Why Do Catholic Bibles Have More Books?

WHY DO CATHOLIC BIBLES HAVE MORE BOOKS? 

        If you have a Christian friend who belongs to a Protestant church, perhaps Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran or Methodist, and you compare your Bible with his or her Bible, you may notice that your Catholic Bible has more books. Why is this?

        The Catholic Bible includes seven books and parts of two others that Catholics call the deuterocanon. Deuterocanon means “second canon” or “second list.” They are called deuterocanonical because there was some controversy over whether or not they should be included in the Bible. These books are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and parts of Esther and Daniel. Referring to these books as deuterocanonical is not meant to suggest that they are somehow “second class” books. They are just as inspired and just as much the Scripture as the other books of the Bible.

        In the third century BC, Jewish scholars put together a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Greek language. This translation was done in Alexandria, Egypt, the intellectual center of the Greek world. It came to be called the Septuagint, from the Latin word for “seventy,” and is often referenced by the Roman numeral for seventy: LXX. This name came from the legend that seventy scholars working on the translation independently miraculously came up with the exact same wording for the entire Bible. The list of books in this Greek translation is called the Alexandrian canon. Canon is a word that means “rule” or “measure” and, in this case, refers to the list of books that belong in the Bible. Unlike the other books of the canon, which were written in Hebrew, the deuterocanonical books were written in Greek. The Alexandrian canon included them in its list of books of the Bible.

        The Jews who lived in Palestine worshipped and read the Scriptures in Hebrew. The list of books of the Bible they accepted is called the Jerusalem canon, because the city of Jerusalem was the most important city to the Jewish people, and the center of Jewish worship in Palestine. The Jerusalem canon did not include the deuterocanonical books. But there were many Jews who lived outside of Palestine, all over the Mediterranean world. These Jews mostly spoke Greek, which was the dominant language at the time. The Septuagint became very popular with these Jews, who used it in their worship and in their study of the Scriptures. There arose a great debate among the Jewish people over which books were to be regarded as sacred. Some believed only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, should be considered sacred texts. Others were willing to accept other books, including those of history, wisdom, and the prophets of Israel. This debate would not be resolved for many centuries. As part of this debate, some scholars accepted the list of books in the Septuagint, the Alexandrian canon, that included those books written in Greek. Other scholars, however, rejected the Greek books of the Alexandrian canon, largely because they had been written in Greek instead of Hebrew, and because the Jerusalem canon did not include them.

        When the Christian movement began, it did not take long before missionaries started bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (Greek speaking non-Jews), as well as to Jews living outside of Palestine, who spoke and worshipped in Greek. So, it made sense for them to use the Greek translation of the Scriptures. Also, the books of the New Testament, the Gospels and the Letters, were all written in Greek. The Christians used the Greek translation when they quoted the Hebrew Scriptures in their writings. There are 350 quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures found in the writings of the New Testament, 300 of which come from the Greek Septuagint translation. Biblical scholars today are not sure exactly when the final decision on the Jewish canon was made, but it is certain that sometime over the course of the first or second centuries AD, the books written in Greek that were included in the Alexandrian canon were rejected by the Jews as Scripture. The Christians, having broken from Judaism in the mid-first century, were not influenced by this development, and continued to use the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians now call the Old Testament.

        The canon of the Bible was, for all practical purposes, settled for Christians by the end of the fourth century (see the article Where Did the Bible Come From?). There was little debate or controversy over which books belonged in the Bible until the years of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Many of the Protestant reformers rejected the deuterocanonical books because they taught doctrines they did not accept, such as the practice of praying for the dead. Protestants today sometimes argue that they do not accept these books as Scripture because they were rejected by the Jews, who were the guardians of God’s revelation before the coming of Jesus. Yet, even the Jews had not decided for themselves which books were definitely part of the Bible until well after Jesus. Also, there is no question that the Christians of the earliest centuries regarded these books as Scripture. In fact, Sirach came to be called by the Latin title “Ecclesiasticus,” meaning “the book of the Church,” because it was so often used to teach morals. The great majority of Church Fathers gave their unqualified support to these books, and Jerome, following “the judgment of the churches,” included them in the Vulgate, his Latin translation of the Bible, which was recognized as the official translation of the Scriptures by the Catholic Church even into the twentieth century. Some Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther, while rejecting these books as divinely inspired, still regarded them with respect. In fact, Luther included them in his own translation of the Bible, though placing them in a middle section, between the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, Protestant Bibles

generally included these books as late as the eighteenth century. Protestant Christians designate these books as apocrypha, a Greek word meaning “hidden” that is used to make it clear that they regard them as non-biblical. In recent decades, especially through ecumenical dialogue and joint Catholic-Protestant projects in Scripture scholarship and translation (such as the highly respected Revised Standard Version of the Bible), many Protestants have come to appreciate the value of these books as godly literature.

        In response to the Protestant challenge to the canonicity of these books, in 1556 the Council of Trent, a meeting of all the bishops of the world under the leadership of the pope, formally defined as infallible the list of books, both Old and New Testament, that Catholics believe are divinely inspired by God and, as such, are part of the Bible. This list, of course, includes the deuterocanonical books.

        And that’s why Catholic Bibles have more books.

Be Christ for all.  Bring Christ to all.  See Christ in all.

 

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