top of page
Did the Catholic Church add Books to the Bible?
Catholic Canon of the Bible
The Catholic Church is often accused of adding books to the Bible after the protestant reformation to make the Bible agree with the church's teachings. This accusation is simply not true and anyone who studies the history of the Bible and the early Church will quickly find this statement to be false.
Catholic and Protestant Bibles both include 27 books of the New Testament. However, Protestant Bibles have only 39 books of the Old Testament while Catholic Bibles have 46 Old Testament books.
The seven books included in Catholic Bible's are Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. Catholic Bible's also include sections in the Books of Esther and Daniel which are not found in Protestant Bible's. These books are called the deuterocanonical books. The Catholic Church considers these books to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Here are a number of places in the New Testament that refer directly or indirectly to passages from these Old Testament books which are included in a Catholic Bible:
1. Heb 11:35…2 Maccabees 7:24-29
2. Matt 6:14…Sirach 28:2
3. Matt 27:39-42…Wisdom 2:16-20
4. Rom 1:20…Wisdom 13:1
5. Rom 1:20-32…Wisdom 13 and 14
6. Heb 1:3…Wisdom 7:26
7. James 1:19…Sirach 5:11-13
8. 1 Peter 1:6…Wisdom 3:1-3
Question: So why does the Catholic Church have 46 Old Testament books in its Bible while the protestant Bible has only 39 Old Testament books in it?
Answer: The Catholic Church includes in its Bible what is referred to as the Septuagint (Greek) Old Testament. The Jewish people of the Greek world added these books to their Bible and considered them sacred while the Jewish people of Palestine continued with the shorter Hebrew Bible. It wasn't until the late second or third century that the Hebrew Jews canonized the shorter version of the Bible. By that time the early Christians had already been using the Greek Old Testament which contained 7 more books than the Hebrew Old Testament. The Catholic Church canonized this Greek Old Testament along with the books of the New Testament at the Councils of Rome, Hippo, and Carthage (A.D. 382,
393, 397, respectively). It wasn't until around 1522, during the protestant reformation, that Martin Luther changed the Old Testament in his Bible back to the Hebrew Old Testament which has only 39 books. The other books, he considered to be uninspired. It should also be noted that Martin Luther also wanted to remove several books of the New Testament which he also thought were uninspired and which seemed to disprove his Sola Fide theology. Martin Luther was finally persuaded by his colleagues not to do so. Finally, while it is true that God’s written word was entrusted to the Jews, God never provided the Jews with an inspired table of contents.
Question: Didn't The Council of Trent add these extra books to the Catholic Bible?
Answer: No! The Council of Trent was convened to reaffirm Catholic doctrines, revitalize the Church, and to proclaim that these books had always belonged to the Bible and had to remain in it. After all, it was the Catholic Church, in the fourth century, at the councils of Rome, Hippo, and Carthage that officially decided which books belonged to the Bible
and which did not. This had been reaffirmed by many popes and councils later, including the ecumenical Council of Florence. When the Council of Trent was convened, it merely formally restated the constant teaching of the Church.
Something to consider: If the Bible contains all the information that’s needed for salvation as Protestants believe, then where in the Bible is the list of books that should be contained in the Bible? There is no such list! This obviously contradicts the protestant belief in Sola Scriptura (The Bible Alone) and points to an authority outside of the Bible.
Some interesting Historical FACTS:
-Most protestants are very familiar with the King James Version of the Bible. However, most protestants do not know that the original 1611 version of the King James Bible actually contained the same books as a Catholic Bible. It wasn't until later that the protestant reformers took these books out of the King James Bible because they were associated with the Catholic Church and deemed too Catholic.
- The Printing Press was invented in 1454 by a German named Johann Gutenberg. The first book ever printed on the printing press was the Latin Vulgate Bible. This first mass produced Bible is commonly called the Gutenberg Bible and it was a Catholic Bible (the reformation would not occur until 80 years later) which contained all 46 Old Testament books.
It seems odd that many protestants often ignore this obvious historical fact and continue to accuse the Catholic Church of adding books to the Bible after the reformation at the Council of Trent.
- Martin Luther remarked several years after he separated from the Church: “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?” Sermon on the gospel of St. John, chaps. 14 - 16 (1537), in vol. 24 of LUTHER'S WORKS, St. Louis, Mo., Concordia, 1961, 304
One Last Point to Consider about The Bible: Most Non-Catholic Christians never stop and think about how the Bible came to be. A simple study of history will quickly show that it was the Catholic Church who compiled the Bible as we have it today.
During the early Church there were many writings which were used along with oral tradition to spread the Gospel. When the Catholic Church decided to compile these writings they had to decide which books were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and which ones were not. The sacred writings which make up the Bible were chosen to be part of the official
canon of the Bible by the Catholic Church in around the year 385AD. Many of the early Church writings were not considered inspired by the Catholic Church and were therefore not included in the official canon of the Bible. Writings like "The Gospel of Peter" or the "Acts of Peter and Paul" although widely read by the early Christians, were not included in
the official Canon. These books are what the Catholic Church calls "Apocrypha". Lastly, when non-catholics read the Bible they are unknowingly relying on the authority of the Catholic Church because without this authority they would have no Bible to read at all.
Note: If you would like to read an excellent short book on the History of the Bible pick up a copy of "Where We Got the Bible" By Rev. Henry Graham.
Catholic Bible Versions and Commentaries
Liturgical Use in United States
There is only one English text currently approved by the Church for use in the United States. This text is the one contained in the Lectionaries approved for Sundays & Feasts and for Weekdays by the USCCB and recognized by the Holy See. These Lectionaries have their American and Roman approval documents in the front. The text is that of the New American Bible with revised Psalms and New Testament (1988, 1991), with some changes mandated by the Holy See where the NAB text
used so-called vertical inclusive language (e.g. avoiding male pronouns for God). Since these Lectionaries have been fully promulgated, the permission to use the Jerusalem Bible and the RSV-Catholic at Mass has been withdrawn. [See note on inclusive language below]
Devotional Bible Reading
A bewildering array of Catholic Bibles are available for personal use. They all have imprimaturs, but not all avoid the use of inclusive language. That use is indicated in the summary. The order is generally chronological.
1. Douai-Rheims. The original Catholic Bible in English, pre-dating the King James Version (1611). It was translated from the Latin Vulgate, the Church's official Scripture text, by English Catholics in exile on the continent. The NT was completed and published in 1582 when the English College (the seminary for English Catholics) was located at Rheims. The Old Testament was published in 1610 when the College was located at Douai. Bishop Challoner's 1750 edition, and subsequent revisions by
others up to the 20th century, is the most common edition. Retains some archaic English.
2. Confraternity Edition. Begun in 1936 by the American bishops' Confraternity for Christian Doctrine as a translation from the Clementine Vulgate. The publication of Pius XII's encyclical Divino afflante spiritu (1943) caused the translation committee to switch to the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. Not all books were completed by the time of Vatican II (1962-1965). Those that were finished were used in the liturgy in the 1950s and 60s. Published in a dignified American idiom.
Though hard to find, this edition of the Scriptures is worth possessing.
3. Revised Standard Version (RSV) - Catholic Edition. Translated for an American audience from the original languages in the 1940s and 1950s by the National Council of the Churches of Christ, and adapted for Catholic use by the Catholic Biblical Association (1966). Considered the best combination of literal (formal equivalence translation) and literary by many orthodox Catholic scholars.
4.1 New American Bible or NAB (1970). Translated from the original languages by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine according to the principles of Vatican II for use in the liturgy. It was the basis of the American Lectionary from the 1970s until 2002. A good translation, but it was criticized for its changing of some traditional and familiar expressions, such as "full of grace".
4.2 NAB with Revised New Testament (1986). A restoration of some traditional familiar phraseology. Unfortunately, it also included some mild inclusive language. No longer widely available, owing to the publication of the revised Psalms (see next entry).
4.3 NAB with Revised Psalms and Revised New Testament (1991). It was due to the use of vertical inclusive language (re: God and Christ) and some uses of horizontal inclusive language (re: human beings), that the Holy See rejected this text as the basis of a revised Lectionary for the United States. This is the version of the NAB currently on sale in the United States.
5. Jerusalem Bible (1966). A translation based on the French edition of the Dominicans of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, who translated it from the original languages. The full version has copious footnotes but is hard to find, as it has not been recently republished.
6. New Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition (1989). An adaptation for Catholic use of the NRSV of the National Council of the Churches of Christ. Although used in the American edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it was rejected for liturgical use by the Holy See owing to inclusive language in some unacceptable places. With this exception, like the predecessor RSV, it is a good formal equivalent translation (i.e. literal, but literary).
7. New Jerusalem Bible (1990). A revision of the Jerusalem Bible directly from the original languages. It contains inclusive language, similar to that rejected in the revised NAB by the Holy See for use in the liturgy, but is considered a very literary text, and comparable in quality to the NRSV in scholarship.
8. Today's' English Version - Catholic (1992). This is the Catholic edition of the popular Good News Bible by the American Bible Society. Translated according to the principle of dynamic equivalence for readability. The same principle was used by ICEL to translate the Mass texts. Would be better to call a paraphrase than a translation.
Catholic versus Protestant Bibles
Bible translations developed for Catholic use are complete Bibles. This means that they contain the entire canonical text identified by Pope Damasus and the Synod of Rome (382) and the local Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), contained in St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation (420), and decreed infallibly by the Ecumenical Council of Trent (1570). This canonical text contains the same 27 NT Testament books which Protestant versions contain, but 46 Old Testament
books, instead of 39. These 7 books, and parts of 2 others, are called Deuterocanonical by Catholics (2nd canon) and Apocrypha (false writings) by Protestants, who dropped them at the time of the Reformation. The Deuterocanonical texts are Tobias (Tobit), Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Wisdom, First and Second Maccabees and parts of Esther and Daniel. Some Protestant Bibles include the "Apocrypha" as pious reading.
Which Bible should I read or buy?
With so many different Bible versions on the market today buying a Bible can be a very confusing task. Most local retail stores will carry several different versions of the Bible. Most of these Bible’s are however not Catholic versions and they will not contain the correct number of Old Testament books. It should be noted that many of these non-catholic Bible’s contain many faulty and incorrect translations of the original Biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic). Some of these Bibles are actually a translation of a translation while other versions are “transliterations” in which the translation is based upon the personal opinions of the individual translator. Many of the footnotes and commentaries contained in non-catholic Bible’s will be opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Some of these Bibles even have many Bibles verses taken out of them!
As Catholic's it is very important to read a Bible which has been translated under the authority of the Catholic Church. We should always remember that it was the Catholic Church alone who, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, complied the Bible as we have it today. No other church has the God given authority (see Matt. 16:18-19) to infallibly interpret the Bible.
The fact is, without the Catholic Church there would be no Bible at all! So, when buying a Bible make sure that the Bible is a
Catholic Bible so you can be assured that it does not contain any false or misleading translations and footnotes.
Lastly, keep in mind that no Bible translation is perfect and since most of us cannot read the original Bible manuscripts we
must rely on translations if we want to read the Bible. You will find that there are many Catholic Bible translations out there,
with each translation having it's own strengths and weaknesses. As Catholics we are fortunate to
have the Catholic Church to guide us to the truth which is contained in sacred scripture (The Bible) and sacred tradition.
bottom of page