Monday, December 6, 2010

Those "Extra Books": Who Really Changed the Bible

Evangelicals are very suspicious of "those extra books" that Catholics have in their Bible, and often make the accusation that Catholics "added them to the Bible". Evangelicals are confident that they are using the true, original Bible. These claims, however, simply do not stand up to historical facts.

In the first three centuries of the Church, there was no total consensus as to what books should be in the Bible. Few people doubted the canonicity of the four gospels and parts of the OT like the Pentateuch. But regarding other parts of the Old Testament or the rest of the New Testament there was much dispute.

For example:
Origin accepted what's today called the Catholic canon, but minus James, 2nd Peter, 2nd John, and 3rd John, and plus the Shepherd of Hermas.

Athanasius compiled a list of 66 books he considered to canonical in A.D. 367. Since his Old Testament, like Protestants today, had 39 books, Protestants often cite his list as evidence that the Protestant canon existed in the early the Church. It is true that Athanasius' Old Testament indeed had 39 books, but not the same books as Protestants. He rejected Esther and included Baruch.

Books whose inspired status (or the lack thereof) was disputed at one point or another in the early Church include: EstherHebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd John, 3rd John, RevelationTobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 MaccabeesShepherd of Hermas, 1st Clement, and the Didache.

So how was the canon eventually settled?

Around 383, Pope Damascus I commissioned Jerome to make what we now call the Vulgate translation of the Bible in Latin. The canon he instructed Jerome to translate was the same as the Catholic canon today.

In 393, the Synod of Hippo, a local council of north African bishops led by St. Augustine, affirmed a canon list that's the same as the Catholic canon today. This list was reaffirmed at the local councils of Carthage in 397 and 419.

In other words, the question was eventually settled by the Church authorities - the same way the questions were settled regarding the Trinity and the person of Christ.

But where was the Protestant canon of Scriptures? Not a single person or group in the early Church believed the Biblical canon to be what is now the Protestant canon. The Protestant canon, though many evangelicals believe it to be the original canon, did not exist yet and wouldn't for a long time.

For the next 1000 years in the West*, all Bibles were comprised of the Catholic canon. Whether the book was Genesis or Tobit, it was revered as Scripture, read in church, and quoted as an authority.

It wasn't until the 16th century that we finally find the Protestant canon, when the Reformers chose to remove books from the Bibles that everyone already used.

(And so it was in response to this attack on the Holy Scriptures that at the Council of Trent the Catholic Church re-affirmed once and for all as dogma what the biblical canon was. Catholics were not creating their canon for the first time or adding books to the canon at the Council of Trent, as is too often ignorantly charged by evangelicals.)

Catholics have a bigger Bible than evangelicals. But this is because Protestants removed books from the Bible, not because Catholics added "extra books".

*I say "in the West" because some groups in the East continued to dispute the book of Revelation, as well as accept a few books that Catholics reject. In any case, they don't lend any support to the canon used by evangelicals, which is the focus on this post.


  1. This is a very good primer; the notion that the Deuterocanon was added at Trent can't hold water if you read any pre-Tridentine sources.

    Also, I saw you went to Wheaton. Do you know Ammon Simon, Kara Vance, or Dan Jones? I'm not sure what years any of them graduated.


  2. Actually, the West doesn't reject the extra books of the East. Eastern Catholics accept Psalm 151 and Maccabees 3 & 4. You're thinking too Protestant. The canon is less important than the Church. If a book of the canon is used in accordance with Tradition and can be read in the liturgy (which was the source of the canon in the first place), it is a book acceptable in the canon. If it is misused, it is not. Western Catholics don't include Psalm 151 and Maccabees 3 & 4 simply because it never made it into the Western liturgy and they didn't seem to have enough value. Revelations was hotly debated in the East partially because it never entered the liturgy and partially because it was so often misused by the Gnostics at the time. A survey of modern TV evangelism shows why the Eastern Fathers might be nervous about it, even if they were sure it was from John.

  3. Hey Joe,
    I was aquainted with Kara Vance, but I the other names aren't ringing a bell. You know them I presume?

    Hey Anil Wang,

    Thanks for the clarification. I (like many in the West) am not as acquainted with the East as I could be.

  4. thanks for this post! i am a Moody graduate and have been doing a lot of reading lately in regard to Catholicism (would consider converting but my husband just couldn't handle the idea at this point - so I'm taking it slowly for his sake) - I have been trying to piece together a history of the canon like this and so this is so helpful.

    - jennifer

  5. I always found it humorous that those 7 books were considered apocryphal when I found instances in the Gospels of Jesus quoting them (Sirach I think) directly. I'll try to find that quote, I've got it marked in one of my Bibles.

  6. This is an article about the Deuteros I've found useful over the years. At 11 pages it's not short, but not unduly long either.

  7. I found this article from Called to Communion very interesting. It concerns the book of Sirach and the evidence of why it should be included.

  8. Great work, Brantly and Krista! Keep the faith and share the love, and hugzzz to baby! :)

  9. Hey Fr Sunny!
    Will do. I hope everything is going great at your new parish.

  10. Brantly,

    Kara's is the sister of a good friend of mine, who I'm in a Men's Prayer Group with. I think that the two of them have some really interesting Protestant/Catholic dialogue, since they seem pretty close, and both know and loves their faiths.