Why Do Catholics and Protestants Have Different Bibles?

[ 8 ] December 28, AD 2013 |

It was one of the odder things about returning to the Catholic Church.

Suddenly I realised that I had seven more books, and a few extra chapters, in my Bible than I did as a Protestant. This is because the Protestant Bible has 39 books in the Old Testament, the Catholic Old Testament has 46 (yay more bible!). It seems we can’t agree on how many books we should have in the Old Testament.

acdc

These disputed books are called the deuterocanon (if you’re Catholic) and apocrypha (if you’re Protestant). There are plenty of good theological arguments for the deuterocanon/apocrypha, but today, I want to look at the history.

Also, I’ve abbreviated Deuterocanon/Apocrypha to AC/DC for ApoCrypha/DeuteroCanon (pronounced Acca Dacca) because I’m Australian and I refuse to use long, appropriate words when I could use slang, kitschy, and totally inappropriate ones.

So, shall we?

The Jewish Bible

The Christian Old Testament is basically the Jewish Bible. The debate over the Christian Old Testament comes from the fact that the Jewish Bible wasn’t set at the time of Christ or the beginnings of Christianity.

The Hebrew canon was solidified somewhere between the 2nd Century BC and the 2nd Century AD. For example, at the time of Christ, the Sadducees accepted only the Torah, the Pharisees had roughly the modern Jewish canon, Jews in the Diaspora had a wider canon that included the AC/DC and other groups like the Essenes had different lists of authoritative books too.

The Greek Septuagint

To really understand the differences, however, we have to know about the Septuagint and its importance to early Christians.

At the beginning of this period of canonisation for the Jewish Bible, Jewish scholars in the Diaspora (and possibly the Holy Land as well) translated the Hebrew texts into Koine Greek to create the Septuagint. This translation probably took place from the 3rd Century BC to the 1st Century BC. It is said to have been commissioned by the Pharaoh Ptolemy II and carried out by 70 or 72 Jewish scholars in Alexandria — which is why it’s the Septuagint, meaning seventy. As such, it’s also referred to by it’s Roman numerals LXX. (See, acronyms are cool!)

At the time, there were many Jews living in Egypt as part of the Diaspora, as well as throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their lingua franca was Greek and the Septuagint is in Koine Greek, just like the New Testament is.

Importantly, the New Testament almost exclusively quotes from the Septuagint. (It’s why sometimes the quotes OT as quoted in the NT is slightly different from the OT itself.) The early Christians also used the Septuagint almost exclusively and Christians kept using it. In fact, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox still use the Septuagint. (Some believe the translation is divinely inspired.)

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Canon of the Septuagint

The canon of the Septuagint, however, isn’t identical to the modern Jewish Bible. (Remember, there was a number of different biblical canons at the time.) The Septuagint had (give and take) seven to ten “extra” books.

  1. 1 Esdras (also called Esdras A or 3 Esdras just to confuse everyone – the whole situation with Ezra is rather complicated)*
  2. Tobit
  3. Judith
  4. 1 Maccabees
  5. 2 Maccabees
  6. 3 Maccabees*
  7. Wisdom of Solomon
  8. Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
  9. Baruch
  10. Epistle of Jeremiah*

There were also additions to Esther, Daniel, and sometimes a total of 151 psalms.

The canon of the Septuagint is the same used by Catholics and Orthodox to this day. (The Ethiopian and other Orthodox churches have an even bigger – and stranger – canon.)

The Problem of Canons

The Septuagint itself wasn’t 100% set and there were variations within its canon too. So while the Orthodox have 49 books in their Old Testament, Catholics have 46.

Jacob Jordaens, The Four Evangelists, 1625 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Jacob Jordaens, The Four Evangelists, 1625 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Catholics have all of the books listed above expect for 1 (or 3) Esdras and 3 Maccabees. (Marked with asterisks above.) We also have 150 psalms and we include the Epistle of Jeremiah in Baruch. So it’s actually a difference of 2 books that because of our counting systems, comes out as 3. These differences come from the different canons of the Septuagint circulating at the time.

There were also quite fluid concepts of what was truly canonical, what was deuterocanonical (and what that meant), and what was apocryphal. If the boundaries of the New Testament were still a little “porous” at the time, that’s nothing compared to the Old Testament. 

It was messy.

Very messy.

Sometimes, the Church Fathers quoted from the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, other times they distinguished them from Scripture. Often, the same Church Father would do both – along with occasionally quoting as Scripture other things no one accepts anymore, and even rejecting other things we all agree are Scripture as not Scripture.

The Latin Vulgate

By the end of the 4th Century, Christians in the Latin West had settled the matter of the deuterocanon, accepting the seven books of our current canon as Scripture. The Synod of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397 confirmed this.

This process of solidifying the canon was helped by the translation of the bible into the Latin. In 382, Pope Damascus I commissioned St Jerome to translate the whole Bible into Latin, the vulgar or common tongue of the West (hence, Vulgate).

St Jerome was unusual for his context, however, because he thought that the AC/DC was apocryphal and didn’t belong in the Bible. Luckily, he was over-ruled — further proof of how well accepted the AC/DC was even at this early date.

Thus, between the Septuagint and Vulgate, the vast bulk of Christians for the first 1,500 years had Bibles with the AC/DC in them.

deuterocanon 2

The Protestant Old Testament

Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation, and these “extra” books were “removed” from Protestant Old Testaments.

This is because they weren’t in the Jewish canon, specifically in the Masoretic Text, a 7th to 10th Century AD Jewish standardisation/translation of the Hebrew texts.

As mentioned above, the Jewish canon was finally set around the 2nd Century AD – and a good two centuries after the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the biblical canon of Rabbinical Judaism, which emerged after the destruction of the temple and the rise of Christianity.The Protestant Reformers believed that this was a far more reliable translation than the Vulgate and Septuagint. (This is doubtful…)

In fact, the evidence suggests that it the Septuagint with its wider canon fell out of favour with the Jews because it was seen as being too Christian.

Apocrypha in a King James Bible

So Protestants re-classified the deuterocanon as apocrypha, and that’s how we find ourselves in the mess we’re in today.

Conclusion

Protestants and Catholics disagree over the Old Testament canon because the canon of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, was still pretty fluid at the time of Christ.

To put it simply, Catholics and Orthodox follow the canon of the Septuagint, the translation used by the New Testament writers and early Christians, while Protestants follow the canon of Rabbinical Judaism that was set after Christianity began. 

I said I wasn’t going into theological arguments… but I know which one I’d choose!

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About the Author ()

Laura is a baby Catholic, research student, writer, tea-drinker and aspiring countess from Sydney, Australia. Formerly an Evangelical Protestant, she came back to the Catholic Church in 2012. She disturbs the universe at Catholic Cravings.
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  • bdlaacmm

    Most of the Deuterocanonical Books are “icing on the cake” – worthy of study, but by and large not terribly Earth-shattering. (Full disclosure here: I’m Catholic, so I accept the inspiration of all of them.) But a loss of the Book of Wisdom would be a major catastrophe. I constantly refer to it, and it’s one of my favorite books in the entire OT. It is impossible to exhaust its value.

    If there’s a Protestant out there reading this who’s never looked into the AC/DC, I’d suggest you start with Wisdom. I guarantee, you’ll end up scratching your head, wondering why in the world the “reformers” ever dreamed of tossing out this beautiful, beautiful work.

    • http://catholiccravings.com/ Laura McAlister

      Excellent advice! I remember being gobsmacked when I read Wisdom chapter 2! :)

    • Dagnabbit_42

      “Wondering why?”

      It’s quite simple: Luther didn’t care for James (“faith without works is dead”) and didn’t care for 2 Maccabees (its prayers for the dead and something rather like an indulgence described as “righteous…in view of the resurrection”) and found the difficulties of interpreting Revelation to be exasperating (“A revelation ought to be more revealing!”).

      The only plausible way to discredit them was to say that they were okay for devotional reading, but had never really belonged in the canon and ought not be used for establishing doctrine.

      So when Luther noted that James and Revelation had all been among the last “disputed books” to be included in the canon, and that 2 Maccabees likewise was included in some early canon lists but excluded from others (especially the 2nd century Jewish canon), he knew he’d found a plausible-sounding argument for excluding them: That they’d been a papist error from the beginning, of doubtful provenance.

      The downside to this, of course, was that any other books which were similarly late in being definitively included, would have to be kicked out as well. (Otherwise he’d look inconsistent.)

      So, Luther kicked out James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation from the New Testament (these being among the last of the New Testament writings to definitively make it in). And Luther kicked out the deuterocanonical books from the Old Testament.

      Unfortunately for him, Luther experienced rather a backlash about kicking out James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. One of the beliefs many of the reformers held in common was the belief that they were living in the “last days” and that this heightened state of urgency and emergency made drastic moves (e.g. separating from the Catholic Church), justifiable. Losing Revelation meant a lot of people would be unable to indulge in eschatological speculation, identifying the Pope with the “beast” and so on…and that simply wouldn’t do! Worse, Luther & Calvin had based some of their teachings against the existence of a New Covenant Sacrificial Priesthood on their interpretations of Hebrews. But you can’t have that argument carry any weight, if Hebrews isn’t in the canon!

      So, with a bit of grumbling, Luther had to let those four books back in, albeit confined to the back of his New Testament, with comments about James being “an epistle of straw.” But folks didn’t get quite so exercised about the deuterocanon; so there, Luther’s alterations remained.

      Anyhow, to return to the original question: Protestants lost “Wisdom” because it was collateral damage in the war on 2 Maccabees.

  • TomD

    bdlaacmm, I agree with you about the value of the Book of Wisdom. Chapters 7 and 8 are among my favorite and most often read sections of the Old Testament.

    “I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle. For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” (Wis 7:21-26, RSV-CE)

    I never quite understood why the DC was removed from Sacred Scripture after 1500/1700 years of canonicity and use within the Church, particularly if it was the Septuagint that was the OT quoted most often in the NT. Doesn’t this demonstrate that the Septuagint was considered the authoritative OT by those who were inspired to write the NT and that its entire content was therefore authoritative as the OT? Shouldn’t the judgment of the apostolic generation have the definitive say as to what is canonical in the OT?

    • bdlaacmm

      Not only are quotations from the Deuterocanonical books scattered all over the New Testament, but Jesus Himself cites them repeatedly. Just one example: read Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 11:18-19, and marvel at how closely it parallels Christ’s Parable of the Foolish Rich Man
      (Luke 12:16-20).

      As far as I’m concerned, that settles the whole issue – if it’s good enough for Our Lord, it’s good enough for me!

      • TomD

        Even more significantly than the fact that there are direct references to, and quotations from, the Deuterocanonical books in the NT, when the OT text is quoted or referenced in the NT, it is most frequently matched with the Septuagint OT Greek text and not the Hebrew Masoretic text.

        For a detailed discussion of the Septuagint in the New Testament, there is, as just one example . . .

        http://mysite.verizon.net/rgjones3/Septuagint/spexecsum.htm

        Since the apostolic generation most often used the Septuagint’s Old Testament Greek text when referencing and quoting the OT in the New Testament, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Septuagint’s canon (all 46 OT books as recognized by the Catholic Church) was recognized by the apostolic generation as authoritative as Sacred Scripture.

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