Does the Number of Books in Your Bible Really Matter?
One evening I had the sad duty of attending my neighbor’s funeral. The assistant pastor from the church stood up and after a few remarks about the deceased began to give a sermon. The first ten minutes was dedicated to how he knew that my neighbor believed in Jesus and was in heaven, so there was no need to pray for her or offer Masses or anything like that. The next thirty minutes or so (it’s difficult to tell since it seemed like eternity) was dedicated to explaining why it doesn’t matter which church one attends—they are all the same! None of them are more correct than any other.
After the funeral I walked up to the assistant pastor to thank him. I said to him: “Pastor, I just want to share with you a biblical verse that has always given me comfort in times like these, the book of Wisdom, chapter 3 says, ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.’” The pastor gave me an odd look. “Book of Wisdom?” he said. “That’s not in the Bible!” To which I responded, “Well, I guess there are important differences between us.”
Out of respect for the family, I left it at that. The assistant pastor seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Catholic and Orthodox bibles contain seven books in their Old Testament that Protestant bibles omit. Catholics call these books the deuterocanon. Protestants, however, had rejected these books as inspired texts and call the Apocrypha.
Despite the assistant pastor’s best efforts to be non-denominational and dispel the importance of religious dogmas, he and his church actually held a very dogmatic view on which books belonged to the Bible. Going by the generic name of “Christian” didn’t release him from dogmatically committing himself to a particular doctrine on which books the Bible comprises. This position is undeniably important.
The question of which books belong to the Bible is more fundamental of a question than anything in anyone’s theology, because theology is to be based upon divine revelation. What makes up God’s revelation, therefore, has a direct impact on one’s theology. This is especially true for Protestants who believe in sola scriptura, which says that the Bible is the only source of Christian doctrine. It is, for nearly all Protestants the highest court of appeal for judging all doctrine.
How did Protestants and Catholics end up with two different Old Testaments? Protestants claim that the Catholic Church added the seven books of the “Apocrypha” to the canon of Scripture in order to refute Protestantism. This is generally said to have occurred at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent (April 8, 1546). Catholics make the opposite claim; they claim that these same books were always considered inspired Scripture, but they were rejected by Protestantism because their teaching contradicts certain areas of Protestant theology. Which is correct? Did the Catholic Church add books to the Old Testament or did Protestantism remove these books from the canon of Scripture?
Both answers assume something about the status of these books prior to the Protestant Reformation. If the Council of Trent added these books to the Bible then they couldn’t have been accepted as inspired Scripture before Trent, and if Protestant removed these books then they must have been accepted as inspired Scripture before. Therefore, in order to answer whether the deuterocanon was added or removed, we need to step back and look at its history, zeroing in every now and then on some pivot issues in order to answer this question.
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