The teaching in church this week centered on the inspiring story of Esther. In a nutshell when Xerxes was king of Persia the Queen was named Vashti. And in a moment of defiance Vashti refused the command of the King. After consulting with his advisers the king decided on a process to find a new Queen, and the beautiful Queen he chose was Esther. Esther had been warned of by her kinsmen Mordecai to not advise the King that she was a Jew because of animosity towards the Jews. As it turned out an Agagite named Haman conspired to get rid of all the Jews and in a thrilling story of bravery and courage Esther is instrumental in ridding the Jews of this direct attack, in elevating her kinsmen Mordecai and in providing for the welfare of all the Jews under Xerxes. It is an amazing story of bravery, and deliverance.
As much as I love the story of Esther however I must report that there is considerable evidence that Esther, whether true or not, was not a book of the Old Testament according to at least some writings of the day.
Look at this quotation from you Eusebius’ church history:
Melito to his brother Onesimus, greeting! Since you have often, in your zeal for the Word, expressed a wish to have extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour, and concerning our entire Faith, and have also desired to have an accurate statement of the ancient books, as regards their number and their order, I have endeavored to perform the task, knowing your zeal for the faith, and your desire to gain information in regard to the Word, and knowing that you, in your yearning after God, esteem these things above all else, struggling to attain eternal salvation. Accordingly when I went to the East and reached the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and I send them to you as written below. These are their names: Of Moses five, Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four of Kingdoms, 1 two of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs or Wisdom, 2 Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, 3 the Twelve [minor prophets] in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. 4 From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.[i]
Notice in the above listing that the book of Esther is missing.
With that again I have to say that it pains me to have to present this because to me the story of Esther has always been a thrilling and inspiring story. But, besides being our Savior, the Lord Jesus was also the greatest prophet ever and he said this about reading the Scriptures:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (Joh 5:39 ESV)
While the story of Esther is certainly one of the Jewish people being saved at the time it holds the distinction of being one of two books (the other being Song of Solomon) that do not mention God. It does not include any of the genealogy of the bloodline of our Savior. While Esther is a story of deliverance it doesn’t testify of jesus. And as noted above it was left out of at least some of the early Christian centuries’ canons of Scripture. Also throughout the centuries it has not been accepted universally. Look at this quote from a website called patheos.com:
John Calvin did not include the book in his biblical commentaries and only referenced it once in the Institutes(see 4.12.17). Though he included it in his Bible, Martin Luther was highly ambivalent about it. “I am so great an enemy to . . . Esther, that I wish [it] had not come to us at all, for [it has] too many heathen unnaturalities,” he said in Table Talk 24. And in one exchange with Erasmus he said it “deserves. . . to be regarded as noncanonical.”[ii]
What this suggests is significant in a number of ways:
- the Canon of Scripture might not be as divinely inspired as some would have us believe.
- The statements of belief of many Christian churches today includes the statement that the 66 books included in the modern Christian Bible are divinely inspired, and the word of God. This is a relatively recent doctrine and not something that has consistently been believed throughout the ages.
I have said elsewhere in places on this website that many churches teach that they are the first century church living in the 21st century. But this is clearly not the case. There were at least some of the earliest church fathers who did not hold that Esther and some of the other books in the Bible were divinely inspired by God. And hundreds of years ago in the forming of the Reformation the founding reformers also challenged some of the books that current statements of belief propound to be true. In other words, churches in Melito’s time, in Luther’s time, in Calvin’s time would not have made the statement that the 66 books of the Bible are all divinely inspired pieces of the word of God.
It is vitally important to me to remember that the true word of God is not a book as much as it is the person of Jesus Christ. And it is helpful in recognizing that much of the disagreement among churches centers around a dogma that God authored the 66 books and the arguments that promote divisions weaken when we acknowledge that that statement of belief is a modern invention and not one held by the reformers nor the early Christians.
The faith of the early Christians as well as the reformers like Luther and Calvin was not based on the doctrine that the 66 books of the modern Christian bible are the word of God, and neither should ours be.
[i] The Face of the Early Fathers, William a Jurgens, volume 1, p.81. This is a quote by St. Melito of Sardes which is a fragment in Eusebius, history of the church, book 4, chapter 26. The estimated date of this citation is 170 AD.