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July 18, 2010 / vivator

How reliable is William Webster’s study on Canon of Old Testament?

William Webster, a former Catholic, is businessman and director of Christian Resources Inc., a book and tape ministry devoted to teaching and evangelism (source: Roman Catholicism, Evangelical Protestants analyze what divides and unites us, Moody Press, page 11).  He wrote a number of books dealing with Roman Catholicism, among which is The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, published by the Banner of Truth Trust in 1995.

The first chapter of the book deals with authority of Scripture where Webster claimed that apocryphal books were not accepted by the early Church as part of the legitimate scriptural canon (page 7), i.e. the canon of Old Testament known to Christ, His apostles and early Christians comprises only thirty-nine books of Protestant’s Bible.  To support his theory Webster proposed the following evidence:

  1. Jesus and the New Testament authors never quote from the Apocrypha, though they quote prolifically from the vast majority of the Old Testament canonical books.  However if being quoted in New Testament is criteria of canonicity we don’t have New Testament quotation from Esther, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.  New Testament also quotes from outside both Catholic and Protestant’s canon. We do not know from which Scripture Christ quoted His words recorded in John 7:38, though they are preceded with the phrase “Scripture has said”.  James 4:5 also quotes from unknown Scripture while Jude 14 quotes from 1 Enoch.  In 2 Peter 2:22 quotation from Proverbs 26:11 is placed in par with quotation from unknown source.  Paul wrote about supernatural Rock (Christ) that followed Israelites in their Exodus (1 Corinthians 10:4) – nowhere mentioned in the book of Exodus.  This shows that in Christ and His apostles’ time the canon of Old Testament was not defined yet.  For more detail refer to my earlier post: new-testament-quotation-from-old-testament . Second century Christians also quoted from apocrypha and other books as Scripture.  For more detail refer to my post: the-old-testament-of-the-first-two-centuries-christians
  2. Jewish historian Josephus stated that Jewish canon comprises twenty-two books.  This is equal to twenty four books of the present Jewish Bible if we combine four books into two books (Josephus: Against Apion 1:8 (38-40)).  Josephus also stated that prophetic line ended in around 4 century BC (after the death of Artaxerxes, king of Persia).  Hence, apocryphal books, written after second century BC, cannot be prophetic – something that will surely please Protestants.  But Christ said in Matthew 11:13: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John [the Baptist].  Which one is more trustworthy, Christ’ statement or that of Josephus?
  3. Philo of Alexandria, Jewish philosopher (c. 20 BC to 50 AD) did not quote from apocrypha.  But he did not quote from Ezekiel, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentation, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Daniel either.  For detail refer to my early post: philo-and-canon-of-old-testament
  4. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria from 328 to 373 AD, did not include apocrypha as part of the Old Testament canon.  This is not true and misleading statement.  Athanasius included Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah and omitted Esther in his list of Old Testament books.  While he did consider apocrypha (and Esther) to have inferior status, he nevertheless still quoted them as Scripture in his works – for the details refer to my earlier post:
  5. athanasius-and-canon-of-old-testament

  6. Melito, bishop of Sardis in late 2nd century AD did not name any apocrypha in his list of Hebrew canon.  Webster did not tell his readers that Melito’s list omits Esther.  Since it is Hebrew canon it is obvious why it does not include apocrypha.  For detail refer to my earlier post:
  7. melito-and-canon-of-old-testament

  8. Origen, Epiphanius, Gregory Naziansen, Hillary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome omit apocrypha.  Again Webster gives misleading statements.  For more details refer to my earlier posts:







Is William Webster reliable and/or trustworthy source on Canon of Old Testament of the first four centuries of Christianity?  I leave it to my readers to judge.


Leave a Comment
  1. jerry belfior / Feb 8 2013 3:33 pm

    I have found Mr Webster to be very accurate on many subjects . justification ( the biblical way) for one , he also did an excellent job on defending sola Scriptura as well as documenting the history of the catholic church so I think i will read more from him it is very informitive.

  2. Mike / Jul 29 2010 6:08 pm

    William Webster is by far more reliable.

    The New Testament never quotes from the any of the apocryphal books written between 400 – 200 BC. What is significant here is that NONE of the books within the “apocryphal collection” are every quoted. So the Catholic argument is that “the apocryphal books cannot be rejected as uninspired on the basis that they are never quoted from in the New Testament because Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon are also never quoted in the New Testament, and we all accept them as inspired.”
    The rebuttal to this Catholic argument is that “Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther” were always included in the “history collection” of Jewish books and “Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon” were always included in the “poetry collection”. By quoting one book from the collection, it verifies the entire collection. None of the apocryphal books were ever quoted in the New Testament. Not even once! This proves the Catholic and Orthodox apologists wrong when they try to defend the apocrypha in the Bible.

    The usual division of the Old Testament by the Jews was a total of 24 books: The Books of Moses (51, The Early prophets 14; Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings ~, The Late Prophets (4; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the 12 Minor Prophets), and the Hagiagrapha (11; Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon. Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles i. These 24 books contain all the material in our numbering of 39.

    Josephus spoke concerning the canon, but his book division combined Ruth-Judges and Lamentation-Jeremiah for a total of 22 books rather than 24:

    “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, … only 22 books. which contain the records of ail the past times; which are justly believed to be divine;…It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers;…and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, or to make any change in them.” (Flavius Josephus Against Apion Book 1, Section 8).

    Plainly Josephus distinguishes between those books written before and after Artaxerxes. This eliminates most of the apocrypha, especially the Maccabees.

    The apocrypha itself denies all notion of inspiration. Referring to the events in the Maccabees the author makes these statements:

    “…all such things as have been comprised in 5 books by Jason of Cyrene, we have at-tempted to abridge in one book. For considering the difficulty that they find that desire to undertake the narrations of histories, because of the multitude of the matter, we have taken care for those indeed that are willing to read,…And as to ourselves indeed, in undertaking this work of abridging, we have taken in hand no easy task, yea. rather a business full of watching and sweat. .. Leaving to the authors the exact handling of every particular, and as for ourselves. according to the plan proposed, studying to brief… For to collect all that is known, to put the discourse in order, and curiously to discuss every particular point, is the duty of the author of a history. But to pursue brevity of speech and to avoid nice declarations of things, is to be granted to him that maketh an abridgement.” (2 Maccabees 2: 24-32).

    “…I will also here make an end of my narration. Which if I have done well, and as it becometh the history, it is what I desired; but if not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me. For as it is hurtful to drink always wine, or always water, but pleasant to use sometimes the one, and sometimes the other, so if the speech be always nicely framed, it will not be grateful to the readers…” 12 Maccabees 15: 39-40).

    This forms a bizarre contrast with passages in the New Testament:

    “Take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak. but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew 10: 19-20).

    “Now we have received. not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (1 Corinthians 2: 12-131.

    • vivator / Jul 31 2010 11:48 am

      The Jews did not have closed canon in the time of Christ – something that their scholars admit:
      On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to show that the collection of the Ketuvim as a whole, as well as some individual books within it, was not accepted as being finally closed until well into the second century c.e. [common era = AD]
      Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 4 page 824
      The argument that citing one (or few) book represents the rest is poor one because we can apply the same principle to apocryphal books as well. For example in Catholic Bibles the books of Maccabees, Tobit and Judith are historical books grouped together with Samuel, Kings etc. Wisdom and Sirach belong to poetical books together with Psalms and Provebs while Baruch belongs to the prophets.
      You tried to rely on Josephus statement, which I already answered in the post (it only shows you did not read the whole post). Following Josephus then any books written after Persian king Artaxerxes are not inspired. But Christ said in Matthew 11:13: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John [the Baptist]. Which one is more trustworthy, Christ’ statement or that of Josephus? Isn’t it irony that you, who believe that your Bible is the only and highest authority, rely on statement outside Bible (hence non-scriptural) to declare “period of inspiration” and “number of books” of Old Testament? While there is no direct quotation from apocrypha, we do have allusion to some of them, i.e. what Paul wrote in Romans 9:21 alludes to Wisdom 15:7.
      As for quotation from Maccabees that you believe denies inspiration. The problem with this argument is most books of the Bible do not claim inspiration either – unless you rely on the argument one (or few) book represents the rest – but where does the Bible say that?. Esther, without Septuagint chapters, does not even have the word God or Lord. In 1 Cor 7:10 what Paul wrote is commandment from the Lord but in 1 Cor 7:12 it is his (Paul) own commandment.

      • Michael Babcock / Oct 4 2010 11:33 am

        I think you misunderstand Matt. 11:38. Jesus is not saying that there were prophets raised up after Malachi who spoke until John the Baptist, as you imply. What Jesus is saying is that the Law and the Prophets (the canon of Scripture that was accepted by the Jews, which Josephus mentions) pointed forward to a time of fulfillment but after John the Baptist the fulfillment has come. It is virtually the same as what He said in Matt. 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

        I think an interesting statement is found in Matt. 23:34-36, where Jesus said to the Jews, “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” What makes this an interesting statement is that Abel was the first righteous man murdered, and his death is mentioned in the first book of the OT canon, Genesis 4:8. Zechariah bar Berechiah was not the last righteous man ever murdered but the account of his death is found near the end of the last book of the accepted OT Hebrew canon, 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. Jesus is speaking of the murders of the righteous, from the first to the last, in the accepted OT Hebrew canon. This is a clear indication of which books were accepted by Jesus as OT. The apocryphal books are not in view in Jesus’ mind, as they were not in Jospehus’ mind as he related the 22 books which the Jews accepted as canon. Moreover, the apocrypha is not found in the Hebrew text, only in the LXX, and after the accepted canon.

      • vivator / Oct 8 2010 10:15 pm

        Dear Michael,
        Scripture nowhere says God speaks only through prophets. In John 11:51-52 even Caiaphas was given the gift of prophecy. While the last Jewish prophets were Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi, prophecies and revelation did not cease and may be given not only through prophets.
        If the canon of Old Testament was already closed in Christ’ time why there are quotation from outside that canon? For example Jude 9 quotes from the apocryphal Ascension of Moses and Jude 14-16 quotes from the apocryphal 1 Enoch 1:9. 2 Peter 2:22 quotes two proverbs, the first is taken from Proverbs 26:11 but the second one comes from outside the Bible. In John 7:38 Jesus quoted from unknown scripture and so does James 4:5.
        As for Mat 23:34-46 I already wrote a post dealing with this issue – I just recycled what I wrote. First Matthew 23:35 says that Zechariah was the son of Barachiah while Zechariah (a priest) in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 was the son of Jehoiada. More suitable candidate is the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah (Zechariah 1:1). Scripture is silent on how he died but Christ may quote from outside Scripture, just like Paul wrote about spiritual rock that followed Israelites during Exodus. Second, Chronicles is the last book of the present Jewish Bible. Encyclopedia Judaica Volume 4 page 829-830 shows eight different (past) orders of books of the Writings, three of them have Chronicles as the first book. Leningrad Codex dated 1009, the oldest complete manuscript of the Jewish scripture and the standard Masoretic text for both Catholic and Protestant Bibles has Chronicles as the first book of the Writings. Third, in Christ’ time all books of Scripture were then written in scroll. While grouping them was possible, i.e. they had stack or collection of scrolls, there was no clear order of the scrolls.

      • RJ / Jun 22 2012 12:30 pm

        Using the Encyclopedia Judaica as support for this argument is laughable – one only has to read the context to see this had nothing to do with the apocrypha.
        The first verse in Hebrews blows Vivator’s thesis for an open Old Testament canon in Jesus’s day:

        “LONG AGO, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, BUT IN THESE LAST DAYS he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things…” Hebrews 1:1,2

      • vivator / Jun 23 2012 10:26 am

        Your argument not only is poor but can easily back-fire you. You cited Hebrews 1:1-2 as scriptural support of existence of closed OT canon in Christ time. If this is the case then:
        1. Consequently you should reject all epistles of New Testament because the verse does NOT say “but in the last day he [God] has spoken to us by his Son AND HIS APOSTLES”. Saying that that verse only “closed” OT canon but not applicable to NT canon is simply ridiculous. You simply tune the verse to meet your demand!
        2. Christ said in Matthew 11:13 that the Law and the Prophets are prophesied until John the Baptist.
        3. The words uttered by Balaam (Numbers 22:7-10, 18-24 and Numbers 24:2-9) and Necho (2 Chronicles 35:22) came from God, even though they were not prophets, not even Jews.
        4. There are many OT apocryphal books bearing the names of prophets written before Christ’ time on earth. Why not including them in your OT? You may say they were not written by those prophets, but how do you know? For example, how do you know that Isaiah was written by Isaiah but Apocalypse of Elijah was not written by Elijah? 1 Enoch is cited in Jude 14-16 in the same way Matthew 15:7-9 cite Isaiah 29:13 (of LXX).
        5. If canon of OT was closed in or before Christ time then why does New Testament quote from outside both Catholic and Protestant’ Old Testament. What Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, preceded with the phrase “it is written”, resembles but not equal to Isaiah 64:4. According to Ambrosiaster (c. 4th century AD) it is quotation from apocryphal Apocalypse of Elijah. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:4 about the spiritual rock that followed the Israelites during Exodus and he named two magicians who opposed Moses in 2 Timothy 3:8 – both are not found in the book of Exodus. In 2 Peter 2:22, Proverbs 26:11 is placed in par with a proverb from outside the Bible. Jude 9 quotes from the Ascension of Moses and Jude 14-16 quotes from the 1 Enoch 1:9. The standard reply for the above non-scriptural quotation is they are not quoted as scripture, like quotation from Cretan poet Epimenides in Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12. However quotation from non-Jewish works was obviously non-scriptural to the Jews (though as we will see in No. 3, God’s word may come through non-Jews). We also have quotation from unknown scripture in John 7:38 and James 4:5, both preceded with the phrase “scripture says”.

  3. kkollwitz / Jul 21 2010 6:44 pm

    Thanks for another informative and concise article.

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