What is the true Biblical Canon of the Christian Church, and how is it Divinely Inspired? It is important, as the Word of God should form the basis of all doctrine, and is the foundation of how we should live our life. All of the teachings of Jesus were based on the Word of God, and as He is the Word of God made flesh, His words also became part of the Biblical canon.
The Biblical canon evolved over a long period of time, beginning with the Hebrew canon of the Jewish Church. The basic criteria of the early church of the first four centuries was to gather valid documents of witness testimony concerning the teachings of Jesus. But which books are Divinely inspired? Which Biblical canon is correct among the different churches? Which should be treated as the Word of God, and those that are the words of men?
For answers, let us simply look at what Jesus had to say on the matter, and then follow this with the revelations on the Biblical canon given to the New Church. For Jesus is the one authority from Whom we should seek guidance:
You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. (Matt. 23:8-10)
CONFIRMATIONS ON THE HEBREW CANON BY JESUS
Let's start with the Hebrew canon of scripture which preceded the Christian church. The Hebrew canon, also known as the Tanakh, is divided into three main sections:
1. The Law, or the Law of Moses, also known as the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
2. The Prophets, also known as the Nevi'im: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve Prophets (the 12 minor prophets)
3. The Writings, also known as the Ketuvim: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehehiah, Chronicles.
The first two sections of the Hebrew canon, the Law and the Prophets, are directly referenced by Jesus and are definitely part of the Biblical canon:
Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Matt. 5:17)Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 7:12)Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. (Matt. 22:37-40)
Among these statements, there is even a more specific statement from Jesus concerning the Prophets:
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John; if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come (Matt. 11:13)
I single out this particular quote, because here Jesus states that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah. This is the very last prophecy in the book of Malachi:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Mal. 4:5-6)
This is not only the final passage in the book of Malachi, but also Malachi is the last book in the Prophets of the Hebrew canon. There is a similar confirmation given by Jesus in another passage:
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (Matt. 23:34-35)
Abel was murdered by his brother Cain in Genesis, but who is Zechariah the son of Barachiah? Several commentators identified him with the high priest Zechariah ben Jehoiada, whose death is recorded in 2 Chron 24:20:21, the last book in the Writings in the present day Hebrew canon. This is incorrect, as his father is recorded as Jehoiada, not Barachiah. Jesus here is referencing the prophet Zechariah, the second to last prophet right before Malachi: the prophet Zechariah is declared to be "son of Berechiah" (Zech. 1:1). His manner of death is not recorded. To "shed blood" does not just mean to kill, but in the spiritual sense signifies to profane and distort the truth, which the Jews had done with scriptures leading to their denial of Jesus Christ.
JESUS CONFIRMS THE BOOK OF DANIEL AS SCRIPTURE
“So when you see the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains!" (Matt. 24:15)This shows that the book of Daniel was once included among the Prophets in the Hebrew canon, but was moved out among the Writings. Why? The theory of modern scholars is that portions of Daniel were written later during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the second century B.C. However Josephus records that the book of Daniel was shown to Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C., and several copies were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the 2nd century B.C. (see Josephus on Alexander the Great and the Book of Daniel). Moreover, the apocryphal book of Enoch, written around this time, borrowed some of its material from Daniel. Moreover, Aramaic scholars indicate that the Aramaic of Daniel dates from the period of 700-200 B.C., rather than the later period of 200 B.C.- 200 A.D. (see Aramaic and the Old Testament - Part 1). The problem here is with the scholars who are rather ignorant or in denial of prophetic visions.
Perhaps Daniel was placed among the Writings, which were regarded as a lesser authority, because a large portion was written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew, and Hebrew was considered the sacred language. This would have to ignore the fact that Gen. 31:47 and Jer. 10:11 are written in Aramaic. And indeed I found evidence that is the case. In the Talmud, specifically Megillah 3a, there is a story of some rabbis who began to translate Hebrew into Aramaic, and then were forbidden to do so as God's secrets were only allowed to be known among the Jews, or that Aramaic would begin to reveal some hidden secrets (there is actually a good example of this in Psalms 2:12 which has puzzled scholars - see Psalm 2:12 | Kiss the Son or Embrace Purity? - the correct answer is "Kiss the Son"). Aramaic translations of scripture played an important role around this time for rabbinic Judaism. The translator had translated the Law and the Prophets, but was not allowed to translate the Writings (Ketuvim) because it contained the book of Daniel. The Talmud then gives an interesting answer as why this is the case:
"What is the reason that he was denied permission to translate the Writings? Because it has in it a revelation of the end, when the Messiah will arrive. The end is foretold in a cryptic manner in the book of Daniel, and were the book of Daniel translated, the end would become manifestly revealed to all."This is rather interesting - Daniel chapter 9 is a 490 year prophecy beginning in 457 B.C. and ending in 34 A.D., predicting the coming of the Messiah in 31 A.D. As the Talmud was compiled in the 4th-5th centuries A.D., it is quite possible that even the Jews could not deny that the book of Daniel predicted the coming of Jesus Christ. And thus they decided to move the book of Daniel from the Prophets to the Writings, using the excuse that a portion of it was written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew. This section of the Talmud also gives a weak explanation of why Daniel was not a prophet compared to Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three prophets. The reason? Unlike other prophets Daniel did not send his message to the Jews. More likely, the Jewish scribes wanted to lower the priority of the book of Daniel due to its Messianic prophecies fulfilled in Jesus. We now know from the revelations of the New Church that indeed a judgment occurred in the spiritual world upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, fulfilling the prophecies that the Jews study hours on end without knowing the meaning. So this statement from the Talmud is remarkably accurate.
JESUS CONFIRMS THE PSALMS AS SCRIPTURE
These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. (Luke 24:44)This should come as no surprise as Jesus often quoted from the Psalms as scripture, and is one of the most often quoted books in the New Testament.
JESUS CONFIRMS PROVERBS AS SCRIPTURE
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:38)
What book is Jesus quoting? This has puzzled scholars. A note in the ESV says Jesus may be alluding to Isa. 58:11, Ezek. 47:1-12, or Zech. 14:8. Others have suggested allusions in Jer. 2:13, 17:13 and Ps. 63:1. However none of these passages fit. Jesus may be paraphrasing, and if so He probably was referencing this verse, which is the only one that speaks of waters flowing out of a person:
The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, a flowing river, a fountain of wisdom. (Prov. 18:4)
Jesus, however, was not quoting this passage directly, but rather He was referencing the book of Proverbs as a whole. Nowhere in the verse does it say "Whoever believes in Me." However the book has these verses at the beginning:
Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. (Prov. 1:20-23)The word for "pour" is the same Hebrew word for "flowing" in Prov. 18:4 which Jesus paraphrased, and Prov. 1:23 and 18:4 are the only two verses that use the word in this manner, and it appears only two other times in Proverbs with a different meaning. This suggests that Jesus conflated the two verses in a paraphrase. Wisdom is personified crying out for people to listen, which is a representation of the Word made flesh. However one other aspect of Jesus' quote is that He mentions water flowing out of the heart. This comes from another verse in Proverbs:
Counsel in a man’s heart is deep water; but a man of understanding draws it out. (Prov. 20:5)Again, the phrase "deep water" is mentioned only in Proverbs 18:4 and this verse. This leads me to believe Jesus had memorized the whole book, and unified verses that mentioned the same Hebrew words.
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (Matt. 16:27)
And this is based off another verse from Proverbs:
Will he not repay man according to his work? (Prov. 24:12)And one other:
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Rev. 3:19)
Which is based on this verse:
The LORD reproves him whom he loves (Prov. 3:12)
THE BOOK OF JOB AS SCRIPTURE
If we look across all the quotes of the Old Testament, among the Writings only Psalms and Proverbs are quoted or referenced by Jesus. If we expand our search to quotes by the apostles, Paul quotes Job three times and Job is referenced in James 5:11. However for the book of Job there is a direct reference in the book of Ezekiel, including a reference to the prophet Daniel (Ezek. 14:14,20). Jesus not only considered Ezekiel among the prophets, but directly quotes the book of Ezekiel (Mark 8:18 quotes Ezek. 12:2 and Mark 6:34 references Ezek. 34:5).
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER BOOKS OF THE WRITINGS?
The book of Ruth was most likely written around the time of Ezra in the 5th century B.C. as it deals with intermarriage, an issue that arose during that time (see Ezra 9:1, Neh. 13:1). Although Ecclesiastes has been attributed to Solomon, internal language indicates it was also written around the time of Ezra at the earliest. Scholars examining the book of Esther now know that it was likely written in the 4th century B.C. and was most likely intended as a historical novel. Also among the Writings is the book of Lamentations, which according to tradition was written by Jeremiah."The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra 14b–15a) gives their order as Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Daniel, Scroll of Esther, Ezra, Chronicles. In Tiberian Masoretic codices, including the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, and often in old Spanish manuscripts as well, the order is Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Esther, Daniel, Ezra."
By the time of the first century A.D., however, the collection of books in the Writings was somewhat fluctuating as Josephus mentions that the Biblical canon contained 22 books instead of 24, indicating two of the books in the Writings were not yet considered canonical. We also know that certain books among the Writings were debated among the Jews in the first century A.D. From Development of the Hebrew Bible Canon:
"The Mishnah, compiled at the end of the 2nd century CE, describes a debate over the status of some books of Ketuvim, and in particular over whether or not they render the hands ritually impure. Yadaim 3:5 calls attention to a debate over Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes."
THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE GREEK SEPTUAGINT
The Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek in the 3rd and 2nd centuries A.D., due to the fact that Greek became a de facto language during the Greek empire and was widely known. Unfortunately, the Septuagint added additional books to the canon, as well as spurious additions that were never part of the Hebrew scriptures. Thus early on the Jewish rabbis rejected the Septuagint. These books, however, entered into the Biblical canon of the early church, and were not removed until the Reformation. They are now known as the "Apocrypha." Other works added in other branches of the church that were never part of the Hebrew scriptures are more generally known as "Deuterocanonical" works. The Septuagint also mixed up the order of the Biblical canon, and for the most part is the main determining factor for the order of the books of the Old Testament as we have it today, which unfortunately mixes the Prophets with the books of the Writings.
INTERNAL EVIDENCE OF DIVINE INSPIRATION
In the 18th century, the scientist Emanuel Swedenborg received a series of waking visions over a period of 27 years that revealed the internal spiritual sense of the Bible, where it was revealed that scripture has multiple levels of meaning: the natural or most literal sense, then a more symbolic spiritual sense, and higher than that, the celestial sense. These waking visions occurred after he had an encounter with Jesus, and part of his mission was to reveal how and why the Bible was Divinely Inspired. The proof for which books are Divinely inspired is laid out in full in several volumes. So which books of the Bible are Divinely inspired? They are those that contain an internal spiritual sense, for when reading them the scripture connects our external minds to the thoughts of angels and to the ultimate Divine. Swedenborg spelled it out in the following passage:
"The books of the Word are all those which have the internal sense; books which do not have it are not the Word. The books of the Word in the Old Testament are: The five Books of Moses; the Book of Joshua; the Book of Judges; the two Books of Samuel; the two Books of Kings; the Psalms of David; and the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10325)So how does the above list compare with what Jesus definitely declared as scripture? It includes every book of the Law and the Prophets, and the book of Daniel is recognized as belonging among the Prophets as well. Among the Writings it acknowledges the Psalms, as well as the book of Lamentations indicating it was indeed written by Jeremiah according to long standing tradition. Thus the list matches exactly what Jesus said when referencing the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44).
THE BOOKS OF JOB, PROVERBS AND SONG OF SOLOMON
- The book must be focused on the Lord and His church.
- The book must contain within it an internal spiritual sense.
- The internal spiritual sense must be written in a sequential series.
The first criteria is easy to see to everyone, and it is because of this criteria that there was debate among the Jews concerning the Song of Solomon. It is also true for the book of Job:
"That the book of Job is a book of the Ancient Church is manifest, as has been mentioned, from its representative and significative style; but it is not of those books which are called the Law and the Prophets, because it has not an internal sense which treats solely of the Lord and of His kingdom; it is this alone which makes a book of the genuine Word." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3540)However in other passages, Swedenborg notes that the book of Job contains an internal spiritual sense (Apocalypse Explained, 740.15). Thus it is quoted as support in explaining certain passages of scripture. The Song of Solomon is similar and is also quoted as scripture, but like Job it is a collection of sayings rather than written in a cohesive series (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9942.5, 3942.2).
As for the book of Proverbs it is not mentioned directly by Swedenborg, but it falls into the same category as Job and Song of Solomon: it is a collection of sayings but they are not written in a cohesive series. It is only implicitly referenced where he says "we are told in the Word that a person will be judged according to his works" (Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 281). This is mentioned in Matt. 16:27, which in turn references Pro. 24:12.
With the exception of Daniel, Psalms and Lamentations, what is apparent is the Writings was perhaps originally intended to be considered as "Ancillary Writings" to be used in support of scripture, provide additional historical context, or preserve an ancient Hebrew writing. But among these the books of Job, Proverbs and Song of Solomon have a higher status as they contain individual sayings that contain an internal spiritual sense that are useful in support of genuine scripture.
THE LOST BOOK OF JASHER
And lastly, for internal evidence that it is indeed a copy of an ancient account, see The Astronomy of the Birth of Abraham. In terms of its canonical status, I would include it as scripture, with caveats. Ideally we would need a critical edition that would point out to the reader what are probably the later additions to the work.
THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
For the New Testament, the words of Jesus are the Word of God and should be considered higher priority than those of the Apostles. In the revelations given to the New Church, it was shown only the four Gospels and the book of Revelation have an internal spiritual sense, and thus should be considered genuine scripture (Heavenly Arcana, 10325).
So what about the letters of the apostles? These are written in a different style, and provide useful doctrinal teachings for the church. Thus by their nature they are of lesser authority than the words of Jesus. Since they do not have an internal spiritual sense, they are not Divinely inspired in the way that genuine scripture is. In his private diary, Swedenborg indicated that the letters of Paul, although not having an internal spiritual sense, were "Divinely influenced" in terms of their overall subject matter:
"...the Lord spoke from Divine Wisdom Itself, by correspondences, exactly as He also spoke by the prophets, consequently from His own Divine; and that Paul indeed spoke from inspiration, but not in the same way as the prophets, to whom every single word was dictated but that his inspiration was that he received an influx, according to those things which were with him, which is quite a different inspiration, and has no conjunction with heaven by correspondences." (Spiritual Diary, n. 6062)In a private letter to Harley Swedenborg explains this further:
"With reference to the writings of the Apostles and Paul I have not included these in ARCANA COELESTIA, and this for the reason that they are doctrinal writings, and so are not written in the style of the Word as are the Prophets, David, the Gospels, and the Revelation. The style of the Word wholly consists of correspondences, on which account it effects an immediate communication with heaven. In the doctrinal writings, however, there is another style which indeed communicates with heaven, but mediately. That they were so written by the Apostles was in order that the new Christian Church might commence through these, on which account doctrinal matters could not be written in the very style of the Word, but in a manner that might be more clearly and more directly understood. Nonetheless, the writings of the Apostles are good books for the Church, maintaining the doctrine of charity and its faith as strongly as ever did the Lord Himself in the Gospels and in the Revelation, as can be clearly seen and observed if one attends to the matter while reading those writings."So in other words, the writings of the apostles should be considered as ancillary writings, in the same way that the Jews created another section of scripture called the Writings or Ketuvim. And there is actually another hidden reason for this, from Divine Providence: these ancillary writings protect the most holy scriptures from being profaned by falsehoods:
"That the Epistles of Paul have not an internal sense is known in the other life; but it is permitted that they may be in the Church, lest those who are of the Church should work evil to the Word of the Lord, in which is the internal sense. For if man lives ill, and yet believes in the holy Word, then he works evil to heaven; therefore the Epistles of Paul are permitted, and therefore Paul was not permitted to take one parable, not even a doctrine, from the Lord, and to expound and unfold it; but he took all things from himself. The Church, indeed, explains the Word of the Lord, but by means of the Epistles of Paul; for which reason also it everywhere departs from the good of charity, and accepts the truth of faith; which, however, the Lord has taught, but in such wise that the good of charity should be the all." (Spiritual Diary, n. 4824)This actually solves quite a few issues. There are some doctrinal issues with the letters of Paul, where he can easily be taken out of context. In the quote of Rom. 3:10-18, Paul actually quoted from the Septuagint version of Psalm 14 which includes a spurious addition. And note: Paul admitted that at times he gave his own opinions, that were not from the Lord:
"To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)" (1 Cor. 7:12)"(I speak as a man)" (Rom. 3:5)
"I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh" (Rom. 6:19)
"That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting." (2 Cor. 11:17)
"(I speak foolishly,)" (2 Cor. 11:21)
"(I speak as a fool)" (2 Cor. 11:23)
"Brethren, I speak after the manner of men" (Gal. 3:15)
So according to Paul himself, he sometimes speaks from himself, sometimes from the Lord.
In addition to this, the letter of Jude, and the epistles of Peter, reference the apocryphal book of Enoch as scripture, which was written around the second century B.C. If it is understood that there are different levels of inspiration, and that these are doctrinal writings, then readers can have a more nuanced understanding of the texts. Quotations by apostles have lower authority that quotations of scripture by Jesus (see comment below).
A SUMMARY OF THE BIBLICAL CANON
To conclude, here is a summary of the Biblical canon as discussed in this article, with a tentative proposal as to its order:
- The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
- The early Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
- The latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Twelve Prophets
- The Psalms: Psalms
- Poetic Writings: Job, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach
- Historical Writings: Jasher, Ruth, Chronicles, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, 1 Maccabees
- Gospels and Revelation: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Revelation
- Apostolic Writings: everything else as we have it now in the New Testament
The book of Psalms is followed by the Writings, which is divided into poetic, historical and fictional sections. The Psalms is immediately followed by Job. Ezekiel mentions Noah, Daniel and Job in two passages (Ezek. 14:14,20). Noah is mentioned in the Law, Daniel is in the Prophets, and Job here represents the third section of scripture which can be classified as "Psalms and Poetry." These prophets were used signify the entirety of the Word as testimony against the Jews. In its spiritual sense, Swedenborg confirms that these three men signify all the truths of the Word (Apocalypse Explained, 724.28).
Although the book of Jasher can be placed between Deuteronomy and Joshua, to be conservative I have placed it in the historical Writings since it does include later additions.
Although the book of Jasher can be placed between Deuteronomy and Joshua, to be conservative I have placed it in the historical Writings since it does include later additions.
After further consideration, I decided to add a couple of works that are among the "Deuterocanonical" works in the Catholic canon to the Writings, noted in italics above: Sirach and 1 Maccabees. Maccabees covers important historical events that partially fulfilled the prophecies of Daniel. There is evidence portions of Sirach were referenced in the New Testament. For the New Testament, two other books that may be useful to the church is the epistle of Clement as well as the Shepherd of Hermas.