As Catholics (as well as Eastern Orthodox), we are often faced with the question ‘Why does your Bible have more books?’ or more often than not we get the anti-Catholic version, ‘Why did the Catholic Church add seven books to the Bible?’ Well in this article I will show you why the real question is ‘why are protestants missing seven books from the bible?’
It is important we first clarify the books we are talking about, and they are known as the deuterocanon, or for protestants, as the apocrypha. These are essentially seven prophetic old testament scriptures that were used by Greek speaking Jews.
In order to answer this question we will look at the following in turn:
- What are these books?
- Where does the list of the Old Testament come from?
- Why the protestant bible (sometimes) has less books?
- Why the Catholic Bible is the full Bible.
- Why Catholics and Protestants cannot deny the deuterocanon without denying the entire New Testament.
What are these books?
The seven books that make up the deuterocanon are as follows:
- 1 and 2 Maccabees
- as well as longer versions of Daniel and Esther
These books make up what is known as the deuterocanon, the word deuterocanon is made from the word deutero- which means secondary, and canon- which to us Christians means inspired scripture. This word does not mean these scriptures are of any less value, we use this word because these books were contested in some circles, but long ago were made secure in the Old Testament.
Where does the list of the Old Testament come from?
At the time of Christ, the Palestinian Jews had not yet ‘closed’ the canon of the scripture. Although it is agreed the earlier books were decided upon, Genesis, the books of the Law, and the Major Prophets; the scriptures that were to make up the Minor Prophets had not been set in stone by Palestinian Jews.
Just like there are different groups of Christians today, there were different groups of Jews, one being the Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews who came from Alexandria. The Old Testament of the Alexandrian Jews is known as the Septuagint, and it contained the deuterocanocal texts, and become the canon of Jewish scripture for all Greek-speaking nations.
The Septuagint was first mentioned in about 275BC when Ptolemy II Philadelphus, King of Egypt, made a request to the High Priest of Jerusalem for the Jewish Scriptures in Greek in order to be in good graces with the Jews who made up almost two-fifths of the kingdom.
At the time of Christ the deteuterocanon were widely accepted as inspired books of scripture.
Why the protestant bible (sometimes) has less books?
In 90AD, the Jewish Council of Jamnia was held in order to settle the dispute on the Canon of Scripture for Jewish people. As we know at this time, the Alexandrian Jews regarded the deuteros as canon, and it has also been suggested by historians that before this time the Palestinian scriptures may also have included the deuteros. Either way the council ruled that these books were non-canonical.
It is suggested that once the early Christian Church had began treating the deuterocanon as inspired scripture, the Jerusalem scribes (Palestinian Jews who held the seat of authority) placed a ban on them, in an attempt to separate itself from the Hellenistic Jews largeness of spirt, and in this manner, distance themselves from Christians.
The question remains, how did the protestants end up with seven less books in the bible (when the early Church as shown in the next section included them)?
Skip to the 1500’s, a heretical monk known as Luther began to engage in discussion with faithful Christians, regarding Purgatory. In 1519, Luthers opponent Eck, cited a well known scripture in 2 Maccabees in proof of the doctrine of purgatory. In order to avoid the argument, Luther declared that 2 Maccabees was not canonical, even though the Church had previously declared otherwise. Luther decided that the Old Testament most likely used by Christ and the apostles, used by the early Church was wrong, and that he preferred to use the Canon determined by the same Jews who had Jesus put to death.
Later protestants didnt really know what to do with the deuterocanonical books, sometimes they were in their bible as an appendix, other times not at all. Some such as the Anglicans were using them in their liturgy, while other protestants rejected them outright.
Why the Catholic Bible is the full Bible.
All the deuteros are used in the works of the early Church Fathers in the first 3 centuries after Christ. Christ himself was a Greek speaking Jew and most likely used the Old Testament that contained the seven deuterocanonical books. As early as 380AD in a synod convoked by Pope Damasus, all the deuterocanonicals were declared inspired scripture, and again at the Council of Hippo in 393AD.
Either Christ, the apostles, the early Church fathers, and the Councils of the ealy Church got it wrong, and was wrong for 1500 years, or the alternative is true. They are canonical, and Christ, the early apostles, the early Church fathers, and the Councils of the early Church got it right.
Why Catholics and Protestants cannot deny the deuterocanon without denying the entire New Testament.
No where does the Bible tell us what books are to make up the Bible. At the time of the early Church which New Testament writings which would make up the Bible were disputed, it was undecided that of which of the scriptures were inspired by God. Until the synod convoked by Pope Damasus, and again at the Council of Hippo, when the Bishops gathered to determine which scriptures were inspired in the late 300’s. The same councils that declared the deuterocanon as inspired by God.
If we reject these councils and say that they were wrong in determining the deuterocanon was inspired, and hence were not infallible in determining inspired scripture, then the entire New Testament could be wrong.
We are left with two options:
- Either the Catholic Church was infallible, and was right in determining what scriptures were inspired, or;
- The Catholic Church was not infallible, and hence we have no way of knowing if the books in the Bible from the New Testament are meant to be there.
The answer is clear. The deuterocanonical books belong in the Bible.
I look forward to any comments or questions.
For an in-depth look into this area see the New Advent Encyclopaedia article ‘The Canon of the Old Testament.‘