I have a question about the Old Testament canon. It is about the Old Testament antilegomena.  These are the books that some Jewish scholars doubted.  I know that Ezekiel, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs, and Esther were questioned as being canonical books.  What made these books still become canonical, despite the apparent contradictions in question etc ? What made them change their mind about theses books?  I was curious to why they questioned them, but then they became canonical after.


The Jews left behind a record of their debates, which is not all that surprising of the Jews, who traditionally have loved debates over what might seem to be relatively small matters of the Law. In the case of Ezekiel, I am copying and pasting a little paragraph from a commentary on Ezekiel by James E. Smith which is available on-line. Here it is:

Canonicity of the Book. The Book of Ezekiel was one of five antilegomena  “books spoken against” in the Hebrew canon. Certain rabbis were convinced that the teaching of this book was not in harmony with Mosaic law. The Torah (Law), for example, prescribed that two bullocks and seven lambs and one ram be offered at new moon celebrations (Num 28:11). On the other hand, Ezekiel speaks of only one unblemished bullock, six lambs and one ram (Ezek 46:6). Rabbi Hananiah vigorously defended the book before those who argued that it should be removed from the canon. Legend has it that he burned the midnight oil—300 jars of it—in harmonizing Ezekiel with the Pentateuch. 21 Hananiah’s effort at harmonization must not have satisfied all Jewish scholars. The Talmud ( Menach . 45a) states that when Elijah comes (cf. Mal 4:5) the discrepancies between Ezekiel and the Pentateuch will be explained. Modern scholars are not concerned about the differences between the worship system described in Ezekiel and that set forth by Moses. Ezekiel was describing the worship of a new age and a new covenant. The Book of Ezekiel certainly belongs in the Old Testament canon. It apparently was found in Nehemiah’s collection of “the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning holy gifts” (2 Macc 2:13). Ezekiel was included in the Septuagint translation that was initiated about 280 B.C. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, numbered this book among the books held sacred by the Jews in his day. 22 The majority of the rabbis defended the book against the disparagement of those who were concerned about the discrepancies with the Pentateuch. The Book of Ezekiel was listed in the Talmud ( Baba Bathra 14b) as belonging to the canon. Among early Christian scholars the book was acknowledged by Melito (A.D. 172) and Origen (A.D. 250). In Christian circles the canonicity of Ezekiel never has been questioned seriously.

So, you can see that there was a small minority of Jewish teachers who questioned the inspiration of Ezekiel on an extremely small matter. What this tells me is that the Jews were hyper cautious about what entered into the canon of the Old Testament. Apparently, the majority of Jewish scribes and teachers of the Law agreed that this difference is either too small to be important, or that it was completely irrelevant because it is discussing a different situation than that addressed in Leviticus.  My generic answer to why we should trust the canon of the Old Testament is that God, in his wisdom, allowed the Jews to select the canon by consensus. The quality of the books speak for themselves as all show signs of inspiration. Jesus, who certainly knew an inspired book from one which is not inspired quoted from both Ezekiel and Proverbs. In the end, I will admit that I accept by faith that God saw to the books he wanted entering into the canon, but that he used the Jews to complete this process. Bottom line, I cannot prove that Ecclesiastes 8:3 or Esther 4:12 are inspired. We are left with the general evidence for inspiration, which is overwhelming, but must accept on faith those parts we cannot “prove” to be inspired were also selected by God. I would say that, on the whole, the “evidence” for the inspiration of Ezekiel and Proverbs is stronger than that of Ecclesiastes or Song of Solomon. The latter were not quoted by Jesus and neither has obvious messianic prophecies, so you will have to reach your own conclusion. I already said that, in the final analysis, I have faith in God’s ability to get the books he wanted into the Bible.

To simplify:

I accept books of the Old Testament as inspired because of two things:

1. Evidence from that particular book that it is inspired.

2. An acceptance, partially on faith, that the entire accepted Old Testament canon is inspired (2 Tim 3:16).

In the case of Ezekiel, reason #1 above is stronger, whereas in Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, I rely more on reason #2 than on reason #1, but even in these I see evidence from the qualities of these books that they are inspired.

Another point which might prove helpful is that you can read books such as Tobit, Judith, Wisdom and 2 Maccabees for yourself. These “apocryphal” books are clearly not of the quality of the canonical books. Like I already said, I accept by faith God’s inspiration and his oversight of what ended up in the Jewish canon, but it just so happens that all the evidence we have at hand supports this conclusion, making it a reasonable one.

John Oakes

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