by Michael Kruger
There are so many historical details to manage in the study of the NT and OT canon, that it is often difficult to step back and get the big picture. Scholarly energies are typically preoccupied with whether a certain church father cited a certain biblical book, and thus the entire biblical collection is rarely viewed as a completed whole.
In short, we tend to study the canon one book at a time. But, as Walter Brueggemann observed regarding this approach, “That is problematic because one never gets a sense of the whole of the Bible” (Creative Word, 5).
When we take that step back, and examine the overall canonical structure, some fascinating details emerge. One noteworthy example is the fact that the complete biblical canon can be viewed in seven distinct units.
There are good historical reasons to think that the OT canon in the time of Jesus was divided into the standard tripartite structure: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The structure finds confirmation in a number of historical sources that we cannot examine fully here (b. Bat. 14b; Josephus, Ap. 1.37-42; 4QMMT (95-96); Philo, Contempl. Life, 25. ). Jesus even seems to allude to this tripartite structure when he says, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
When it comes to the structure of the NT canon, at least as it emerged within the early church, it seems to have been divided into four sections. David Trobisch has demonstrated that these four clear sub-sections—Gospels, Praxapostolos (Acts and Catholic epistles), Pauline epistles, and Revelation—as can be seen from the uniform witness of the manuscript collections themselves (The First Edition of the New Testament).
Thus, when the OT and NT canons are considered together, it seems the overall biblical canon would have had a seven-fold structure…
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