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The Deuterocanonicals, also known as the Old Testment Apocrypha

Protestant title of article: Someone has extra books in their Old Testament?

Catholic or Orthodox title of article: Someone has less books in their Old Testament?

First some background information: Christianity has three major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox (Greek Orthodox, for example), and Protestant (meaning almost all Christians who are not Catholic or Orthodox). [Note: other groups of Christians also exist, such as the Copic Church based in Egypt; this article focuses on the three major branches.] The three divisions all teach basically the same thing about Jesus, but they differ in the details. One of those details is the contents of their holy writing, the Bible. Protestants believe that the Bible should contain 66 books. Catholics believe that the Bible should contain 73 plus books. The Orthodox believe that the Bible should contain 76 plus perhaps more books. Now for the explanation.

All Christian groups agree that the New Testament (NT) should only contain 27 books. Therefore, all Christians use the same NT books. The disagreement exists over the number of Old Testament (OT) books. All three Christian divisions agree that that the Old Testament should have these books:

This makes 39 books. And the Protestants stop at that, for a total of 66 books in the Bible.

The Catholic Bible has the 39 books of the Protestant OT plus

Therefore, Catholics believe that the Bible should contain 73 books plus enlarged sections for Esther and Daniel. Catholics have a special name for these “additional” books, which is "deuterocanonical." "Deutero” means "secondary" and "canonical" means "holy writing." These books are included in the Catholic Bible, but they are identified differently. Protestants do not have these books in their OT and so refer to them as "apocrypha." ["Apocrypha" are books which are not in the Bible.] Catholics call these books "deuterocanonical" because they are in the Catholic OT but are seen as secondary, whereas Protestants refer to them as "apocrypha" because they are not in any Protestant OT's.

The Orthodox Bible has the same books as the Catholic Bible plus it can contain Prayer of Manaseh, I Esdras, II Esdras, III Maccabees, IV Maccabees, Odes (prayers or psalms), and an additional psalm, Psalm 151. The reason I say “can contain” is because the Orthodox Church is not like the Catholic Church, a single unit, but more like the Protestants, there are different Orthodox, such as Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox, and they each can have different books in the OT.

But why the difference? First a note about the development of the OT. In the 300's and 200's B.C., the Jews in Egypt translated their holy writing from their native tongue of Hebrew into Greek, which was becoming the dominant language of the time. This version is called the Septuagint. The Septuagint contained the above books of the Orthodox OT, except II Esdras.

About 1000 years later, in the Middle Ages, a group of Jewish scholars produced what is called the Masoretic Text. This was a Hebrew version of the Jewish Bible. Remember that the Jews already had a Greek version, the Septuagint, but 1000 years later they wanted an authorized copy in the original Hebrew language. In the process of developing the Masoretic Text, the scholars reduced the number of books to the 39 books.

But that was the Jewish scholars. The Catholics and Orthodox of the Middle Ages kept using the versions they had, which was based on the Septuagint. The Protestants finally showed up in the very late Middle Ages, in the 1500s. At first Protestant leaders used the deuterocanonicals, but eventually Protestant leaders all decided only to include protocanonicals ("proto" meaning "primary") and not deuterocanonicals. And in the Westminster Confession of 1648 (one of the most prominent Protestant statements of faith at the time), the deuterocanonicals were left out of the OT for the first time in an official document. And they have generally been absent from Protestant Bibles ever since.

Interesting note: The deuterocanonicals were included in the original version of the King James Version Bible in 1611, but they were eventually removed.

©2010, 2017 Mark Nickens