CanonWhy Are Protestant and Catholic Bibles Different? Knowledge of the Bible’s history clears away the caricatures and misinformation swirling around this common question. John D. MeadeNovember 7, 2021 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint Level Why do Catholic Bibles contain more books than Protestant ones? Few questions provoke more curiosity (and angst) about the history of the Bible than why and how the two major western branches of Christianity have different books in the Book. The Roman Catholic Bible has 73 books, while the Protestant Bible contains 66. Both groups claim the Bible functions as their authority for doctrine, though admittedly in different ways. That is, Protestants and Catholics claim the Bible is their canon or authority for faith and morals. Before, we can understand how each group reads their Bible, we need to learn the differences between the bibles they read. To do that, we will detail the major differences, describe the history of the canon, and then show why the question matters. The Differences Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament. Thus, the differences between their Bibles concerns the boundaries of the Old Testament canon. In short, Catholics have 46 books, while Protestants have 39. Thus, Catholics have seven more books and also some additions within shared books: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus / Sirach / Ben Sira, 1–2 Maccabees, Baruch, and the additions to Daniel and Esther. Protestants call these books collectively, “the Apocrypha,” while Catholics refer to them as “the Deuterocanon.” Here, “Deuterocanon” does not mean second in authority but second only in reception in time. The Protestant Old Testament agrees with the narrower contents of the Hebrew canon (though not the ordering and numbering of books), while the Catholic Old Testament contains these same books plus the deuterocanonical books. How the Different Canons Arose At the start, several simplistic answers need to be avoided. These include the notion that Protestants removed books from the Bible or that Roman Catholics finally published their Bible pure and simple at the Council of Trent. As we will see, the Old Testament’s history from the beginning of the Christian era to the 16th century was quite complex. One must understand the early history of the relationship of the canon to these other books before making sweeping statements about what happened in the 16th century. Early Christian History (100–400 AD) Early Christians answered the question “What is the Old Testament?” differently as they recognized the voice of their Shepherd in the Jewish writings that remained. Jesus and the Apostles did not leave behind a list of authoritative books for the earliest church, and there were various spiritually significant books and different opinions about them. The complete Greek Bible codices of the fourth century (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus) contained many of the deuterocanonical books alongside the others. They were integrated alongside the rest of the Old Testament. Christians were clearly copying and reading these books. Whether they considered them as having authority or not is a separate question, as we will see. Furthermore, in the third century, Christians began to cite the deuterocanonical books as “scripture.” Clearly, they considered these works important. Although the New Testament and second-century authors never cite the deuterocanonical books as scripture, they do allude to them, showing awareness of them. (See, for example, the allusion to the Jewish martyrs of 2 Maccabees 6–7 in Heb. 11:35.) Get new articles and updates in your inbox. Leave this field empty if you're human: But Paul’s statement in Romans 3:2, “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God,” probably led many early Christians to conclude that the church’s Old Testament canon should match the Jewish canon. The earliest, second- and third-century lists of Melito of Sardis, Bryennios list, Origen of Alexandria, and the fourth-century Greek lists (e.g., Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus) omitted almost all of the deuterocanonical books (e.g., some still included Baruch as part of Jeremiah).1For these lists and more in original languages and English translation see Edmon L. Gallagher and John D. Meade, The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). These Christians and others beside did not outright reject the deuterocanonical books. Rather, they considered them useful for believers to read for edification, but not authoritative for doctrine. That is, their first-tier-canonical books established doctrine for the church, while second-tier-readable books illustrated piety for believers. That is a crucial distinction that is sometimes lost today. First-tier books established doctrine while second-tier books illustrated piety for believers. However, in the Latin West, another development was underway. Instead of asking whether a book was part of the Jewish canon, some early Christians accepted a book into the canon if the churches read and received that book. Augustine of Hippo and Pope Innocent I, for example, clearly accepted the deuterocanonical books based on this consideration. But other Latin Christians such as Jerome of Stridon and Rufinus of Aquileia continued to promote the narrower canon, placing the deuterocanonical books in a secondary list of edificatory books that did not establish church doctrine. Related Illustrations by Peter Gurry. Photos from iStock and Insight of the King How Can You Know We Have the Right Books in the Bible?Any study of the canon must eventually ask how Christians know which books belong and which don’t. Michael J. Kruger What this short survey shows is that fourth-century Christians were divided over the criteria for the Old Testament canon. Based on the canon lists, most Christians would have followed the Hebrew canon criterion for determining what belonged in their own. But others determined the Christian Old Testament by looking at what books the churches were reading in public and accepting. The two views agreed on the Hebrew canon but disagreed on the status of the deuterocanonical books with some relegating them to a secondary, edificatory status and others integrating them with the rest of the books. The issue was still debated in the early Reformation period and into the period of the Roman Catholic response in the Council of Trent (1546). Reformation Period and Council of Trent Although the Council of Florence around 1445 included a list of Old Testament books that incorporated the deuterocanonical books, the list did not have dogmatic definition. This means that Catholics before the Council of Trent were still debating the Old Testament canon in different ways. For example, Cardinal Ximénes (best known for his role as Grand Inquisitor), Cardinal Cajetan (known for his role as reviewer of Martin Luther’s teachings at the Diet of Augsburg in 1518), and the great Catholic scholar Erasmus would have probably agreed with the early Protestants on the contents of the Old Testament and the distinction between the canonical books and the edificatory deuterocanonical books. But other Catholic theologians were persuaded that Pope Innocent, Pope Eugenius, and the Council of Florence among others included the deuterocanonical books in the canon. When the Council of Trent convened in 1546 to discuss the matter of the canon of scripture, they committed to printing the list of books of the Council of Florence, but they did not believe they were settling once and for all the debate between Augustine and Jerome—a live debate at the time between Humanist and Protestant scholars on the one hand and Catholics on the other. RelatedHow Digital Apps Are Changing How We Read the BibleJohn DyerOur Year in ReviewPeter J. GurryThe Bible Jesus ReadJohn D. Meade But when the council published its decree on the canon, the text did not clearly reflect this live debate. Instead, it came with an unqualified list of books that included the deuterocanonical books on the same tier as the other books. But the minutes and papers of the Council of Trent’s meetings suggest a different story. They show that the theologians and church leaders believed they were not settling the long-held debate over the deuterocanonical books despite the fact that their decree published the wider list of books without any qualification or explanation. As one recent Catholic historian says, “In this case at least, the council itself must be held responsible for the misunderstanding.”2John W. O’Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 92. From this point forward, Catholic apologists, who should have known better, began to defend this canon as part of Roman Catholic identity. For their part, Protestants also understood Trent’s decision as a way to include the deuterocanonical books that supported some of their doctrinal positions. In 1566, Roman Catholic theologian, Sixtus of Sienna, coined the term “Deuterocanonical” to describe these books together with a few others that Christians would not call Deuterocanonical today (e.g., Revelation). By “Deuterocanonical,” Sixtus means second in time of reception—not second in authority and dignity. These books were slower to be received into the church’s canon of scripture, and therefore he called them deuterocanonical, while Protestants continued to call these books “Apocrypha,” clearly preserving the ancient distinction between them and the canonical books. Do the Differences Matter? As early as 1519, the differences between these canons could be felt. At a debate in Leipzig, Martin Luther and Catholic Johann Maier von Eck debated the doctrine of purgatory and the role of indulgences among other issues. As Luther questioned the scriptural authority for purgatory, he noted that 2 Maccabees 12:43–45 might offer some opinion, but “since Maccabees is not in the canon,” it is only effective for the faithful and does not furnish such authority. Only books in the canon could establish doctrine. If a book’s canonical status was disputed, as all the deuterocanonical books were, then it was not a sufficient authority. In this, Luther was appealing to Jerome’s view. In 1547, one year after Trent’s decree on the canon, John Calvin in his Antidote argued that the leaders at Trent “provide themselves with new supports when they give full authority to the Apocryphal books. Out of the second of the Maccabees they will prove Purgatory and the worship of saints; out of Tobit satisfactions, exorcisms, and what not. From Ecclesiasticus they will borrow not a little. For from whence could they better draw their dregs?”3From Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Volume 3: Tracts, Part 3, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Edinburgh; Calvin Translation Society, 1851; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 68. These early Protestants understood clearly that the Apocryphal books taught different doctrines than the canonical books, and once the Roman Catholic Church lent full authority to them, many of their teachings could then find full support too. Clearly, the differences between the two canons are not trivial. Canon means authority, and thus, an authoritative support for the church’s teachings. Clearly, the differences between the two canons are not trivial. Canon means authority, and thus, an authoritative support for the church’s teachings. Conclusion Today, because of the different canons, Catholics and Protestants have different scriptural authorities. Opening up the history of the matter shows that Catholics at Trent did not think they were solving the canon debate or publishing the Catholic Bible once and for all, even if the decree had that effect. Similarly, the history of the matter shows that Protestants were not removing books from the Bible, for their canon was not only traditional but, in so far as it cohered with the Hebrew canon, actually had the more ancient precedent. Knowledge of the Bible’s history clears away the caricatures and misinformation swirling around this question. This article is also available in Polish.Notes1For these lists and more in original languages and English translation see Edmon L. Gallagher and John D. Meade, The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).2John W. O’Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 92.3From Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Volume 3: Tracts, Part 3, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Edinburgh; Calvin Translation Society, 1851; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 68. John D. Meade John (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Professor of Old Testament and Codirector of the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary and a contributor of the Hexapla Project. He is the author (with Ed Gallagher) of The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity and Scribes and Scripture: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible (with Peter Gurry).