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Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger

Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger

When I was in college, I had a very unexpected experience that ended up being quite profitable.  I was playing baseball at Santa Barbara City College at the time and a teammate had just undergone a conversion to Christianity.  One day he asked me if I would go to church with him the following Sunday.  I thought it would be a good thing to encourage so I agreed to accompany him after I went to Mass in the morning.  The church he belonged to ended up being the Protestant denomination known as the Church of Christ.

          The service was held on a grassy hill with a stage at the bottom and was focused around the minister’s sermon.  The people were very nice and welcoming. And many of my teammate’s friends invited me to a Bible study.  I agreed, not knowing what to expect.  The student Catholic parish had a Bible study I attended at the time which focused on understanding the upcoming Sunday readings.  This Bible study was quite different, though.  The young men knew I was Catholic and spent the better part of an hour attacking me and trying to get me to leave the Church.

          Well, I knew nothing about apologetics at the time and very little about Scripture.  They jumped from topic to topic and from Bible verse to Bible verse.  Thankfully, I was able to recognize the taking of Scripture out of context and God gave me the Grace to persevere in my Catholic Faith and search for answers to the many challenges they brought up.  The great blessing was that I discovered every challenge had an answer and I developed an interest in apologetics.

          I remember at one point turning to the Second Book of Macabees in order to give a Scriptural defense of Purgatory and they dismissed it by saying, “That book isn’t even in our Bibles.”  Well, I had no idea why the book wasn’t in their Bibles so I dropped the point.

          Who do some Bibles lack both Books of Macabees, as well as Baruch, Wisdom, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, and parts of Daniel and Esther?  Some Protestants will tell you that the Catholic Church added those books at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, but that is factually absurd.  The fact is that the Catholic Church officially established the canon of the Bible in the end of the fourth century, containing all 73 books that Catholics have today, and Martin Luther took out the disputed books in the sixteenth century himself.

          In the first few centuries of Christianity, there was not total consensus about which books belonged in the Bible.  The seven books that differentiate Catholic and Protestant Bibles are in the Old Testament, but there were disputed books in the New Testament as well.  Some groups thought the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas or Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians were Scriptural, for example.  Others thought Revelation or Second Peter were not.  In the fourth century the Church used the authority given her by Christ to make a definitive decision.  Pope St. Damasus ratified the decision of the Council of Rome, authoritatively canonizing the Bible with the 73 books we have today.  That decision was reinforced by the African councils of Hippo and Carthage in the fourth century and others since, most notably being a reaffirmation of the canon at the Council of Trent in response to Martin Luther’s heretical removal of the seven previously mentioned books.

          These are all easily verifiable historical facts that really can’t be disputed.  But why did Luther do it?  The story of Luther’s rebellion and his promulgation of his heresies is a long one and the Church is not without fault in it.  However, the bottom line is that some of the books that were removed from Protestant Bibles contain references to teachings that Luther jettisoned, one notable one being the reference to Purgatory in Second Macabees that I attempted to share with my teammate’s friends nearly 20 years ago.

          Luther claimed authority to do this from the Council of Jamnia, a meeting of rabbis in A.D. 93.  This council explains why modern Jewish Scriptures also contain only the 39 Old Testament Books that Protestant Bibles have.  During Jesus’s time the version of the Scriptures most widely used in and around Israel was called the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Scriptures made by rabbis for the library in Alexandria.  It is also the version most quoted in the New Testament.  Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and the Jewish people of the ancient world were struggling to find an identity.  One thing they decided to do was resist Hellenization, or Greek influences, so they decided that any books of Scripture that they did not have a Hebrew version of would be dropped.  This also allowed them to distinguish themselves from the nascent Christian community, which used the Septuagint at the time.

          You can probably see some of the problems with Luther citing this council in his decision.  First, this is a council of rabbis after the birth of the Church.  They had no authority.  In fact, one of the decrees at the Council of Jamnia was that Jesus of Nazareth is not the Messiah.  Also, one of their goals in dropping the seven books was to distinguish themselves from Christianity.  Ironic that Luther would follow their lead in this matter.

          Finally, even the reasoning of the rabbis at Jamnia, which Luther accepted, proved to be flawed.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the last century unearthed Hebrew copies of some of the disputed books, such as Tobit and Wisdom, which date to before the time of Christ.  So as you can see, not only did Martin Luther not have the authority to change the canon of Scripture, even the logic he used in doing so was flawed.

          This has been a very short explanation of this issue and there are wonderful books on the topic, such as Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger, by Gary Michuta.  So if anyone complains to you that a piece of Scripture you are quoting isn’t even in their Bibles, don’t disregard it.  It’s not your fault they have an incomplete Bible.  Give them the directions to your nearest Catholic bookstore (or the address of this blog, which features a great translation of the full Bible on the sidebar) and say a prayer that they will find great riches in the Scriptures they will be encountering for the first time.