Bible Light: Less Filling or Tastes Great?

Sometime ago, Mr. Scheifler wrote an article on the Hebrew Canon. I took the opportunity to respond to three of his arguments in my piece Are Deuterocanonical books part of the Bible? Recently, Mr. Scheifler has offered his own rebuttal to my original response. The following piece therefore represents my latest, revised response. Mr. Scheifler’s comments will be in green.

Mr. Scheifler opposed my assertion that the canon of the Old Testament in Jesus’ time was still open-ended. In his rebuttal, he first tried by citing a series of verses to convince his readers that the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” or “Moses and the Prophets” or “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and Psalms” or “Scripture” refers to the 39 books in the Protestant Old Testament (or 24 books of the Jewish Scripture.) However, the Jewish Scripture has three divisions: the Law (Torah), The Prophets (Nevim) and the Writings (Ketuvim). Thus, the phrase “the Law (or Moses) and the Prophets” refers only to the first two divisions, not the whole Jewish Scripture [1]. The New Testament never applies the complete phrase “the Law, the Prophets and the Writings” to the Scripture in Jesus’ time. The closest reference to the three divisions of the Jewish Scripture in the New Testament comes from Luke 24:44 which says “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and Psalms”, of which Mr. Scheifler wrote “he [Jesus] means every book of the Old Testament.” The problem with his argument is that there is support neither from the New Testament nor from any Jewish source to suggest that naming one book means including the rest. The whole Law is never represented by Genesis and all of the Prophets is never represented by Joshua. Likewise, then, the Psalms does not represent all of the Writings! Thus, if anything, Luke 24:44 further supports my contention that only the first two divisions of the Jewish Scripture were closed in Jesus’ time, and certainly not the “Writings”. (We will return to Luke 24:44 later to see what Jesus really meant.) Moreover, the absence of any citation in the New Testament from a number of books of the third division (Esther, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Ezra and Nehemiah) gives further support that the canon was still open-ended in that time. Even a neutral Jewish source states that it remained open-ended until the second century after the birth of Our Lord:

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to show that the collection of the Ketuvim as a whole, as well as some individual books within it, was not accepted as being finally closed until well into the second century c.e.

As noted above, the practice of calling the entire Scriptures the “Torah and Prophets” presupposes a considerable lapse of time between the canonization of the second and third parts of the Bible. The fact that the last division had no fixed name points in the same direction. Even the finally adopted designation “Ketuvim” is indeterminate, since it is also used in Rabbinic Hebrew in the two senses of the Scriptures in general and in individual texts in particular.

Encyclopedia Judaica Vol. 4 page 824 (emphasis added)

On page 825 the same encyclopedia says that some still cited Sirach as Scripture and as part of Ketuvim in the second century, even after the rabbis declared it uncanonical.

Does the term “Scripture” refer to all 39 books of a Protestant’s Old Testament, as Mr. Scheifler contends? The accepted books of the Law (or any book of the Prophets, for that matter) were certainly not “shelved” just because all of the other inspired books were not yet written or canonized before Jesus and others could refer to them as Scripture! For example, in the first year of the reign of Darius (Daniel 9:2), Daniel already read Jeremiah as the Word of the Lord. He did not need to wait until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah who received the word of the Lord in the second year of Darius reign (Haggai 1:1, Zechariah 1:1), wrote their books and/or until the Book of Daniel itself was written (some say it was written in c. 170 BC) to be recognized as Scripture. Thus, the term Scripture and the phrase “all the Scriptures” in Luke 24:27 refers only to those who were already accepted in that time. Later, Christians extended the canon to include books of both Old and New Testaments, none of the latter were written in Jesus’ time.

Mr. Scheifler also referred to 2 Corinthians 3:14 as a proof that the Old Testament was already defined, but he failed to acknowledge the impact of the very next verse. 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 of KJV, translates the Greek word “diatheke” as “testament” (other translations prefer “covenant”)

But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart (2 Cor. 3:14-15).

The translated phrase “old testament” does not refer to list of books known to us as the Old Testament but to the old covenant of Law from Moses. If Mr. Scheifler insists that it does, then his “Old Testament” should comprise five books of Moses, as verse 15 indicates. For further support that his interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:14 is wrong, let’s look at 2 Corinthians 3:6 (KJV, emphasis mine)

Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (2 Cor. 3:6)

Did Paul here equate “new testament” with 27 books of our New Testament? When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, a number of the current canonical books were not even written yet! Note also the phrase “not of the letter, but of the spirit”: does it represent books of the New Testament? Thus, the Greek word diatheke is to be understood as covenant, not as canonized list of inspired books.

In relation to my statement that the Septuagint also has “the Law and the Prophets” Mr. Scheifler wrote “Are the same books of the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew Canon also found in the Septuagint? Yes, they most certainly are. However, the Septuagint has never had the identical division and grouping of the Hebrew Canon into the Law and Prophets (and Writings), which is what the above statement seeks to conceal from the reader.” In my articles on the Bible and on the canon of the Old Testament, I explained that the Septuagint (or LXX) has four divisions: the Law, Historical books, Poetical books and the Prophets. Thus, the LXX does have the Law and the Prophets in its four divisions. The Law of LXX has five books of Moses but its Prophets is longer and includes Daniel, which, in the Jewish Scripture, belongs to the third division.

Now let’s see whether there is a possibility that Jesus referred to the LXX in Luke 24:44. In Luke 24:44, Jesus clearly stated that He fulfilled everything in “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” concerning Himself. Suppose Jesus followed the Jewish Scripture’s three-fold division, other than Psalms and Daniel, is there any reference to Jesus in the rest of the Writings (Proverbs, Job, Ruth, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles)?[2].

Jesus said that He fulfilled everything written in the Law, Prophets and Psalms. Psalms is one book of the third division of the Jewish scriptures. The third division or the Writings (Ketuvim) also includes Daniel. In other places, Jesus quoted prophecies in Daniel to refer to Himself; so it is strange that He did not include Daniel in Luke 24:44. Thus, while Mr. Scheifler says that Psalms represents all books of the Writings including Daniel, in Luke 24:44 Jesus may be placing Daniel as one book of the Prophets. If He did so, then He followed the LXX divisions, which thereby nullifes Mr. Scheifler’s argument.

Obviously, Mr. Scheifler denies this fact since he says: “There is absolutely nothing in the cited verses that in any way indicate that Christ was endorsing the canon of any version of the Septuagint (the three oldest versions of the Septuagint all differ in the books they include, and their sequence!), much less indicating the placement of the book of Daniel. To suggest that Jesus was referring to the Septuagint is to say that black may in fact really be white.” However, what I wrote is that “it may indicate that Christ followed LXX grouping”, not that He endorsed the LXX as a canon of the Old Testament. There is no evidence that He or His apostles gave us the list of inspired books. Had they done so, then Christians from the very beginning would agree which books were inspired, which was not the case. Mr. Scheifler is right to say that the order and number of books in the LXX differ according to different manuscripts. As for different sequence or order, even books of the Latter Prophets and Writings of the Jewish Scripture had different ordering in the past [3]. All the three manuscripts of the LXX (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus) shown in his essay on the Hebrew Canon has Daniel as one book of the Prophets. According to the first century AD testimony of Josephus, the Jewish Scripture had three divisions: the Law (5 books), the Prophets (13 books) and Hymns & Moral Precepts (4 books). He did not name the books but this three division (which differs from the present Jewish Scripture) it is likely he placed Daniel as one of the Prophets.

Let’s move to the next part of Mr. Scheifler’s rebuttal where he tried to interpret the phrase “from Abel to Zechariah, son of Barechiah” in Matthew 23:35 to mean “from Genesis to Chronicles”. His interpretation (the standard among Protestants) would be wrong if either one or both of the following is true: (1) Zechariah, son of Jehoiada of 2 Chronicles was not the one Jesus meant; (2) Chronicles was not the last book of the Jewish Scripture in Jesus’ time. Granted, most commentaries (including the Catholic Encyclopedia) favour the position that Zechariah of 2 Chronicles was the one Jesus meant. A few scholars have proposed the prophet Zachariah, the son of Berachiah and who, together with Haggai and Malachi, were the last Jewish prophets [4]. The Bible is silent in how and where he died [5]. Now let’s see whether in Jesus’ time there is any evidence that Chronicles was the last book. When I pointed out that the order of books could not be clearly defined, Mr. Scheifler became rather frustrated. He wrote: “The above is nothing but an attempt to muddy the waters, to obfuscate the truth and dissipate any understanding of the clear intention of the words of Christ”. Mr. Scheifler cannot deny that Chronicles was not always the last book of the Jewish Scripture. He tried to minimize the impact by writing “placing Chronicles as the first book of the third division, is not particularly significant”. But, as he well knows, it is significant since it will jeopardize his interpretation of Matthew 23:35. If Chronicles was not always the last book of the Jewish Scripture, then there is no guarantee that it was so in Jesus’ time (provided the order of scrolls could be defined). Mr. Scheifler went on to write: “modern reprints of the Leningrad Codex have moved the book of Chronicles back to its traditional place at the end of the Ketuvim”. The fact that they did so does not change the location of Chronicles as the first book of the third division in the original Leningrad Codex. Five out of eight ancient arrangement of books of the Writings have Chronicles as the last book, including the earliest known, dated end of 2nd century AD [6]. Even earlier, however, is the first century AD testimony of Josephus (in the preceding paragraph) where Chronicles cannot belong to the third division (Hymns and Moral Precepts), let alone become its last book. In conclusion, therefore, with respect to Matthew 23:35 or Luke 11:51, Jesus had no intention to tell us the limit of the Old Testament canon.

Near the end of his rebuttal Mr. Scheifler wrote “The assertion that the Old Testament canon was still open-ended in apostolic times is flatly contradicted by the collective words of Christ in Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51, and Luke 24:44, which firmly and unequivocally endorse the content, ordering and divisions of only the Hebrew canon.” If he still insists that the canon of the Old Testament was already closed in apostolic times, then he should be able to explain why the New Testament still cites sources from outside the 39 books of his Old Testament. Examples include Jude 9 and 14-16; 2 Peter 2:22 places Proverb 26:11 on par with a proverb from outside the Bible. The common reply is that they are not cited as Scripture, but how do we draw a line between what is cited as Scripture and what is not cited as Scripture? John 7:38 and James 4:5 have the phrase “Scripture says” but we cannot identify from whence they come. Paul text in 1 Corinthians 2:9 is preceded with the phrase “it is written” but it only resembles Isaiah 64:4.

About the deuterocanonical books, Mr. Scheifler wrote “The deutero/apocryphal books, while written by Jews, were never universally accepted as canonical by the majority of the Jewish community.” Yet, the Jews also universally rejected Jesus as the Messiah, since there is no reason for them to accept the decision of the Church on the canon of the Bible. In relation to Romans 3:2 in his essay on the Hebrew canon, Mr. Scheifler wrote “As the designated custodians of the inspired word of God, they knew which books were canonical, and which were not, and they knew this without the assistance of the yet to appear Catholic Church.” Whilst they did define their canon of 24 books (equal to 39 books of Protestant Bible), it was done after the time of Christ (admitted even by a Jewish source like the Encyclopedia Judaica). Christians are not obliged to follow a Jewish Council, especially considering what Jesus taught through His parable of the vineyard’s tenants in Matthew 21:33-41.

Finally, together with all Protestants, Mr. Scheifler rejects the authority of the Church in determining the canon of the Bible. He wrote: “It can be concluded with confidence, from the words of Christ cited, that every Roman Catholic council that defined the canon, including the allegedly infallible declaration of the Council of Trent, was in error, and every Catholic Bible printed contains non-canonical apocryphal books that are not a part of the inspired Old Testament.” If Mr. Scheifler rejects the authority of the Church, then how does he know that his New Testament has twenty-seven books? Did Jesus and/or any of His apostles tell him that all of them are inspired?

Mr. Scheifler reply
(appended to his rebuttal at the bottom)

In his reply Mr. Scheifler attempted to make my statement contradict a statement of the Pontifical Bible Commission in their work: “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible”.

According to Mr. Scheifler the Pontifical Bible Commission agrees with him that the phrase “the Law of Moses, the Prophet and Psalms” or “the Law and the Prophets” means all 39 books of his Old Testament. He wrote: “The Pontifical Bible Commission, in context, apparently considers Luke 24:44 to refer to the whole of the Hebrew Old Testament – “all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27), and does not specifically exclude any of the other books of the third division that begins with Psalms. Perhaps Mr. Hartono should write the commission and inform them of their misinterpretation.” Let’s see whether the Pontifical Bible Commission believes so in the following (emphasis mine):

The Extension of the Canon of Scripture

1. In Judaism
…….. It now seems more probable that at the time of Christianity’s birth, closed collections of the Law and the Prophets existed in a textual form substantially identical with the Old Testament. The collection of “Writings”, on the other hand, was not as well defined either in Palestine or in the Jewish diaspora, with regard to the number of books and their textual form. Towards the end of the first century A.D., it seems that 2422 [24/22] books were generally accepted by Jews as sacred, but it is only much later that the list became exclusive. When the limits of the Hebrew canon were fixed, the deuterocanonical books were not included.
Many of the books belonging to the third group of religious texts, not yet fixed, were regularly read in Jewish communities during the first century A.D. They were translated into Greek and circulated among Hellenistic Jews, both in Palestine and in the diaspora.

2. In the Early Church
Since the first Christians were for the most part Palestinian Jews, either “Hebrew” or “Hellenistic” (cf. Ac 6:1), their views on Scripture would have reflected those of their environment, but we are poorly informed on the subject. Nevertheless, the writings of the New Testament suggest that a sacred literature wider than the Hebrew canon circulated in Christian communities. Generally, the authors of the New Testament manifest a knowledge of the deuterocanonical books and other non-canonical ones since the number of books cited in the New Testament exceeds not only the Hebrew canon, but also the so-called Alexandrian canon. ………

Thus, the substance of my comments about the canon of the Old Testament being open-ended (i.e. only the Law and the Prophets were accepted and the limit of Writings was not defined) is in complete harmony with what the Pontifical Bible Commission wrote. Their statement indicates that the Writings also includes books that were later translated into Greek and circulated among Hellenistic Jews in diaspora. They also state that the New Testament even cites sources from outside the (Catholic) Old Testament. In the event that I am wrong in interpreting Luke 24:44, and Psalms indeed represent the whole Writings, then the Scripture referred as “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”, according to the Pontifical Bible Commission, is STILL not limited to the 24 books of the Jewish Scripture.

Did the Pontifical Bible Commission believe that the term “old testament” in 2 Corinthians 3:14 refer to 24 books of the Jewish Scripture? Mr. Scheifler thought so when he wrote “In context, the Pontifical Biblical Commission is clearly interpreting 2 Cor. 3:14 to mean the entire Old Testament of the Jews, and not just the Old Covenant Law from Moses. Again, it seems that Mr. Hartono should inform Rome of their error.” On the contrary, Mr. Scheifler did not pay attention on what the PBC wrote (emphasis mine), which ironically he also quoted (and emphasized) in his reply.


……….. A perennial manifestation of this link to their beginnings is the acceptance by Christians of the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people as the Word of God addressed to themselves as well. Indeed, the Church has accepted as inspired by God all the writings contained in the Hebrew Bible as well as those in the Greek Bible. The title “Old Testament” given to this collection of writings is an expression coined by the apostle Paul to designate the writings attributed to Moses (cf. 2 Co 3:14-15). Its scope has been extended, since the end of the second century, to include other Jewish writings in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. ………..

Their statement indicates that when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the term “old testament (covenant)” meant only the five books of Moses. Since the end of second century (after the apostolic time) Christians, not Paul, have extended the term “Old Testament” to include other books in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Mr. Scheifler apparently failed to see the phrase “Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek books”, which includes not only the rest of protocanonical books but other books as well. Finally, Mr. Scheifler wrote “Or, are Roman Catholics free to give their own private interpretations regarding Scripture, even if it contradicts Magisterial teaching?” I would like to assure him that if what I wrote contradicts the Magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church, I will humbly withdraw it. As any fair reader can ascertain, however, it is Mr. Scheifler who is in error here.

In any case, if I were a Seventh Day Adventist like Mr. Scheifler, then I would not try to find support from the Pontifical Bible Commission; he has simply wasted his time as they will never support his position that the Old Testament comprises only the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament Canon.

Wibisono Hartono
Catholic Legate
September 7, 2002

[1] Melito, bishop of Sardis (in present day Turkey) in c. 170 AD referred the Old Testament as “the Law and the Prophets”. His list of Old Testament has only those two divisions. The Law (of Moses) has 19 books and comprises 5 books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four Kingdoms (Samuel and Kings), two Chronicles, Psalms, Proverb, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and Job. The Prophets has 6 books and comprises Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Daniel, Ezekiel and Esdras (Ezra-Nehemiah). Lamentations is traditionally combined with Jeremiah but Esther and deuterocanonical books are not included. It may look strange that he attributed to Moses books like Psalms etc., however in John 10:34 Psalms was considered as part of the Law, but so was Isaiah 28:11-12 in 1 Corinthians 14:21. The fact that Melito went to the east (i.e. Palestine) before he prepared his list shows that even in the end of second century AD, there was still a diversity in the number of both division and books of the Old Testament.

[2] In his book, “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” (1999), Protestant apologist Josh McDowell dedicated Chapter 8, pages 164 to 202 to list and to explain all reference to Jesus in the Jewish Scripture (Protestant Old Testament). Other than Psalms and Daniel, the other references in Writings are 1 Chronicles 17:11-14, which has parallel in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 (of the Prophets). For the rest, he has references in the Law (Genesis, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and in the Prophets (Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi).

[3] Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 4, pages 828-830.

[4] Other candidates are Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist and, following Josephus, Zechariah son of Baruch or Baris who was murdered by the Zealots in the temple in c. 68 AD.

[5] The New American Commentary, Vol. 22, page 349 refers to a paper, Blank, S.H. (1937-8): The Death of Zechariah in Rabbinic Literature, Hebrew Union College Annual, Vol. 12-13, pages 327-346. The author refers to a comment on Targum to Lamentations 2.20 saying that prophet Zechariah, son of Iddo, the High Priest, was murdered in the sanctuary of the Lord on the day of Atonement.

[6] Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 4, pages 827. It is not a manuscript of the Jewish Scripture but a quotation from baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Baba Bathra 14b.
Our Rabbis taught: the order of the Prophets is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Twelve ……….; The order of the Ketuvim is Ruth, the Book of Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, the Scroll of Esther, Ezra and Chronicles.

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