FAQ: Why are Catholic & Protestant Bibles different?

[UPDATE 5/26/15: In June 2014, Liguori Publications purchased Catholic Update and other parish resources from Franciscan Media. As such, the text for any posts utilizing information from Catholic Update or Scripture From Scratch is no longer available to view for free online, however, I will do my best to provide links to purchase hard copies, which are available at the Liguori Publications website.]

The following is what I hope to be the beginning of a series of posts which address some questions that you might be frequently asked as a small group facilitator. If you’d like me to work on finding the answer to a particular question, please feel free to leave a comment on whatever the latest post is on the Leaven in the World Facebook page by clicking here. My goal is to always provide answers in a way that contributes positively to healthy and respectful dialogue among fellow Catholics, fellow non-Catholic Christians, and seekers. 

QUESTION: Why are Catholic and Protestant Bibles different?

SHORT ANSWER:

The differences come down to which translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) the Bible is based on. The Protestant canon is based on the Jamnian (Palestinian) canon (39 books written in Hebrew) and the Catholic canon is based on the Greek Septuagint translation (Alexandrian canon) (46 books).

Those books found in Catholic Bibles, but not Protestant Bibles, are:

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. Wisdom
  4. Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
  5. Baruch
  6. 1 and 2 Maccabees
  7. Some sections of Esther and Daniel

Catholics refer to these books as the deuterocanonical books, while Protestant circles refer to these as apocryphal books.

LONG ANSWER:

Both the Palestinian and Alexandrian canons (or collections of sacred books) were actually used by the Jewish people in Jesus’ time. The Jamnian (Palestian) canon was used by Hebrew- and Aramaic-speaking Jews in Palestine. The Alexandrian canon was a Greek translation used by Greek-speaking Jews outside of Palestine (and contrary to popular belief, also in Palestine itself).

Because the early Christians spoke Greek, they followed and accepted the Greek version (Alexandrian canon) of the Hebrew Scriptures. When Latin replaced Greek as the common language in the Roman empire, Jerome translated the Greek Septuagint and New Testament (both in Greek) to Latin in the 4th century.

When Martin Luther translated the Bible to German, he wanted to return to the Hebrew canon, and so followed the Jamnian (Palestinian) Canon (which is also the Jewish canon of Hebrew Scriptures). What was the reason behind this choice? The short version is that Protestants believed that any books that were not a part of the Hebrew scriptures (i.e., the deuterocanonical books named above) should not be in a Christian Bible.

When the Council of Trent (1545-63) defined the Catholic canon, it continued to follow Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (which relied on the Septuagint for the Old Testament). Why did the Catholic Church decide to go in this direction? Short version: If the deuterocanonical books were important to Greek-speaking Jews around the time of Jesus, they were important enough to print as part of our Bible.

To read the sources for my answers above (and/or to learn more about the history about how the Hebrew Scriptures were developed starting with the time before the Babylonian exile), check out the links below:

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