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The Canon of Scripture

The Canon of Scripture
By Jeff A. Benner

Ancient Texts related to the Bible are usually classified into two groups; canonical and non-canonical. For most Bible believers the canonical books are considered sacred and valid for religious interpretation as they are "inspired" by God and are the "infallible" words of God. The non-canonical books are not considered sacred and are to be avoided. These books are not "inspired" and are the "falible" writings of man.

The first interesting observation about the "canonized" books, are that different religions, all of which have the bible as their foundation, have differences of opinion of which books are considered "canonical" or "insoired". Most Jews consider the 39 books of the Tenach (also called the Old Testament by the Christians) as canon. Other smaller Jewish sects only consider 5 of the 39 as canonical. The Catholics consider the same 39 books of the Old Testament as well as 7 others as their Old Testament canon. They also include the 27 books of the New Testament as canonical. The Orthodox churches have the same 39 books as well as 10 others as the Old Testament Canon. They also include the 27 books of the New Testament as Canon. The Protestant churches only use the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament as canonical.

This survey of canonized books only demonstrates that each group decides for themselves what is considered canon. The question is; How does a group decide what is considered canon? The answer is obvious. If the book in question agrees with the ideologies of the group it is considered canon. If the book in question contains material that conflicts or contradicts the ideologies, it is considered non-canonical.

This acceptance or rejection of books based on ideology can be seen many times within the Christian community over the centuries. As an example, Martin Luther, who proposed the doctrine of "saved by faith alone" rejected the book of James as canonical because his writings include the necessity of works.

Inspiration

Most Bible believers will say that the Bible is the "inspired word of God". What does "inspired" mean? There are two trains of thought. The first is that the books were "inspired" by God and spoken to men who then recorded the words, while the second is that they were written by "inspired" men who wrote about God. In the first case, the text would be accurate and without error, whereas the second opens the possibility that the texts are inaccurate and with error.

It is impossible to prove or disprove these two views. The texts contain errors which can be used to support the second view, but these errors can easily be explained away by attributing the errors to scribal errors rather than errors in the original manuscript. These two ideas can cause additional problems. Among the charismatic churches their are those who claim to speak the words of God. If this is true, then these words have the same validity as the canonized books. On the other hand, those who hold to the second view can easily accept any book, no matter its origin, as a part of scripture.

It is our belief that the books of the Bible were written by godly men who sought to record their life and the lives of their ancestors and the relationships they had with God. When Moses recorded the book of Genesis, he was recording the stories that were most likely passed down from genertion to generation. It should be noted that while our culture has lost the art of oral transmission of accounts, the ancient people were careful and accurate with oral transmission, often memorizing complete works. When Moses recorded the books of Exodus to Deutoronomy, he was recording the events in his life and the new people of God, Israel.

With this view of the written record, one begins to take a slightly different view of scripture. It is no longer the words of God dictated to man, but rather the real life stories, struggles, passions and relationships as felt from the heart of the people who wrote them.

The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs

Within the book of Genesis is the "Testament of Jacob" (Genesis chapter 49), his final words to his sons before his death. The actual origin of this writing is not known for certain but is traditionally held by most to be written by Moses. Of course, Moses was not present to hear these words as they were spoken hundreds of years before his birth, but, were passed down from generation to generation until finally recorded by Moses. This passage is considered part of the canon of scripture by Jews, Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants and is accepted as an accurate record.

There is another book called the "Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs", the final words of the twelve sons of Jacob to their children before their deaths. Just as the origin of the "Testament of Jacob" cannot be known for certain, neither can this book. Just as the "Testament of Jacob" was orally transmitted for generations, so was this book. Why is this book not accepted as Canon by any of the above mentioned religious groups while the "Testament of Jacob" is? The answer is simple. While each religious group has their own set of doctrinal beliefs which they hold to be true, any book which contradicts those beliefs must be false. The "Testimony of the Twelve Patriarchs" contain portions that are contradictory to the established religious oranizations. Let us examine a few of these contradictions to established doctrinal beliefs.

"And I saw that from Judah was born a virgin wearing a linen garment, and from her was born a lamb, without spot; and on his left hand there was as it were a lion; and all the beasts rushed against him, and the lamb overcame them, and destroyed them and trod them under foot". (Joseph 2.74)

"Do ye therefore, my children, observe the commandments of the Lord, and honour Levi and Judah; for from them shall arise unto you the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world, one who saveth all the Gentiles and Israel". (Joseph 2.77)

The Jewish doctrine includes the rejection of the Yeshua as the Messiah. The "Testament of Joseph", as we have seen includes some passages contradictory to their doctrine. It would seem that this book would be quickly accepted by the Christians due to these passages, except that there are other passages which contradict Christian doctrine which says that Yeshua came to end the Torah, or law, and that we are know free from its burden.

"Sun and moon and stars change not their order; so do ye also change not the law of God in the disorderliness of your doings. The Gentiles went astray, and foresook the Lord and changed their order, and obeyed stocks and stones, spirits of deciet". (Naphtali 1.24,25)

Because of these clear allusions to the New Testament scriptures, it has been assumed by Jews and Christians alike that the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs" were written well after the Gospels, probably in the middle ages by Christians attempting to give the gospels validity. That is, until recently. Among the many scrolls found in the Dead Sea Caves were several fragments from the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs". These scrolls were written sometime between 100 BCE and 70 CE. The Jewish community which compiled the library found in the Dead Sea Caves accepted the "Testemants of the Twelve Pariarchs" as valid books.

Another book rejected by Jews and Christians alike is the "Book of Enoch". It also was assumed to have been written in the middle ages until it was also discovered in the Dead Sea Caves. Evidently, the Jewish community responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls found value in this book as well. It is also interesting to note that the "Testament of Naphtali" mentions the book of Enoch.

"These things I say unto you, my children, for I have read in the writing of Enoch that ye yourselves also shall depart from the Lord, walking according to all the lawlessness of the Gentiles, and ye shall do according to all the wickedness of Sodom". (1.28)

The Book of Enoch and the Book of Leviticus

Many times these "other" books will shed light on obscure passages of the Bible. In the book of Leviticus we read about the two goats brought to the Tabernacle on Yom Kippur.

"Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before Yahueh at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for Yahueh and the other marked for Azazel". (16.7,8)

The goat marked for Yahueh is sacrificed to God in the Tabernacle while all the sins of the people are placed on the other goat and it is sent into the wilderness. Jewish tradition states that the goat was taken to a cliff and thrown down onto the rocks. There has been much speculation to the meaning of "Azazel". As the first goat is marked for Yahueh, it would make sense that Azazel is also an entity, god or man.

The book of Enoch provides us with the answer.

"And there mine eyes saw how they made these their instruments, iron chains of immeasurable weight. And I asked the angel of peace who went with me, saying: "For whom are these chains being prepared? And he said unto me: "These are being prepared for the hosts of Azazel, so that they may take them and cast them into the abyss of complete condemnation, and they shall cover their jaws with rough stones as the Lord of Spirits commanded. And Michael, and Gabriel, and Raphael, and Phanuel shall take hold of them on that great day, and cast them on that day into the burning furnace, that the Lord of Spirits may take vengeance on them for their unrighteousness in becoming subject to Satan and leading astray those who dwell on the earth". (54:3-6)

Conclusion

The current history and understanding of God's people has been written and revised by the current mainstream religious instituations. It is our goal to discover a more accurate picture of the history of God's people. There are many books, many more than the recognized canon, which can reveal the truth of how these ancient people lived, worshiped, fought and died. These books may cause us to rethink our beliefs but they will open doors to newer and greater understandings.