Canon of Scripture


1. Why do Catholic Bibles have seven more books than Protestant Bibles?

Because Protestants and Catholics have different standards when it comes to determining what the Bible consists of. Catholics believe that the books of the Bible today should be the same as those accepted by the early Church councils, and in fact in Catholic bibles they are: the councils of the late fourth century established the Bible that Catholics follow today. Protestants start with a different standard, and thus there are seven books that are part of the Catholic Bible that Protestants don't believe in. Part of the reason for that is that these books were in question for much of the early Church. Protestants call them Apocrypha. Catholics call them the "deuterocanon" -- the second canon (or list) of books that Catholics accept, while the books that never were questioned are called the protocanon -- the first list.

2. The Apocrypha aren't inspired. They do not even claim to be.

They are inspired, and we can know this because there are things in them (such as prophecy) that can only come from God, and not from men. See question 8. They are also quoted or cited as Scripture in the New Testament -- see question 4. And since the Catholic Church has accepted them as Scripture ever since the fourth century, we can know that these books are an authentic and historical part of the Bible of ancient Christianity. The idea that they have to make a "claim" to be inspired isn't true -- Esther doesn't claim to be inspired, but Protestants believe in that; nor does the Book of Judges, but Protestants believe in that. Meanwhile, the Deuterocanonical books sometimes do make the claim of inspiration by God, as anyone can see by examining the following passages: Sirach 24:32-34, Sirach 50:27-29, Wisdom 6:9-11, Baruch 1:14, Baruch 2:21, and Baruch 3:9.

3. The Apocrypha have errors in them. Therefore, they aren't God's Word.

They do not have errors in them. The errors that Protestants point to are not really errors, and we can show that by looking at them closely. Of course, I can't go through all of them here, but I can go through some of the major ones:

Protestants point to the fact that Judith 1:1 calls Nebuccadnezzar the king of Assyria, when he was actually the king of Babylon. But the Book of Judith was intentionally making an exaggeration that would have been obvious to anyone of that time ("he was so powerful, he was even king over OTHER nations!"). It was not asserting this as an historical truth, and so to hold it to that standard is unnecessary. It would be like me saying that Jesus was a monster because He said a man should cut off his hand if he sins by it -- which was not meant to be a sincere commandment but an intentional exaggeration to make a point about the severity of sin.

Protestants point to the fact that Tobit mentions the Jews being deported to Assyria over 250 years before they were, but it may have been a separate and lesser deportation. Or Tobit may simply have some fictional elements in it -- that's not impossible either. And it's not as if a work of fiction can't be inspired by God. If it tells an important truth that God wanted us to know, then why could He not inspire a fictional story to tell it? Fiction isn't bad, it's just a different way of teaching men than historical narrative is. And Tobit may be God's way of showing us that.

4. Jesus and the Apostles never quoted from the Apocrypha.

Sometimes they did, though. And other times they cited stories from the Catholic books in ways that show they knew them to be part of God's Word, even without quoting them. For example, Hebrews 11:1-35 casually speaks of dozens of stories from the Old Testament, including the story of a group of men who were tortured in connection with the Jewish belief in the Resurrection at the end of the world (Heb. 11:35). This particular story is to be found in the Deuterocanonical book of 2 Maccabees 6-7, and is not found in Protestant bibles. That shows that 2 Maccabees was accepted by the author of Hebrews as part of the Christian Bible. He even says that the people in these stories received testimony from God, Heb. 11:2, which means their stories were the testimony of God, not of men.

Some of the short proverbs of the book of Sirach made it into the book of James, which paraphrases or quotes it several times, such as "be quick to hear" (Sirach 5:11, James 1:19) and in the messages about the tongue (Sirach 5:13-14, James 3:1-10). Jesus quoted from a passage in Sirach when He said "many shall fall by the edge of the sword" at the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:21-24), because He borrowed that phrase from a passage in Sirach about the effect of slander in cities (Sirach 28:14-18).

The Books of the Deuterocanon are not treated any differently in the New Testament than the other Books of the Bible. No, not all of them are quoted, but some are, and not all of the other books of the Bible are quoted either. So the treatment is the same, and for the ones that are quoted, that's proof that they are part of the Bible that Jesus and the Apostles want us to follow -- and thus, that Protestants shouldn't remove them.

5. The Apocrypha aren't in the Hebrew Old Testament (Masoretic Text).

No, they aren't, and the reason for that is because the Masoretic Text was put together by a group of Jewish scholars that didn't believe in the Deuterocanonical books. But the Masoretic Text does not represent the Bible as all Jews accept it, and it does not represent the Bible as the early Church accepted it. The early Church questioned the Deuterocanonical books for several centuries, and eventually accepted them in the late 300s. The early Jews questioned the Deuterocanonical books for several centuries, and eventually decided against them -- except for a group of Jews who followed what became known as the Alexandrian canon, which includes the Catholic books. The rest of the Jews put together the Masoretic text, and made it without the Catholic books in it. But we shouldn't go by that list in determining what should be in our Bibles today, when there's a much more reliable source in what the early Christians believed: and we know that in the fourth century, acceptance of the Deuterocanonical books became more dominant than the contrary.

6. The Apocrypha aren't in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint).

But they are. All of the copies of the Septuagint that we have support the Catholic canon. And the history of what happened to cause that is much more colorful than you would think. For example, we do not have today a single complete copy of the Septuagint. We have many partial copies of it, and a few nearly-complete copies of it, but the two things they all have in common is this: they all have some books missing from them, and they all have some of the Catholic books included in them. More than that, we know that when the Septuagint was complete, it had all the Catholic books in it. We know that because the people who used the Septuagint, like Clement, Polycarp, and Irenaeus, all quoted from the Deuterocanonical books as part of their quotations of it. That is proof that the Deuterocanonical books were part of the Greek Old Testament, and that's important because the Greek Old Testament was the one used by the Apostles, Jesus, and anyone else who spoke Greek or lived in the Greek empire. In fact, 80% of the quotations of the Old Testament that appear in the New Testament, are directly from the Septuagint Old Testament -- the one that included the Catholic books! All of which goes to show that the Catholic books were part of the Bible of the early Church, and should be part of our Bibles today.

7. The Apocrypha aren't in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Catholic books are in the Dead Sea Scrolls, or anyway three of them are, and there's a reason why the other four aren't. The three that are in it are 1 Maccabees, Sirach, and Tobit. The four that aren't are 2 Maccabees, Judith, Wisdom, and Baruch. And they aren't in it because the Dead Sea Scrolls are not a Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls are part of an ancient library -- dozens of books were found in them, some of them part of the Bible and some of them not. A complete Bible was not found there because the book of Esther was missing, along with four of the Catholic books. So to take that as a determiner for what our Bibles should look like today is not very wise. But it is very important because it shows us that the Bible was taken very seriously by the Jews who lived there, and the matter of the Deuterocanonical books was not decided among the Jews yet. That shows us that it was late into Jewish history and the Deuterocanonical books were still being looked over, and it was not until later that they rejected them, and the Christian churches accepted them.

8. The Apocrypha contain no prophecies. Therefore, they aren't inspired.

But they do have prophecies. One of the most important prophecies of Jesus and His death comes from Wisdom 2:12-20, which is too long to recite here so I'll just link to it. The Book of Sirach prophesies that Jesus will reign from Jerusalem (Sirach 24:10-12) and the Book of Baruch prophesies the incarnation (Baruch 3:37). Tobit prophesies that Jerusalem will have nations stream toward it bearing gifts, and in some translations of it it says that Jerusalem will spread light for the whole world (Tobit 13:11, 14:5-7). The only ones that don't have any prophecies are Judith and 1 and 2 Maccabees, but those books aren't prophetical books so that shouldn't matter. The Book of Esther doesn't have any prophetic passages in it either, but that doesn't stop Protestants from believing it, because prophecy isn't the only sign that something is from God. Acceptance by the early Church is another sign, and the Deuterocanonical books have that for certain.

9. There were "400 years of silence" between Malachi and Matthew. During it, no one wrote any inspired books.

This bears out a little more explanation. The "400 years of silence" theory is an idea put forward by some Protestants about the period of time that stretches between the Book of Malachi, which is the last Old Testament book in the Protestant bible, and the Book of Matthew, which is the first book of the New Testament. This theory says that when the Book of Malachi was completed, God stopped inspiring new books of the Bible, and stopped speaking to men, until John the Baptist came along and got things going again. Catholics don't believe in the 400 years of silence. Several of the Deuterocanonical books were written between Malachi and Matthew, so it affords Protestants a convenient excuse for rejecting those books, but it has no support in the Bible itself. And besides, the Catholic view makes more Biblical sense anyway: there is evidence of prophets who lived during the supposedly "silent" 400 years (including Anna from Luke 2:36-37; see also Matthew 11:13), which means God *was* speaking to men. And the Deuterocanonical books are examples of that.

10. Early Jews and early Christians didn't believe in the Apocrypha.

Well that's two separate issues there, early Jews and early Christians, so let's take them one at a time. Early Christians did believe in the Catholic books. Acceptance of them grew dominant by the end of the fourth century, when the African councils of Hippo and Carthage decreed in conjunction with the Council of Rome that Christian bibles should include 73 books, meaning the 46 books of the Catholic Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. (Protestant bibles have 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books, making a total of 66 books in the Protestant Bible versus the Catholic 73.) Before those councils, we find a mixed bag: many Christians who made lists of what they thought belonged to the Bible made lists that did not include the Catholic books (such as Melito of Sardis, Origen, and Cyril of Jerusalem). But there are others who quoted from the Catholic books and cited them as Scripture right along with the rest of the Bible (such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Irenaeus). And there is some speculation that, among the Christians who seemed to exclude them, they were only talking about what the consensus was *among the Jews*, while they themselves accepted the Catholic Bible (see Gary Michuta, "Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger").

Among the Jews, it is a different story. The Catholic books were included in the Greek Septuagint bible but were excluded from all the ones that Judaism created after the start of Christianity. You find some Jews quoting Sirach as Scripture (Sirach was one of the Catholic books) as late as the fourth century A.D., and in other works you find both acceptance *and* rejection, such as the Talmud, which was a compilation of commentaries of Jewish rabbis from the second century to the seventh century.