Why Are Catholic and Protestant Bibles Different?

Why do Catholics have 2 books in their Bible that Protestants do not have?

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The Reason Goes All the Way Back to the OT

In fact the Catholic Old Testament contains not just two but quite a handful of books which are not in the Protestant Old Testament.  These extra books are usually called the “Apocrypha” (meaning “hidden books”), or “Old Testament Apocrypha” (since they are all included in the Catholic Old Testament), or “deutero-canonical” books (since they have only secondary authority), and include such books as I-II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, I-IV Maccabees, etc. 

The reason for the Protestant/ Catholic difference here goes all the way back to the Old Testament, first written in Hebrew (and Aramaic, a related language), and then translated about 200 B.C. into Greek.  As it happened, some more late Jewish books were written not in Hebrew, but in Greek, because by then it was the common language of the Eastern Roman Empire. Naturally enough, these late books, written in Greek, were included not in the original Hebrew Old Testament, but only in the Greek translation of it (called the “Septuagint”). 

Later on, when St. Jerome translated the whole Bible into Latin (the common language of the Western Roman Empire), he translated the Greek New Testament and the original Hebrew Old Testament into Latin, and then also translated the Greek “Apocrypha” into Latin with prefaces indicating that they were not part of the original Hebrew Old Testament.  But later copyists neglected or omitted his prefaces, and pretty soon Jerome’s whole Latin translation was considered of equal authority. – When the Protestant Reformation came along, Protestant scholars were also rediscovering the importance of the original Hebrew Old Testament and of the Hebrew language in which it was written. 

Consequently, many of them accepted not the Greek additions, but only the original Hebrew books of the Old Testament.  Thus, for example, the very first edition of the King James Bible included the Old Testament Apocrypha; but after some Protestants objected, the second and subsequent editions excluded the Apocrypha.  Thus to this day Catholic Bibles include the Old Testament Apocrypha, strictly Protestant Bibles exclude it, but certain “ecumenical” Bibles (such as The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha: Expanded Edition) include it as an appendix.



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Protestants Have a Hybrid Bible

While all Christians have the same twenty-seven New Testament books, they disagree regarding the number of books in the Old Testament canon. While Protestant and Jewish Bibles have thirty-nine Old Testament books, the Bible used by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians include the thirty-nine books and several additional writings.  A third difference is the arrangement of the books (see below).

These differences among existing Bibles stem from the complex history of how our Bible came to be the way it now is. We looked at some of these matters earlier.  In the third century BC, the Hebrew Bible began to be translated into Greek. This translation came about to fill the need of an increasing number of Jews who lived outside of Palestine (especially in Egypt) and spoke only Greek. This translation, called the Septuagint (from a Latin word meaning seventy, because 70 [or 72] translators were thought to have done the work, also referred to as LXX), took several centuries to complete. For unknown reasons, its ordering of the books differed from the Hebrew Bible; the Septuagint also included deuterocanonical books, but their number was never fixed.  The Latin Bible (called the Vulgate, “common text”) was brought to order by the church father Jerome; it remained the common Bible for over a millennium and included the deuterocanonical books.

The Roman Catholic Old Testament contains seven extra books, plus additions to the books of Esther and Daniel. These books and additions were written during the three centuries before Jesus. They help fill out the story of the Jewish community during this time. The history of the standing of these extra books is complex and obscure.  The books of Tobit and Judith are placed between Nehemiah and Esther, while 1 and 2 Maccabees follow Esther. The books of Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon) and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus, not to be confused with Ecclesiastes) are similar to the book of Proverbs; they have been placed after the Song of Songs. The book of Baruch, the secretary of Jeremiah, follows Lamentations. The Bibles of the Eastern Orthodox churches also include these additional books, but they contain still other books, also a part of the Septuagint. Though their Bibles vary somewhat, they may include: the prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, 1 and 2 Esdras, and 3 and 4 Maccabees.  It is not clear what prompts their arrangement.

Sometimes these extra books are called the Apocrypha, a word meaning “secret, hidden,” that is, not intended for public reading. But that term is inexact and conveys a sense that is not very helpful. And so, these extra books are now usually referred to as the deuterocanonical books, that is, a “second canon” (in Greek, deuteron means second).  The status of the extra books remained somewhat fluid in early Christian history, but most Christian writers used an Old Testament that included extra books until the time of the Reformation (sixteenth century). At that time, the Reformers chose the shorter Old Testament, while the Roman Catholics decided (in 1546) for the larger canon.  The reasons are complex.  For one thing, a scholarly interest emerged regarding the original languages of the Bible and issues of Jewish origin.  One effect of this interest was a separation of those books that were known to be originally written in Hebrew from those that were not.  Other factors were at work as well, such as the theological perspective that was present in some texts of the extra books.  Some Protestant Bibles now print these extra writings as a block between the Old and New Testaments. This follows the practice of Martin Luther (but not Calvin), who considered these books “not equal to the Sacred Scriptures, but useful ad good for reading.” 

The interesting result is that while Protestants and Jews agree on the number of Old Testament books, the majority of Christians in the world have a larger Old Testament.  It might be said that Protestants have a kind of hybrid Bible – the same number of books as the Jewish Bible but the order of books that are in the Greek and Latin Bibles.


Author: Terence E. Fretheim
Protestants Were Suspicious of Tradition

The Old Testament of the Roman Catholic tradition, and also the Eastern Orthodox tradition includes a several writings more than in the Hebrew (Jewish) Bible or the Protestant Old Testament.  The basic reason is that the Protestant leaders chose to accept only the books of the Old Testament accepted as canonical in Judaism, which they assumed was the Bible used by Jesus and the earliest Christians. 

Suspicious of church tradition and the authority of councils and ecclesiastical figures, Protestant leaders thought it best to go with the books they thought were canonical before the church.  The Old Testament of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions are not exactly the same list of writings either!  (For more detailed information, see the entries on Wikipedia:  "Development of Old Testament Canon", and "Deuterocanonical Books".

Author: Larry W. Hurtado
Protestant Canon Follows the Jewish Canon

Actually, Catholics have eight more books (Tobit, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, Ecclesiasticus or Wisdom of Ben Sira, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and letter of Jeremiah) and two additions (additions to Esther and additions to Daniel), totalling 47 books and two additions.  These books are collectively called 'Deuterocanonical books' and are authoritative.  Protestants call the same books 'the Apocrypha'.

The Protestant canon follows the Jewish canon which has twenty-four books, but it orders and counts them differently.  The Protestant canon has a total of thirty-nine books, and it is calculated by counting as separate books 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah and each of the twelve minor prophets. Moreover, it divides its list of Old Testament books into four (Pentateuch, Historical books, Poetry/Wisdom and Prophets) rather than the three Jewish divisions of the Torah (Pentateuch), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Kethuvim (Writings).

As to why the Catholics have more books, it is a matter of ecclesiastical history.  In the sixteenth century, the council of Trent decided that the books known as the apocrypha among the Protestants were 'deuterocanonical'.  The designation of 'second canon', however, does not mean that these books were regarded as less canonical.  It was rather a recognition that they were considered canonical at a subsequent stage.

Protestants Dropped Some

Up until about two hundred years ago, both Protestant and Roman Catholic Bibles contained the same books.  Some books dropped out of Protestant Bibles in the early 19th century when Bible societies which were founded and supported initially by Protestants began printing Bibles for the masses.  In order to print very inexpensive Bibles that everyone could afford, they dropped the books which we call the deuterocanonical books (the second canon).   Early Protestants thought these books did not carry the authority of the other books of the Bible though they were still worth reading.  That is why they initially included them. 

In early Protestant Bibles, the Deuterocanonical books had been placed together in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments.  The Roman Catholic Bible contains seven books that do not appear in most Protestant Bibles.  They are Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus and Baruch.  The Roman Catholic Bible also has additions to the books of Esther and Daniel.  They are interspersed throughout the Old Testament. All of the Deuterocanonical books emerged in the Jewish community in the pre-Christian era.

Author: Wilma Bailey




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