The Bible Canon – 73 Books or 66 Books?

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So why does the Catholic Bible have 73 books, while the Protestant Bible has only 66 books? Some Protestants believe that the Catholic Church added 7 books to the Bible at the Council of Trent in response to Luther’s Reformation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Original Catholic Canon

In about 367 AD, St. Athanasius came up with a list of 73 books for the Bible that he believed to be divinely inspired. This list was finally approved by Pope Damasus I in 382 AD, and was formally approved by the Church Council of Rome in that same year. Later Councils at Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) ratified this list of 73 books. In 405 AD, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to the Bishop of Toulouse reaffirming this canon of 73 books. In 419 AD, the Council of Carthage reaffirmed this list, to which Pope Boniface agreed. The Council of Trent, in 1546, reaffirmed St. Athanasius’s original list of 73 books.

The Protestant Change of the Canon

So what happened? How come the King James Bible has only 66 books? Well, Martin Luther didn’t like 7 books of the Old Testament that disagreed with his personal view of theology, so he threw them out of his Bible in the 16th century. At the same time that Luther was creating the “scripture alone” doctrine, he was also modifying scripture!

Luther was basically following the example of the Jews at the time of Jesus, who could not agree on which books were divinely inspired. The Sadducees accepted as scripture only the first 5 books written by Moses (the Pentateuch), while the Pharisees accepted the 34 other books of the Old Testament as well. However, there were other Jews from the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, who believed that another seven books were also divinely inspired. The Septuagint translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek by seventy translators, includes the disputed seven books that Protestants do not recognize as scriptural.

Initially, Martin Luther wanted to kick out some New Testament Books as well, including James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. He actually said that he wanted to “throw Jimmy into the fire”, and that the book of James was “an epistle of straw.” What is strange is that Luther eventually accepted all 27 books of the New Testament of which the Catholic Pope Damasus I had approve in 382 AD, but he didn’t accept his Old Testament list. So why did he trust the Catholic Church whom he called “the whore of Babylon” to come up with an accurate New Testament list when he rejected the Church’s Old Testament canon? No one really knows.

The Jewish Canon of the Old Testament

Let’s take a look at how the Old Testament books were decided on by the Pharisees. There were four basic criteria for deciding whether or not certain books were canonical:

  1. The books had to conform to the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy);
  2. They could not have been written after the time of Ezra (around 400 BC);
  3. They had to be written in Hebrew;
  4. They had to be written in Palestine.

So this method employed by the Jews would automatically exclude all of the Gospels, and the Epistles of the New Testament, which were also written in the first century. But there were other books written before Christ, after Ezra, and some in Greek as well. The Alexandrian Canon, which included these seven books were accepted by the Diaspora Jews, who did not live in Palestine. These seven books are Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, First Maccabees, and Second Maccabees, as well as additional verses of Daniel and Esther. These books are called the “deuterocanon”, or second canon, by Catholics, and “apocrypha”, or hidden/obscure, by Protestants.

Objections to the Deuterocanonical Books and their Resolution

There are several objections to these seven books. Some say proof that they are not canonical is that the New Testament never references these disputed books. But that isn’t right, because the non-disputed books of Ecclesiastes and Ezra aren’t mentioned in the New Testament at all, not even once. By this standard then, Ecclesiastes and Ezra aren’t canonical either. On the other hand, there are many references from the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament. Anybody who reads the book of Wisdom 2: 12-20 would immediately recognize that this is a direct reference to the Jews who were plotting against Jesus in Matthew 27:41-43:

Wisdom 2:12-20: “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

Matthew 27: 41-43: So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, `I am the Son of God.’”

Another similar instance of this is Hebrews 11:35, which is a direct reference to 2 Maccabees 7, where the mother and her seven sons were slaughtered by the evil King for not forsaking the Jewish law. Romans 1:19-25 concerning the worship of nature is also referenced in Wisdom 13. The clincher, of course, is that Jesus Himself observed the feast of Hanukah, or the Dedication of the Temple, in John 10:22. This can be found in the Old Testament book of First Maccabees, Chapter 4, which is in the Catholic Bible, but not in the Protestant Bible.

Additionally, there are some unscriptural references in the New Testament. Jude quotes the book of Enoch and also tells of the fate of Moses’ body from the book, The Assumption of Moses. Thus, if the standard is that books referenced in the New Testament are canonical, then Enoch and the Assumption of Moses would be in the Old Testament, but they are not.

Some people object to these seven books because they claim that some of the early church fathers like St. Jerome didn’t think they were divinely inspired. While it’s great that so many non-Catholics start quoting the early Church Fathers, it’s not right to quote them on this and then not on the Eucharist, the papacy, or the supremacy of Rome, all of which prove that the Catholic Church was the only Church around in those days. St. Jerome initially had some concerns about these books, saying that the Palestinian Jews didn’t consider them canonical, but St. Jerome was not infallible, and later agreed that they were scriptural. All of the early Church Fathers accepted these disputed books as divinely inspired.

It’s important also to note that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls included the book of Tobit and the book of Sirach, proving that the people back then thought them worthy of reading, because they were found with the book of Isaiah and other Old Testament books.

You can check all of this out for yourself. The first Bible ever printed was the Gutenberg Bible, in the century BEFORE Luther started his Reformation. The disputed seven books are indeed in that Bible. To see for yourself, click here.

An interesting numerology coincidence occurs here as well. In the Bible, the number 7 denotes an oath, because to swear an oath was to “seven” ones’ self (God also rested on the 7th day, there are 7 spirits that minister to God, 7 sacraments, etc.), and the number 3 represents the Holy Trinity. On the other hand, the number 6 represents imperfection (as in 666). Therefore, 73 books sounds a lot better than 66 books!

To check out a great list of all of the New Testament references to the deuterocanonical books by Catholic genius and all-around good guy Jimmy Akin, click here.

Some of  the More Interesting Items in These Seven Books

In 2 Maccabees 12:39-45, we learn how Judas Maccabees prayed for the dead and made atonement FOR THEM by sending money to the temple as a sin offering (purgatory).

In 2 Maccabees 6:12-14, we learn how God punishes nations.

In 2 Maccabees 2:4-7, we learn the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and when it will be found (Sorry Indiana Jones!).

In 2 Maccabees 15:12-17, we learn about how saints in heaven pray for us and help us out here on earth.

In Wisdom 7, we see a biblical type of the Blessed Virgin Mary (aka the Seat of Wisdom) known as “Wisdom.”

In Sirach 38:1-15, we learn about the role of the physician and how God uses him/her to cure us.

In Tobit, we learn about the Archangel Raphael (a name which means God Heals), the only place in the entire Bible where he is mentioned. We also learn about the anti-marriage demon Asmode’us.

In Judith, we see a biblical type of Mary crushing the head of the serpent; Judith cuts off the head of the evil General Holofernes, and saves Israel.

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4 thoughts on “The Bible Canon – 73 Books or 66 Books?”

  1. Excellent timely article.

    Maybe a article on how the Hebrew scriptures were translated into the Greek Septuagint, & how the Hexaplar connects the VXX & Codex Vaticanus & Sinaiticus.

  2. Pingback: VVEDNESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  3. In the same list which included Wisdom of Solomon, Esther, Tobit, and Judith, Athanasius included the Didache (a/k/a Teaching of the Apostles) and the Shepherd of Hernias (Hermas). Yet these last two are neither in the Catholic nor the Protestant Bible. Why is this?

    An English translation of Athansius’s letters is at https://www.ewtn.com/library/PATRISTC/PII4-22.TXT

    See para. 7 of the 39th Letter (from 367, the one you are talking about).

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