Deuterocanonicals:  Why Catholics and Orthodox Have More Books in the OT Than Protestants

 

    First a note of background information:  Christianity basically has three major divisions:  Catholic, Orthodox (Greek Orthodox, for example), and Protestant (meaning all Christians who are not Catholic or Orthodox, whether Methodist, Amish, etc.).  The three divisions all teach basically the same thing about Jesus, but they differ in the details.  One of those details is the contents of their holy writing, the Bible.  Protestants believe that the Bible should contain 66 books.  Catholics believe that the Bible should contain 73 plus books.  The Orthodox believe that the Bible should contain 76 plus books.  Now for the explanation.

    All Christian groups agree that the New Testament (NT) should only contain 27 books.  The disagreement exists over the number of Old Testament (OT) books.  All three Christian divisions agree that that the Old Testament should have these books: 

This makes 39 books.  And the Protestants stop at that, for a total of 66 books. 

     The Catholic Bible, along with the NT, have the 39 books of the Protestant OT plus Tobias (or Tobit), Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach), Wisdom, and I & II Maccabees; additions to Esther and Daniel are also included.  Therefore Catholics believe that the Bible should contain 73 plus books.  The additions to Esther include 6 short parts.  The additions to Daniel are 3 short parts called the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Young Men (or Children)(this is one part), Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.  Yet Catholics have a special name for these “additional” books, which is deuterocanonical.  "Canonical” means “holy writing” and “deutero” means secondary.  So these books are included in the Catholic Bible, but they are identified differently.  Protestants do not have these books in their OT and so refer to them as "apocrypha."  Apocrypha are those books which are not in the Bible.  So Catholics call these books "deuterocanonical" because they are in the Catholic OT but are seen as secondary, whereas Protestants refer to them as "apocrypha" because they are not in any Protestant OTs. 

    The Orthodox Bible, along with the 27 books of the NT, have the same books as the Catholic Bible plus it can contain Prayer of Manaseh, I Esdras, II Esdras, III Maccabees, IV Maccabees, Odes (prayers or psalms), and an additional psalm, Psalm 151. The reason I say “can contain” is because the Orthodox Church is not like the Catholic Church, a single unit, but more like the Protestants, there are different Orthodox, such as Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox.

    But why the difference?  First we have to talk about the development of the OT.  In the 200s and 300s BC, the Jews in Egypt translated their holy writing from their native tongue of Hebrew into Greek which was becoming the dominant language of the time.  This version is called the Septuagint.  The Septuagint contained the above books of the Orthodox OT, except II Esdras. 

    About 1000 years later, in the Middle Ages, a group of Jewish scholars produced what is called the Masoretic Text.  This was a Hebrew version of the Jewish Bible.  Remember that the Jews already had a Greek version, the Septuagint, but 1000 years later they wanted an authorized copy in the original Hebrew language.  In the process of developing the Masoretic Text, the scholars reduced the number of books to the 39 books. 

    But that was the Jewish scholars.  The Catholics and Orthodox of the Middle Ages kept using the versions they had, which was based on the Septuagint.  The Protestants finally showed up in the very late Middle Ages, in the 1500s.  At first Protestant leaders used the deuterocanonicals, but eventually it was decided within Protestantism only to include protocanonicals ("proto" meaning "primary") and not deuterocanonicals.  And in the Westminster Confession of 1648 (one of the most prominent Protestant statements of faith at the time) the deuterocanonicals were left out of the OT for the first time in an official document.  And they have generally been absent from Protestant Bibles ever since.

©2010 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved

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