Think of When You Hear a Rooster?

One morning when I was in Jerusalem, I chose to have my devotions on the Mount of Olives at sunrise. Making my way through the Old City’s dark and narrow streets, I passed beside the Temple Mount and exited the city on its east side.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

(Photo: Overlooking Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Photo: צולם ע, via Wikimedia Commons)

After climbing the steep ascent of the Mount of Olives, I sat near its summit as the sun began to warm my back. Turning to Matthew’s Gospel, I read about Jesus leaving the Temple, predicting its destruction, and sitting on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1–5).

Looking across the Kidron Valley at the Temple Mount—now crowned with a Muslim shrine—I thought about how Jesus’ prediction proved true. Because Israel rejected Him, they ultimately lost the very objects they hoped to secure through His death—their Temple and their nation (John 11:48).

Suddenly I heard a sound that jerked my mind in another direction.

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Dog Dreams and Divine Revelation

I have owned four Labradors over the years. Every one of them had dreams. Most of these dog dreams looked violent, even nightmarish.

Muscles jerking, lips twitching, teeth bared, paws running, barking, growling—they look like some Freudian alter ego quivering on the living room floor.

dreaming dog

(Photo by Eugene0126jp. Own work, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m convinced that if I would connect their tails to a 220-volt cable and turn on the juice, they would not have convulsed more violently.

On one occasion I literally thought our dog Rayah was having a seizure, so I touched her. She stopped convulsing, looked up at me, took a deep breath, and closed her glassy eyes again. Just a dream. No wonder Labradors snooze twelve to eighteen hours a day. They need rest from all that exhausting sleep! (Our current Lab snores louder than any human I’ve heard.)

I have often wondered what our dogs dream. I mean, all they know of the world comes from the backyard. What could be so exciting?

A dog’s dreams are frequent and violent, therefore comical—and insignificant.

Our own dreams, however, get more attention. But should they?

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What to Do with Those Bad Parts of the Bible

Keeping your integrity when God's Word seems to contradict God's love.

The Bible is full of wonderful promises and words of encouragement. Who of us hasn’t been refreshed by its verses and inspired by its truths? At the same time, the Word of God also has parts that seem, well—bad.

What to Do with Those Bad Parts of the Bible

(Photo by Photodune)

After reading these unnerving passages, we come away with questions:

  • How do we deal with the genocide God commands in Joshua?
  • Why doesn’t the Bible specifically condemn polygamy?
  • What does Paul mean by speaking of the submission of wives?

The list goes on.

As people of integrity, how do we deal with those uncomfortable “bad” parts of the Bible that seem, well, wrong?

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Exploring Christian Theology: The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times

Exploring Christian Theology (Bethany House Publishers, 2014)

Most theological texts seem to use doctrine as a sleep aid. Dull and dry, these books hide the truth behind the reader’s yawn.

How refreshing to read Exploring Christian Theology! With an appropriate balance of readability, clarity, and humor, Drs. Holsteen and Svigel have made the key doctrines of our Christian faith accessible—without compromising orthodoxy.

Truth should never leave us yawning. This book makes me want more.

How a Snowman Revealed the Creation of the World

Years ago I met a man named Igor who told me a story I’ve never forgotten. As a child growing up in the Soviet Union, Igor always believed communism’s assumption that God does not exist.

How a Snowman Revealed God’s Creation

(Photo by Petritap, Own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yet as a gifted medical student and scientist, Igor studied the intricacies of the human body and natural world and struggled over their implications. Such precision in nature demanded a Designer—something his deep-rooted atheism refused to embrace.

Then one day as he and a friend drove through a wintry countryside, Igor saw a distant snowman all alone in the middle of a field—and the truth struck him. He slammed on the brakes.

“Look!” he said, pointing to the snowman. “How did that get there?”

His friend replied with the obvious answer: “Somebody built it.”

“There was no way,” Igor told me, “the details of nature just happened by chance. I decided I must find the truth.” Just as the snowman had to have been made by someone, so did nature.

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10 Ways Woodworking Affirms Your Spiritual Life (Part 2)

Years ago my wife bought me a table saw for Christmas, and I’ve enjoyed the first hobby I’ve had in my life. I like what the Canadian born physician, Sir William Osler, once told an audience of medical professionals:

No man is really happy or safe without a hobby, and it makes precious little difference what the outside interest may be—botany, beetles or butterflies; roses, tulips or irises; fishing, mountaineering or antiques—anything will do as long as he straddles a hobby and rides it hard.

The master carpenter scrapes it smooth.

(Photo: by Just plain Bill. Own work, CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

But woodworking is more than a hobby. It has marvelous metaphors for your spiritual life.

In an earlier post, I shared the first half of 10 ways I’ve discovered that woodworking affirms your spiritual life:

  1. You will have to cut cross grain, so stay sharp.
  2. Good tools save you time and give you better results.
  3. You can do a lot more than you think with the little you have.
  4. Following a plan gets you where you want to go with greater success.
  5. Mistakes always teach you, and they rarely ruin the piece.

In this post, let’s complete the list it’s taken me years to write.

What would you add to the list?

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Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye [Book Review]

Len Bailey’s book, Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye, portrays Holmes and Watson traveling to biblical days to solve biblical “mysteries.”Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye

The time travel is a fascinating aspect to the book, but the mysteries are “solved” simply by Holmes’ keen observation of Scripture. It’s the same premise I learned in Howard Hendricks’ class on Bible Study Methods. In that class, we even read a portion of Conan Doyle’s books where Holmes employs his powers of observation.

Once in this book, Watson asked how Holmes, a critic, could have such faith in the Bible. Holmes replied:

Faith has nothing to do with it, old boy. I’m just a better reader than you are.

The book is creative and entertaining, though sometimes it stretches the bounds of tolerance when Holmes offers Watson long paragraphs of historical background, sounding more like a Bible Dictionary than a detective.

Although each mystery rests on the keen observation of often-obscure passages, most of the conclusions offered are still debatable—answers that have been provided by scholars for centuries.

For example . . .

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How to Ponder Scripture Every Time You Stop

Not long ago I stopped at a stop sign so intriguing that I doubled back to take its picture. Here it is.

Stop and Ponder Scripture

(Picture I took: Stop and Ponder Scripture)

What a great sign! After snapping the picture, I pulled to the side of the road and watched the next five cars that pulled up to the stop sign. Only one stopped. The rest rolled on through.

Later, I got to thinking about the intersection. “STOP—Ponder Scripture.” The command is there—and at a crossroads many stop at every day. Yet the surrounding neighborhood seems unaffected. They see the stop sign—but not the street sign.

I confess that, at times, I do too.

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