The Canon of Scripture
by Sebastian R. Fama

There is a significant difference between Catholic and Protestant Bibles. Catholic Bibles contain seven more books than Protestant Bibles do. The seven books, all in the Old Testament, are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Catholics call the disputed books Deuterocanonical and consider them to be inspired. Protestants call them Apocryphal and consider them to be spurious.

The list of books that comprise the Bible is referred to as the canon. During Jesus' time there were two Old Testament canons in use. There was the Palestinian canon, which is identical to the Protestant Old Testament, and there was the Alexandrian canon also known as the Septuagint which is identical to the Catholic Old Testament. The reason why the Catholic Bible has the longer canon is simple. The Apostles and the early Church used the Septuagint.

Protestants use the shorter canon because it matches the present day Jewish canon. They will often quote Romans 3:2, which says, "The Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God." They reason that since God entrusted the Old Testament to the Jews, they should be the ones who determine which books belong in it.

This reasoning presents a couple of problems. Firstly, both Old Testament canons were received from the Jews. Thus neither canon is eliminated by this verse. Secondly, the Jews didn't settle on the Palestinian canon until at least 90 AD at the Council of Jamnia. This was well after authority had passed from the Jews to the Church (Acts 4:19). Ironically it was at the Council of Jamnia that the Jews also rejected the New Testament. Logically speaking, anyone who would consider Jamnia as being authoritative would also have to reject the New Testament.

Most Church Fathers regarded the Septuagint as the standard form of the Old Testament. When the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) set the canon of the New Testament they also confirmed the Septuagint as the Old Testament. Further evidence of the Septuagint's acceptance by the early Church can be found in the New Testament itself. It quotes the Old Testament approximately 350 times. Three hundred of those quotes are from the Septuagint. Surely this amounts to an overwhelming endorsement by the early Church.

Some raise objections over supposed errors. One example is in Judith 1:1-7. Here Nebuchadnezzar is called the king of Assyria when in fact it is well known that he was the king of Babylon. But Judith is not a historical book; it's a religious novel. The combining of the Babylonians and the Assyrians is a representation of the enemies of Israel. Both had conquered Israel at one time or another. Judith means Jewess and she represents the whole of Judaism. The lesson of the book is to rely on God's way of deliverance no matter what the method. Similar objections are raised over verses in Tobit, which are likewise symbolic and not historical.

Critics will often dismiss the role of the Church in determining the New Testament. They contend that the Holy Spirit caused the books of the New Testament to fall into place on their own. They would have us believe that the Church councils that dealt with the canon were nothing more than bishops getting together to say "Wow, look at that." Once again, history tells us another story.

The book of 1 Clement was considered inspired by most in the early Church (Eusebius, The History of the Church 3:16, 325 AD). We also know that the book of Revelation was disputed by many at the time. And yet Revelation made it into the canon and 1 Clement didn't. That's because the Church set the canon of Scripture, and she did so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Just as God worked infallibly through men in writing the Bible, He worked infallibly through men in communicating exactly which books comprised it.

And so the canon stood. Unchanged until the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther threw out the seven Deuterocanonicals because they contradicted his new doctrines. He also wanted to throw out Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

In Revelation 22:19 the apostle John proclaims, "If any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." It's true that this verse refers to the book of Revelation. However, common sense tells us that the same principal should apply to all of Scripture. Certainly God would never be pleased with us tampering with any part of His word.

Copyright © 2001 

For Further Study

Articles - Confirming Biblical History by Chuck Colson and Defending the Deuterocanonicals (History of the Bible) by James Akin (off site)
Books -
Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture by Scott Hahn & Benjamin Wiker and Where is THAT in the Bible? by Patrick Madrid
CD - Where Does the Bible Come From? by Father Mitch Pacwa
What Every Catholic Needs to Know About the Bible

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