The 400 years of silence refers to the time between the Old Testament and New Testaments, during which God did not speak to the Jewish people. The 400 years of silence began with the warning that closed the Old Testament: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6) and ended with the coming of John the Baptist, the Messiah’s forerunner.
At the time of Malachi’s warning, about 430 B.C., the Jews had returned to Israel from the Babylonian captivity (as merchants, not shepherds). The Medo-Persian Empire still ruled Israel, and the temple had been rebuilt. Both the Law and the priesthood of Aaron’s line had been restored, and the Jews had given up their worship of idols. Nevertheless, Malachi’s warning was not without cause. The Jewish people were mistreating their wives, marrying pagans and not tithing, and the priests were neglecting the temple and not teaching the people the ways of God. In short, the Jews were not honoring God.
In 333 B.C., Israel fell to the Greeks, and in 323 B.C. it fell to the Egyptians. The Jews generally were treated well throughout those reigns, and they adopted the Greek language and many of the Greek customs and manners, and in Egypt the Old Testament was translated into Greek. That translation, the Septuagint, came into widespread use (and is quoted frequently in the New Testament).
Jewish law and the priesthood remained more or less intact until Antiochus the Great of Syria captured Israel in 204 B.C. He and his successor, Antiochus Epiphanes, persecuted the Jews and sold the priesthood, and in 171 B.C. Epiphanes desecrated the Holy of Holies. This desecration resulted in an uprising by Judas Maccabeus of the priestly line of Aaron, and in 165 B.C. the Jews recaptured Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. However, fighting continued between the Jews and the Syrians until the Romans gained control of Israel in 63 B.C., at which time Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies, once again shocking and embittering the Jews. In 47 B.C., Caesar installed Antipater, a descendant of Esau, as procurator of Judea, and Antipater subsequently appointed his two sons as kings over Galilee and Judea.
As the New Testament opens, Antipater’s son, Herod the Great, a descendant of Esau, was king, and the priesthood was politically motivated and not of the line of Aaron. Politics also resulted in the development of two major factions, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees favoured the liberal attitudes and practices of the Greeks. They held to only the Torah as regards religion but like all aristocrats they did not think God should have any part in governing the nation. The Pharisees were conservative zealots who, with the help of the scribes, developed religious law to the point where the concerns and care of people were essentially meaningless. Additionally, synagogues, new places of worship and social activity, had sprouted up all over the country, and religious and civil matters were governed by the lesser and the greater Sanhedrins, the greater Sanhedrin being comprised of a chief priest and seventy other members that handed out justice, sometimes by 39 lashes administered with full force.
Between the time of Malachi and the coming of the Messiah, several prophecies were fulfilled, including the 2,300 days of desecration between 171 and 165 B.C. (Daniel 8:14), but neither the fulfilled prophecies nor the 400 years the nation was given to study Scripture, to seek God (Psalm 43-44) and to prepare for the coming Messiah, was put to good use. In fact, those years blinded and deafened the nation to the point where most of the Jews could not even consider the concept of a humble Messiah (Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 6:10; John 12:40).
I was reading through Galatians yesterday and noted that in Galatians 3:16-17 KJV Paul states the following: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.”
Here Paul makes reference to the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 22:18 where God says “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice”.
I found it interesting that there was a 430 year period of time between when the promise was first given to Abraham and the Law was given to Moses and also an additional 400-430 period of time between which the Law and the Prophets ended (no official additional recognized scriptures accepted in the Hebrew Bible) or where silent and Jesus began His ministry of the New Covenant.
During the period between the completion of the Old Testament and the first writings included in the New Testament (i.e. the period between 450 BC and 50 AD), many essays, psalms and historical accounts circulated throughout the synagogues and early churches. Some of these documents gradually came to be regarded by certain of the believers as actually inspired and deserving of a place in the canon.
However, a second set of booklets had been assembled through the years, and these were given the name Apocrypha (meaning “hidden”). Though they are all from the time before the birth of Christ, they were never included in the Hebrew Bible.
The canon of the New Testament is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and constituting the New Testament of the Christian Bible. For most, it is an agreed-upon list of twenty-seven books that includes the Canonical Gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation. The books of the canon of the New Testament were written before 120 AD.
Here is a link to an excellent overview on how the Canon of the NT was decided: case-making-101-how-were-the-books-of-the-bible-decided/
Martin Luther, in his Bible translation of 1534, extracted the apocryphal books from their usual places in the Old Testament, and had them printed at the end of the Old Testament. He stated that they “are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.” After that, many Protestant Bibles omitted them completely. However, in 1546 the Roman Catholic Council of Trent specifically listed the apocryphal books approved by the Roman Catholic Church as inspired and they are always included in Roman Catholic Bibles and are usually interspersed among the books of the Old Testament.
The Apocrypha generally consists of 14 booklets of which 1 and 2 Maccabees and 1 Esdras are the main documents and form the bulk of the apocryphal writings. First Maccabees is an historical account of the struggle of the Maccabee family and their followers for Jewish independence from 167 to 134 BC. Second Maccabees covers the same ground but dramatizes the accounts and makes moral and doctrinal observations. Other books are Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, and The Wisdom of Solomon.
Since neither Jesus nor the apostles make any reference to the apocryphal books, most Protestant Christians do not regard the apocryphal books as authoritative scripture.
Reading the history of what happened during the 400+ years that transpired since Malachi closed the Old Testament and which ultimately leads up to the Roman occupation of Judea where Jesus was born, gives us a better understanding of the political environment that Jesus and the Apostles and the early Christian Jewish believers faced.
Here are a couple of detailed downloadable PDF’s that provide an overview of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The 1st link is a relatively short PDF comprised of 12 pages and the 2nd link is a more lengthy study comprised of 41 pages. Both of them are good, albeit the 41 page PDF goes into greater detail.
Also, Mandy from Blue Collar Theologian has provided an excellent post which covers the Hebrew (as opposed to the Greek) aspect of the OT Bible which has a nice tie-in that you won’t want to miss. Just click on this link to view it: https://bluecollartheologian.blog/2020/01/22/malachi-or-chronicles/
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!