The Canonicity of the Old Testament

QUESTION 8: Are the books of the Old Testament still part of the canon of faith, and the rule of conduct in the church of the New Testament? Affirmative, against the Anabaptists.

I. This question divides us from the Anabaptists, who exclude the Old Testament books from the canon of
faith, as if they were of little consequence for Christians, or as if dogmas of faith and precepts for life
ought not to be drawn from them. The Mennonites teach in their confession that all Christians, according
as they have acquired faith, must of necessity conform solely to the gospel of Christ (article 11), and this
was confirmed at the colloquy of Frankenthal. The Reformed (orthodoxi), on the other hand, hold that the
Old Testament is no less the concern of Christians than the New, and that dogmas of faith and the
regulation of life are to be based on both (French Confession, articles 4 and 5; Swiss Confession, article

II. It is not a question of the Old Testament in the sense of the Mosaic economy; indeed we believe that
this has been so abrogated by Christ that it no longer deserves a place in the economy of grace. But there
is a question about it as to teaching, whether there is still use for it under the New Testament as canon of
faith and conduct.

III. It is not here a question whether Christ has reformed the law given in the Old Testament by
correcting and completing it (this will be discussed later against the Socinians but whether the Old
Testament so applies to Christians that the canon of faith and rule of life should be sought and proved
from it no less than from the New Testament, and that the religion of Christ is contained in Moses and the
prophets no less than in the books of the New Testament, and can be demonstrated from them, which the
adversaries deny, and we affirm.

IV. The difference between the Old and New Testaments is not in question, nor that of the teachings
which proceed from both; we do not deny that the teaching of the New Testament is much clearer than
that of the Old, both because of the types in which that of the Old is given, and because of the predictions
and promises which are given in it. The question concerns the principle of the Christian faith (religio)–
whether this is found only in the New Testament books, or also, which we affirm, in the Old.

V. The reasons are (1) Christ approved the Old Testament and wanted Moses and the prophets to be
heard by believers (Luke 16:29). This was not said to Jews to the exclusion of others, for here a general
precept is given to all who want to avoid eternal punishment, and what is here given as a precept is
recommended to Christians as practice by Peter: “We have the prophetic word made more sure, to which
you do well to attend, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day breaks and the morning star rises
in your hearts” (II Peter 1:19). Nor can exception be taken on the ground that a qualification is added by
Peter, that this attending to the prophets holds only until the time of the New Testament, when the day
had broken, for

[even] if he refers to the New Testament, the value of the prophetic word is not
restricted, according to this text, to the time previous to the New Testament, because “until” is not always
used of an action that is completed so as to exclude any future action, as is shown by a number of
passages (Gen. 28:15; Matt. 28:30 [20]; I Cor. 15:25). If it refers to the day of eternal life, and the
rising of the morning star in the region of glory, which is in truth the day par excellence, and which seems
more probable because he writes to believers who had already received faith in equal measure, and so in
whose hearts the day of grace and the morning star of the gospel had already arisen, then our argument
gains strength; that is to say, the prophetic words must be heeded to the end of the age, until that
blessed day dawns which is true day, everlasting and not ended by night.

VI. (2) The church of the New Testament is built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles (Eph.
2:20); that is, of the teaching of prophets and apostles. The New Testament prophets mentioned in
Ephesians 3:5 and I Corinthians 12:28 cannot be understood here, because the passage deals with the permanent foundation of the universal church, while the New Testament prophetic gift was temporary;
nor does the order of the words (ordo collectionis) imply priority in time or duration, as in Ephesians 4:12
the New Testament prophets are listed before the evangelists, although they did not come before them in

VII. (3) “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and
by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom.15:4). Although all things in Scripture
are not of the same nature and use, yet all are of the same origin and authority, equally given for the
welfare and edification of the church.

VIII. (4) The canon of the Old Testament is sufficient for faith and conduct, and those sacred writings in
which Timothy was instructed from his youth, when the canon of the New Testament had not yet been
written, could make him wise unto salvation (II Tim. 3:14 -15). And if the man of God, that is, the
minister of the gospel, can be equipped for every good work by them, they are much more useful and
necessary for the faith of the private person, and for the direction of his life. Nor does Paul here refer only
to the time before the writing of the New Testament, because he speaks in general of all inspired
Scripture (v. 16).

IX. (5) Christ dismisses the Jews that they may study the Scriptures (John 5:39), since they are the
source of life. This is not spoken to the Jews merely as a description of what they were doing, but as a
commandment, because (1) Christ’s purpose was to lead the Jews to the reading of Scripture as a means
of bringing them to a knowledge of himself, and a witness [to him] greater than any objection, and (2)
granting that Christ spoke in the indicative, the substance [of our argument] is the same, because he
approved their practice [of reading the Old Testament] and did not rebuke it.

X. (6) The Old Testament Scripture contains the same substance of doctrine as the New, both with regard
to things to be believed, and to be done, nor is any other gospel proclaimed today to us than which was
formerly promised in the prophetic writings (Rom. 1:3 [2]; 16:25 – 26). So Paul, who proclaimed the
whole plan of God for salvation to Christians (Acts 20:26 [27]) declared that he had taught nothing
except what was spoken by Moses and the prophets (Acts 26:22). Nor is any other law prescribed for us
besides that which was formerly brought by Moses, which required love of God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37
– 39).

XI. (7) If the Old Testament does not apply to Christians, it cannot be convincingly proved to Jews that
Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the true Messiah, because only by comparing the Scriptures, and by the
correspondence of the predictions of the Messiah in the Old Testament to their fulfillment in our Jesus
under the New, which was more than once shown by Christ and the apostles (Luke 24:27, 44; Acts
10:43; 17:11; 26:22; Rom. 3:21), can this be done.

XII. By the law and the prophets which were to remain until John (Matt. 11:12 [13]), the books of the Old
Testament and their permanence are not to be understood, compared to that of the New. The first was
prophetic, the second evangelical; the first is of shadows and types which promise a Messiah who is to be
given, the second is clear and plain, which proclaims a Messiah who has been given. Christ says that
these two modes of revelation are to be brought together: the first, [revelation] through prophecy, to last
only until John, because after the Messiah had been given he no longer wanted to be proclaimed as to
come; the other, [revelation] through the evangelizing that declares that Christ has come, began with

XIII. When the apostles are called ministers of the Spirit, not of the letter (II Cor. 3:5 – 6), by “letter” the
books of the Old Testament are not to be understood, as if they should no longer be used, since on the
contrary they used them constantly, but the legal economy, as contrasted to the evangelical [should be understood]. It is in many ways superior, not only because of its clarity and completeness, but also because of its efficacy, because it not only requires and commands duty as does the law, but also performs it through the law written in hearts by the Spirit.

XIV. It is one thing for the old covenant to be out of date with regard to mode of administration and the
incidental aspects (accidentia) of the covenant, or the external accompaniments of matters therewith,
which is what Paul affirms (Heb. 8:13), but it is another for it to be so with regard to what is administered
and its substance, or the internal form of the covenant itself, which is what we deny.

XV. It is one thing to speak of the obligation of the ceremonies of the Old Testament, or the law
concerning them, and another of the permanence of both the knowledge of and meditation upon the
books of the Law and the Prophets. Because the law has only the shadow of blessings to come it does not
apply to Christians, who have the express image of these [blessings], as a matter of practice and
observance; it can, however, apply as a matter of teaching and knowledge, and as illustration of that
image (quoad relationem ad thn eikona). Indeed the content (corpus) shows forth more clearly from the
correspondence between the revealed shadows and forms.

XVI. Christ, in Matthew 5, does not dispute against Moses and the precepts of the law itself, but rather
acts as interpreter and vindicator of the law, by rejecting corruptions and glosses which Jewish teachers
had attached to it, and restoring its splendor and true meaning, as will be seen specifically in the locus
about the law.

XVII. Although the New Testament Scripture is complete in an intensive sense, with regard to the
substance of saving doctrine, it is not complete in the extensive sense, with regard to the full breadth of
divine revelation, because it speaks only of Christ as having been revealed, not of him as to be revealed,
a form of witness that is most useful for the confirmation of faith. So the perfection of the books of the
New Testament does not exclude the use of the books of the Old, both because the New Testament itself
witnesses that it rests upon the Old, and because the repetition of many testimonies to the same fact is a
valid witness for us, and increases assurance of our faith.

XVIII. Anything that does not come, either directly or indirectly, from Christ does not have authority for
Christians. But the law that was given by Moses was also given by Christ; by Moses as servant (servus),
by Christ as Lord. So in Acts 7:38 the same angel who appeared to Moses in the desert (v. 30), and who
was Jehovah himself (Exod. 3:2), is said to have spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai, because the Son of
God, who is called the angel of the covenant and of the presence, was the primary author and
promulgator of the law, of which Moses was only a servant (minister). This does not destroy the
distinction between the promulgation of the law and of the gospel, because in the law the Son of God
worked only indirectly and as disincarnate, but is called the first author of the gospel directly and as
incarnate (Heb. 2:3).

XIX. Christ is called the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), both because he was the purpose (scopus) toward
which the entire law looked, and because he was its realization and completion, not by doing away with
its value, but by fulfilling its oracles, and carrying them out, both in his own person, by action and by
suffering, and in his people, by inscribing the law on the hearts of believers, whence he is said to have
come not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17).

XX. Servants are not to be listened to, if they say anything contrary to, or injurious to, the master when
he is absent, but they can and should be heard if they speak about him in accordance with his
commandment. Moses and the prophets did this no less than the apostles (John 5:46; Acts 10:43), and
Christ expressly enjoins the hearing of Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:29). This is not going back from
Christ to Moses, but a going forward from Moses, who is tutor (Gal. 3:24), to Christ.

XXI. The beginning of John’s preaching is properly called the beginning of the gospel (Mark 1:1) with regard to fulfillment and with respect to the revelation of Christ as sent, but not with regard to the promise and with respect to [the revelation of] Christ as one to be sent, which had been given previously under the Old Testament (Rom. 1:2; Gal.3:8; Isa. 52:7; 61:1).

About the Author:

I hold to the historic Confessional view of Scripture as found in Chapter 1 of the WCF/2LBCF. I reject Restorationist Textual Criticism and affirm Preservationist Textual Criticism

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