Keith Hunt - Canonization of the Old Testament - Page Three   Restitution of All Things

  Home Previous Page Next Page

Canonization of the Old Testament #3

22 Original Books!


The Original Number of Old Testament Books

     The first century Jews believed there were 22 holy books
that comprised the complete number of their divine scriptures! In
almost all modern versions it is common to numerate the Old
Testament as 39 books. This at first glance might give the
impression that modern scholars have added extra books which the
early Jews did not accept as divinely inspired. This, however, is
not the case. We will show that our present versions have simply
divided the official books of the Old Testament divergently than
those who originated the canon. There can really be no doubt that
we possess today the exact canon which Christ and the apostles
accepted as the Holy Scriptures. But, true enough, the early Jews
numbered the books differently, And the early numeration ought to
be maintained today! When we do, some significant symbolic
teachings emerge that can make us appreciate that we do indeed
have the complete Old Testament scriptures! We must learn to
accept the early Jewish viewpoint, not our modern way of looking
at things. Thus, the original 22 numbering should be retained in
all versions of the Bible today!

     Throughout the New Testament we read that the Jews possessed
the Scriptures. It was taken for granted, without argument or
definition, that a commonly understood body of books was in
existence which the Jews recognized as sacred. There is a good
deal of contemporary testimony to substantiate this. Josephus,
who was a priest and thoroughly conversant with Jewish affairs in
the first century, referred to the standard copy of the Holy
Scriptures which was deposited in the archives of the Temple and
under the supervision of the priests (War, VII.150). Among the
Jews this copy was known as "The Book of the Court" because all
official synagogue scrolls were based on the text of this
approved archetype (Mishna Moed Katan 3,4: Pal. Tal. Sanhedrin
II, 200). The Book of Deuteronomy stated that such a standard
copy should be retained by the priests in the Temple (Deut.17:18;
   In regard to the canonization of the Old Testament, these special
Temple scrolls are important. They represented nothing less than
the basic "constitution" governing all political affairs in
Judaea, and the religious life of Jews everywhere. Though the
Romans were in supreme command in Palestine, they nonetheless
permitted native kings or rulers (for certain periods) to govern
the people in a direct sense. Those administrators (even an
autocrat like Herod the Great) found it necessary to heed the
principles of the Mosaic legislation and the precedential laws
that developed over the years. There was no way for any Jew to
escape an expression of reverence for the lawbooks of Moses and
the teachings of the Prophets. All Jews accredited the Temple
scrolls as divinely inspired.

     These sacred books were looked on as the "constitution" of
the Jewish people. They not only recorded religious duties for
Jews to perform (but more important to our discussion on the
canonization), they were also the basis for all civil, financial,
agricultural, and social activities. In a word, the Jewish state
in Palestine (no matter who was governing it) was reckoned a
theocracy and the heart and soul of its government had to rest,
by popular demand, squarely upon the words in the sacred

     This point is vital in understanding matters concerning the
canonization of the Old Testament because the Temple scriptures
not only contained religious teachings but they provided laws and
principles involving human politics - laws pertaining to the
daily living of all Jews. Such basic "constitutional" documents
would have been well known and of necessity must have been kept
with a purity of contents. It is a foregone conclusion that
people are keenly aware  of laws which govern their daily
affairs. Let us note how this fact can testify to the reliability
of the Temple scrolls.

     There were probably 8 to 10 million Jews in the world at the
time, and about 3 million were in Judaea. Just like our own
legislative or judicial systems, there were by the time of the
first century countless codified laws based upon the
"constitutional" laws of the Temple. With hundreds of
professional lawyers in daily practice who were constantly
involved in disputes and/or other matters of law, are we to
imagine that it was possible for a single letter or syllable of
the basic laws of Moses to be changed? Such a belief would be
absurd. Indeed, there were also a battery of precedential laws
which had developed over the years, supposedly based upon the
scriptures, and even those could not be changed without due
process. But in no way could "constitutional" laws be altered
unless it were done in a legal manner. That would be like some
American politicians trying to change the United States
constitution. A revolution would develop if any of those laws
were changed without proper legal procedures. It wouldn't make
any difference if someone modified the original text of the
constitution a hundred times over, there are literally thousands
of copies in city and school libraries alone of what the original
stated. If a single syllable of intended meaning in the
constitution were tampered with, without due process of law,
there would be a public outcry (even revolution). Surely the Jews
in Judaea (and throughout the world) would have done the same
thing if the standard copies of their "constitution" would have
been corrupted. True, constitutional laws can be changed, but not
without the knowledge and approbation of the people.

     This is an important point in regard to the canonization of
the standard texts of the Old Testament. The fact is, the Mosaic
laws represented the civil, governmental, societal, and strict
religious regulators which thoroughly dominated the lives of all
Jews everywhere. Since matters of money, property and daily
social activities were governed by those laws embodied in the
Holy Scriptures (or the many precedential laws in existence), we
can be certain that all copies of the "constitution" were the
same throughout the country of Judaea, and even the Jewish world.
No priest or king could (or would) have revised the basic words
of the Temple scrolls. Even if this were possible, there were
hundreds of copies of the scriptures in the synagogues located
over the land. All these combined scriptural scrolls rendered
some good checks and balances for the continued purity of the
Temple and the synagogue scrolls.

     Another point needs to be made. Ancient synagogues in
Palestine were not simply places in which to worship on the
sabbaths and holydays. They were nothing less than the Superior
and Local courts of the nation! Are we to imagine that the
synagogues (which were courts!) had basic constitutional laws
(and even precedential laws) which differed from one another?
Hardly! This fact has a great bearing on the matter of Old
Testament canonization. This means that one should look to
Palestinian Judaism as maintaining proper manuscripts of the Old
Testament because in Judaea their writings were not simply
religious documents, they were also a part of the civil and
government codes of Jewish national life! This meant they were
under the constant scrutiny of professional lawyers who would see
to it that no word was changed. True, there might be a score of
ways to interpret the words, but the words themselves could not
be tampered with. For example, to give clients every advantage,
lawyers could not pass the bar exam unless they could "prove" a
hundred ways that pork was proper to eat (Lieberman, Hellenism in
Jewish Palestine, pp.62-64), yet no lawyer could change the words
of Moses to say that swine was now permissible! Interpreting the
law to one's advantage was one thing, but to change the actual
words of the law was quite another-and this was impossible
without due process!

     This guarantee of purity would not extend to those texts of
sectarians who wished to reside outside mainline Judaism, or if
they lived under the jurisdiction of Gentile governments in
Egypt, Rome, etc. Take for example the Dead Sea sects. Their
documents show that they did not agree with many Temple
regulations or its priesthood. And though some of their scrolls
did match remarkably with later Masoretic texts which reflected
the early (and official) synagogue versions of the Old Testament,
they also allowed into their libraries a mixture of
"non-mainline" books (some agreeing with Samaritan or Egyptian
Versions). Those Jews who joined such private communal societies
outside normative Judaism were prone to adopt their own rules and
regulations. That's why they could use unauthorized texts to
govern their activities!

     The same could be said of the manuscripts of the Law
maintained by the Samaritan communities. Those texts were indeed
legal documents (as were those in Jerusalem) but they governed
Samaritan society, not Jewish! It is said that Ezra the priest,
back in the fifth century B.C., deliberately copied every Old
Testament manuscript in his possession into the Babylonian script
(rather than maintain the old Hebrew form of letters) in order
for all people in Judaea to recognize the official Jewish texts
from those of the Samaritans (who refused to accept the
"Babylonian" letter styles).

     Also, the early translations of the Hebrew Old Testament
into Greek, (and intended only for the literary quests of King
Ptolemy II of Egypt), were never used as legal documents for the
functioning of a theocratic state. It is not to be expected that
they would have the professional scrutiny applied to their
accuracy as those retained by the Palestinian courts
(synagogues!). And when later Hellenistic Jews who had lost much
of their Hebrew language abilities wished to consult the
scriptures in Greek, this was possible, but this was done only
for curiosity or for private religious devotions. In no way could
such unauthorized translations be used in matters of court.
Imagine relying on a Greek text in law matters, when the Hebrew
was available, and it was the original! No citizen of Judaea
would think of placing his legal rights affecting his daily life
on some Greek translation - especially an Egyptian one which was
translated only for literary purposes! The only texts which those
in Judaea would naturally accept were the original Hebrew ones
deposited in the courts (synagogues) and the Temple. We must look
to Jerusalem for the authorized Old Testament books!

The Canon of Josephus

     The Old Testament books today are usually reckoned as being
39 in number. But the earliest records show the official
numeration as 22 books! We will later see that the symbolic
meaning to the number 22 affords a significant symmetrical
balance to the Old Testament, and when those books are combined
with those of the New Testament, the number 49 (7 times 7) is
reached. This latter number figuratively means "completion" and
"finality." We will see, however, that even the number 22 has a
ring of "completion" to it when it comes to matters involving the
Hebrew language. Note that Josephus said the divine scriptures of
the Old Testament were 22 in number.

"We have not a countless number of books, discordant and arranged
against each other; but only two and twenty books, containing the
history of every age, which are justly accredited as divine"
(Against Apion l.8).

     To Josephus, who was an Aaronic priest, the Old Testament
scriptures contained only 22 books. These were the official books
which were deposited in the Temple and represented the religious
constitution of the Jewish people. In no way was Josephus
speaking of a canon different from the normal Old Testament
maintained by Protestants today (Ryle, "The Canon of the Old
Testament," p.178). The only difference centered on the manner in
which the books were counted. For example, the early Hebrews
reckoned the twelve Minor Prophets - from Hosea to Malachi - as
one book in the canonical number of books, not twelve separate
ones as most versions count them todayl And also, the two books
of Chronicles, and other historical books, were not divided as
they are in most modern Bibles. There was anciently only one Book
of Chronicles. But church leaders after the canon was
established, and to please various Gentile peoples, divided many
of the early books into two (or even four) divisions. This
procedure resulted in the original numbering of 22 books being
counted as 39.

The Original Twenty-Two Books

     There were only 22 books to the standard Old Testament. This
numbering can be traced back at least two hundred years before
the time of Christ. It is found in the Book of Jubilees. Though
Jubilees represents the theological opinions of Jewish sectarians
of the Dead Sea community, the information in the books still
reflects a great deal of normal Jewish sentiment. This is
especially true when the author makes a simple statement that the
Old Testament canon was reckoned as 22 books in number. Indeed,
there was a special reason why the books had to be 22.
     Annotated to the restored text of Jubilees 2:23 is the
remark that God made 22 things on the six days of creation. These
22 events paralleled the 22 generations from Adam to Jacob, the
22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the 22 books of the Holy
Scripture. R.H.Charles maintained that this information
concerning the 22 books should be retained in the text, even
though it has fallen out of a few manuscripts. See Charles' note
on Jubilees 2:23, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, II. p.15.
Cfaufmann Kohler, "Book of Jubilees," The Jewish Encyclopedia,
VII (New York: 1907), p.302. Thus, as early as the year 150 B.C.
it was common for Jews to reckon the Old Testament books as being
22 in number. Josephus must have been stating a well recognized
numerical canon which was prevailing among the Jewish people of

     The 22 numbering is most interesting and fits in well with
the literary and symbolic meaning of "completion" among early
Jews. Recall that the Book of Jubilees insisted that the number
represented the "final" and "complete" creations of God. Adam was
the last creation of God (being the 22nd). Jacob, whose name was
changed to Israel, was the 22nd generation from Adam - and Jacob
was acknowledged as the father of the spiritual nation of the
Lord! Also the Hebrew language became the means by which God
communicated his divine will to mankind, it had as well an
alphabet of 22 letters! And, finally, when God wished to give his
complete Old Testament revelation to humanity, that divine canon
was found in 22 authorized books! The medieval Jewish scholar
Sixtus Senensis explained the significance of this matter.

"As with the Hebrew there are twenty-two letters, in which all
that can be said and written is comprehended, so there are
twenty-two books in which are contained all that can be known and
uttered of divine things" (William H. Green, "A General
Introduction to the Old Testament," vol.I, p.87).

Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, and Romans   
Acknowledge the Original 22 Numbering

     While early Jews have stated that the original Old Testament
was accounted to be 22 books in number, they were even outdone by
Christian scholars. It will profit us to list the evidence for
these wellknown opinions.

1) Melito (170 A.D.), in agreement with the original Jewish
reckoning, gave the number of Old Testament books as 22
(Eusebius, "Church History," 4.26.14).

2) Origen (210 A.D.) also gave the same numbering: "It should be
stated that the canonical books, as the Hebrews have handed them
down, are twenty-two; corresponding with the number of their
letters" (ibid. 6.25.1).

3) Hilary of Poitiers (360 A.D.): "The Law of the Old Tesatment
is considered as divided into twenty-two books, so as to
correspond to the number of letters" (Tractatus Super Psalmos,
prologue 15).

4) Athanasius (365 A.D.): "There are then of the Old Testament
twenty-two books in number . . . this is the number of the
letters among the Hebrews" (Letter 39.4).

5) The Council of Laodicea (343-391 A.D.): Twenty-two books
(Canon 60).

6) Cyril of Jerusalem (386 A.D.): "Read the divine scriptures,
the twenty-two books of the Old Testament" (Catechetical Lectures
2, 4.33).

7) Gregory of Nazianzus (390 A.D.): "I have exhibited twenty-two
books, corresponding with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrews"
(Carmina, 1.12).

8) Epiphanius (400 A.D.): Twenty-two books (De Nensuris et
Ponderibus, 4).

9) Rufinus (410 A.D.): Twenty-two books (Commentarius in Symbolum
Apostolorum, 37).

10) Jerome (410 A.D.): "That the Hebrews have twenty-two letters
is testified ... as there are twenty-two elementary characters by
means of which we write in Hebrew all we say... so we reckon
twentytwo books by which ... a righteous man is instructed"
(Preface to the Books of Samuel and Kings).

11) Synopsis of Sacred Scripture (c. 500 A.D.): "The canonical
books of the Old Testament are twenty-two, equal in number to the
Hebrew letters; for they have so many original letters."

12) Isidore of Seville (600 A.D.) said the Old Testament was
settled by Ezra the priest into twenty-two books "that the books
in the Law might correspond in number with the letters" (Liber de

13) Leontius (610 A.D.): "Of the Old Testament there are
twentytwo books" (De Sectis).

14) John of Damascus (730 A.D.): "Observe further that there are
two and twenty books of the Old Testament, one for each letter of
the Hebrew alphabet" (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,

15) Nicephorus (9th century A.D.): "There are two and twenty
books of the Old Testament" (Stichometry).

16) Jesudad, Bishop of Hadad, Syria (852 A.D.) recognized a canon
of twenty-two books (John E. Steinmueller, A Companion to
Scripture Studies, vol.I, p.80).

17) Hrabanus (9th century A.D.) said the Old Testament was formed
by Ezra into twenty-two books "that there might be as many books
in the Law as there are letters" (Whitaker, Disputation).

18) Moses of Chorene the Armenian historian (c. A.D. 1000 or
early 6th century) "speaks of twenty-two books of the Old
Testament. This was clearly the Jewish Canon" (Steinmueller, vol.
I, p.81).

19) Peter of Cluny (1150 A.D.): Twenty-two books (Edward Reuss,
Canon of the Holy Scriptures, p.257).

20) John of Salisbury (1180 A.D.): Twenty-two books (ibid.,

21) Hugh of St. Victor (12th century): "As there are twenty-two
alphabetic letters, by means of which we write in Hebrew, and
speak what we have to say ... so twenty-two books are reckoned,
by means of which ... the yet tender infancy of our man is
instructed, while it yet hath need of milk" (Didascalicae
Eruditionis, 4.80).

22) Richard of St. Victor (13th century): Twenty-two books
(Tractatus Exceptionum, 2.9).

     These testimonies supply ample evidence that over the
centuries (whether in Hebrew circles, or in Greek Orthodox,
Syrian, Armenian, or Roman Catholic ones) the knowledge of the
original number of Old Testament books was recognized as being
22. While the order of the books sometimes varied among the
observations of these early Christians (due to their attachment
to the Septuagint Version), they still persisted in retaining the
proper numbering. On some occasions they would increase the
number to 27. Epiphanius stated the Old Testament as having 22
books, but in two other places he increased the number to 27
(ibid. 22,23; Adversus Octaginta Haereses, 8.6). However, no
extra books were added to the canon. Since five of the Hebrew
letters, when used at the ends of words, take on different
shapes, some early scholars divided the original 22 books into
27. This procedure can be dismissed as an oddity of a few writers
which was really based on the original 22 letters. The
significance of the number 22 (as we will soon see) was too
ingrained in their consciousnesses to be lightly cast aside.

The Biblical Use of the Acrostic

     There is a literary device found in the Old Testament which
is both a poetic method for expressing a unified design in
biblical composition as well as a technique of arrangement which
emphasizes completion and perfection. It is called the
     The acrostic is a feature in which the first letter of a
sentence begins with the first letter of the alphabet; the second
sentence begins with the second alphabetic letter; the third
sentence with the third letter, etc. In complete Hebrew
acrostics, there are always 22 sentences, or multiples of 22,
each beginning with the first letter aleph and successively going
through the entire alphabet until tau, the last letter, is
reached. If all the letters are utilized in a proper and
consecutive fashion, then the psychological feeling that this
literary device provides is one of accomplishment and fulfillment
- a feeling of wholeness, flawlessness, and perfect order!
     This is one of the reasons the early Hebrews saw that Adam,
being the 22nd creation of God, represented God's prime and
perfect physical creation, and that Jacob (whose name was changed
to Israel) was the 22nd spiritual creation of God! The symbolic
significance of the number 22, as found in the Old Testament
acrostics, was recognized as emblematic of perfect attainment!
Let us now notice some of the biblical acrostics which
demonstrate this point.

The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119. It is an excellent
example of a biblical acrostic. Note that it is divided into 22
sections, each one having 8 verses. In its Hebrew original, the
first 8 verses all commence with the first Hebrew letter "aleph."
The second set of 8 uses the second letter" bet." And so it goes
all the way through the Hebrew alphabet.
     It should be apparent that there must be a purposeful design
which the author is trying to accomplish by the use of such a
literary arrangement. When all 22 letters are employed either
with single verses or with verses in a series, it is obvious that
the author intends to put an accent of perfection on the subject
of his text. Psalm 119 is a discourse on all the faculties of
God's law. The application of a perfect and complete acrostic is
an emphasis upon the perfection and completeness of that law.

     Another complete acrostic is found in Psalm 111 and also
Psalm 112. These Psalms show that God will thoroughly and
permanently redeem his people, and the acrostical sequence means
to show this. Look also at the acrostic accent on the virtuous
woman (Prov.31:10-31). In this example every verse begins with
each of the Hebrew letters in a perfectly consecutive manner. The
author is stressing his portrayal of a complete and perfect
woman. There is also an acrostic accentuation in the literary
design occurring in the first three chapters of the Book of
Lamentations. The prophet Jeremiah implemented this acrostical
pattern to reinforce the completeness of God's destruction upon
the kingdom of Judah!
     In one way, it is to be regretted that these alphabetical
refinements are not normally distinguished in English versions.
Of course, it is nearly impossible to adhere to the alphabetic
patterns and still give a faithful English translation.
     Nevertheless, the King James Version, though it does not
retain the acrostics in translation, has shown its readers where
they belong in Psalm 119.

An Incomplete Acrostic

     There is in the Bible an acrostic which is deliberately
deficient. This occurs when there are certain letters left out at
particular intervals. When an acrostic is complete, the
impression produces a feeling of perfection, but when one is
employed with some letters missing in sequence it gives the
feeling of frustration or let-down! When such incomplete
acrostics are used, the image of discomfiture is intended.
Such an acrostic is found running through Psalms 9 and 10. Seven
letters are purposely omitted. The author obviously determined it
to be noticed by the reader as a broken acrostic! If the
arrangement of the alphabetic letters is sequential in a perfect
sense, the theme was meant to be that of precision and
completeness, but if the acrostic style is broken and irregular,
the subject which the composition is supposed to describe is also
to be emphasized as broken and irregular. And look at Psalms 9
and 10! The Psalms are a connected pair which describe the same
historical or prophetical theme. Both of them refer to a time of
great tribulation on Israel (9:9; 10:1), and a time when a man of
sin will be at work (10:18). It may well be that the author was
meaning to emphasize the chaotic state of affairs which will
prevail in such circumstances! So, with broken acrostics, the
thrust of imperfection is given a decided stress, while with full
and perfect acrostics the keynote is that of consummation and
faultlessness. The 22 books of the Old Testament, of course, are
a full acrostic!

The Complete Old Testament

     In regard to the Old Testament canon which was originally
written in Hebrew characters, it can be seen why the ancients
looked on the 22 books of the Hebrew Bible as corresponding to
the 22 alphabetic Hebrew letters. When one realizes the
significance of the acrostic style for emphasizing a completeness
and perfection, it is an easy step to acknowledge that the 22
books of the Old Testament canon represent (in a symbolic sense)
a complete and perfect canonical acrostic! Once the 22 books of
the Hebrew canon were authorized and placed within the Temple
archives as the ordained scriptures for Israel, no other books
could be canonized in the Hebrew language! Figuratively, all the
Hebrew letters have been used up. If any further revelation was
to be forthcoming, it would have to be in another language.

A Further Recognition of Biblical Completion

     It is remarkable that by the time of the apostles they were
accustomed to refer to the Jewish scriptures (whether found in
Palestine, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, or Rome) simply as "the
Scriptures" or "the Holy Scriptures" (e.g. John 5:39; 11
Tim.3:15). And when the 27 books of the New Testament were
canonized, it became even more evident that the original number
of 22 books for the Old Testament was a divine and inspired
number. Why is this the case? The answer is simple. When one adds
the 27 New Testament books to the Old Testament 22, the number 49
is realized. What a significant number! This represents a figure
of 7 times 7 - or, in the symbolic way the Jews looked on the
number 7 in the first century, it expressed an emblematic sense
of double completion. Notice how this would be seen by the Jews
and Christians.

     The number 49 was the sum of seven seven's or a multiple of
seven times seven! Recall that the figurative meaning of the
number 7 was that of completion. Prof. W. Taylor Smith said:

"Seven often expressed the idea of completeness. So in 7
churches, 7 parables of the Kingdom, the 7 Beatitudes, etc. Even
in Assyrian texts it denotes 'totality,' or 'whole'" (Diet. of
Christ and the Gospels, Vol.II, p.248).

     All students of the Bible have long realized the
significance of the number seven in relation to the symbol of
completeness. It should not appear strange that the same number
(or its multiples - especially the sum of seven seven's or seven
times seven, 49) would surround the sacredness of the divine
canon of Scripture! It is because of this that I do not apologize
for stressing the 49 books as being the full canon.
     This biblical theme involving the number 49 strongly implies
that the whole of the Bible is now complete when one combines the
original 22 books of the Old Testament with the 27 books of the
New Testament. We are thus given a numerical design which
suggests (by the use of the symbolic numbers of scripture) a
complete and final revelation from God.

The Present Number of 66 Books

     When one counts the number of books in our present
Protestant canon of the Bible (which normally excludes the extra
apocryphal books) the number of books amounts to 66. This is an
interesting number! It is arrived at by dividing various Old
Testament books into a numerical pattern which corresponds to the
early Greek Version of the Old Testament - which was placed in an
arbitrary codex form in Egypt about the third century A.D. There
is no Hebrew manuscript that follows this Greek Version. And look
what happens when one pursues its enumeration of 66 books! The
number of man is found all over the book! The Bible makes it
clear that the number 6 is one squarely centered on fleshly man
(or mankind). Note that the first man was created at the end of
the sixth day (Gen.1:24-31). Throughout the Bible we have six
associated with man (as distinct from God). The number 666 is
found in the Book of Revelation as a number denoting man or a
wicked person to appear at the end of the age (Rev.13:18). Not
only that, when Daniel described the great image which began the
"Babylonian phase" in ancient religion, its measure was 60 cubits
high (6 times 10) and 6 cubits wide (Dan.3:1). Indeed, E.W.
Bullinger said that all the letters in Daniel 3:1 describing the
Babylonian image when added up (and all Hebrew letters had
numerical values) come to 4662 - which is 7 times 666 ("Number in
Scripture," p.285).

     From these indications alone, it does not seem proper to
divide the Holy Bible into 66 books. This even becomes clearer
when we read what MacCormack said:

"But has the number [66] no significance? Unquestionably it has,
for six is man's number. . . . We find then, that the Bible,
according to the Protestant Canon, and also that of the Orthodox
Eastern Church, contains 49 books, if we take the reckoning
current when the last portion of it was written, or 66 books if
each one be counted separately. The latter number, in which 6 is
plainly and emphatically seen, denotes that outwardly it is a
human book and in human dress" (Heptadic Structure, p.145).

     The number 66 does not look good from a biblical point of
view. In order to arrive at a different (and more attractive
number) the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the
sixteenth century officially accepted 11 of the 14 apocryphal
works, and added them to the Protestant canon. Among other things
one of the reasons this was done was to take away the odium
attached to the number 66. The addition of 11 extra books made a
much more appealing number, 77! However, this was still a modern
refinement and did not reflect the significance of the original
numbering. In fact, if one adds 11 apocryphal writings to the 49
books of the original, one arrives at 60 sections (a number that
also smacks of a human symbol). What ought to be retained, as we
will show throughout this book, are the original 49 books without
the addition of any part of the Apocrypha.

The Present Jewish Numbering

     Sometime in the last part of the first century or the
beginning of the second, the Jewish authorities decided to
re-divide the books of the Old Testament into 24 books rather
than maintain 22. It appears that the Jews in Babylon were the
first to devise this new number (Julius Fuerst, Der Kanon des
Alten Testaments, Hamburg: 1850, p.4). This Babylonian influence
in theological matters among the Jews is well known. In fact, it
can be said that the Judaism that survived the first and second
centuries is decidedly "Babylonian" in orientation. The reason
for this is simple. Palestinian Judaism ceased to have major
prominence because the Romans restricted Jerusalem from exer-
cising its normal supremacy in religious matters. After all, the
Temple was destroyed in A.D.70 and after A.D.135 no Jews were
normally allowed within twenty miles of Jerusalem. This made the
region of Mesopotamia an area of prominence among the Jewish
community. And it was within that environment that the Jews began
to re-number the books of the Old Testament to 24. It is not to
be supposed that they added two extra books. They simply divided
two of the original ones and arrived at a new 24 numbering. At
some point in the second century, or perhaps as late as the third
century, the Babylonian number of 24 began to obtain official
status. The practice had certainly become current among the Jews
by the time of Jerome (about A.D.400).

     There may well have been political and religious reasons why
the Jewish authorities made the change when they did. When the
New Testament books were being accepted as divine literature by
great numbers of people within the Roman world, all could see
that the 27 New Testament books added to the original 22 of the
Old Testament reached the significant number 49. This was a
powerful indication that the world now had the complete
revelation from God with the inclusion of the New Testament
books! Since the Jewish officials were powerless to do anything
with the New Testament, the only recourse they saw possible was
to alter, in an authorized manner, the traditional numbering. The
Babylonian schools simply divided two of the original books and
made the total to number 24. Adding these to the 27 New Testament
books gave a sum of 51 books - a wholly insignificant number!
     The excuse given for re-numbering the books is amusing.
Since it was recognized that the original 22 books equalled each
of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, it was felt that an
alphabetic relevance had to be maintained. The medieval Jewish
scholar Sixtus Senensis gave the normal explanation for the
change. Since there was only one "yodh" among the 22 letters, and
because the Jews started a peculiar habit of writing the
unpronounceable name YHWH with three "yodhs," it was necessary,
so Sixtus tells us, to re-number the Old Testament books by the
addition of two extra "yodhs." Such a procedure is clearly an
artificial literary device of late invention and could hardly
have any relevance to the original numbering of the books of the
Old Testament. One thing this contrivance does demonstrate is the
longstanding respect that the Jewish people held for the concept
that each book of the Old Testament equalled one of the Hebrew
alphabetic letters!

The Tradition of Second Esdras

     There is one book from the first century, however, which
could be used as a witness that the change from 22 to 24 took
place as early as about A.D.90. That book is Second Esdras. This
work states that there were ninety-four books which were
canonical: seventy were esoteric or mystery books and twenty-four
were public ones. It has often been stated that this reference to
24 books refers to the official Jewish canon which was then
reckoned as authoritative. On the surface this might appear to
make sense, but there are major problems with the information.

     First, there is the direct testimony of Josephus (who also
wrote about A.D.90 and was a Jewish priest of first rank) who
said that official Judaism accepted only 22 books - the normal
number of books going back all the way to the Book of Jubilees
(c.150 B.C.). If an authorized change of the number had taken
place by A.D.90, why didn't Josephus simply inform his readers
about it? Indeed, Josephus was insisting in his reference that
the Jews were stable and consistent with the appraisal of their
Holy Scriptures (Contra Apion, I.8). If they had recently made
the change, then the very
     But there is another reason why Second Esdras is not all
that reliable a witness. The section about the canon has been
called into question by textual critics because of the variant
readings of the numbers. Some texts instead of 24 have 94, some
204, others 84, and still others 974 (Ludwig Blau, Jewish
Encyclopedia (1906), vo1.III, p.142). The fact is, one can take
24, 84, 94, 204, or 974 as Second Esdras' witness to the number
of canonical books. Do not all have equal authority? It seems
much safer to take the testimony of Josephus as more
authoritative than a book which has variant renderings of its

     There can really be no serious doubt that the early
numbering of 22 books for the Old Testament and the 27 books of
the New Testament are indeed the correct numbers. This provides a
divine canon of 49 books. When one looks at the symbolic
significance of this number, one sees the theme of completion and
perfection. We can also be assured that the external and internal
historical evidence demonstrates that the Protestant canon of the
Bible is the proper one which illustrates the complete and final
biblical revelation. But we will also find that the books within
the original canon were positioned very differently than is done
today. In the next chapter we will see that the original Old
Testament was divided into three distinct divisions, and that
Christ recognized this tripartite arrangement!


To be continued

  Home Previous Page Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: