What’s in your Bible?
When I was attending a non-denominational Bible study in my college days, one of the accusations leveled against Catholics was that we “added books to the Bible.” If you walk into a Christian book store and compare a Catholic Bible (if they have one) and a Protestant Bible, sure enough, the former has 73 books while the later has 66. Did the Catholic Church indiscriminately add 7 books to the Bible? Let’s explore!
In order to understand why Catholic editions of the Bible have 73 books and many Protestant editions contain 66, it’s best to understand the relationship the early Church had with the Hebrew Scriptures—which we now call the Old Testament.
By Jesus’ time, many Jews spoke Greek—the universal language. They used a Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures called the Septuagint (from the Greek for Seventy, after the seventy translators who supposedly worked on it).
When the time came for Christians to write their own Scriptures, the evangelists and epistle-writers most often quoted from the Septuagint when authoring their texts, which would eventually form part of the New Testament.
In the year 100 A.D., after most of the New Testament books were written, Jewish rabbis decided to revise the list of books to be included in their Bible. They removed some books that were relatively recent and others that did not, at the time, have Hebrew originals.
From the Jewish Scriptures, the rabbis removed seven books entirely:
- I Maccabees
- II Maccabees
In addition to these books, they also excluded parts of two other books:
- Esther (10:14 to 16:14)
- Daniel (3:24- 90; 13; 14)
However, in 1946 the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Among them were bits and pieces of 6 of the 7 Deuterocanonical books—written in Hebrew.
Christians, however, did not follow the Jewish revisions and continued to use the Septuagint as their Old Testament. The list of books in the Christian Bible was fixed by 382 AD and contained the seven books, making the total book count 73.
Protestant leaders in the 1500s decided to use the revised Jewish canon for their Old Testament rather than the Septuagint. By doing so, they removed books from the Old Testament that had been part of the Christian Bible for over 1,500 years. In fact, the first bible ever printed—the Gutenberg Bible—was produced in 1450, the century before Martin Luther started the reformation. Gutenberg’s Bible contains all 73 books.
It was only later that these 7 books were gathered together and printed in Luther’s Bible under the title “Apocrypha: These Books Are Not Held Equal to the Scriptures, but Are Useful and Good to Read.” The Greek word Apocrypha means things hidden away. This designation, however, lowered the regard Protestant readers had for these books.
Catholics prefer to use the term deuterocanonical as a designation for these books—a Greek word meaning belonging to the second canon.
Today, Lutheran and Anglican Bibles still contain these texts in an appendix apart from the rest of the books. Other Protestant denominations, however, rejected them categorically and had Bibles printed which eliminated them completely.
The Catholic Church has always considered these texts to be inspired and on par with other Old Testament books for several reasons:
- When quoting the Old Testament, Christian writers primarily cited the Septuagint.
- St. Paul’s writings have passages which are almost direct quotations from the book of Wisdom—one of the deuterocanonical books.
- The Letter of St. James contains themes strikingly similar to the book of Sirach.
- Other Christian authors from the age of the Apostles also quoted and referred to these books.
- The Codex Vaticanus— one of the oldest Christian Bibles—contains these books interspersed with the rest.
- In 382 AD, the Church issued a formal list of biblical books which included these texts.
- Christian art of the first centuries depicts images from the book of Tobit and other deuterocanonical books.
While some have accused Catholics of adding books to the Bible, any student of history, Catholic or Protestant, will affirm that these books—considered inspired for over 1,500 years—were not added by Catholics, but removed by Protestants. Catholic Bibles have included the same books since the Bible was first canonized in 382 A.D.