Entry: Deuterocanonical books: why the Catholic Bible has the books that the Protestant Bible does not Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Aramaic into Latin, now known as the Vulgate version of the Bible, but he rejected the Deuterocanonical books*(see below) because there was not Hebrew versions of the texts to be found. Jerome counseled that the "deuterocanonical" Old Testament, that is, those books not available in Hebrew or not considered canonical by the Jews, were OK as models of faith and conduct, but should not be used to establish doctrine. The Vulgate was used for over one and a half millennia, but then Pope John Paul II replaced it with the New Vulgate in 1979...The 20th-century "New Vulgate" was simply an updated Latin translation of the Bible, just like the NIV and NASB are newer English translations.


However, of these books, Tobias, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, and Maccabees, remain in the Catholic Bible. First Esdras, Second Esdras, Epistle of Jeremiah, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, Prayer of Azariah, and Laodiceans are not part of the Catholic apocrypha today. I do not yet know why this is.

Until 1450, when Gutenberg printed this text, copies were also very rare and expensive. During the Protestant reformation in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Bible was finally translated into modern languages, against great resistance from the Church. Finally in the mid-20th Century, the Roman Catholic Church abandoned the use of Latin for liturgy. However, this remains one of the most historically important Latin texts.

From the very beginning, the near-universal belief of Christians--which was finally recognized as the explicit and official position of the Church by the Council of Trent because Protestants had challenged it after 15 centuries--was that the deuterocanonical books were as authoritative as the rest. If you read the Church fathers, bishops, theologians and other writers, you'll see that they freely and frequently quote the Deuterocanonical books as authoritative and to support doctrine, without any caveats about the authority of these books.

So, when Martin Luther challenged the canon--and he did so because his teachings clearly contradicted some statements in the deuterocanonical books--he was challenging a canon that had been accepted so completely and universally since the beginning that the Church had never had any need to defend it (at least with regard to including the deuterocanonical books; some ancient Gnostic heretics had tried to throw out most of the New Testament). Sadly, despite all his rhetoric about "sola scriptura" (Scripture only) as the basis of faith, Luther didn't really submit himself to the authority of Scripture when he didn't like what it said. He had a habit of denigrating or denying the authority of any biblical books that contradicted his teaching, even those in the New Testament. For example, since the Book of James insists that both faith and works are necessary for salvation, and that faith alone is not enough, Luther pronounced that particular book an "epistle of straw" and claimed that it was no part of his personal Bible. (Same for some other biblical books like 3 John and Revelation)

Luther certainly had no authority to do such an arrogant thing, and his arguments for the reduced canon were all logically circular.

Protestants rejected these books during the Reformation as lacking divine authority. They either completely got rid of them or placed them in a third section of the Bible. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent, on the other hand, declared in 1546 that the Deuterocanonical books were indeed divine.



* The books not all of Christendom consider as canonical, but some do, are called "Deuterocanonical." (The books used by Catholics.)  The term "Apocrypha" should be reserved for Old and New Testament writings that have been influential but are not accepted as part of the Bible by any current Christian body. However, Protestants typically lump the Deuterocanonical Old Testament with truly noncanonical books, as "Old Testament Apocrypha." All of the books in the "Apocrypha" sections of Protestant bibles are accepted as canonical by at least one Christian body dating from before the Reformation.


** Please know that I am not completely done with all this research. This is simply what I have found so far.


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