As someone born and raised in the Catholic Church, I have been the “go to” guy on Kensington’s staff for the past 8 years when it comes to people who have Catholic roots to their faith who now attend Kensington. One of the questions I get over and over has to do with the differences in Catholic and Protestant Bibles.
If you open up the Table of Contents in a Catholic and Protestant Bible you’ll find the exact same 27 books listed in the New Testament, but the Old Testament is another story. A Protestant Bible (e.g., the NIV translation) lists 39 books in the Old Testament and while a Catholic Bible (e.g., the NAB translation) lists those 39, there are an additional 7 books as well, bringing their total to 46. Catholics claim that Protestants possess an incomplete Bible while Protestants believe the Catholic Church added these non-inspired books to their Bible. What does church history reveal about this disagreement?
The Books In Question – The books that are unique to the Catholic version of the Old Testament are: Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch. Catholic Bibles also have an additional six chapters in their version of the Book of Esther and three additional chapters in their version of the book of Daniel. This cluster of 7 books is referred to as the “Apocrypha” by Protestants (a term from a Greek word meaning “hidden”). However, Catholics give these books a positive connotation, calling them “deuterocanonical” (a word meaning “second canon”).
Two Versions of One Testament – The debate surrounds two versions of the Old Testament that Jews ascribed to. The “Palestinian Canon” contains 39 books which were the accepted Scriptures by the Jews in the regions surrounding Israel. The “Alexandrian Canon” contains 46 books which were the accepted Scriptures by the Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt. Protestants follow the Palestinian Canon, Catholics the Alexandrian Canon. When examining why this is, one needs to be like Sherlock Holmes to undercover the truth as Catholic and Protestant sources both tend to skew the “facts” in their favor.
The Catholic Perspective – Catholics point out that these deuterocanonical books appeared in Protestant Bibles (including the popular King James Version) as late as the 19th century. From their viewpoint, this proves that early Protestants believed these books were inspired by God. Protestants removed them out of their Bibles fairly recently and did so because they did not agree with some of the theology found within them (e.g., the doctrine of “purgatory” found in 2 Maccabees).
The Protestant Perspective – Protestants point out the Apocryphal books were not given canonical status by the Catholic Church until 1546 at the Council of Trent. Protestants see this as proof that although these books were included in the book known as the “Bible” they were included in the Bible in an Appendix-like fashion and not considered to be “God-breathed” for the first 1,500+ years of church history. The Catholic Church felt the need to elevate them to canonical status only after Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation challenging teachings found in these books.
The Bottom Line – For several years I have taught a workshop at Kensington called Pastors & Priests which examines the similarities and differences between Kensington and the Catholic Church. During the Q&A time, I always get asked a question about the differences between a Catholic and Protestant Bible…and it is usually asked with quite a bit of passion. As a Protestant they know where I stand on this issue, but I always attempt to explain both sides of the argument in a fair manner.
But after giving my explanation, I always ask them two questions:
1) Are you reading your version of the Bible regularly?
2) Are you reading your version of the Bible with the same amount of passion as you feel about this issue?
If the answer is “no” to either of those questions, I feel they have missed the point.