Why does the Catholic version of the Bible have more books than the Protestant version?
Ghirlandaio, “Saint Jerome in His Study” (detail), 1480, Church of Ognissanti, Florence, Italy (photo: Public Domain)
19 “And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”
By James Akin
In the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformers removed a large section of the Old Testament that was not compatible with their theology. They charged that these writings were not inspired Scripture and branded them “Apocrypha.”
Catholics refer to them as the “deuterocanonical” books (since they were disputed by a few early authors and their canonicity was established later than the rest), while the rest are known as the “protocanonical” books (since their canonicity was established first).
The Council of Jamnia
In order to combat the spreading Christian cult, rabbis met at the city of Jamnia in A.D. 90 to determine which books were the Word of God. They pronounced many books, including the Gospels, to be unfit as scriptures. This canon also excluded seven books (Baruch, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, and the Wisdom of Solomon, plus portions of Esther and Daniel) that Christians considered part of the Old Testament.
The Church disregarded the results of Jamnia. First, a Jewish council after the time of Christ is not binding on the followers of Christ. Second, Jamnia rejected precisely those documents which are foundational for the Christian Church—the Gospels and the other documents of the New Testament. Third, by rejecting the deuterocanonicals, Jamnia rejected books which had been used by Jesus and the apostles and which were in the edition of the Bible that the apostles used in everyday life—the Septuagint…two thirds of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are from the Septuagint.
Justification and Reason for Changing the Bible
To justify this rejection of books that had been in the Bible since before the days of the apostles (for the Septuagint was written before the apostles), the early Protestants cited as their chief reason the fact that the Jews of their day did not honor these books, going back to the council of Jamnia in A.D. 90.
The deuterocanonicals [from the Septuagint] teach Catholic doctrine, and for this reason they were taken out of the Old Testament by Martin Luther and placed in an appendix without page numbers. Luther also took out four New Testament books—Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation—and put them in an appendix without page numbers as well. These were later put back into the New Testament by other Protestants, but the seven books of the Old Testament were left out. Following Luther, they had been left in an appendix to the Old Testament, and eventually the appendix itself was dropped (in 1827 by the British and Foreign Bible Society), which is why these books are not found at all in most contemporary Protestant Bibles, though they were appendicized in classic Protestant translations such as the King James Version.
Why would Martin Luther cut out [the book of Maccabees, for example,] when it is so clearly held up as an example to us by the New Testament? Simple: It endorses the practice of praying for the dead so that they may be freed from the consequences of their sins (2 Macc. 12:41-45); in other words, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Since Luther chose to reject the historic Christian teaching of purgatory (which dates from before the time of Christ, as 2 Maccabees shows), he had to remove that book from the Bible and appendicize it. (Notice that he also removed Hebrews, the book which cites 2 Maccabees, to an appendix as well.)