The Old Testament Canon and the “Council of Jamnia”
Many popular myths are believed simply because people want to believe them—not because they are true. Wishful thinking is a poor substitute for truth. It is always preferable for one to dig deep and discover the facts and not just believe things because one wants them to be true.
In order to reject the Catholic Bible, it is popular in some Protestant circles to claim that the Jews had a closed canon of Scripture in the first century and that the early Christians accepted this final Jewish collection of inspired writings as final and binding upon the Church. The Council of Jamnia is usually assumed as the “proof” for this assertion. At the “Council of Jamnia” you see, the Jewish rabbis supposedly got together—something like an Ecumenical Council in the Catholic Church—to lay down specific criteria for inspired Scripture and to finally define and close the Old Testament canon.
Is this true? First, we will look at how various authors defend the Protestant exclusion of seven books based on a flawed understanding of the so-called “Council of Jamnia”. Second, did this “council” actually discuss the limit of the Old Testament canon, and third, if so, did they have the authority to close the canon? Fourth, did they actually compile a final list of accepted writings and fifth, and very importantly, if such a decision had been made, would the Christian be bound by that decision? We will conclude with the teaching of the Catholic Church and why we can so securely trust it.
First, let’s clarify a few terms. The canon of Scripture refers to the final collection of inspired books included in the Bible. The Catholic Bible contains seven books that do not appear in Protestant Old Testament. These seven writings are called the deutero-canonicals, or the Second Law. Protestants usually call these writings the Apocrypha (meaning “hidden”)—books they consider outside the canon.
These seven writings include 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch along with additional passages in Daniel and Esther. Before the time of Christ, these writings were included in the Jewish Greek Septuagint (LXX)—the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, but they were not included in the Hebrew Masoretic text.
To read the whole document, click here.