Catholic Bibles contain 73 books while Protestant Bibles contain 66 books. I think the main reason that Catholics have more books is because we obviously love to read more. I mean why else would you have more books to read than a love for reading? But then I’m sure our Protestant brothers and sisters would object to that, claiming that Catholics don’t read the Bible. And sadly, besides during church, many Catholics do not read the Bible. So alas we are back to square one. Why do Catholics have bigger Bibles?
To figure out this mystery, we will begin at, well, the beginning. What did the early Church Fathers, the first Christians, use? We know they didn’t use the New Testament since the NT wasn’t officially compiled yet. Although they did read books that were later recognized as inspired (and others that were not), the Bible was not decided upon until the 4th century. Since all Christian Bibles have the same number of books in the NT, let’s bring our focus to the Old.
The Jews did not have an official Canon until about 90 A.D. Before then, some Jews used only five books while others used many more. The real question, though, is what did the Christians use? If we start going through the first Christian’s writings, you will find they are riddled with references to scriptures from the Septuagint Canon (which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures dating to about 250 B.C.). The Didache (also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) written in about 70 A.D., references a book from the Septuagint called Sirach. “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). Polycarp in the 2nd century referenced the book of Tobit (also from the Septuagint). Clement, who was around in the 1st century, did a sermon on Judith from the book of Judith. Clement is well known for his letters, 1 Clement, which were often bound with the New Testament books and thought of as inspired by many of the early Church Fathers.
Not only can you look at the early Church Fathers, but you can also look at the original Kings James Bible. Often Bibles will have scriptures listed by others that are cross-references. The King James Bible was no different. In the New Testament it cross-referenced several verses from the Septuagint including: Mt. 6:7 & Sirach 7:14; Mt. 27:43 & Wisdom 2:15-16; Lk. 6:31 & Tobit 4:15; Lk. 14:13 & Tobit 4:7; Jn. 10:22 & 1 Maccabees 4:59; Rom. 9:21 & Wisdom 15:7; Rom.11:34 & Wisdom 9:13; 2 Cor. 9:7 & Sirach 35:9; Heb. 1:3 & Wisdom 7:26; Heb. 11:35 & 2 Maccabees 7:7.
Those were just a few examples that referenced the Septuagint canon. You will find that the Council of Rome, Hippo, and Carthage in the late 4th century decided upon the Septuagint Canon also and the same NT books we all have today. At that point the Bible was, through the Holy Spirit, officially canonized.
Now that the mystery has been solved, why are there differences in our Old Testaments? And when did the change occur? *Drumroll please* Two words – the Reformation. Before Martin Luther came around, there were 73 books – 46 books in the Old and 27 books in the New Testament. Martin Luther petitioned to eliminate seven books of the Old Testament and the endings of Daniel and Esther (also known as the deuterocanonical books) namely because they gave clear scriptural evidence of purgatory and praying for the dead. Luther also wanted the removal of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. As many know, Martin Luther was a big fan of sola fide (Faith alone) doctrine. In fact he was its biggest fan since, well, he created it. The book of James was called by Luther in his earlier years, the “epistle full of straw”. It contradicted his sola fide belief since James 2:24 states, “You are not justified by faith alone but by works…” Those four books, he felt, contradicted the other New Testament books and thus, were thought of as uninspired by him. Although, he did manage to get rid of his desired Old Testament books and parts of Daniel and Esther, he didn’t receive the same approval with the others.
Although the deuterocanonical books were deemed uninspired by Luther and others, some still thought they were important to read for historical purposes, as such they were placed between the two testaments in the first King James Bibles under Apocrypha and wasn’t officially removed until 1885.
Most informed Protestants would agree that it wasn’t until Luther’s time, that the “extra” books were removed. Why then keep that subtraction? They have a few different reasons, but due to space, I will try to clear up only a couple of them. One of their reasons, is that they only accept the scriptures in the Old Testament that were written in Hebrew, since that is what the Jews decided upon in 90 A.D during a council. This can become a little hazy for two reasons. First, the Jews used the Hebrew Canon after the Christians had already been using the Septuagint for about 60 years. Secondly, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have found parts of three of the deuterocanonical books written in Hebrew. Who is to say the rest of them were never written in Hebrew?
Another major argument against the deuterocanonical books, is that St. Jerome spoke against them in the early 5th century. He did not believe them to be inspired. Keep in mind, though, this was after the Bible was already canonized. Even though he disagreed, he translated the entire Bible into the more prevalent language of the time, Latin – including the deuterocanonical books. Later in his life he not only took back what he had said, but he defended the deuterocanonical books.
In scripture, the number six is often associated with something unfinished and the number seven is associated with something that is completed/perfect. 66 books in the Bible is incomplete. To be a finished piece of work, the Bible needs the full 73 books. If we begin to let individual people take or add from the Bible, what would the Bible be but a library of ordinary books?