Catholic Bible 101

21st Century Catholic Apologetics for Mary's Spiritual Warriors

The Bible - 73 or 66 Books?

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. 

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, which Pope Boniface agreed to.  The Council of Trent, in 1546, in response to the Reformation removing 7 books from the canon (canon is a Greek word meaning “standard”), reaffirmed the original St. Athanasius list of 73 books.

So what happened?  How come the King James Bible only has 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. His reasoning was that the Jewish Council of  Jamnia in 90 AD didn’t think they were canonical, so he didn’t either. The Jewish Council of Jamnia was a meeting of the remaining Jews from Palestine who survived the Roman persecution of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It seems that the Jews had never settled on an official canon of OT scripture before this. The Sadducees only believed in the first 5 books of the Bible written by Moses (the Pentateuch), while the Pharisees believed in 34 other books of the Old Testament as well.  However, there were other Jews around from the Diaspora, or the dispersion of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, who believed that another 7 books were also divinely inspired.  In fact, when Jesus addressed the Diaspora Jews (who spoke Greek) he quoted from the Septuagint version of the scriptures. The Septuagint was a Greek translation by 70 translators of the Hebrew Word. The Septuagint includes the disputed 7 books that Protestants do not recognize as scriptural.

Initially, 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 that the Catholic Pope Damasus I had approved of in 382 AD, but didn’t accept his Old Testament list, preferring instead to agree with the Jews of 90 AD. Luther really didn’t care much for Jews, and wrote an encyclical advocating the burning of their synagogues, which seems like a dichotomy. Why trust them to come up with an accurate canon of scripture when you hate and distrust them so much?  And why trust the Catholic Church which he called “the whore of Babylon” to come up with an accurate New Testament list?  Can you imagine the outrage by non-Catholics today if the Pope started throwing books out of the Bible?  But strangely, Luther gets a pass on doing that exact same thing.

For the record, Jesus took the Kingdom away from the Jews (Matthew 21:43), and gave it to Peter and His new Church (Matthew 16:18), so the Jewish Council of Jamnia had no Godly authority to decide anything in 90 AD.  They used 4 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 first century 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. These 7 books were accepted by the Diaspora Jews (the Alexandrian Canon) who were not in Palestine. These 7 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 the “apocrypha”, or hidden/obscure, by Protestants (Christians who protest against the Catholic Church). 

There are several objections to these 7 books, besides not being approved at the Jewish Council Jamnia.  Some say that since the New Testament never references these disputed books, then that proves that they are not canonical. 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 indeed from the deuterocanonicals 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 being a direct reference to 2 Maccabees 7, where the mother and her 7 sons were slaughtered by the evil King for not forsaking the Jewish law.  Romans 1:19-25 is also referenced in Wisdom 12-13.  The clincher, of course, is that Jesus Himself observed the feast of Hannukah, or the Dedication of the Temple, in John 10. 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 books referenced in the New Testament, like Enoch and the Assumption of Moses (in the book of Jude), so 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 7 books because they claim some of the early church fathers like St. Jerome didn’t think they were divinely inspired. While it’s great that all of a sudden 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 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. All of the early Church Fathers accepted these disputed books as divinely inspired.

Still others object to some of the disputed 7 books because of historical or geographical errors in them.  And there are some, but it has to be remembered that not all stories in the Bible are historical. For instance, was there really a rich man who died and went to hell, and then saw his poor servant in the bosom of Abraham?  Was there really a young man who sold his inheritance and went off to a faraway country and squandered it, and returned home as the prodigal son?  Was there really a vineyard where the workers who showed up late got paid the same as the workers who worked all day?  Or is it rather not more important that these parables teach important theological lessons than it is for them to be 100% historically accurate? In other words, books of fiction that relate Biblical truths can be 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 canonical, because they were found with the book of Isaiah and other Old Testament books. 

And 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.  And the 7 books are indeed in that Bible. To see for yourself, click here.

And an interesting numerology coincidence occurs here as well. In the bible, the number 7 denotes perfection (God rested on the 7th day, 7 spirits that minister to God, 7 sacraments), and the number 3 represents the Holy Trinity.  On the other hand, the number 6 represents imperfection (as in 666).  Therefore, 73 books sure sounds a lot better than 66 books!

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

Some of the more interesting items in these 7 books are as follows:

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 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 Asmodeus.

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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