Christians all over the world unanimously agree that the books of the Bible are divinely inspired by God. But between Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, there is much disagreement in which books are considered to be inspired. While they all contain 27 books in their New Testament, they vary in how many books are included in their Old Testament canons.
While the Protestant bible contains 66 books in total, the Catholic bible has 73 books as well as additional passages in the books of Esther and Daniel. It is also worth noting that the Greek Orthodox Bible contains 79 books, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible has 83 books in theirs. With this in mind, it’s easy to wonder what earthly authority can rightly determine a proper biblical canon. But for the sake of staying on topic, let’s focus on what differs between the Catholic and Protestant canon.
One of the defining pillars of Protestantism is Sola Scriptura (Latin for Scripture Alone). The biblical verse that is most cited in support of this doctrine is quoted,
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” — 2 Timothy 3:16-17 RSV
The additional seven books in the Catholic bible are what the Catholics call deuterocanonical books, though Protestants refer to it as the apocrypha. Some would argue that they would reject these books because many of the ancient Jews rejected it. But it is worth noting that many ancient Jews also rejected Jesus as the foretold Messiah. It is also often quoted by Protestants who reject the additional Catholic books these verses from Scripture,
“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I am commanding you.” — Deuteronomy 4:2 RSV
“I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book;” — Revelation 22:18 RSV
During the time of the Early Church, the Christians of that time would have held the Septuagint as an authoritative document. The Septuagint is a collection of Jewish texts written in Koine Greek which contained the books of Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Judith, Baruch, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Wisdom — the seven books that Protestant Christians claim Catholics added to the Bible. By the implications of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, one would think these books ought to fit under the umbrella of ‘all scripture inspired by God.‘
What makes up the Protestant bible canon we know of today did not come into fruition until the 16th century. Luther’s Canon, a collection of scriptural texts by early reformer Martin Luther, became influential in the development of biblical theology for Protestant denominations even to this very day. Few Christians also realize that Luther, the alleged hero of the Protestant Reformation, had originally pushed to remove the books of James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation from his New Testament Canon. But rather, he placed them near the end of his collection as he considered them to be disputable works. Luther once referred to the book of James as an ‘epistle of straw’ because it conflicted with his theological reservations, which was a precursor to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide (Justification by Faith Alone).
Most of what is believed by Protestants about the inclusion of the apocrypha/deuterocanonical books would have to do with additional support for belief in prayers for the dead which would imply the existence of Purgatory (such as what is mentioned in 2 Maccabees 12). This would be among one of the reasons why Luther considered the Catholic deuterocanonical books as apocryphal. Granted verses like the aforementioned Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18 are the very foundational tenets of Sola Scriptura, it would seem that the Early Reformers who were responsible for the assembly of their canon are guilty of the very thing modern-day Protestants often accuse Catholics of.
Development of the Catholic Bible Canon
There were at least five instances in history when the biblical canon was formally identified. The first being the Synod of Rome in 382, the Council of Hippo in 393, the Council of Carthage in 397, a letter from Pope Innocent I addressed to Bishop Exsuperius of Toulouse in 405, and the Second Council of Carthage in 419. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation of 16th century, the Catholic Church officially closed the canon during the Council of Trent in 1546. In a decree titled Decretum De Canonicis Scripturis, the Council of Trent affirmed the same list of canonical books as those affirmed in Carthage and Rome.
Deuterocanonical References in the New Testament?
It is argued by Protestant theologians that the deuterocanonicals does not attest to its own authority. One of the main criteria biblical scholars look out for is whether the books in question refer to other texts or have parallel teachings or prophesy. I think the biggest testimony that attests to their authority is how the deuterocanonicals allude to the Gospels, and that some of these works are also quoted by Jesus Himself. For example:
Herod’s decree of slaying innocent children was prophesied in the book of Wisdom:
Matt. 2:16 RSV — “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.”
Wisdom 11:7 RSVCE — “…in rebuke for the decree to slay the infants, thou gavest them abundant water unexpectedly.”
Jesus’ statement “you will know them by their fruits” follows the book of Sirach:
Matt. 7:16-20 RSV — “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”
Sirach 27:6 RSVCE — “The fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree; so the expression of a thought discloses the cultivation of a man’s mind.”
The people were “like sheep without a shepherd” is same as foretold in the book of Judith:
Matt. 9:36 RSV — “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Judith 11:19 RSVCE – “Then I will lead you through the middle of Judea, till you come to Jerusalem; and I will set your throne in the midst of it; and you will lead them like sheep that have no shepherd, and not a dog will so much as open its mouth to growl at you. For this has been told me, by my foreknowledge; it was announced to me, and I was sent to tell you.”
The Gospel writers refer to the canonicity of the book of Tobit regarding the seven brothers:
Matt. 22:25 RSV (Also referred to in Mark 12:20 and Luke 20:29) – “Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother.”
Tobit 3:8 RSVCE — “…because she had been given to seven husbands, and the evil demon Asmode′us had slain each of them before he had been with her as his wife. So the maids said to her, “Do you not know that you strangle your husbands? You already have had seven and have had no benefit from any of them.”
Tobit 7:11 RSVCE — “I have given my daughter to seven husbands, and when each came to her he died in the night. But for the present be merry.” And Tobi′as said, “I will eat nothing here until you make a binding agreement with me.””
Jesus claiming that God is His Father also draws from the book of Wisdom:
John 5:18 RSV – “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.”
Wisdom 2:16 RSVCE — “We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.”
Jesus’ usage of “fall by the edge of the sword” is drawn from the book of Sirach:
Luke 21:24 RSV – “…they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
Sirach 28:18 RSVCE — “Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen because of the tongue.”
Many other examples of deuterocanonical references in the New Testament can be found at ScriptureCatholic.com.
The Church Gave Us The Bible
When the individual is left to his own devices to determine what books ought to be included in the Canon of Scripture, this reveals an absence of definitive, physical authority. Jesus may not have given us a Bible firsthand, but a Church with a physical authority whose lineage traces back to the Early Apostles, is led by the Holy Spirit and is responsible for assembling and preserving the Canon of Scripture we know and appreciate today.
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
— 1 Timothy 3:14-15 RSV