Here is a brief look at how the canon of the Old Testament came together. The world religion of Judaism uses what is sometimes called the Hebrew Bible, which is also known as the Old Testament. The Protestant Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament, the New Testament–with the Apocrypha contained in some editions–though it is not considered as Scripture, but rather, possibly good for edification. The Roman Catholic Bible contains the Old Testament, the New Testament, and eleven of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha (a word that means “hidden“). The Church of Rome has authoritatively treated the Apocrypha as Scripture since their Council of Trent in 1546.

These Apocryphal books themselves are a collection of writings that are of questionable authorship and are not considered to be inspired by God as Scripture by either Judaism, nor by the vast majority of Protestant Christianity. The reason for that is actually fairly simple. The Jewish faith has never considered the Apocrypha as Holy Scripture, nor did Jesus of Nazareth. While these writings did exist at the time that He was on the earth, Jesus never once appealed to them as Scripture when He taught, and following the example of their Lord, neither did His Apostles ever appeal to these spurious writings as authoritative.

The Hebrew Bible used by orthodox Judaism consists of 24 books of Scripture which are divided into three parts that are known as the Torah – meaning “Law“ in Hebrew; the “Prophets” – Nebhim in Hebrew; and the Kethubhim – which is Hebrew for “the Writings“. The first division, the Law, contains the first five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The second division, the Prophets, is further subdivided into the four “former” prophets – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, the four “latter” prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Book of the Twelve Prophets – also known as the “minor” prophets–not because they are less important–but the books bearing their names are shorter than those of the “major” prophets just mentioned.

And finally there is the third division, the Writings, which consists of eleven books. First comes Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, then the five books known as the Scrolls – Song Of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Ester – then finally comes Ezra-Nehemiah (considered one book) and Chronicles – which also contains Samuel and Kings.

The Christian arrangement of the Old Testament writings, while consisting of the exact same Scriptures as the Hebrew Bible, contains 39 books which is in accordance with the Greek Septuagint translation (LXX), where those writings are divided differently. The “minor” prophets are each counted separately, then Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah are divided into two books each.

There is very strong evidence that these groups of writings, just as we have them today–whether counted as 24 or 39 books–are to be considered Scripture by the way they were accepted and quoted by our Lord Christ Jesus in His teachings while He was upon the earth. It is shown clearly by the primary resource material that we have in the Gospels of the New Testament that Jesus regularly appealed to these same Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) during His ministry. The Master used them to validate His mission and to show the authority of both His Words and His actions. This surely would have been pointless had not Jesus, and the Jews to whom He was appealing, both found these Hebrew Scriptures to be inspired by God.

Christ’s Use Of Holy Scripture

Space allows just a couple of specific instances of the way Jesus of Nazareth would use the Scriptures, and how this also shows that the canon (means “code or rule”) of the Hebrew Bible was already fixed during His lifetime. Luke 24:44 – He [Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you when I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” One of the greatest Bible scholars who ever lived, the late Dr. F.F. Bruce, explains what this means on page 96 of his classic book The Books and the Parchments:

Here Jesus indicates the sections into which the Bible [at that time] was divided – the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, probably called “the Psalms” here because the Book of Psalms is the first and longest book in this third section.

And as stated earlier in this brief work, these Holy Scriptures that were in the “Bible” of that time, are the very same writings that are contained in the Old Testament we have in our possession today.

In John 5:39 and 10:31-36 Jesus refers to “Scripture” while disagreeing with the Jewish leaders. No doubt the Master disagreed with the oral traditions of the Pharisees, this is particularly evident from Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23, but this disagreement was not concerning their concept of the Hebrew canon of Holy Scripture–just their use of it. To the unbiased person who is interested in discovering the truth, the facts are indeed clear enough.

As Edward J. Young writes on page 62 of his book The Authority Of The Old Testament:

There is no evidence whatever of any dispute between Jesus and the Jews as to the canonicity of any OT book.

And finally, in Matthew 23:35, during His scathing rebuke of the Jewish leaders Jesus tells them – And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. By citing Abel and Zechariah, Jesus confirms His witness to, and acceptance of, the Hebrew canon of Scripture which is now our Old Testament.

Abel was the first martyr in the very first book of the Jewish Scriptures – Genesis 4:8. Zechariah is the last martyr to be named – 2 Chronicles 24:21 – in the Hebrew Old Testament order where Chronicles is the last book. So, by referring to Abel in Genesis first, and Zechariah in Chronicles last, Jesus in effect said to those religious leaders: You are now responsible for your sins from the very beginning of, until the very end of, God’s revealed Words as you have them now.

And just as it was true then, so it remains true now. You need to know that your reaction to Christ Jesus of Nazareth, the living Word of God, will decide where you spend eternity.