The canon is the traditional term for the divinely inspired, authoritative body of writings contained in the Bible. 30 The study of canonicity seeks to gather evidence for the human recognition of the authority of the scriptural books. The canonicity of the Minor Prophets is a relatively straightforward issue. Prophets spoke with authority and claimed divine inspiration for their oracles. Their oral messages, and no less their written form, would naturally have found acceptance. But it would not be true to say of the preexilic prophets that their oracles were accepted as authoritative by the community as soon as they were delivered. In the case of Micah, his own oracles supply evidence that he belonged to a group of prophets opposed by others who regarded themselves as true prophets and who consequently dismissed the stand Micah took as mistaken. But there must have been those who accepted his messages as authoritative, and for this reason preserved his oracles for posterity. Indeed, as Jer. 26:18 remarkably testifies, at least one of his oracles was taken seriously by the king and people. A century later men had a good knowledge of his words and were ready to accord them the divine imprimatur, “Thus says Yahweh.” The catastrophes of the fall of Jerusalem and the Exile must have been regarded as striking confirmation of Micah’s prophesying, and undoubtedly commended them still further.
The present form in which Micah’s oracles have come down to us is probably a postexilic edition, although there is no reason to doubt that they had previously been preserved in written form. They appear to have been supplemented with a liturgical psalm: evidently the religious community used the book at their worship as a means of confessing their sin and as an encouragement to hope for future blessing. They took to heart the penalties and promises associated with Micah, and thereby recognized the divine validity of his words.
The book of Joel contains within it a clear implication that his call to repentance was recognized as a divine summons. It is not difficult to appreciate that the associated oracles of salvation found ready acceptance among the prophet’s contemporaries and succeeding generations as God’s answer to their perplexed and aching hearts in difficult days. The little book of Obadiah must also have had a similar popular appeal, which gave full credence its claim: “Thus says Yahweh.”
The book of Jonah is quite different from the others in that it is a narrative associated with a strange prophetic anti-hero. Doubtless Jonah’s name helped it along the canonical road, just as the attachment of Paul’s name did to the Letter to the Hebrews. But it has a prophetic stamp of its own, which evidently was recognized as the very voice of God to the community of the old covenant.
These are reasonable reconstructions of the early process of canonization. 31 The recognition of the uniqueness of the collections of prophetic oracles must have been accelerated by the eventual dying out of the prophetic gift, probably by the third century B.C. The first external evidence in later times of the authority of the Minor Prophets, including our four, is dated c. 190 B.C.: Jesus ben Sira mentions in his praise of famous men “the twelve prophets” (Sir. 49:12). By the beginning of the second century B.C. the works of the Minor Prophets were thus a fixed entity. His translator and grandson speaks in the prologue of “the law and the prophets …” (c. 117 B.C.). Josephus (Contra Apionem i.8) writes of a limited number (22) of sacred writings, including thirteen prophetic books. The Twelve Prophets were evidently counted as one book, probably because they could be written on a manuscript about the same size as that required by each of the Major Prophets.
The Qumran community undoubtedly attached divine authority to the Minor Prophets. That they did so in the case of Micah is clear from the preservation of their pesher commentary on the book. In Cave Four at Qumran no fewer than eight copies of the book of the Twelve were found. Although none is complete, most probably they each originally consisted of the Twelve together.
Whatever the status and function of that vague body the Council of Jamnia c.a.d. 90, the rightful place of the Twelve in the Jewish canon did not come into the discussion. There was no need to argue about them, for their authority had evidently long been recognized and was accepted without question. 32
But why should Christians concern themselves with the Jewish canon? The question needs to be posed and answered, for there is an implicit tendency among Christians who are otherwise most orthodox virtually to decanonize the pre-Christian scriptures and especially such books as the Minor Prophets. It needs to be understood that the Christian Church took over what we now call the OT as authoritative. 33 The motivation was its endorsement in the NT generally, and its verification in the Gospels by the testimony of Jesus Christ. Ample references are made to “the (sacred) scriptures” and to “the law and the prophets.” 34 The books of Joel, Jonah, and Micah are cited in the NT. That the book of Obadiah is not explicitly quoted does not of course mean that it was not regarded as canonical. So the heritage of these prophets has passed into the possession of the late twentieth-century Church, preserved by the providential control of the God who both inspired them and evoked in those who heard and read them a recognition that in them God’s voice spoke and continued to speak with compelling force.
30 For further study see the OT Introductions and literature cited therein, esp. G. W. Anderson, A Critical Introduction to the OT (1959), pp. 10–18, and E. J. Young, “The Canon of the OT,” Revelation and the Bible, ed. C. F. H. Henry (1959), pp. 155–168.
31 A baraitha or unauthorized tradition preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 14b, 15a, attributes the writing (i.e., presumably the editing) of the Twelve and some other books to the “men of the great synagogue,” a shadowy company who seem to have been regarded as an early postexilic group. Similarly according to 2 Macc. 2:13–15 (c.a.d. 50), Nehemiah “made a collection of the books dealing with the kings and the prophets.” Cf. too 2 Esdras 14:18–48 (c.a.d. 100), where Ezra is said to have dictated books, including the canonical 24, for public use. The value of these traditions is uncertain; they attest a belief that the OT, including the Minor Prophets, was considered normative in matters of faith and practice for the Jewish community from its earliest period of postexilic establishment.
32 It should be mentioned that the traditional Massoretic order of the books differs from that of the Greek Septuagint. In the former the order of the first six is Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, but in G it is Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah. This latter order was apparently determined by length in the case of the first five and for Jonah by the difference of content from the others.