Is it true that Ezra was responsible for the final Old Testament canon? Is it possible that he changed the scripture to make it more "spiritual" as my religious studies TA told us?
Is it true that Ezra was the individual responsible for the final Old Testament canon? I heard from my religious studies T.A. that he changed some of the Old Testament stories to seem a bit more "spiritual". For example the story of David, and the destruction of the fall of the first temple due to "sin" were supposedly changed by Ezra. I was somewhat bothered by this so I went online to do some research and the only thing I could find was the biblical canon online article on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_canon) and this online article (http://www.keithhunt.com/Canold6.html) Is it possible that these men (Ezra, Nehemiah, and the 120 scribes and sages) could have distorted the "original" Old Testament or better yet the original stories? Can we trust these stories as truth?
There is literally zero evidence that Ezra changed any of the Old Testament books. This is an extremely speculative theory which, like I said, is not supported by any evidence. Let me add to this another reason you should reject this questionable theory. I have not met the TA in question, but from what he said, you can conclude that he ASSUMES that the Bible is not inspired by God. The key word here is assumes. In other words, he has already decided that the Old Testament is entirely of human origin. The problem with this assumption is that it is wrong. When scholars begin an argument by making an assumption which is patently false, we can predict the reliablity of their theories.
How do I know he is wrong (that the Bible is not inspired)? Because of the evidence. The fufilled Old Testament prophecies, the consistency of message, the miracles which testify to the message, the scientific accuracy and the historical accuracy of the Old Testament are all clear indiciation that the Old Testament is inspired by God. If it is inspired by God (which I will admit is an assumption for this particular argument), then your TA’s theory is clearly wrong.
There is another reason, apart from the argument above, that this theory is almost centainly not true. What do we know about Ezra? What we know about him is principally found in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra. From these books, we can get a good feeling for his character. We can see Ezra reading the scriptures to the people and giving the interpretation. Nehemiah eight is the record of this event. What is clear is that Ezra had a deep and abiding respect for the inspired Word of God. The theory that he would change the scripture to agree with his opinion is really outrageous. In the modern context, your TA could be convicted of libel for his unsupported slur on the good character of Ezra. This theory requires us to ignore the only real information we have about Ezra. It requires inventing a person for the purpose of creating a theory. This is NOT good scholarship at all.
Is it possible that Ezra could have changed the inspired Word of God in order to insert his own opinion on God’s word? I suppose that we should not simply dismiss this theory without consideration. But if we allow that the Bible is inspired by God and if we accept the biblical picture of the actual person Ezra (or Nehemiah for that matter), then this theory is almost without a doubt false.
As for more material on the Old and New Testament canon, Wikipedia can be useful. Generally they are not as strongly biased as your TA, but let me suggest another source. It is my book Reasons For Belief (available at www.ipibooks.com). There is a whole chapter on this topic. You will find other references there as well. Was Ezra responsible for the Old Testament Canon? This is one theory. I would say that we have no strong evidence that he put together the canon, but he is about as good a candidate we have as an Old Testament figure who quite likely had a significant impact on the canon of the Old Testament. The fact is that we simply do not know exactly how the Old Testament canon was formed. I believe that it formed gradually over several hundred years as a consensus of the Jewish teachers. It is very likely that Ezra commented on the canon, and possible that he had a major influence, but the evidence for this is weak.
My final comment is that you can trust the Old Testament stories to be real. The entire Bible is inspired by God (2Tim 3:16). God did not leave his authoritative writings to chance (2 Pet 1:19-21). Do not be intimidated by biased teachers who have assumed that God does not exist. They are wrong and their assumptions color all their theories.
John Oakes, PhD