Canon of the Bible


  1. Bullet Catholic Bibles contain 7 more books that Protestant Bibles.

  1. Bullet The seven books are Wisdom, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), Judith, Baruch, Tobit, and Macabees 1 and 2 and they are found in the Old Testament. 

  1. Bullet The seven extra books are often called the Deuterocanonical books by Catholics or Apocrypha by Protestants. Deuterocanonical means “second canon”.

  1. Bullet Jesus and the Apostles often quoted directly from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.

  1. Bullet The first release of the King James version in 1611AD contained the Deuterocanonical books in the back of the King James Bible.

Objection #1 - I’ve heard some Catholics say the Catholic church gave the world the Bible, but surely God gave us the Bible.

In the first place it must be said that Jesus never instructed his disciples to write a Bible or anything.  Jesus only wrote a few words on the sand in the Gospel story of John 8 of the woman to be stoned to death for adultery, and nowhere do we know what was recorded. Plus it is obvious that God did not reach down from heaven and hand us a bound book. This however, does not diminish the fact that the Bible as both you and I know it today does have both divine and human authorship.  As the Catechism of the Catholic church puts it in paragraphs #106 & #107,

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more."

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."

The Bible was written over a period of roughly 1500 years by some 40 authors and is divided into the Old and New Testaments.  The Catholic Bible contains 46 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament for a total of 73 books.  The Protestant Bible contains 39 books in the Old Testament and the same 27 books in the New Testament for a total of 66 books.

The problem arose over the first few centuries of Christianity as to which books of the New Testament were inspired and which were not inspired. Because individual books were hard to come by and expensive due to the lack of a printing press which was to come 1100 years later, some books such as Hebrews, Jude, Revelation and 2 Peter were held as not inspired, while others such as the letters of Clement and Barnabus, Gospels of Peter and Thomas were held as inspired! Also over the years various Bishops compiled various lists of which books were inspired and the New Testament was first to be settled by some estimates around the mid 300’s.

In 382AD the Pope, St. Damasus at the time, prompted by the Council of Rome earlier on, wrote a decree consisting of the present day list of Old and New Testament books. It was around that same time that St. Jerome a monk and learned scholar at the command of Pope Damasus, made a Latin translation of the New Testament from the earliest Greek manuscripts he could find. In the years 392-404AD, he also translated the Old Testament into Latin directly from the Hebrew and not from the Septuagint.  This Latin translation consisting of all 73 books became the standard for the Catholic Church and Catholics celebrate this today as the Latin Vulgate.

The Septuagint or Latin for the number 70 represents a translation of the Hebrew Bible done by 70 or 72 scholars around 285BC-246BC into Greek because Hebrew was perceived to be a dying language.  The Septuagint contains all 46 books of the Old Testament in Greek.  We know this because the Jews in Jesus time spoke Aramaic and perhaps Jesus as well.  Interestingly we find that many of the quotes used by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament can be found in the Septuagint proving that they quoted from the Greek rather than the Hebrew. Scholars have said that of the three hundred and fifty Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament, about three hundred are taken directly from the Septuagint proving the Catholic point of a 73 book Bible.

Note the Latin Vulgate was revised under Pope Sixtus V in 1590, and again under Pope Clement VIII in 1593, who is responsible for the present standard text.

Objection #2 - But I have heard that Catholics have added extra books to the Bible at the Council of Trent?

First it should be explained the Council of Trent was a council called to address the claims of the reformers. Ecumenical councils are typically called in order to settle problems and questions that arise from situations. To date the church has called 21 councils with the last being Vatican II.  Trent (Council of Trent: 1545-1563) was called as a response to the Protestant revolt of 1517AD and its many questions and problems that came up such as the canon. The councils of Hippo (393AD) and Carthage (397AD) were local councils where the whole church did not participate due to geographical distances. However, their decrees were valid and honored by the whole Church after Pope St. Innocent closed the canon at that time (405AD). All Trent did was to reaffirm the earlier canons with the entire church. It is therefore a common misconception that the canon was not decided until Trent.  This is incorrect. It was decided in the earlier councils but merely reaffirmed by Trent in which the entire church participated. The Council of Trent did not add or subtract from what was decided 1100 years earlier.

Much of the confusion stems from the preface that St. Jerome wrote in his Latin Vulgate translation (404AD) expressing his personal support for the Hebrew OT canon (39 Books), and Martin Luthers’ lack of finding Hebrew versions of the Deuterocanonical books and leaning on St. Jerome words alone. Note later in his life, St. Jerome defended the Deuterocanonical books as Scripture.

It is worthwhile noting that copies of the disputed Deuterocanonical books written in Hebrew were found in Israel between 1947 and 1956 in an area called Khirbet, Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Today we know the scrolls as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These however, would not have been available to Martin Luther in 1517.

Objection #3 - Catholics hid the Bible from the masses for centuries.  Had it not been for Luther I would not have my own Bible.

Actually it is quite false and very much a myth that Catholics hid the Bible for years.  One must first remember that until the invention of the printing press, books and the Bible in particular were copied by hand.  Initially on papyrus, then on to parchments and finally on to paper over the centuries. The process of copying and transcribing often took years initially and the cost of the Bible back then would have been enormous. Just think one Bible alone contains 35,000 verses to be copied by hand.  In addition not everyone could read Latin initially during the middle ages even though they spoke it well. Literacy was also a problem as only some people could read.

Added to that Bibles were chained to churches and available for all to see, but the reason for chaining then was so that they would not be stolen. Much like the way telephone directories are bolted on to telephone booths to this day.  The invention of the printing press in 1450AD, just before the reformation, allowed people like Luther and others to mass print their Bibles for the masses. It should be noted however, that the first book to the printed on the printing press in 1456AD was the Mazarin Catholic Bible named after Cardinal Mazarin who organized the project.  In addition, many printed Bibles existed in the vernacular of several European countries long before the first Protestant Bibles appeared.

Objection #4 - But aren’t there errors and contradictions in either Bible? What does it matter?

If that is true of Catholics then it is equally true of Protestants since they share 39 Old and 27 New Testament books in common. Protestants owe Catholics a debt for keeping the Bible faithfully through the many centuries.  Furthermore if Protestants accept the 27 books of the New Testament which the Catholics decided was to be inspired scripture, and therefore infallible, it follows that the same councils that gave us the infallible New Testament cannot give us a fallible Old Testament because both were done at the same time.

There are no contradictions in the Bible but the senses of scripture must be adhered to gain the full meaning of the texts in the Bible. Scholars refer to the senses of scripture as Literal, Allegorical (typological), Moral (how to act) and Anagogical (our destiny). For this reason only an authoritative body such as the Magisterium can interpret scripture, which must be read in harmony with the doctrines of the church and within the living Tradition of the church.

Objection #5 - I heard that Catholics burned Bibles during the reformation? Is this true?

Yes it is true. All for a good reason however.  They contained typographical errors of a huge nature. One example is the Tyndale Protestant Bible, which contained Lutheran heresies and anti-Catholic notes and wrong translations.  Tyndale was formally a Catholic priest who joined the reformers. In the footsteps of Tyndale, were numerous other Protestant translations with verses added by the reformers.  Examples of faulty Protestant Bibles were

1)The “He” and “She” Bibles for the mix up in the pronouns of the book of Ruth,

2)The “Wicked Bible” for the omission of the word “not” from the 7th commandment. 

3)The “Vinegar Bible” for the printing of the word “Vinegar” instead of “Vineyard” as in the Parable of the Vineyard.

4)The “Murderer’s Bible” for the printing of the sentence “But Jesus said unto her, let the children first be killed” instead of “ …be fed”.

5)The “Whig Bible, “Unrighteous Bible”, and the “Bug Bibles” are other examples of numerous errors made in printing and translation.

Is it any wonder that after so many corrupt editions, the Bible that came to be universally accepted by Protestants was the King James Bible of 1611AD, which became the authorized version in English. That is almost 100 years after the reformation!  By the way the Protestant reformers burned Catholic Bibles likewise, but not because they had errors in them. Rather out of a hatred for anything “Papist”.

How then did my Protestant Bible end up with 66 books and not 73 books?

As history tells us it was Martin Luther and the reformers that gave us the Protestant Bible that you and I know today out of the reformation. The fundamental reason why you have 66 books is because Martin Luther as de facto head of the reformers felt that many of the books in the Bible contradicted his doctrines at the time.  So for example, because he did not believe in purgatory anymore, the book of Maccabees, which makes a direct reference to purgatory, Luther removed. History also tell us that Luther and Zwingli another reformer also fought over the book of James as Luther did not like the notion about "works" as a compliment to faith as it went against his doctrine of Sola Fide (By faith alone are we saved). Fortunately Zwingli won and the book of James stayed, but it is noteworthy that Luther referred to the book of James as “An Epistle of Straw”!

Other books slated for the chopping book that were likewise fortunately spared, were Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, 2 John, 3 John and 2 Peter to name a few. If Luther had had his way you would have had less than 66 books. Luther in his German version of the Bible originally added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 to support his doctrine that we are saved by “faith alone”.  This was later removed for obvious reasons.

A secondary reason for removing the 7 Deuterocanonical books as they are sometimes called is because Martin Luther could not find any of the 7 Deuterocanonical books in Hebrew which tied in nicely with the Hebrew canon of the Bible. This canon was put forward by rabbinic Jews, at their Council of Jamnia in and around 90AD in an effort to counter the Christians who were gaining converts and to solidify their scriptures.

You mentioned that Jesus and his Apostles quoted from the Septuagint in the New Testament.  Can you offer some proof of this?

The following is taken from “The Biblical Basis for the Catholic Faith by John Salza, page 16” and reflects direct references between New Testament quotes and those found in the 7 Deuterocanonical books:

“•Jesus quotes from Tobit 7:18 when He calls His Father, "Lord of Heaven and earth' (Mt 11:25).

•Mary follows Sirach 10:14 when she says ("has put down the mighty from their thrones" (Lk l:52).

•Elizabeth alludes to Judith 13:18 when she declares that Mary is most "blessed ... among women" (Lk 1:42).

•Mark and Luke record the Sadducees' story about the seven brothers in Tobit 3:8 and Tobit 7: 11.

•James follows Sirach 29: 10-11 in his teaching about laying up one's true treasure instead of silver and gOld that will rust (see James 5:3).

•The seven spirits before God in John's Revelation are the same seven angels who present the prayers of the saints before the Holy One in Tobit 12:15 (see Rev 1:4).

•Peter alludes to Wisdom 3:5-6 when he teaches that God will test us just as gOld is tested by fire (see 1 Pet 1:6-7).

•The author of Hebrews follows Sirach 25:22 when he tells us to strengthen our "drooping hands" and "weak knees" (Heb 12:12)."'

•Paul follows Wisdom 5:17-20 when he charges us to take up the "armor of God," the "breastplate of righteousness," the "helmet of salvation" and the "shield of faith."* He borrows from Baruch 4:7 when he teaches that the pagans "sacrifice to demons and not to God."* And he quotes from 2 Maccabees 12:15, when he calls God the "one and only Sovereign."*"

•He also refers to 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, which is one of the most incredible stories of faith in Scripture, regarding the torture and murder of a mother and her children (see Heb 11:35).”

The above alone is proof positive that one should read the Catholic Bible with the full compliment of Old Testament verses to gain greater insights into the relationships between the Old and New Testaments.  In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #129

“129 Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an Old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”


1) "Where We Got the Bible-Our Debt to the Catholic Church by The Right Rev. Henry Graham", 28th printing.

2) From the Catholic Encyclopedia ( ) on the Council of Trent.

3) Beginning Apologetics, Book #1 by Fr. Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham.

4) The Biblical Basis for the Catholic Faith by John Salza.