Why The Catholic Bible Has More Books

This past week, someone asked me why the Catholic Bible has the extra apocrypha books? These apocryphal writings are named: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees. Sometimes you will hear these extra books referred to as deuterocanonical books, which means “second canon.” I prefer this term, because it helps explain why these books are not included in many Bibles today. These books were written after the Old Testament and before the New Testament, so they explain some of the 400 year history of Israel that took place between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew. They were never included in the canon of the Old Testament or revered as Sacred Scripture and on par with say, Exodus or Isaiah. The nation of Israel treated these books with respect for their history and wisdom, but never accepted them as part of the Hebrew Bible.

In the early Christian Church, the apostles didn’t seem to think the deuterocanonical books were equal with Holy Scripture either. The apostolic writers of the New Testament books quote 855 verses from the Old Testament, but no verses from the deuterocanonical books. This means the nation of Israel and the early Church both held the apocryphal books on a lesser level than the Old Testament and New Testament canon. Literally, these books had always been viewed as a “second canon”, but not Holy Scripture.

So, when did the apocryphal writings make it into Catholic Bibles? It wasn’t until the 16th Century! The Council of Trent declared the apocryphal books canonical, making them equal to Holy Scripture, in response to the Protestant Reformation. The apocryphal writings support some of the Catholic doctrines that were debated by reforms, such as Martin Luther. Where do Catholics get the doctrine of praying to saints for intercession? The apocryphal books. Where do Catholics get the doctrine of indulgences, which is monetary payment for the forgiveness of sins? Again, the apocryphal writings.  

Some may recall that Martin Luther included the apocryphal books in his German Bible that was published in 1534. However, he had them subscripted with “Books that are not to be regarded as the equal of Holy Scripture but are nonetheless profitable and good to read.” He probably included them to try and remain more connected to Catholicism. Luther, also rarely preached from apocryphal books. However, it is noted that he preached three sermons on Ecclesiasticus 15:1-9, which was the reading for the Day of St. John the Evangelist.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel