Hey, Father! Why does the Catholic Bible have more books than the Protestant Bible?

Why does the Catholic Bible have more books than the Protestant Bible?

– Bill in Quincy

For Catholics and protestants, the New Testament is the same, but Catholics have seven more books in the Old Testament: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ben Sira, and Baruch.  The reason for the difference is that there was no firm rule (or canon) as to what books should be included in the list of God-inspired Jewish Scriptures. Such a list did not exist until as late as 200 AD. The five books of Moses and the books of the prophets were pretty much agreed on but with a later collection of literature known as the Writings, there was more debate. For several hundred years, a Greek-language version of what we call the Old Testament had been in use among Greek-speaking Jews and this collection included the “extra” books we find in our Catholic Bible. This is the version of the Old Testament that was in use in the early church and is often quoted in the New Testament. There was another version of the Old Testament in Hebrew that was in use mostly in the Holy Land.

In the 70’s A.D., after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, a group of Jewish scholars gathered to determine which of the books that were in use constituted sacred, inspired Scripture.  We are not sure exactly what criteria they used, but they seem to have gone with books that they knew were composed in Hebrew and were known and used in Palestine. Their list, known as the Masoretic text, did not include the seven books found in the Catholic Bible. Interestingly, later scholarship has shown that at least some of the “Catholic” books were composed either in Hebrew or Aramaic and were being used in Palestine.

At the time of the Reformation, when early protestant leaders, especially Martin Luther, were translating the Bible into the languages of the people, they judged that the version of the Old Testament used by the Jews must be the most authentic and used the Masoretic text as the basis of their translation. There were some early church fathers who thought that the extra or deuterocanonical books should not be held on a par with the rest of the Old Testament, most notably St. Athanasius and St. Jerome, but over the course of time the whole church, guided by the Holy Spirit, came to recognize them as inspired sacred Scripture. This decision was formalized at the Council of Trent in 1546.

This is a quick answer to a very interesting question. For more information, see the article, “Canonicity” by Raymond Brown and Raymond Collins in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990, Prentiss-Hall.

Father Scott Snider is Pastor at St. Joseph parish in Ramsey and Mother of Dolors parish in Vandalia.