How does the Catholic Bible differ from the Protestant Bible?

It has been a few weeks since I posted – (the week on the beach at Hattaras was divine). I thought that I might toss out a discussion starter to tap into our collective scripture & historical expertise. The article below addresses a question that I hear often: Why do Catholic Bibles have more books than Protestant Bibles? The article is the Catholic response with additional input from me at the end. I am curious to see samples of Protestant responses to this issue.

How does the Catholic Bible differ from the Protestant Bible?

The Catholic Bible is different from the Protestant Bible in only one way: Catholic Bibles contain 46 Old Testament books while Protestant Bibles include 39. The Old Testament books found in Catholic Bibles, but omitted from the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles, are the Books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), First and Second Maccabees, Baruch, and parts of Daniel and Esther. Catholics call these books deuterocanonical works; Protestants call them the Apocrypha.

What’s so special about the deuterocanonical books?

The deuterocanonical books are special in that they include inspiring stories of Jewish heroes as well as discussions of important segments of Jewish history. In them we also find wise sayings and good advice for living a holy life. Some scholars believe they provide a link between the Hebrew Old Testament and the New Testament because they record the religious history of the Jews during the times between the Babylonian exile and the birth of Jesus.

We might ask, “Why are these writings omitted from Protestant Old Testament?”

To understand why Protestants omit these deuterocanonical books, we must consider how the Jewish Scriptures were used in the early Church. Around the first century A.D., there were two Jewish Bibles in widespread use. One was called the Hebrew Bible and it was popular in Judea. The other was called the Septuagint Bible; it was a Greek translation of the Jewish Scripture and it included these deuterocanonical books. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint Bible were used by the early Christians, but recent studies have shown that the longer Septuagint version was the one preferred. For example, when the authors of the New Testament quoted the Jewish Scriptures, they used the Septuagint version about 80 percent of the time; they also quoted parts of the seven deuterocanonical books in their writings. The Septuagint Old Testament was the one eventually approved by the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. From that time until the Reformation, there was only one Bible used in the Church.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther and other scholars began a new translation of the Bible and they decided to use the shorter Hebrew Bible as the basis for their Old Testament. In response to this, the Council of Trent in 1546 followed the tradition of earlier ecumenical councils and canonized the longer Septuagint Bible as the Catholic Old Testament. We know today that by choosing the Septuagint version, the bishops at Trent were in keeping with the faith of the early Church.

It is worth stating that both Catholics and Protestants accept the same 27 books of the New Testament. Also, there are no significant differences between Catholic and Protestant translations of the Bible; for example, there are no extra verses or changed meanings in either of them. In fact, Protestant and Catholic scholars have worked together to bring out several recent translations of the Bible — translations which are far more accurate than the old King James version or the even older Catholic Vulgate Bible.

So, except for the seven deuterocanonical books we discussed in this message, Catholic and Protestant Bibles are basically the same.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission

Pat Clement’s Note: It is my understanding that the longer, Septuagint version of the Hebrew scriptures was created at least 2 centuries before Christ. The Jewish leadership at the time recognized a need to provide a Greek translation for those Jews who lived outside of Palestine. They commissioned 70 Jewish scripture scholars who gathered in Alexandria, Egypt and spent 70 months on the task. The resulting translation was named the Septuagint (70 x 70) and contained the 7 additional books that had come to be accepted by the Jewish community as divinely inspired sacred works. Both versions were in use in Israel during Jesus’ ministry, and the longer Greek translation was the obvious choice for the first Christians to use when evangelizing the Greek speaking Gentiles of the Roman Empire.
After the Fall of Jerusalem (@ 70 AD), the Jewish leadership shifted into a survival mode and closed ranks. One of their first responses was to eject all followers of Jesus from their synagogue worship which essentially established Christianity as a separate religion. A few decades later (@ 110 AD?) the Jewish leadership gathered to officially clarify their faith beliefs and membership qualifications. During that gathering, they dropped the Greek Septuagint translation and recognized the original Hebrew translation as the only scripture acceptable for synagogue use. Since this decision was made AFTER the Jewish-Christian separation, the Christian communities of the time continued to use both translations.
In the 300’s, after Christianity became legal, St. Jerome was commissioned to translate the Bible into the common language of the people – Latin. He moved to the Holy Land and spent the rest of his life working on the project which became known as the Vulgate or “common language” Bible. For his translation, he chose to use the longer Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Vulgate Bible was the accepted scripture translation for the next 1,000 years.
During the Reformation, Luther wanted to create a German translation of the Bible. It is my understanding that his first German language Bible was a direct translation of the Latin Vulgate, including the 7 additional Old Testament books. It was later, when Luther and the German leadership were clarifying the differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs that Luther discovered that the contemporary Jewish communities in Germany were using a shorter version of scripture that did not include the Maccabees books (the Catholic basis for praying for the dead and therefore indulgences – Luther’s initial grievance against Rome). Luther proposed that a new German translation be created that omitted the 7 additional books as well as a few New Testament epistles (especially St. James’ letter, i.e. “Faith without works is dead”). The new Protestant leadership agreed to drop the 7 Old Testament books, but chose to keep the New Testament intact. This decision became the foundation for all future Protestant translations of the Bible.
Clearly, this is the Roman Catholic version of these events. What are the variations of the accounts from other viewpoints? Also, what are the historic roots for the additional OT books in the Greek Orthodox and Coptic translations? (I suspect that this will keep Israel G. busy for a few moments)

About Pat Clement

Pat Clement is a Minister of Faith Formation from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, VA. For over 25 years, she has worked with teams in parishes, schools and campus ministry to discover creative ways to incorporate faith formation into every aspect of church life. She earned a Master's degree in Religious Education from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and a Doctorate of Ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation in South Bend, Indiana with ecumenical studies in Rome. Pat is a native of New Orleans, LA and is currently serving as the Director of Religious Education at St. James Church in Hopewell, VA.
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5 Responses to How does the Catholic Bible differ from the Protestant Bible?

  1. igalindo says:

    Thanks, Pat! Terrific article.

    I don’t see much difference in terms of a historical understanding of the “history of the Bible” from a Protestant viewpoint. The history of the development of the canon, and of modern Bible versions and texts is a fascinating study. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve got just about every translation and version of the Bible on my bookshelf—collected over years. The only one I know for sure is missing is the Coptic Bible you refer to. Perhaps with good reason. It’s difficult enough deciding among the choices of Protestant and Catholic versions without adding to that having to decide which Coptic bible to get (see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/16078c.htm).

    If you’re curious, check out some of the OTHER books in the Coptic biblical tradition on this Coptic lectionary site: http://www.copticchurch.net/classes/getLectionary.php

  2. Abrahham Geremew says:

    the ommitted bible parts have some contradicting ideas with the other parts which is accepted by thje protestants what can you say about this?
    ommitted one cotradicts with the rest one(some parts).and none of them were qouted by desciples as well as Jesus.

  3. Bea K. says:

    Abrahham Geremew,
    Thank you so much for your response about the “contradicting ideas”, which the King James Version (and a few others) DO NOT present, and can be confusing also by Hebrew definitions and understanding.

    Don’t believe me, line up the KJV and Hebrew texts, with the Catholic version and see for yourself (but make sure you ‘pray’ and ask for the Holy Spirit to give you ‘clarity’ and ‘understanding as you do so, and watch what happens when ‘He’ does)?

  4. Elie says:

    Protestants have 22000 denominations we have one leader one church one bible more than 22000 thousand saints. Only god is perfect and churches n people can do mistakes but it doesn’t give the right for a confused ex monk to make a new bible which has become more corrupt and has corrupted the earth . Christ has one church which the forces of hell can not prevail against it.

  5. Suzanne says:

    There is no reason to take offense. This
    is just a site to help determine the differences in these two religions.
    Thanks to everyone for your input too, it was very helpful.