Old Testament compilation was natural, gradual process

In the 13th chapter of The Articles of Faith, Elder James E. Talmage wrote about the origin of the Old Testament. He explained that the books frequently quoted by both Christ and the apostles, designated as "the scriptures," are sometimes spoken of as the Jewish Canon of Scripture.

Elder Talmage noted that from the time of Moses people generally have "had access to the Book of the Lord." Even during their exile and captivity, certain of the children of Israel had scriptures. One evidence of this is found in the book of Ezra.During the fifth century B.C., in the days of Ezra, the edict of Cyrus permitted the captive people of Judah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, "according to the law of God then in the hand of Ezra," Elder Talmage wrote, giving a reference to Ezra 7:12-14.

"From this we may infer that the written law was then known; and to Ezra is usually attributed the credit of compiling the books of the Old Testament as far as completed in his day, to which he added his own writings.

In this work of compilation he was probably assisted by Nehemiah and the members of the Great Synagogue - a Jewish college of a hundred and twenty scholars.

The book of Nehemiah, which gives a continuation of the historical annals recorded by Ezra, is supposed to have been written by the prophet whose name it bears, in part at least during the life of Ezra.

Then, a century later, Malachi, the last of the prophets of note who flourished before the opening of the dispensation of Christ, added his record, completing and virtually closing the pre-Christian canon, with a prophetic promise of the Messiah and of the messenger whose commission would be to prepare the way of the Lord, particularly as to the last days, now current."

Elder Talmage wrote: "

ItT is evident that the Old Testament grew with the successive writings of authorized and inspired scribes from Moses to Malachi, and that its compilation was a natural and gradual process, each addition being deposited, or as the sacred record gives it, `laid up before the Lord' in connection with the previous writings.

"Undoubtedly there were known to the Jews many other books not included in our present Old Testament; references to such are abundant in the scriptures themselves, which references prove that many of those extra-canonical records were regarded as of considerable authority."


Articles on this page may be used in conjunction with the Sunday School gospel doctrine course of study on the Old Testament, lesson No. 47; Nehemiah 1-2; 4; 6; 8. (Ezra 1-8 will be featured in the Nov. 28 issue of Church News.)

Information compiled by Gerry Avant

Sources: Elder Nelson's comments, Conference Report, April 1994, page 91, or Ensign, May 1994, page 69; Bible Dictionary, 1982 LDS edition, King James Bible.

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