The Bible--Part 4
Feb 03, 2009
Moses himself canonized the law in Deut. 31:9,
"So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel."
Moses entrusted "the oracles of God" to the Levitical priests of the day, because they were the Trustees of the Kingdom. Nearly 1000 years later, another priest named Ezra finished the work of canonizing the Old Testament. (See Ezra 7:1-5 for his genealogy to Aaron.) This closed the canon of the Old Testament, and though there were other books and histories written afterward, they were not included in the canon.
Ezra made some editorial additions to the various books of the Old Testament, including the insertion of the list of Edomite kings in Genesis 36. The list takes us 300 years past the death of Moses all the way to the time of King Saul, for we read in verse 31,
"Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel."
There is also the matter of Deut. 34:5-12, which forms the end of the Torah. It records Moses' death and burial in the land of Moab, and the fact that the people of Israel mourned for 30 days after his death. Moses himself could hardly have written this. Verse 6 tells us that "no man knows his burial place TO THIS DAY." What day is this? This statement was obviously written long after the death of Moses.
Scholars tell us that Ezra also wrote the two books of Chronicles, which ends with the 70-year captivity to Babylon and recording the edict of King Cyrus of Persia. It shows that the author of Chronicles lived during or after the time of Cyrus.
In establishing the canon of Scripture, Ezra deliberately left out a number of ancient books. Just because a book was written in those days does not mean we should treat it like Scripture. Ezra mentioned seven such books in the Chronicles, all of which were left out of the canon:
1. The Book of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chron. 29:29; 2 Chron. 9:29)
2. The Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chron. 29:29)
3. The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shiloite (2 Chron. 9:29)
4. The Visions of Iddo the Seer (2 Chron. 9:29)
5. The Book of Shemiah the Prophet (2 Chron. 12:15)
6. The Book of Jehu the Son of Hanani (2 Chron. 20:34), yet included in the Book of Kings
7. The Sayings of Hosai (2 Chron. 33:19)
These were not "lost books of the Bible." They were non-Scriptural books of that day, much like we may have good Bible study books today that are not to be considered Scripture.
So then we come to the New Testament. Peter, James, and John were witnesses of Jesus' transfiguration (Matt. 17:1). This apparently came to be understood as the primary qualification to determine the canon of the New Testament, for Peter appeals to this authority just before his death, when he and Paul were prisoners in Rome (2 Peter 1:16-18).
Paul, of course, had been a prisoner in Rome earlier, but had been released after two years (62 and 63 A.D.). He had then gone to Spain and to Britain to preach the Word for a few months before returning to the Seven Churches in Asia in late 63 or early 64 A.D.
Some time later, he was again arrested and brought to Rome where he was beheaded. This occurred some time between 64 and 66 A.D. In earlier studies in Church History, I had stated that Paul was executed in 64 A.D. when the Christians were blamed for the Great Fire of Rome (July 19, 64 A.D.). However, I now see that Paul's death more likely occurred from 65-66 A.D. Most likely, Paul was arrested as part of the general persecution that occurred in the latter part of 64. This "fiery trial" is mentioned also in 1 Peter 4:12, of which Peter had advance notice, either because it had already started, or on account of revelation.
Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus in 64 or 65. This was his sixth imprisonment, which Paul later mentioned specifically during his seventh and last imprisonment (in Rome). A few decades later, toward the turn of the century, Clement of Rome mentions that Paul had endured seven imprisonments. 1 Clement 5:5, 6 says,
"(5) By reason of jealousy and strife, Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been SEVEN TIMES IN BONDS, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, (6) having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West [i.e., Britain]; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance."
When Paul was finally about to be executed in Rome, he reminisced to Timothy about Onesiphorus, who had been of such help to him during his previous imprisonment in Ephesus. He says that Onesiphorus "was not ashamed of my chains" (2 Tim. 1:16) "at Ephesus" (1:18).
While in prison at Ephesus, he had enough time to write his epistles to the Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, and possibly Ephesians. Most believe that Paul wrote Ephesians during his final imprisonment in Rome. But Dr. Ernest Martin argues that "Ephesians" is actually a letter written fromprison in Ephesus to the Laodiceans. (See Restoring the Original Bible, p. 238-240.) His argument is not airtight, primarily because Eph. 1:1 states specifically that he was writing "to the saints who are at Ephesus." Dr. Ivan Panin's Numeric New Testament retains this wording as well, even though some early Greek manuscripts inexplicably leave out "at Ephesus."
Perhaps the manuscripts made a mistake by leaving out "at Ephesus." Or perhaps Dr. Panin made an error in judgment in regard to the numeric patterns of this verse. He did publish a revised Numeric New Testament in 1935, suggesting that numerics is not always foolproof. I leave it for you to decide. It is not crucial that we know where Paul wrote it, for there are no serious consequences for believing either way. It is more a matter of historical interest.
Having said that, there are some puzzling details that seem to indicate that "Ephesians" is actually a letter to the Laodiceans. We know that Paul wrote at least three other letters from the Ephesian prison, including the letter to the Colossians. In that letter, Paul tells them that he had just written a letter to the Laodiceans as well. Col. 4:16 says,
"And when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea."
In other words, Paul wanted each congregation to get a copy of the other church's letter. The two cities were not far apart. Paul obviously believed that this letter to the Laodiceans was important, and so it lends credence to the belief that "Ephesians" was actually to the Laodiceans. If not, Paul later decided not to include his Laodicean letter in the canon of the New Testament, and so all copies were eventually lost.
In Eph. 3:1 and 6:20 Paul appears to be expecting to be released from prison. This expectation matches what we read in Col. 4:3, 4, which seems to indicate that the two letters were written from the same prison. It is only later, when in Rome, that he writes to Timothy, fully expecting to be executed and even welcoming it (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Paul's mindset was entirely different in the Roman prison. So if Ephesians was written from Rome, it must have been before he was sure of his impending execution, for he requested prayer to be released in order to preach the gospel.
This is the fourth part of a series titled "The Bible." To view all parts, click the link below.