Why Does the Catholic Bible have more Books in it?
I love answering questions about the Christian faith online, in person, and by email. The issues involved are usually common for people so I share my answers here. Today’s question:
Why does the Protestant Bible have fewer books than the Catholic Bible? Did Martin Luther take out books he to suit his theology?
The short answer:
Martin Luther did not remove any books from the Bible. This claim is inaccurate and misleading. The books in question were separated from the Bible as a result of the Reformation. That is true. But they had been subject of intense debate from the time of Jesus. They were not considered Scripture by the Jewish people. Much of the early church did not include them either. The man most responsible for the confusion over the books did not consider them Scripture. They were not even part of the Catholic canon until 1547. So though Luther did begin the process by which the commonly accepted Protestant Bible came about, it’s foundation was laid 1500 year earlier.
The Protest against Rome
To understand this issue, you have to start with the Protestant Reformation. Really comprehending the causes of this world shaking revolution should clear up questions about these additional books. It may also challenge you to examine the things you accept as “normal religion” in your life.
The Reformation started in 1517 as an attempt to fix problems with the Roman Catholic Church of that time period. These were not just objections to the practices you heard about in History 101. Indulgences – selling salvation – was bad enough. There was so much more going on. The Catholic Church from 800 AD until the Reformation was nothing like even today’s version. It was not so much a church but rather a religious absolute monarchy. It was an imitation of the secular political structure of the time. The Church alone dictated to the “regular” people how to worship God, how to live, how to work, and even who they belonged to. It required people to work in almost slavery on Papal lands and constantly pay for their salvation. It even directed wars against other Christians and non-believers. The Pope was the unquestioned King of this worldly kingdom. He grabbed massive amounts of land and wealth in the process. Every aspect of life ran through and for the benefit of the “princes” of the church. Nothing was allowed to diminish or question their authority – enforced with the pain of death at the stake.
The allure of such immense power and wealth was obviously tempting. Wealthy families of the times purchased jobs in the church for their children who then handed out more positions to their relatives. The family of the Pope at the time of Luther bought him the position of a bishop at 7 years old and cardinal at 13, for example. They bribed enough people for him to eventually become Pope. This supposed man of God then encouraged a war in order to give his brother more wealth and power. He also made his cousins, nephews, and other relations bishops and cardinals.
As you can imagine, this had an affect on the doctrines and practices of the church. When priests were amassing too much wealth and were passing it on to their children and out of the control of the church, for example, the Vatican decided priests could not be married. Was there a Biblical mandate for this decision? No, but the churchmen needed to preserve their wealth so they did it anyway. This does not mean there were not good men and women in the church during these years. But the leadership of so many of these evil men over a long period of time had an impact. Their practices were all over the church by the 1500’s. They were accepted as normal.
Then Luther and the other Reformers came along. They were not the only ones to see these great issues. They were simply the first ones who were able to do anything about it. Jan Hus made the same objections as Luther about 100 years prior. The church killed him to silence his dissent. The Reformers sought to go back to the actual foundation of the faith – the Bible – rather than the accepted practices. They questioned whether the decrees from the palaces of Rome were true and demanded evidence proving it. This process of examination led to the Reformation. The church across the world chose to stop following men and seek God alone. Salvation by grace was brought back to the forefront. The church universal for the first time in many years objected to killing people in the name of God. The Bible was shared freely in every language rather than hoarded and concealed. Questioning in order to get closer to Jesus was encouraged. The idea that one regular person is worthy to go to Jesus that you accept so freely now was revolutionary for the time.
The church as a body of believers was reborn! What a wonderful thing!
The reformers weren’t done . They examined everything from this new God focused perspective. It was no longer what those in Rome proclaimed from their golden thrones. Instead, they asked simple questions about everything to make sure it was from God and not some guy who bribed his way to power:
What does the Bible say? What does history tell us? Why are we doing this act we claim is on behalf of God? Would Jesus ever do this? What about the early church? Is this true?
We all owe a great debt to the men and women of the Reformation.
If you have a Bible in your home in your language and the confidence to read it, this is fruit of the Reformation. If you believe Jesus loves you directly, this is from the Reformation. If you think you are worthy to take communion, bread and wine, this is from Luther and friends.
It took brave Christians staring down the most powerful men of their age to bring all this back to the common man. They got back to the roots of the church.
The Reformers also applied this same scrutiny to the Bible. This questioning led to where we are today – the difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bible which we call the Apocrypha.
What are the Apocrypha?
The Apocrypha are the 7 additional books of the Catholic Bible – Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (or Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach), and Baruch. They were written during the time period after the Old Testament but before the New Testament. The Protestant church generally views them as deserving of respect and containing some historical truth but not inspired – meaning without error and God breathed. You are free to read them and learn from their historical aspects. They just do not meet the standard to be included in the Bible.
The Apocrypha are old. They are also likely real in that they are the same books as they had back then. They were well known by the Jews during the period. They were also known to contain some accurate history about the time between the Testaments. So they are very old books that contain history of the Jewish people read at the time, so that is good. But the writings of Josephus are also old, real, and about the Jews. So are any number of ancient Jewish documents. That does not make them Scripture. This is the big issue involved.
It is worth noting that the New Testament canon has been agreed upon almost universally since the 2nd Century. The doctrines and words of Jesus have been agreed on for 2,000 years.
So what happened with these other books?
Why are the Apocrypha Not in the Protestant Bible?
The Reformers studied how we got the Bible and how it was compiled. They were truth seekers, which is a good thing. They found concerning things about the Apocrypha.
It started with the fact the Jewish people themselves did not consider the Apocrypha to be part of the Old Testament Bible. The keepers of the Law who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus did not keep them with the rest of the Bible. They also did not refer to them as Bible. So the Hebrew Old Testament read by the Jewish people did not include the Apocrypha. The Jewish people were aware of the books and read them. They just treated them as history and not inspired Scripture. This position never seems to have changed. This should be enough alone to give us pause as they are Old Testament books.
Are you beginning to see how far back this question goes?
It continued with the fact that Jesus, the Apostles, and the writers of the New Testament never once quote the Apocrypha. Not once among the many references made by Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the like did any of them say “As Scripture says in…” and cite Tobit or Maccabees. These men quote the Bible in every speech they make. Jesus quotes as far back as Genesis and relies on Deuteronomy to fight off Satan’s temptation. They also quote non-Christian sources and lost books on a number of occasions. They had the Apocrypha, clearly, yet they did not cite to it once. It is a glaring and I believe damning omission.
The early church also had problems with these books from the start. Many early Christians were against the Apocrypha. The Church council of Laodicea in 363 AD considered the Apocrypha, for example. They not only rejected these books as Scripture but also forbade reading these books by the church. Early church leaders like Origen, Melito, Cyril, and Athanasius joined in and all wrote against the Apocrypha. They made the same arguments as those above. The basic conclusion of these folks was the books were useful for some things but were not Holy Scripture.
If you stop here – about 400 years after Jesus – you again understand why their are significant issues about these books.
Then a simple decision by one guy named Jerome entered the narrative and caused all sorts of confusion that persists to this day.
Jerome was a church leader in the late 300’s. He was commissioned by the Bishop of Rome to create the Latin Vulgate. This was the “official” translation into Latin of whole Bible. Jerome did not believe the Apocrypha were inspired. He agreed that the Jewish people in Israel never treated them as Scripture. He acknowledged they had not changed that position. Jerome’s position was consistent with the Jews and many others in the early church. Jerome also departed from the norm of that day. He understood Hebrew so he translated from the original Hebrew Old Testament rather than the more common Greek version. This formed the foundation of his position. Yet, when the Vulgate was completed in 405 AD, he included the Apocrypha in the Bible. It appears to have been a concession to the pro-Apocrypha position of part of the church. Jerome wrote introductions to each of them indicating they were helpful but not Scripture. Yet, the timing and inclusion would have long lasting repercussions.
The church change described above took place in the centuries that followed while Latin was the dominant language. People simply got used to the Apocrypha being included among the books of the Bible. Jerome’s introductions were still there saying they were not canon but most people did not even have a Bible during the years that followed. The Catholic Church did not get rid of the issues with the disputed books. It did not add any new scholarship or insight. But the inclusion of the books alongside the inspired ones in the official translation made them hard to tell apart. The “official” church also forbade anyone from disagreeing with them. What did that look like? When William Tyndale had the gall to translate the Bible into English so people could read it, he was executed as a heretic. You can understand why the arguments died down as a result. The Vulgate and all translations based on it therefore included the Apocrypha for many years.
These questions all came back up with Luther and the Reformers. They asked the same questions that the early church did, now without threat of death. The reformers found themselves agreeing with the Jews, many early churchmen, Jerome, and with the early church council:
The books of the Apocrypha are not bad, but they are not part of the Bible.
The new found freedom to ask questions led them to the same conclusion of 1100 years prior. This is why the Protestant Bible has fewer books. As you can see, the issues did not come out of the blue. It is simply a conclusion based on 2,000 years of evidence and discussion, when it was allowed. The difference between the canons does not change the authenticity of the New Testament or most of the Old Testament. It was not a plot by either side. It was simply the result of a difference of opinion that has been going on for a very long time.
Were the Reformers correct? I think the evidence is overwhelming. But here is the great news.
First, these books are not the New Testament. The disagreement about the Apocrypha has no affect on the truth of Jesus, the Gospel, and the clearly documented doctrines of Jesus.
Second, you are free to investigate them yourself. This is the liberty Jesus won for you on the Cross. It is also the right to question and value yourself as a person Martin Luther and the Reformers risked everything to gain for you. Keep that in mind as you explore the issues.
God bless you.