Catholic Bibles are known to have more books than Protestant Bibles, and there is a very good reason for this. I’ll explain below. First, it’s important to note that the New Testament of the Bible is exactly the same between Catholics and Protestants. There is no difference at all. They both consist of exactly twenty-seven (27) books, Matthew through Revelation, with no distinction whatsoever. What differs between Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles is the Old Testament. Catholics have forty-six (46) books in the Old Testament, while Protestants have only thirty-nine (39). Protestants also have shorter versions of the books of Daniel and Esther. The difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles specifically centers around the Old Testament and the Old Testament alone. The seven additional books in question are…
- 1st Maccabees
- 2nd Maccabees
Of course, this really isn’t a big issue for some Christians. Some Christians don’t spend a whole lot of time reading the Old Testament anyway, and focus primarily on the New Testament instead. However, to other Christians, the issue of the Biblical canon is of key importance when it comes to their understanding of the Catholic Church. The typical Protestant narrative is that the Catholic Church supposedly “added extra books” to the Old Testament during those “scary dark ages” when Catholicism ruled the Western world and “real Christians” (i.e. Protestants) were hiding underground. Of course this is ridiculous, but you would be surprised to learn how many people actually believe this nonsense. Now to be fair, this belief is not held by all Protestants, just a certain number of them. Among many Protestants in the US and UK, it would almost seem to be actual history. It’s preached from behind the pulpits, on television, radio, the Internet and even written into various evangelistic tracts. However, that doesn’t make it true. Some Protestants have been trying to revise history for a very long time, and for all their centuries of effort, the truth always catches up with them eventually. History is what it is. I can’t change it any more than the Protestant minister down the street. For example; we might be able to fool some people for a while with our propaganda, especially those who aren’t willing to look things up for themselves, but as soon as somebody cracks open a real history book, all of our propaganda will be in vain. The truth is the truth, so we might as well just face it.
This is what happened to me. A good deal of my Evangelical Protestant faith was built on propaganda back in the 1990s, and it was my study of history that changed that. It didn’t take but a couple history books to learn that much of what I believed as “solid doctrine” will riddled with holes. “Knowledge of history is the end of Protestantism.” That’s what Saint John Henry Newman said, that famous Anglican convert to the Catholic Church. I, along with millions of others, are living proof of that. The moral to this story is learn history — real history that is — and leave the propaganda behind.
The Short Answer
The historical truth is, the Catholic Church never “added any books” to the Bible, and incidentally, the Medieval period was neither “dark” nor “scary.” It was the cradle of Western Civilization that saw the greatest development of art, culture and civility the human race has ever known. The only people who should ever call the Middle Ages “dark” are Atheists and Pagans, because it was during this time that their kind was the most marginalized. If you were a believer in the God of the Bible however, the Middle Ages were a time of great triumph and hope. Yes it had problems, to be sure. There were plagues, and wars, as well as tyrants and injustices, but it was not the “dark ages.” All of these things exist today as well. The only period that Christians have any business calling the “dark ages” was the period of Roman antiquity, when Christians were persecuted for their faith by being fed to lions in the circuses and used as torches in Caesar’s gardens. Now those were the real “dark ages!” The only other “dark age” is our own time, wherein Christian martyrdom has never been higher, and the Christendom created by our ancestors is eclipsed by the functional atheism of the New World Order (communism and globalism).
So let’s get back to the Bible. Why do Catholic Bibles have a longer Old Testament than Protestant Bibles? The short answer is simply this. Protestants have shorter Old Testaments because the leaders of the Protestant Reformation removed books from the Old Testament. That’s it! The Catholic Church didn’t add books. The Protestant Reformers took them out. Don’t believe me? Look it up for yourself. Crack open the history books and start reading. Which history books? It doesn’t matter. Read as many as you can! Now, you’ll never hear a militant advocate for the shorter Old Testament canon tell you that. Anti-Catholics would have you to read certain historical tracts of booklets that they have prepared for you in advance. Not me! I say go down to your nearest library, and find some books on the development of the Christian canon of Scripture. It’s all there. Happy reading!
I can say that with confidence because I know my history, and I know history will back up what I’m saying. I’m not going to direct you to certain booklets or tracts. I don’t need to. The same goes for everything I’m about to write below. Check it with real history books and see for yourself.
The first Protestant to remove books from the Old Testament canon was none other than Martin Luther, the “father” of the Reformation himself. In the 16th century, Martin Luther started putting the Old Testament under scrutiny. This was probably because certain passages from the Old Testament, particularly in the Second Book of Maccabees (2nd Maccabees 12:44-46), were being used to back up the Catholic teaching on Purgatory. Luther opposed the doctrine of Purgatory in his famous “Ninety-Five Thesis,” and so any Scripture passage that could be interpreted to support this doctrine had to be eliminated. Luther then moved seven books from the Old Testament out of what he considered the authorized canon, and into a separate section he called “apocrypha” meaning “disputed.” He also took chapters out of Esther and Daniel and moved them into this same apocrypha section. Later, other Protestant “reformers” affirmed Luther’s decision on this. So there you have it. That’s how the Protestant Old Testament was shortened. Again, look it up in any history book on the topic and see for yourself. Prior to Martin Luther (16th century), all Christians used the longer forty-six book Old Testament. After Martin Luther, some Christians (Protestants) began using a shorter thirty-nine book Old Testament. That’s the cold, hard, historical truth. Catholics didn’t add books to the Old Testament, Protestants removed books from the Old Testament. End of story.
The Long Answer
Now that we have established the historical fact that the Protestant “reformers” removed books from the Old Testament, the question begs to be asked — why? We can speculate about Martin Luther’s reasons. His aversion toward the doctrine of Purgatory leaves us with a pretty obvious clue. As for the other Protestant reformers and councils, the same reason may apply, though they often liked to cite a whole host of academic reasons other than that.
Often, one main reason cited is this. The Medieval Jews used a shorter canon for their Bible, and since the Christian Old Testament canon is based on the Jewish canon of Scripture, it only makes sense for the Christian Old Testament canon to match the Jewish canon, right? Well actually, when you know the history, it’s a bit more complicated than that. (It always is.) To understand, we have to go back in history — way back — to the first and second century AD, to the time of Jesus and the apostles.
During this time there were many different versions of Scripture being used by the Jewish people. Each Jewish “Bible” depended on what kind of Jewish persuasion we are talking about. For example; the Sadducee Party, who mainly consisted of the priests of the Jerusalem Temple, had the shortest Biblical canon of all, consisting of just five (5) books. It was the Law of Moses — or Torah — the first five books of the Bible. Meanwhile the Pharisee Party, consisting of mostly rabbis, was by far the largest and most influential Jewish party in first century Palestine. It had a much longer canon they called the Tanakh. which consisted roughly of the thirty-nine (39) books Western Jews use today, as well as what we see in the Protestant Old Testament. Then there were the Esseans, who were an obscure Jewish party that lived in virtual isolation in Palestine. They had their own canon, which had a considerable longer number of books.
Finally, there was a very large number of Jews living in diaspora around the Mediterranean world. They lived as far south as Egypt and Ethiopia, as far west as Spain, as far East as Iraq and at least as far north as Rome. The majority of these people did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic. So the typical Bibles used by Jews in Palestine were not sufficient. What good is a Bible if you can’t read it? So in Alexandria, Egypt, a translation of the canon of Scripture was commissioned. It was called the Septuagint (meaning “seventy” in reference to the alleged seventy rabbinical elders who translated it). This also came to be known as the Deuterocanon (meaning “second canon”) written in Greek, which complimented the Protocanon (meaning “first canon”) or Tanakh, written primarily in Hebrew and Aramaic. The purpose of this Greek translated Deuterocanon, was the same purpose that all translations serve — to make the text more available to a larger number of people.
This Greek canon helped Judaism to expand rapidly in the ancient world, and brought in a number of Greek-speaking Gentile converts. However, there was something different about this translation of the Scriptures. It wasn’t considered a mere translation. The rabbis of the first century considered it to have equal authority as the Hebrew and Aramaic versions. In other words, the Jewish elders who translated these Scriptures from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek didn’t just translate the words, but they translated their meaning as well, including common interpretations and understandings of how these passages were to be understood from an ancient Jewish perspective.
Now it is into this scene that Jesus and the apostles arrive. Jesus was a Jew who spoke Aramaic and lived in Palestine, but his ministry was not limited to Palestinian Jews alone. He was the Messiah for all Jewish people, regardless of what language they spoke. The Pharisees looked down upon Greek-speaking Jews, and used the reference “Hellenist” in a rather derogatory way toward them. (Hellenism was a reference to Greek influence on the ancient world.) Jesus however, did not look down upon them, and considered them just as much his people as any local Aramaic-speaking Jew (John 10:16). The apostles, likewise, acted upon Jesus’ teaching, and had no problem ministering to Greek-speaking Jewish synagogues during their missionary journeys. Greek was, after all, the language of law and commerce at the time, especially in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.
Everyone had to know at least enough Greek to get by, and if you wanted any reasonable success in this ancient world, you had to be a proficient speaker of it. So naturally, this Greek translation of the Scriptures — this Septuagint or Deuterocanon — was the version of the Jewish Bible the apostles primarily used to teach and quote from. It was the primary apostolic canon! Yes, they did quote from the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon) as well, but the majority of their quotations come from the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon).
There is something else about this Septuagint (Deuterocanon) that was also unique. The Jewish elders who translated it were aware of the disputes that existed over the various versions of the Jewish canon back in Palestine. So they took it upon themselves to translate those books, that they all agreed were worthy of being considered divinely inspired Scripture. Their Greek canon of Scripture — Septuagint (Deuterocanon) — contained the equivalent of forty-six books. Thus, it was a bit longer than the canon of Scripture used by the Pharisees — Tanakh (Protocanon) — and considerably shorter than the canon of Scripture used by the Esseans.
So there you have it. The canon of Scripture primarily used by the apostles was the Greek-translated Septuagint (Deuterocanon). So that was the canon of Scripture that came to be the Christian Old Testament. It consisted of forty-six (46) books, and translated the commonly accepted meaning of the text as well as the text itself.
Canonical Development Between Jews
Now in the years that followed the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (AD 70), with the Saducee Party defunct, and the Essean party extinct, the party of the Pharisees gained control of mainstream Judaism. The destruction of the Temple created such a spiritual vacuum that it’s difficult to express in words. Suffice it to say, late first-century Judaism was in chaos. Some of the leaders met in various places, such as Yavneh, Lod and Bnei Braq in the Judaean lowlands, to hammer out the details. Contrary to popular belief, there was no “Council of Jamnia” as has been reported in years past. Rather, the control of Judaism transferred to the Pharisees gradually, over a period of decades, starting from the fall of the Jerusalem Temple (AD 67-70) to the Bar Kochba Rebellion (AD 132-136) and thereafter. Among the changes that transpired were the following:
- Rejection of the Christian claim of Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah,
- The mandatory use of the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon) as the official Jewish Bible.
- The public reading of that Bible in Hebrew by all Jewish males on their thirteenth birthday (Bar Mitzvah).
- The standardization of various rites and customs to be carried out in the Jewish home in the absence of a Temple in Jerusalem.
Virtually all of these changes occurred in those formative decades after the fall of the Temple, and were carried over into all of the synagogues in the West. However, a small (almost forgotten) tribe of black Jews in Ethiopia did not adopt the reforms that followed the fall of the Temple. In fact, these same Ethiopian Jews still use the forty-six (46) book Septuagint (Deuterocanon) as their Bible to this very day.
Now when it comes to the Christian Old Testament canon, Protestants concern themselves primarily with academics. They surmise that the original Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon) must be more accurate, because after all, it is older. Older is better — right? Therefore, they drop the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon), and thus abandon the Old Testament canon used by the early Church and the apostles.
Catholics, on the other hand, have a different take on the matter. For us, it’s not a matter of academics, but rather a matter of authority. The real question is, who has the authority to determine the Christian canon? Does that authority belong to a handful of 16th century Protestant theologians? Does it belong to professors in universities? Or does that authority belong to the apostles and the bishops of the early Church? The Catholic answer is to choose the last of the three.
Only the apostles and bishops of the early Church had the authority to determine the Christian Old Testament canon, and the modern Catholic Church has authoritatively affirmed this in the Council of Trent (AD 1545-1564) by continuing to use the same Septuagint (Deuterocanon) the apostles preached from in their sermons and quoted from in their writings. The fact is, the apostles and bishops of the early Church believed BOTH CANONS were authoritative — both the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon), and the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon). They used both, they quoted from both freely, and they held to this common Jewish belief at the time, which was that both were divinely inspired.
The problem the Protestant leaders have is that they are relying on academic authority instead of apostolic authority. They can cite a whole host of academic reasons why they shouldn’t use the longer Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon) as their Christian Old Testament, but they can’t cite a single apostolic authority that agrees with them. Even some of the academic reasons they cite implode after closer examination.
For example; one common academic reason why they ignore the seven additional books of the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon), is that they were allegedly not written in Hebrew. (As if God only speaks in Hebrew. What about the New Testament? It was written in Greek.) However, recent discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran reveal some of the seven books from the Deuterocanon were originally written in Hebrew. These include the books of Sirach and Tobit. So much for the “Hebrew only” objection.
Another common objection is that modern Jews didn’t regard these seven books as inspired, so why should Protestants? However, this ignores the historical fact that, in the first century AD, Jews were in disagreement about the size of the Jewish canon depending on what party they belonged to. After the first century, as the party of the Pharisees gradually took over, their canon of Scripture became more regularized, settling on the shorter thirty-nine (39) book Tanakh (Protocanon). However this was AFTER the time of Jesus and the ministry of the Apostles. Still, to say the Jews were in full agreement even after that is somewhat of a stretch. For example; the Talmud, the most authoritative book on Jewish traditions and interpretations specifically quotes the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) Book of Sirach as Scripture…
“Raba [again] said to Rabbah b. Mari: whence can be derived the popular saying, ‘A bad palm will usually make its way to a grove of barren trees’? – He replied: This matter was written in the Pentateuch, repeated in the Prophets, mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, and also learnt in a Mishnah and taught in a baraitha: It is stated in the Pentateuch as written, So Esau went unto Ishmael [Genesis 28:9], repeated in the prophets, as written, And there gathered themselves to Jephthah idle men and they went out with him [Judges 11:3], mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, as written: Every fowl dwells near its kind and man near his equal [Sirach 13:15].”b. B. Qam. 92b; Soncino ed.
“…And R Aha b. Jacob said: There is still another Heaven above the heads of the living creatures, for it is written: And over the heads of the living creature there was a likeness of a firmament, like the color of the terrible ice, stretched forth over their heads above [Ezekiel 1:22]. Thus far you have permission to speak, thenceforward you have not permission to speak, for so it is written in the Book of Ben Sira: Seek not things that are too hard for thee, and search not out things that are hidden from thee. The things that have been permitted thee, think thereupon; thou hast no business with the things that are secret [Sirach 3:21-22]”b. Hag. 13a; Soncino ed.
So much for that argument against the Septuagint (Deuterocanon). We have clear historical evidence of Septuagint (Deuterocanon) books not only written in Hebrew, but also quoted as Scripture in early Jewish writings.
Then there is the common objection that Christ and the apostles never quoted from the seven additional books of the Septuagint (Deuterocanon). Okay, so if New Testament quotation is a criteria of Scriptural canonicity, then I guess we are going to have to exclude the following books as well, because they too were never quoted by Jesus or the apostles…
- Song of Songs
- 1st Chronicles
Obviously, New Testament quotation cannot be a criteria of exclusion for canonicity of a particular Old Testament book. If it is, we’ve all got some editing to do, because every Protestant has these books in his/her Bible.
Another common academic argument against including the seven additional books of the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) is the citation of a couple early Christian writers who apparently did not regard them as authoritative Scripture. Those typically cited are Saint Athanasius and Saint Jerome, who translated the Scriptures from Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic into Latin. First of all, Catholics don’t believe that Saints are infallible. They do make mistakes sometimes. The authority to determine the canon of Scripture rests in the apostles and their successors (bishops), not in individual Saints. That being said however, Saint Jerome clarified his position in a later writing, in which he clearly regarded the seven additional Septuagint (Deuterocanon) books as inspired…
“What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Son of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew canon, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I wasn’t relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us.”Saint Jerome, AD 402, Against Rufinus 11:33
That being settled, all we have left is Saint Athanasius, who was an excellent scholar on determining authentic New Testament Scripture, but apparently missed the mark on the Old Testament. He is countered by the opinions recorded in the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Council of Rome, the Council of Hippo, the Third Council of Carthage, the African Code, the Apostolic Constitutions, and those recorded in the writings of Pope St. Clement I, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian of Carthage, Pope St. Damasus I, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Innocent I.
Anyway, the list of objections goes on and on — ad infinitum — but what it really comes down to is this. By what authority do you base your Old Testament canon? Do you base it on the academic opinions of doctors and theologians? Or do you base it on the apostolic authority of the apostles and bishops of the early Church? My question is, if the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) was good enough for the apostles and early Church, with its additional seven books and all, then why is it not good enough for us today?
I write this not only in defense of the Catholic position on the length of the Old Testament canon, but also in genuine concern for my Protestant brethren in Christ, many who have been denied seven books from the Old Testament and additional chapters of Esther and Daniel. I assert that all of the scholarly academic opinions in the world do not justify removing books from the Old Testament that all Christians had used for fifteen centuries! Some Bible publishers agree, and have begun to reprint them in various ways. Some have placed them in separate sections called “apocrypha” meaning “disputed,” and others have simply placed them back into the Old Testament in their original order with a notation that these books are from the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) and not found in the Tanakh (Protocanon). I think that’s a fair accommodation.
There are many English Bible versions on the market today. In fact, there are so many that a common question heard today is: “which one should I use?” May I suggest only using those English Bibles that are COMPLETE? May I suggest choosing a non-abridged version? By that I mean only English Bibles with a complete Old Testament. That’s my suggestion. Every Christian, regardless if Catholic or Protestant, deserves access to ALL of the Scriptures. It is no publisher’s business to determine which books some Christians should, or should not, read by excluding them from their printed Bibles.
When shopping for a Bible, I recommend looking for one that contains the “Apocrypha” or “Deuterocanon” books. There are plenty out there. Try your local Christian bookstore first, but if you can’t find one there, let them know that you might have to shop online if they can’t get one for you. All it takes is two or three such requests, from different people, and I guarantee it won’t be long before they start carrying them on their shelves. If, however, you just can’t wait, you can find excellent English translations of COMPLETE Bibles here, here, here and here. The last link is the Original 1611 King James Version.
More answers to questions such as these can be found in the book “Are Catholics Christian?: A Guide to Evangelical Questions about the Catholic Church,” available both in digital and paperback. Learn more here. Priests and catechists, throughout the United States and Canada, have already used portions of this book in their regular RCIA material, and some simply read portions of the book to their class. It’s highly recommended by priests and catechists alike.