7: The Growth And Acceptance Of The Canon

What defines us?  What are we apart from our body?  What are we apart from our family?  What are we apart from our race?  What are we apart from our nation?  What are we apart from our land? And what defines each one of these (body, family, race, nation and land)?  Is it science, philosophy, or our Creator?  As Joshua stands ready to enter the land, Schaeffer notices that Joshua has a ruler in his pocket that he will use to build this nation.  We have that instrument too.  The world offers many rulers by which they claim you can build with, so how can we tell if we have the right one?  This section helps us understand.  

What follows are fragmentary pieces of Francis Schaeffer’s commentary Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History picked out for my own edification and direction. I am interested most in finding the conditions God gave for taking and possessing His land. Also, what can we learn from this story of conquest? To go to the start of these lessons click here.

The Three Changeless Factors

The First Changeless Factor: The Written Book

“Live your life within the circle of the propositions given in the written book.”  (See previous.)

The Growth and Acceptance of the Canon

Joshua’s relation to the book teaches us an important lesson about how the canon grew and was accepted. Joshua knew Moses, the writer of the Pentateuch, personally. Joshua knew his strengths and weaknesses as a man; he knew that Moses was a sinner, that Moses made mistakes, that Moses was just a man. Nonetheless, immediately after Moses’ death Joshua accepted the Pentateuch as more than the writing of Moses. He accepted it as the writing of God. Two or three hundred years were not required for the book to become sacred. As far as Joshua was concerned the Pentateuch was the canon, and the canon was the Word of God. The biblical view of the growth and acceptance of the canon is as simple as this: when it was given, God’s people understood what it was. Right away it had authority.

This is why I think the book of Joshua is so crucial. It stands as the bridge between the Pentateuch and the post-Pentateuchal period and provides the key for understanding some important relationships between various parts of the whole Scripture.

The fact that Joshua’s generation accepted the Pentateuch as authoritative is more than a mere breath of fresh air in the heavy smog which surrounds present liberal scholarly discussion. To the Israelites, the canon was not just academic, not merely theological, but practical. Joshua and the people had a continuity of authority as they moved through history. The book was to be their environment, their mentality.

At the time of Moses, they had the authority of both Moses and the law God had commanded Moses to write. When they woke up the morning after Moses died, and when they entered the promised land, they were not left in a vacuum. To use another image, because of the continuity provided by the book, there was no fracture in the authority. In the practical problems of life, they had an objective standard of judgment which stood in an unbroken flow.[1]

One practical problem, for instance, was how to judge prophecies. Moses had written that if a man made a prophecy and it did not come to pass, it was not from God (Deut. 18:22). But this, of course, left an even more acute problem: what happens when people make strange prophecies that do come to pass? Then where do the prophecies come from? How can you tell? Moses had laid down these guidelines:

Whatsoever thing I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them, thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death, because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. (Deut. 12:32–13:5)

This passage from Deuteronomy reveals the standard that God himself gave: judge the prophet whose prophecy comes to pass by comparing what he says with the objective written standard. Whether a prophecy comes to pass or not is not the final test.[2] The final test is whether a prophet’s teaching stands in continuity with what is written in the book.

Because of the book, the first of the great changeless factors, God’s people had a way to make objective, not merely experiential, judgments. The whole man, with his reason, could consider what Moses’ writings said. In this time of change from the great lawgiver (Moses) to the post-Pentateuchal period, the Israelites had a standard, a very practical guide.

In the book of Joshua, we watch the canon grow even more. Joshua 5:1 contains the phrase “until we were passed over.” The person who wrote the narrative was there! (This reminds us of the we passages in Acts.) Joshua 5:6 has the words “which the LORD swore unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey.” Again, the writer was present at these events. When the Pentateuch was finished, the book of Joshua, a continuation of the canon, flowed on; and it was a first-person situation.[3]

Joshua 24:26 tells us who this person was: “And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law.” How did the canon grow? Moses wrote, and Moses died. Joshua continued to write, and the canon continued to grow. Incidentally, as a quick parenthesis, it is quite clear that the Bible always accepts Joshua as a historic character. Nehemiah 8:17 illustrates this when it says that the children of Israel had not kept the feasts of booths since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun.

As Joshua faced his task, then, he had with him this first great changeless factor: the written book. It provided a continuity of authority, but it was growing and would continue to grow. It grew, but it was not discontinuous. Joshua, as he led the people, had an objective standard by which to judge everything else, and the standard was so clear that God expected the ordinary people to understand it when it was periodically read to them.

Questions & Notes

  1. In the practical problems of life, they had an _________ standard of judgment which stood in an unbroken flow.

  2. Whether a prophecy comes to pass or not is not the _________ _________.

  3. When the Pentateuch was finished, the book of Joshua, a continuation of the canon, flowed on; and it was a _________ situation.

Click on the “Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History” tag below to see all the posts in this series. To go to the start of this series click here.