The Canon of the Bible

All Christians realize that if God has revealed Himself by communicating His will to man, man must be able to know with assurance where that revelation lies. Hence the need for a list (i.e. canon) of books of the Bible. In other words, man needs to know without error (i.e. infallibly) what the books of the Bible are. There must be an authority which will make that decision.

The canon of the Bible refers to the definitive list of the books which are considered to be divine revelation and included therein. A canon distinguishes what is revealed and divine from what is not revealed and human. “Canon” (Greek kanon) means a reed; a straight rod or bar; a measuring stick; something serving to determine, rule, or measure. Because God did not explicitly reveal what books are the inspired books of the Bible, title by title, to anyone, we must look to His guidance in discovering the canon of the Bible.

Jesus has told us that he has not revealed all truths to us.

Jn 16:12-13
I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.

Jesus then told us how he was planning to assist us in knowing other truths.

Jn 14:16-17
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.
Jn 15:26
When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.

The New Testament writers sensed how they handled truth-bearing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

1 Cor 15:3-4
For I handed on (paredoka) to you as of first importance what I also received …
2 Tim 2:2
And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust (parathou) to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.

There was a constant history of faithful people from Paul’s time through the Apostolic and Post Apostolic Church.

Melito, bishop of Sardis, an ancient city of Asia Minor (see Rev 3), c. 170 AD produced the first known Christian attempt at an Old Testament canon. His list maintains the Septuagint order of books but contains only the Old Testament protocanonicals minus the Book of Esther.
The Council of Laodicea, c. 360, produced a list of books similar to today’s canon. This was one of the Church’s earliest decisions on a canon.
Pope Damasus, 366-384, in his Decree, listed the books of today’s canon.
The Council of Rome, 382, was the forum which prompted Pope Damasus’ Decree.
Bishop Exuperius of Toulouse wrote to Pope Innocent I in 405 requesting a list of canonical books. Pope Innocent listed the present canon.
The Council of Hippo, a local north Africa council of bishops created the list of the Old and New Testament books in 393 which is the same as the Roman Catholic list today.
The Council of Carthage, a local north Africa council of bishops created the same list of canonical books in 397. This is the council which many Protestant and Evangelical Christians take as the authority for the New Testament canon of books. The Old Testament canon from the same council is identical to Roman Catholic canon today. Another Council of Carthage in 419 offered the same list of canonical books.
Since the Roman Catholic Church does not define truths unless errors abound on the matter, Roman Catholic Christians look to the Council of Florence, an ecumenical council in 1441 for the first definitive list of canonical books.
The final infallible definition of canonical books for Roman Catholic Christians came from the Council of Trent in 1556 in the face of the errors of the Reformers who rejected seven Old Testament books from the canon of scripture to that time.

There was no canon of scripture in the early Church; there was no Bible. The Bible is the book of the Church; she is not the Church of the Bible. It was the Church–her leadership, faithful people–guided by the authority of the Spirit of Truth which discovered the books inspired by God in their writing. The Church did not create the canon; she discerned the canon. Fixed canons of the Old and New Testaments, hence the Bible, were not known much before the end of the 2nd and early 3rd century.

Catholic Christians together with Protestant and Evangelical Christians hold the same canon of the New Testament, 27 books, all having been originally written in the Greek language.

Catholic Christians accept the longer Old Testament canon, 46 books, from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Alexandrian Canon.

Protestant and Evangelical Christians, from the Reformers onward, accept the shorter Old Testament canon, 39 books, from the Hebrew Palestinian Canon. Jews have the same canon as Protestants.

Canonical books are those books which have been acknowledged as belonging to the list of books the Church considers to be inspired and to contain a rule of faith and morals. Some criteria used to determine canonicity were

    • special relation to God, i.e., inspiration;
    • apostolic origin;
    • used in Church services, i.e., used by the community of believers guided by the Holy Spirit.

Other terms for canonical books should be distinguished: the protocanonical books, deuterocanonical books, and the apocryphal books.

The protocanonical (from the Greek proto meaning first) books are those books of the Bible that were admitted into the canon of the Bible with little or no debate (e.g., the Pentateuch of the Old Testament and the Gospels)

The deuterocanonical (from the Greek deutero meaning second) books are those books of the Bible that were under discussion for a while until doubts about their canonicity were resolved (e.g. Sirach and Baruch of the Old Testament, and the Johannine epistles of the New Testament).

The apocryphal (from the Greek apokryphos meaning hidden) books have multiple meanings:

    • complimentary meaning – that the sacred books were too exalted for the general public;
    • pejorative meaning – that the orthodoxy of the books were questioned;
    • heretical meaning – that the books were forbidden to be read; and lastly
    • neutral meaning – simply noncanonical books, the meaning the word has today.

Another word, pseudepigrapha (from the Greek meaning false writing) is used for works clearly considered to be false.



By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Last Updated: July 17, 2004


Deuterocanonical References in the New Testament

( Original link: )

By James Akin

I get a lot of requests for a list of the references the New Testament makes to the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, giving a list is not such a simple affair since it is not always obvious whether something is a genuine reference.

Hebrews 11:35 is an indisputable reference to 2 Maccabees 7, but many are not so clear as there may be only a single phrase that echoes one in a deuterocanonical book (and this may not be obvious in the translation, but only the original languages).

This is the same with New Testament references to the protocanonical books of the Old Testament. How many New Testament references there are to the Old Testament depends in large measure on what you are going to count as a reference.

As a result, many scholarly works simply give an enormous catalogue of all proposed references and leave it to the individual interpreter to decide whether a given reference is actual or not.

I will follow the same procedure until I have time to sit down with the following references, sort through them, and decide which I can prove to be references are to deutercanonical books. If you find any you think are indisputable, email me, as it will help with the project of producing a shorter list of indisputable references.

The following (huge) list is taken from pp. 800-804 of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th edition (Novum Testamentum: Graece et Latine, published by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft).

New Testament Order

Deuterocanonical Order

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • John
  • Acts
  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation
  • Daniel
  • Baruch
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Sirach
  • Wisdom
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees

References in New Testament Order


Matthew 4:4 Wisdom 16:26
Matthew 4:15 1 Maccabees 5:15
Matthew 5:18 Baruch 4:1
Matthew 5:28 Sirach 9:8
Matthew 5:2ss Sirach 25:7-12
Matthew 5:4 Sirach 48:24
Matthew 6:7 Sirach 7:14
Matthew 6:9 Sirach 23:1, 4
Matthew 6:10 1 Maccabees 3:60
Matthew 6:12 Sirach 28:2
Matthew 6:13 Sirach 33:1
Matthew 6:20 Sirach 29:10s
Matthew 6:23 Sirach 14:10
Matthew 6:33 Wisdom 7:11
Matthew 7:12 Tobit 4:15
Matthew 7:12 Sirach 31:15
Matthew 7:16 Sirach 27:6
Matthew 8:11 Baruch 4:37
Matthew 8:21 Tobit 4:3
Matthew 9:36 Judith 11:19
Matthew 9:38 1 Maccabees 12:17
Matthew 10:16 Sirach 13:17
Matthew 11:14 Sirach 48:10
Matthew 11:22 Judith 16:17
Matthew 11:25 Tobit 7:17
Matthew 11:25 Sirach 51:1
Matthew 11:28 Sirach 24:19
Matthew 11:28 Sirach 51:23
Matthew 11:29 Sirach 6:24s
Matthew 11:29 Sirach 6:28s
Matthew 11:29 Sirach 51:26s
Matthew 12:4 2 Maccabees 10:3
Matthew 12:5 Sirach 40:15
Matthew 13:44 Sirach 20:30s
Matthew 16:18 Wisdom 16:13
Matthew 16:22 1 Maccabees 2:21
Matthew 16:27 Sirach 35:22
Matthew 17:11 Sirach 48:10
Matthew 18:10 Tobit 12:15
Matthew 20:2 Tobit 5:15
Matthew 22:13 Wisdom 17:2
Matthew 23:38 Tobit 14:4
Matthew 24:15 1 Maccabees 1:54
Matthew 24:15 2 Maccabees 8:17
Matthew 24:16 1 Maccabees 2:28
Matthew 25:35 Tobit 4:17
Matthew 25:36 Sirach 7:32-35
Matthew 26:38 Sirach 37:2
Matthew 27:24 Daniel 13:46
Matthew 27:43 Wisdom 2:13
Matthew 27:43 Wisdom 2:18-20




Mark 1:15 Tobit 14:5
Mark 4:5 Sirach 40:15
Mark 4:11 Wisdom 2:22
Mark 5:34 Judith 8:35
Mark 6:49 Wisdom 17:15
Mark 8:37 Sirach 26:14
Mark 9:31 Sirach 2:18
Mark 9:48 Judith 16:17
Mark 10:18 Sirach 4:1
Mark 14:34 Sirach 37:2
Mark 15:29 Wisdom 2:17s



Luke 1:17 Sirach 48:10
Luke 1:19 Tobit 12:15
Luke 1:42 Judith 13:18
Luke 1:52 Sirach 10:14
Luke 2:29 Tobit 11:9
Luke 2:37 Judith 8:6
Luke 6:35 Wisdom 15:1
Luke 7:22 Sirach 48:5
Luke 9:8 Sirach 48:10
Luke 10:17 Tobit 7:17
Luke 10:19 Sirach 11:19
Luke 10:21 Sirach 51:1
Luke 12:19 Tobit 7:10
Luke 12:20 Wisdom 15:8
Luke 13:25 Tobit 14:4
Luke 13:27 1 Maccabees 3:6
Luke 13:29 Baruch 4:37
Luke 14:13 Tobit 2:2
Luke 15:12 1 Maccabees 10:29 [30]
Luke 15:12 Tobit 3:17
Luke 18:7 Sirach 35:22
Luke 19:44 Wisdom 3:7
Luke 21:24 Tobit 14:5
Luke 21:24 Sirach 28:18
Luke 21:25 Wisdom 5:22
Luke 24:4 2 Maccabees 3:26
Luke 24:31 2 Maccabees 3:34
Luke 24:50 Sirach 50:20s
Luke 24:53 Sirach 50:22



John 1:3 Wisdom 9:1
John 3:8 Sirach 16:21
John 3:12 Wisdom 9:16
John 3:12 Wisdom 18:15s
John 3:13 Baruch 3:29
John 3:28 1 Maccabees 9:39
John 3:32 Tobit 4:6
John 4:9 Sirach 50:25s
John 4:48 Wisdom 8:8
John 5:18 Wisdom 2:16
John 6:35 Sirach 24:21
John 7:38 Sirach 24:40, 43[30s]
John 8:44 Wisdom 2:24
John 8:53 Sirach 44:19
John 10:20 Wisdom 5:4
John 10:22 1 Maccabees 4:59
John 14:15 Wisdom 6:18
John 15:9s Wisdom 3:9
John 17:3 Wisdom 15:3
John 20:22 Wisdom 15:11



Acts 1:10 2 Maccabees 3:26
Acts 1:18 Wisdom 4:19
Acts 2:4 Sirach 48:12
Acts 2:11 Sirach 36:7
Acts 2:39 Sirach 24:32
Acts 4:24 Judith 9:12
Acts 5:2 2 Maccabees 4:32
Acts 5:12 1 Maccabees 12:6
Acts 5:21 2 Maccabees 1:10
Acts 5:39 2 Maccabees 7:19
Acts 9:1-29 2 Maccabees 3:24-40
Acts 9:2 1 Maccabees 15:21
Acts 9:7 Wisdom 18:1
Acts 10:2 Tobit 12:8
Acts 10:22 1 Maccabees 10:25
Acts 10:22 1 Maccabees 11:30, 33 etc.
Acts 10:26 Wisdom 7:1
Acts 10:30 2 Maccabees 11:8
Acts 10:34 Sirach 35:12s
Acts 10:36 Wisdom 6:7
Acts 10:36 Wisdom 8:3 etc.
Acts 11:18 Wisdom 12:19
Acts 12:5 Judith 4:9
Acts 12:10 Sirach 19:26
Acts 12:23 Judith 16:17
Acts 12:23 Sirach 48:21
Acts 12:23 1 Maccabees 7:41
Acts 12:23 2 Maccabees 9:9
Acts 13:10 Sirach 1:30
Acts 13:17 Wisdom 19:10
Acts 14:14 Judith 14:16s
Acts 14:15 Wisdom 7:3
Acts 15:4 Judith 8:26
Acts 16:14 2 Maccabees 1:4
Acts 17:23 Wisdom 14:20
Acts 17:23 Wisdom 15:17
Acts 17:24, 25 Wisdom 9:1
Acts 17:24 Tobit 7:17
Acts 17:24 Wisdom 9:9
Acts 17:26 Wisdom 7:18
Acts 17:27 Wisdom 13:6
Acts 17:29 Wisdom 13:10
Acts 17:30 Sirach 28:7
Acts 19:27 Wisdom 3:17
Acts 19:28 Daniel 14:18, 41
Acts 20:26 Daniel 13:46
Acts 20:32 Wisdom 5:5
Acts 20:35 Sirach 4:31
Acts 21:26 1 Maccabees 3:49
Acts 22.9 Wisdom 18.1
Acts 24:2 2 Maccabees 4:6
Acts 26:18 Wisdom 5:5
Acts 26:25 Judith 10:13



Romans 1:19-32 Wisdom 13-15
Romans 1:21 Wisdom 13:1
Romans 1:23 Wisdom 11:15
Romans 1:23 Wisdom 12:24
Romans 1:28 2 Maccabees 6:4
Romans 2:4 Wisdom 11:23
Romans 2:11 Sirach 35:12s
Romans 2:15 Wisdom 17:11
Romans 4:13 Sirach 44:21
Romans 4:17 Sirach 44:19
Romans 5:5 Sirach 18:11
Romans 5:12 Wisdom 2:24
Romans 9:4 Sirach 44:12
Romans 9:4 2 Maccabees 6:23
Romans 9:19 Wisdom 12:12
Romans 9:21 Wisdom 15:7
Romans 9:31 Sirach 27:8
Romans 9:31 Wisdom 2:11
Romans 10.7 Wisdom 16.13
Romans 10:6 Baruch 3:29
Romans 11:4 2 Maccabees 2:4
Romans 11:15 Sirach 10:20s
Romans 11:33 Wisdom 17:1
Romans 12:15 Sirach 7:34
Romans 13:1 Sirach 4:27
Romans 13:1 Wisdom 6:3s
Romans 13.10 Wisdom 6.18
Romans 15:4 1 Maccabees 12:9
Romans 15:8 Sirach 36:20


1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 1:24 Wisdom 7:24s
1 Corinthians 2:16 Wisdom 9:13
1 Corinthians 2:9 Sirach 1:10
1 Corinthians 4:13 Tobit 5:19
1 Corinthians 4:14 Wisdom 11:10
1 Corinthians 6:2 Wisdom 3:8
1 Corinthians 6:12 Sirach 37:28
1 Corinthians 6:13 Sirach 36:18
1 Corinthians 6:18 Sirach 23:17
1 Corinthians 7:19 Sirach 32:23
1 Corinthians 9:19 Sirach 6:19
1 Corinthians 9:25 Wisdom 4:2
1 Corinthians 10:1 Wisdom 19:7s
1 Corinthians 10:20 Baruch 4:7
1 Corinthians 10:23 Sirach 37:28
1 Corinthians 11:7 Sirach 17:3
1 Corinthians 11:7 Wisdom 2:23
1 Corinthians 11:24 Wisdom 16:6
1 Corinthians 15:29 2 Maccabees 12:43s
1 Corinthians 15:32 Wisdom 2:5s
1 Corinthians 15:34 Wisdom 13:1


2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 5:1, 4 Wisdom 9:15
2 Corinthians 12:12 Wisdom 10:16



Galatians 2:6 Sirach 35:13
Galatians 4:4 Tobit 14:5
Galatians 6:1 Wisdom 17:17



Ephesians 1:6 Sirach 45:1
Ephesians 1:6 Sirach 46:13
Ephesians 1:17 Wisdom 7:7
Ephesians 4:14 Sirach 5:9
Ephesians 4:24 Wisdom 9:3
Ephesians 6:12 Wisdom 5:17
Ephesians 6:14 Wisdom 5:18
Ephesians 6:16 Wisdom 5:19, 21



Philippians 4:5 Wisdom 2:19
Philippians 4:13 Wisdom 7:23
Philippians 4:18 Sirach 35:6



Colossians 2:3 Sirach 1:24s


1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 3:11 Judith 12:8
1 Thessalonians 4:6 Sirach 5:3
1 Thessalonians 4:13 Wisdom 3:18
1 Thessalonians 5:1 Wisdom 8:8
1 Thessalonians 5:2 Wisdom 18:14s
1 Thessalonians 5:3 Wisdom 17:14
1 Thessalonians 5:8 Wisdom 5:18


2 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 2:1 2 Maccabees 2:7


1 Timothy

1 Timothy 1:17 Tobit 13:7, 11
1 Timothy 2:2 2 Maccabees 3:11
1 Timothy 2:2 Baruch 1:11s
1 Timothy 6:15 Sirach 46:5
1 Timothy 6:15 2 Maccabees 12:15
1 Timothy 6:15 2 Maccabees 13:4


2 Timothy

2 Timothy 2:19 Sirach 17:26
2 Timothy 2:19 Sirach 23:10v1
2 Timothy 2:19 Sirach 35:3
2 Timothy 4:8 Wisdom 5:16
2 Timothy 4:17 1 Maccabees 2:60



Titus 2:11 2 Maccabees 3:30
Titus 3:4 Wisdom 1:6



Hebrews 1:3 Wisdom 7:25s
Hebrews 2:5 Sirach 17:17
Hebrews 4.12 Wisdom 18.15s
Hebrews 4:12 Wisdom 7:22-30
Hebrews 5:6 1 Maccabees 14:41
Hebrews 7:22 Sirach 29:14ss
Hebrews 11:5 Sirach 44:16
Hebrews 11:5 Wisdom 4:10
Hebrews 11:6 Wisdom 10:17
Hebrews 11.10 Wisdom 13.1
Hebrews 11:10 2 Maccabees 4:1
Hebrews 11:17 1 Maccabees 2:52
Hebrews 11:17 Sirach 44:20
Hebrews 11:27 Sirach 2:2
Hebrews 11:28 Wisdom 18:25
Hebrews 11:35 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42
Hebrews 12:4 2 Maccabees 13:14
Hebrews 12:9 2 Maccabees 3:24
Hebrews 12:12 Sirach 25:23
Hebrews 12:17 Wisdom 12:10
Hebrews 12:21 1 Maccabees 13:2
Hebrews 13:7 Sirach 33:19
Hebrews 13:7 Wisdom 2:17



James 1:1 2 Maccabees 1:27
James 1:13 Sirach 15:11-20
James 1:19 Sirach 5:11
James 1:2 Sirach 2:1
James 1:2 Wisdom 3:4s
James 1:21 Sirach 3:17
James 2:13 Tobit 4:10
James 2:23 Wisdom 7:27
James 3:2 Sirach 14:1
James 3:6 Sirach 5:13
James 3:9 Sirach 23:1, 4
James 3:10 Sirach 5:13
James 3:10 Sirach 28:12
James 3:13 Sirach 3:17
James 4:2 1 Maccabees 8:16
James 4:11 Wisdom 1:11
James 5:3 Judith 16:17
James 5:3 Sirach 29:10
James 5:4 Tobit 4:14
James 5:6 Wisdom 2:10
James 5:6 Wisdom 2:12
James 5:6 Wisdom 2:19


1 Peter

1 Peter 1:3 Sirach 16:12
1 Peter 1:7 Sirach 2:5
1 Peter 2:25 Wisdom 1:6
1 Peter 4:19 2 Maccabees 1:24 etc.
1 Peter 5:7 Wisdom 12:13


2 Peter

2 Peter 2:2 Wisdom 5:6
2 Peter 2:7 Wisdom 10:6
2 Peter 3:9 Sirach 35:19
2 Peter 3:18 Sirach 18:10


1 John

1 John 5:21 Baruch 5:72



Jude 13 Wisdom 14:1



Revelation 1:18 Sirach 18:1
Revelation 2:10 2 Maccabees 13:14
Revelation 2:12 Wisdom 18:16 [15]
Revelation 2:17 2 Maccabees 2:4-8
Revelation 4:11 Sirach 18:1
Revelation 4:11 Wisdom 1:14
Revelation 5:7 Sirach 1:8
Revelation 7:9 2 Maccabees 10:7
Revelation 8:1 Wisdom 18:14
Revelation 8:2 Tobit 12:15
Revelation 8:3 Tobit 12:12
Revelation 8:7 Sirach 39:29
Revelation 8:7 Wisdom 16:22
Revelation 9:3 Wisdom 16:9
Revelation 9:4 Sirach 44:18 etc.
Revelation 11:19 2 Maccabees 2:4-8
Revelation 17:14 2 Maccabees 13:4
Revelation 18:2 Baruch 4:35
Revelation 19:1 Tobit 13:18
Revelation 19:11 2 Maccabees 3:25
Revelation 19:11 2 Maccabees 11:8
Revelation 19:16 2 Maccabees 13:4
Revelation 20:12s Sirach 16:12
Revelation 21:19s Tobit 13:17

The Old Testament Canon

During the Reformation, primarily for doctrinal reasons, Protestants removed seven books from the Old Testament: 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, Tobit, and Judith, and parts of two others, Daniel and Esther. They did so even though these books had been regarded as canonical since the beginning of Church history.

As Protestant church historian J. N. D. Kelly writes, “It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive [than the Protestant Bible]. . . . It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called apocrypha or deuterocanonical books” (Early Christian Doctrines, 53), which are rejected by Protestants. 

Below we give patristic quotations from each of the deuterocanonical books. Notice how the Fathers quoted these books along with the protocanonicals. The deuterocanonicals are those books of the Old Testament that were included in the Bible even though there had been some discussion about whether they should be.

Also included are the earliest official lists of the canon. For the sake of brevity these are not given in full. When the lists of the canon cited here are given in full, they include all the books and only the books found in the modern Catholic Bible.

When examining the question of what books were originally included in the Old Testament canon, it is important to note that some of the books of the Bible have been known by more than one name. Sirach is also known as Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Chronicles as 1 and 2 Paralipomenon, Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras, and 1 and 2 Samuel with 1 and 2 Kings as 1, 2, 3, and 4 Kings—that is, 1 and 2 Samuel are named 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Kings are named 3 and 4 Kings. The history and use of these designations is explained more fully in Scripture reference works.

The Didache

“You shall not waver with regard to your decisions [Sir. 1:28]. Do not be someone who stretches out his hands to receive but withdraws them when it comes to giving [Sir. 4:31]” (Didache 4:5 [A.D. 70]).

The Letter of Barnabas

“Since, therefore, [Christ] was about to be manifested and to suffer in the flesh, his suffering was foreshown. For the prophet speaks against evil, ‘Woe to their soul, because they have counseled an evil counsel against themselves’ [Is. 3:9], saying, ‘Let us bind the righteous man because he is displeasing to us’ [Wis. 2:12.]” (Letter of Barnabas 6:7 [A.D. 74]).

Clement of Rome

“By the word of his might [God] established all things, and by his word he can overthrow them. ‘Who shall say to him, “What have you done?” or who shall resist the power of his strength?’ [Wis. 12:12]” (Letter to the Corinthians 27:5 [ca. A.D. 80]).

Polycarp of Smyrna

“Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood [1 Pet. 2:17].
. . . When you can do good, defer it not, because ‘alms delivers from death’ [Tob. 4:10, 12:9]. Be all of you subject to one another [1 Pet. 5:5], having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles [1 Pet. 2:12], and the Lord may not be b.asphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is b.asphemed [Is. 52:5]!” (Letter to the Philadelphians 10 [A.D. 135]).


“Those . . . who are believed to be presbyters by many, but serve their own lusts and do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt toward others and are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat [Matt. 23:6] and work evil deeds in secret, saying ‘No man sees us,’ shall be convicted by the Word, who does not judge after outward appearance, nor looks upon the countenance, but the heart; and they shall hear those words to be found in Daniel the prophet: ‘O you seed of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust perverted your heart’ [Dan. 13:56]. You that have grown old in wicked days, now your sins which you have committed before have come to light, for you have pronounced false judgments and have been accustomed to condemn the innocent and to let the guilty go free, although the Lord says, ‘You shall not slay the innocent and the righteous’ [Dan. 13:52, citing Ex. 23:7]” (Against Heresies 4:26:3 [A.D. 189]; Daniel 13 is not in the Protestant Bible).

“Jeremiah the prophet has pointed out that as many believers as God has prepared for this purpose, to multiply those left on the earth, should both be under the rule of the saints and to minister to this [new] Jerusalem and that [his] kingdom shall be in it, saying, ‘Look around Jerusalem toward the east and behold the joy which comes to you from God himself. Behold, your sons whom you have sent forth shall come: They shall come in a band from the east to the west. . . . God shall go before with you in the light of his splendor, with the mercy and righteousness which proceed from him’ [Bar. 4:36—5:9]” (ibid., 5:35:1; Baruch was often considered part of Jeremiah, as it is here).


“What is narrated here [in the story of Susannah] happened at a later time, although it is placed at the front of the book [of Daniel], for it was a custom with the writers to narrate many things in an inverted order in their writings. . . . [W]e ought to give heed, beloved, fearing lest anyone be overtaken in any transgression and risk the loss of his soul, knowing as we do that God is the judge of all and the Word himself is the eye which nothing that is done in the world escapes. Therefore, always watchful in heart and pure in life, let us imitate Susannah” (Commentary on Daniel [A.D. 204]; the story of Susannah [Dan. 13] is not in the Protestant Bible).

Cyprian of Carthage

“In Genesis [it says], ‘And God tested Abraham and said to him, “Take your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the high land and offer him there as a burnt offering . . .”’ [Gen. 22:1–2]. . . . Of this same thing in the Wisdom of Solomon [it says], ‘Although in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality . . .’ [Wis. 3:4]. Of this same thing in the Maccabees [it says], ‘Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness’ [1 Macc. 2:52; see Jas. 2:21–23]” (Treatises 7:3:15 [A.D. 248]).

“So Daniel, too, when he was required to worship the idol Bel, which the people and the king then worshipped, in asserting the honor of his God, broke forth with full faith and freedom, saying, ‘I worship nothing but the Lord my God, who created the heaven and the earth’ [Dan. 14:5]” (Letters 55:5 [A.D. 253]; Daniel 14 is not in the Protestant Bible).

Council of Rome

“Now indeed we must treat of the divine scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun. The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis, one book; Exodus, one book; Leviticus, one book; Numbers, one book; Deuteronomy, one book; Joshua [Son of] Nave, one book; Judges, one book; Ruth, one book; Kings, four books [that is, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings]; Paralipomenon [Chronicles], two books; Psalms, one book; Solomon, three books: Proverbs, one book, Ecclesiastes, one book, [and] Canticle of Canticles [Song of Songs], one book; likewise Wisdom, one book; Ecclesiasticus [Sirach], one book . . . . Likewise the order of the historical [books]: Job, one book; Tobit, one book; Esdras, two books [Ezra and Nehemiah]; Esther, one book; Judith, one book; Maccabees, two books” (Decree of Pope Damasus [A.D. 382]).

Council of Hippo

“[It has been decided] that besides the canonical scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the canonical scriptures are
as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the Son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, the Kings, four books, the Chronicles, two books, Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and a portion of the Psalms], the twelve books of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Ezra, two books, Maccabees, two books . . .” (Canon 36 [A.D. 393]).

Council of Carthage III

“[It has been decided] that nothing except the canonical scriptures should be read in the Church under the name of the divine scriptures. But the canonical scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon, two books, Job, the Psalter of David, five books of Solomon, twelve books of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees . . .” (Canon 47 [A.D. 397]).


“The whole canon of the scriptures, however, in which we say that consideration is to be applied, is contained in these books: the five of Moses . . . and one book of Joshua [Son of] Nave, one of Judges; one little book which is called Ruth . . . then the four of Kingdoms, and the two of Paralipomenon . . . . [T]here are also others too, of a different order . . . such as Job and Tobit and Esther and Judith and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Esdras . . . . Then there are the prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David, and three of Solomon. . . . But as to those two books, one of which is entitled Wisdom and the other of which is entitled Ecclesiasticus and which are called ‘of Solomon’ because of a certain similarity to his books, it is held most certainly that they were written by Jesus Sirach. They must, however, be accounted among the prophetic books, because of the authority which is deservedly accredited to them” (Christian Instruction 2:8:13 [A.D. 397]).

“We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place” (The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3 [A.D. 421]).

The Apostolic Constitutions

“Now women also prophesied. Of old, Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron [Ex. 15:20], and after her, Deborah [Judges. 4:4], and after these Huldah [2 Kgs. 22:14] and Judith [Judith 8], the former under Josiah and the latter under Darius” (Apostolic Constitutions 8:2 [A.D. 400]).


“What sin have I committed if I follow the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating [in my preface to the book of Daniel] the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susannah [Dan. 13], the Song of the Three Children [Dan. 3:29–68, RSV-CE], and the story of Bel and the Dragon [Dan. 14], which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. I was not relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they are wont to make against us. If I did not reply to their views in my preface, in the interest of brevity, lest it seem that I was composing not a preface, but a book, I believe I added promptly the remark, for I said, ‘This is not the time to discuss such matters’” (Against Rufinius 11:33 [A.D. 401]).

Pope Innocent I

“A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the things of which you desired to be informed verbally: of Moses, five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Joshua, of Judges, one book, of Kings, four books, and also Ruth, of the prophets, sixteen books, of Solomon, five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, Job, one book, of Tobit, one book, Esther, one, Judith, one, of the Maccabees, two, of Esdras, two, Paralipomenon, two books . . .” (Letters 7 [A.D. 408]).

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

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The Council That Wasn’t

By Steve Ray

Many myths are believed not because they are true but simply because people want to believe them. But wishful thinking is a poor substitute for truth. It is always preferable to dig deep and discover the facts and not believe things only because you want them to be true.

For instance, it is popular in some Protestant circles to claim that the Jews had a closed canon of Scripture in the first century A.D. and that the early Christians accepted this final Jewish collection of inspired writings as final and binding upon the Church. Generally, the Council of Jabneh (usually referred to in Catholic literature as Jamnia) is assumed as the “proof” for this assertion. At the “Council of Jabneh,” you see, the Jewish rabbis supposedly got together—something like an ecumenical council in the Catholic Church—to lay down specific criteria for inspired Scripture and to finally define and close the Old Testament canon.

Is this true? First, we will look at how various authors defend the Protestant exclusion of seven books based on a flawed understanding of the so-called “Council of Jabneh.” Second, did the members of this “council” actually discuss the limit of the Old Testament canon, and third, if so, did they have the authority to close the canon? Fourth, did they actually compile a final list of accepted writings, and, fifth—and importantly—if such a decision had been made, would the Christians be bound by that decision? We will conclude with the teaching of the Catholic Church and why we can trust it.

Let’s clarify a few terms. The canon of Scripture refers to the final collection of inspired books included in the Bible. The Catholic Bible contains seven books that do not appear in the Protestant Old Testament. These seven writings are called the deuterocanonicals or the Second Law. Protestants usually call these writings the Apocrypha (meaning hidden), books they consider outside the canon. These seven writings include 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, and Baruch, along with additional passages in Daniel and Esther. Before the time of Christ, these writings were included in the Jewish Greek Septuagint (LXX)—the Greek translation of Jewish Scripture—but they were not included in the Hebrew Masoretic text.

The Jewish Canon

The vast majority of Jews in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. lived outside of Israel. They were called the diaspora, those dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. Many had become Hellenized—that is, they had taken on the Greco-Roman culture, including the Greek language. The Septuagint, containing the deuterocanonical books, was the main Bible used by these Jews of the d.aspora.

Most non-Christian Jews of the first century A.D. considered the Church to be a heretical and misinformed Jewish cult, probably similar to the way Christians look at the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses of today. In the first century, several decades after the life of Christ, the majority of early Christians were Gentiles, and they used the Greek Septuagint as their Old Testament, following the example of the Greek-speaking Jews, including Jesus and the apostles (note 1, sidebar, page 25).

When Christians began to use this Greek translation to convert Jews to the faith, the Jews began to detest it (note 2, sidebar, page 25). Does it surprise anyone that they would condemn the canon and translation the Christians used, even if it was originally translated, approved of, and put into circulation by the Jews themselves three hundred and fifty years earlier (c. 250 B.C.)? The early Church, following the Greek Septuagint and the apostles’ extensive use of it (Paul took most of his Old Testament quotations from it), accepted the deuterocanonical books. When the canon was finally closed by the councils of the Catholic Church, these books were included.

The so-called “Council of Jabneh” was a group of Jewish scholars who were granted permission by Rome around the year 90 to meet in Palestine near the Mediterranean Sea in Jabneh (or Jamnia). Here they established a non-authoritative, “reconstituted” Sanhedrin (note 3, sidebar, page 25). Among the things they discussed was the status of several questionable writings in the Jewish Bible. They also rejected the Christian writings and made a new translation of the Greek Septuagint.

Since many Protestant authors have appealed to the “Council of Jabneh” in their case against the deuterocanonical books contained in the Catholic Bible, it will serve us well to look at a few examples.

In his popular book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (co-authored by Ralph MacKenzie [Baker Books, 1995]), Norman Geisler, dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary, denies the Catholic canon of the Old Testament, claiming that the Jewish rabbis at Jabneh excluded the deuterocanonical books received by Catholics and that the canon was fixed (meaning finalized) at Jabneh.

Geisler writes, “The Jewish scholars at Jabneh (c. A.D. 90) did not accept the Apocrypha as part of the divinely inspired Jewish canon. Since the New Testament explicitly states that Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God and was the recipient of the covenants and the Law (Rom. 3:2), the Jews should be considered the custodians of the limits of their own canon. And they have always rejected the Apocrypha” (169). And though Geisler seems to deny the authority of the rabbis at Jabneh in one place in his A General Introduction to the Bible (with W. E. Nix [Moody Press, 1996]), he later relays in a chart, “Council of Jabneh (A.D. 90), Old Testament Canon fixed” (286).

Geisler is not alone in his assertion that the Apocrypha was rejected and the final Old Testament canon was fixed at Jabneh. It seems to be a common legend that is used as “proof” to bolster up an ahistorical and incorrect assumption. Before we take a look at the myth, we will demonstrate how it is often appealed to. A couple more quick examples of this false reliance on the “Council of Jabneh” will suffice:

“At the end of the first Christian century, the Jewish rabbis, at the Council of Gamnia [Jamnia], closed the canon of the Hebrew book (those considered authoritative)” (Jimmy Swaggart, Catholicism & Christianity [Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, 1986], 129).

“After Jerusalem’s destruction, Jamnia became the home of the Great Sanhedrin. Around 100, a council of rabbis there established the final canon of the OT” (Ed. Martin, Ralph P., and Peter H. Davids, Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments [InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1997], 185).

Though many are now recognizing that Jabneh did not exclude the deuterocanonical books or authoritatively close the Old Testament canon, there are still plenty of sources that claim and assume that it did.

Did Jabneh Have Authority?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the “council” in Jabneh in 90 was not even an “official” council with binding authority to make such a decision:

“After the fall of Jerusalem (A.D.70), an assembly of religious teachers was established at Jabneh; this body was regarded as to some extent replacing the Sanhedrin, though it did not possess the same representative character or national authority. It appears that one of the subjects discussed among the rabbis was the status of certain biblical books (e.g. Eccles. and Song of Solomon) whose canonicity was still open to question in the 1st century A.D. The suggestion that a particular synod of Jabneh, held c. 100 A.D., finally settling the limits of the Old Testament canon, was made by H. E. Ryle; though it has had a wide currency, there is no evidence to substantiate it” (ed. by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingston [Oxford Univ. Press, 861], emphasis added).

Isn’t it interesting that the Jews did not have a “closed canon” of Scripture during the time of Christ, before 100, or even after Jabneh? Even during the time of Christ there were competing opinions on what books actually belonged in the Jewish Bible. There were various collections in existence. Sadducees and Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch, the first five books, whereas the Pharisees accepted a fuller canon including Psalms and the prophets. The Masoretic text did not contain the deuterocanonicals, whereas the widely used Greek Septuagint did.

This uncertainty continued well into the second century. The discussion over the books of the canon of the Old Testament continued among the Jews long after Jabneh, which demonstrates that the canon was still under discussion in the third century—well beyond the apostolic period. The challenges to canonicity at Jabneh involved only Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, but the debate over the canon continued past Jabneh, even into the second and third centuries. Even the Hebrew canon accepted by Protestants today was disputed by the Jews for two hundred years after Christ.

Some cautionary points should be noted here:

1. Although Christian authors seem to think in terms of a formal council at Jabneh, there was no such thing. There was a school for studying the Law at Jabneh, and the rabbis there exercised legal functions in the Jewish community.

2. Not only was there no formal council, there is no evidence that any list of books was drawn up at Jabneh.

3. A specific discussion of acceptance at Jabneh is attested only for the books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Even so, arguments regarding these books persisted in Judaism centuries after the Jabneh period. There were also subsequent debates about Esther.

4. We know of no books that were excluded at Jabneh. In fact, Sirach, which was read and copied by Jews after the Jabneh period, did not eventually become part of the standard Hebrew Bible (cf. Raymond Edward Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland Edmund Murphy, The Jerome Biblical Commentary [Prentice-Hall, 1996, c. 1968], vol. 2, 522).

Why the Church Rejects the Jewish Canon

Even if the rabbis at Jabneh did have the authority to make such a canonical determination and had closed the canon, who says they had the authority from God to make such a binding determination? Why should Christians accept their determination? God had publicly turned aside from the Jews as his “prophetic voice” twenty years earlier when Jerusalem was destroyed and razed by fire. God judged them and rejected their old wineskins. The old wine and wineskin (Judaism) was now replaced by new wine (the gospel) and new wineskins (the Church). Why accept the unauthoritative rabbis’ determination rather than the Church’s?

There is a further reason we should not rely on the first-century Jews for their determination of the canon, even if they had made such a determination: The rabbis of Jabneh eventually provided a new translation in Greek to replace their previous translation of the Septuagint. Why? Because the Gentile Christians were using the Septuagint for apologetic and evangelistic purposes—in other words, they were converting the Jews using their own Greek Scriptures!

For example, they were using it to prove the virginal birth of Jesus. In the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 7:14 is rendered, “A young woman shall conceive and bear a son,” whereas the Greek Septuagint, quoted by Matthew (1:23), renders it, “A virgin shall be with child and bear a son” (emphasis added). The rabbis who supposedly “determined” the final Protestant canon also authorized a new Greek translation specifically to hinder the gospel. Aquila, the Jewish translator of the new version, denied the Virgin Birth and changed the Greek word from virgin to young woman.

One of the key issues in the first-century Jewish mind regarding the canon was not necessarily inspiration but resisting the Christian evangelization of the Jews and Gentiles. It was an issue of Jew versus the new Christian teaching and the Christians’ use of the Jewish Greek Scripture. It would seem rather strange for a Protestant to choose the truncated canon chosen by the Jewish leaders and by so doing fall on the side of the anti-Christian, disenfranchised Jew in this matter (see note 4, sidebar, page 25).

We do not know much about the deliberations at Jabneh, but we do know that they mentioned the Gospels of the New Testament. They mentioned them specifically in order to reject them. F. F. Bruce writes, “Some disputants also asked whether the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sira (Ecclesiasticus), and the gilyonim (Aramaic Gospel writings) and other books of the minim (heretics, including Jewish Christians), should be admitted, but here the answer was uncompromisingly negative” (The Books and the Parchments [Fleming H. Revell, 1984], 88).

Many Protestants accept the Jewish opposition to the Catholic canon of Scripture because it supports them in their anti-Catholicism. Catholics, on the other hand, have accepted the determination and canon of the new covenant people of God, those who are the new priesthood (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9), the new wineskin. As we noticed earlier, Geisler comments, “Since the New Testament explicitly states that Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God and was the recipient of the covenants and the Law, the Jews should be considered the custodians of the limits for their own canon” (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, 169).

Am I supposed to accept the alleged determination of the rabbis as authoritative and binding upon my soul, when the mantle of authority has been passed on to the Church by an act of the Holy Spirit? Does Geisler give his readers this historical information and timeline, reminding them that God had turned aside from the Jewish people and destroyed their temple before their unauthoritative “council” rejected the Gospels and the “whole Christian canon,” including the New Testament?

The Jewish people had no closed canon prior to 300, and they “built a wall around it” to keep the Christians out. Why rely upon them? I accept the canon of the apostles and the early Church, which was determined by the bishops of the Church. And, like them, I do not accept the canon of anti-Christian Jewish leaders.

(Several Fathers, such as Jerome, accepted the Jewish Masoretic canon, but it was never an individual Father that made binding decisions for the Church; only the councils could do so.)

The canon of the Old Testament was not closed at Jabneh, nor were the deuterocanonicals excluded from the Old Testament there. Who has the authority from God to determine and close the canon of Scripture? Simply put, the Church. The Jewish hierarchy during the time of Christ claimed authority to bind and loose, which was a clearly understood technical term, but Jesus specifically appointed a new hierarchy over the “new Israel”—the Church—and transferred to this new magisterium the power to bind and loose (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). The Church was thus appointed to speak for God, and the final canon of Scripture would thus fall under its authority.

Protestant author Paul Achtemeier tells us, “Eastern and Roman Catholic tradition generally considered the Old Testament ‘apocryphal’ books to be canonical. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that these books were clearly denied canonical status (in Protestant circles). The Roman church, however, continues to affirm their place in the canon of Scripture” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. [Harper & Row, c1985], 69).

At the Council of Trent the Church put the matter to rest by listing definitively the accepted books, which included the deuterocanonicals, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this list (CCC 120). This is the Catholic Bible we have today.

Isn’t it interesting that Martin Luther acknowledged the Catholic Church as the custodian of sacred Scripture (note 5, sidebar, page 25) when he wrote, “We concede—as we must—that so much of what they [the Catholic Church] say is true: that the papacy has God’s word and the office of the apostles, and that we have received holy scriptures, baptism, the sacrament, and the pulpit from them. What would we know of these if it were not for them?”



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Did the Catholic Church Add to the Old Testament?

By Kenneth Howell

OBJECTOR: The Roman Catholic Church added seven books to the Old Testament at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. We Protestants accept thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, all written in Hebrew with a few parts in Aramaic, while you Catholics accept seven additional books, making forty-six. It seems that these seven were added by the Catholic Church later. The Bible speaks against adding to or subtracting from the word of God. In Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32 and Revelation 22:18–19 the word of God warns strenuously against changing God’s word. The Catholic Church has violated this command.

CATHOLIC: Historically, these seven “additional” books, known as the deuterocanonicals, were not added to Scripture at the Council of Trent. The history of the canon (what books should be included in Scripture) is complex, but it is clear that the deuterocanonicals were in the canon long before the Council of Trent. For example, Augustine in the fifth century includes these books in his list of the Old Testament books in On Christian Doctrine (book 2, chapter 8, section 13). This is only one of many witnesses to the use of these seven books in early Christianity. The Third Council of Carthage in 397 declared essentially the same thing. So, it can’t be said that the Council of Trent introduced books that were excluded previously.

OBJECTOR: The historical references to Augustine and early councils prove only that there was confusion in the early Church about this matter, not that the canon was bigger than the thirty-nine books received by Protestants. For example, we know from Athanasius that he included some of the deuterocanonical books in what he called apocryphal writings (cf. Easter Letter 39). So we can conclude that the Church Fathers did not agree among themselves about which books should be included in Scripture.

CATHOLIC: Yes, I am familiar with Athanasius’s letter, but my point was that the Catholic Church did not add these books. The historical sources I cited, and others like them, show that at least a good majority of the Church recognized the deuterocanonicals as part of Scripture. Athanasius’s list shows only that there was variation among early Church canons.

OBJECTOR: That presents a problem for the Catholic, because the Council of Trent was supposed to base its decrees on the unanimous consent of the Fathers. If they did not universally agree on the extent of the canon, then how could they impose the deuterocanonicals on the Church in the sixteenth century? The imposition was without justification.

CATHOLIC: Good question. The answer is that while individual Fathers can err, they are considered infallible when they speak unanimously. “In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers” (Dei Filius 2).

Also, councils’ decrees are not based solely on consent of the Fathers. Tradition proves that the Church had settled the canon for practical purposes by the fourth century and infallibly in the sixteenth century. From the early centuries through the Middle Ages, theologians, mystical writers, and bishops quoted from the deuterocanonicals as Scripture. This practice gave the Council of Trent the necessary confidence that God was speaking about the authority of these books through the common practice of the Church for ages. It seems that the list of Athanasius and a few other writers were an isolated view in antiquity. The majority recognized the deuterocanonicals.

OBJECTOR: Catholics, then, were not sure what to believe until they decided the canon of Scripture was closed.

CATHOLIC: That notion would cause Protestants more concern than Catholics. If I understand the traditional Protestant position correctly, your doctrine of sola scriptura makes it imperative to have a closed canon so that you can know exactly which books are in Scripture and which books are not. You disclaim any dependence on any church and rely solely on the Bible. So it is crucial for you to know the exact extent of the canon. Notice that a closed canon was not so crucial in the early Church because we rely on the Holy Spirit guiding the Church to determine both the extent of the canon and the proper interpretation of Scripture in controversial matters.

OBJECTOR: It is true that we rely only on Scripture. This doesn’t mean that we don’t consult earlier pronouncements, but ultimately we say that our interpretations must rely on Scripture alone. In regard to the canon, this protects us from adding more and more books to the Bible. The canon is closed.

CATHOLIC: Then the question I have is: Which canon? The history of the canon is complicated and there are different versions of that history given by different scholars, regardless of their church affiliation. Which version of that history is best or most accurate is a question beyond my knowledge and yours, but a few things seem clear. First, there was more than one canon among the Jews prior to the advent of Christ as Messiah. The Septuagint, translated about 200 years before Christ by Alexandrian Jews, included the deuterocanonicals. Apparently the canon used in Palestine at the time of Jesus did not include these books. There was more than one canon among the Jews. Which canon do you accept?

OBJECTOR: The one accepted by Jesus and the apostles. This is what some call the Palestinian canon of thirty-nine books.

CATHOLIC: So what is your view of the Septuagint?

OBJECTOR: It was a helpful translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, but it is not authoritative. Like any translation, it may be right at certain points and wrong at others.

CATHOLIC: The New Testament writers—including the apostles and their workers (e.g. Luke, Mark)—quote from the Septuagint as Scripture. Most of the quotations in the letter to the Hebrews are from the Septuagint. Doesn’t this make it more legitimate?

OBJECTOR: All it means is that it was a good translation for the people of that day because Greek was the common language (lingua franca) of that day. But it doesn’t mean that the New Testament writers accepted the deuterocanonicals. Proof of this is that the New Testament writers never quote from these seven apocryphal books.

CATHOLIC: So if they had quoted from them, you would acknowledge their place in the canon of Scripture?

OBJECTOR: Yes. Quotation in the New Testament would validate their inspired character.

CATHOLIC: I see two problems with your criterion of quotation. First, it seems that there are books in the Old Testament that are never quoted in the New Testament. If being quoted in the New Testament is the criterion of acceptance, then we have to reject those books (such as Obadiah) that are not quoted. There is only one possible allusion to Obadiah 21 in Revelation 11:15, but even here the linguistic parallel is very loose. Should we reject Obadiah as non-canonical because there is no direct quotation? Your Bible accepts Obadiah.

The second problem is this: If you accept allusion to Old Testament books as a criterion, then there are plenty of instances in the New Testament where the writers are alluding to the deuterocanonicals. For example, 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” The first two phrases are a melding of Isaiah 64:4 and 52:15, while the last one is a rewording of Sirach 1:10: “He supplied her [wisdom] to those who love him.” Paul’s allusion to Sirach seems purposeful, as both contexts are talking about wisdom. In essence, Paul is using biblical language from both Isaiah and Sirach because he has learned them by heart. So, if quotation and allusion are the criteria, then we must accept Sirach as well as Isaiah.

OBJECTOR: Maybe the lack of quotation from certain Old Testament books in the New Testament means only that the inspired writer could not think of anything in that book that was relevant to his immediate point.

CATHOLIC: Precisely. That is why quotation in the New Testament is not a good criterion for deciding which books in the Old Testament are really Scripture. The New Testament writers clearly quoted from the Septuagint as did the early Fathers of the Church. This suggests that they were looking at the Septuagint as a faithful translation that could be said to be the word of God. But you say that the deuterocanonicals in the Septuagint cannot be accepted as inspired.

OBJECTOR: So, on what basis do you accept which books are in the Old Testament? I don’t see any way to know which books are in it unless we rely on the New Testament.

CATHOLIC: The New Testament is part of the picture, but it’s not everything. I would say that the practice of the Church is the ultimate criterion. What the New Testament writers started the Church Fathers continued. Both groups either quoted from or alluded to the deuterocanonicals from time to time. This seems to have been the majority practice in the early centuries of Christianity even though some questioned the validity of the deuterocanonicals. As time moved on, the Church more and more acknowledged their inspired character by using them as Scripture.

OBJECTOR: I would say that their increased use over time shows only that the Roman view was taking hold in the Middle Ages. The Protestant Reformers were right to reject them and to return to the pure word of God.

CATHOLIC: One reason the Protestant Reformers rejected the deuterocanonicals is that these books give support to doctrines and practices they rejected. For example, in 2 Maccabees 12:43–45 we find a reference to praying for the dead. This text shows that the Jews offered expiatory sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple for the dead. We are told explicitly, “If he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead” (v. 44). Most Protestants objected to the practice of praying and offering Masses for the dead. Because the Catholic Church could appeal to this text as scriptural support for the practice, they had to reject the books of Scripture where it is so clearly mentioned.

OBJECTOR: But if the books of the Maccabees were not part of the canon of Scripture in the first place, it was not wrong to reject the practice of praying for the dead.

CATHOLIC: Notice the circularity of your position. Because, as I have shown, the deuterocanonicals were accepted in the canon long before the Protestant Reformation, their reason for removing them from the canon clearly was motivated by a theological reason. To reject these books on the basis of a theological position is to reject a part of Scripture because it does not agree with your theology. But this move contradicts the Protestant claim to base its theology on Scripture alone. If you are attempting to base your theology only on Scripture, then you have to know which books are to be included in Scripture ahead of time. If you base your acceptance or rejection of certain books on a prior conclusion of your theology, then your theology is dictating your Scripture and not the other way around.



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