There are two main versions of the Bible – the catholic and the protestant Bible. Both of these Bibles have a common foundation but they also differ in a couple of ways including the number of books as well as the content therein. The differences between the two Bibles stem can be traced back to the Reformation movement of the 16th century which resulted in the formation of the protestant churches.
The main difference between the two Bibles is the number of books. The Catholic Bible comprises of 73 books (46 in the old testament and 27 in the new testament) while the Protestant Bible comprises 66 books (39 in the Old Testament plus 27 in the new testament). The Catholic Bible has 7 more books in the Old Testament than the Protestant Bible and these 7 books are referred to as deuterocanonical books
Books of the Catholic and Protestant Bible
The old testament in both catholic and protestant Bibles has a common foundation in the Hebrew Bible. The old testament books that are similar in both Bibles are:
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
- 1 Chronicles
- 2 Chronicles
- Song of Solomon
However, the two Bibles differ in the sense that Catholics have seven additional books that are referred to as deuterocanonical books. The deuterocanonical books are:
- Wisdom of Solomon (also known as the Book of Wisdom)
- Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus)
- First Maccabees
- Second Maccabees
Apart from the deuterocanonical books, some other sections of the book of Esther and Daniel were also added that do not exist in the Protestant Bible. Both the deuterocanonical as well as the additions to Esther and Daniel were written in the intertestamental period, between the composition of the Hebrew Bible’s Old Testament and the New Testament.
Catholic and Protestant Bibles have the same books (in number as well as content) in the new testament. These are:
- Acts of the Apostles
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 John
- 2 John
- 3 John
These were the books that were accepted as part of the canon by the early Christians and were then added to the Septuagint. The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and it was used by Greek-speaking Jews and early Christians.
The reason for two Bibles
The divergence between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles can be attributed to the Reformation movement of the 16th century. Martin Luther and other leaders of the Reformation like John Calvin challenged some doctrinal issues in the catholic church some of which touched on the authority and interpretation of scripture. The concept of “sola scriptura” was promoted by the reformers and it means that only the Bible should be the final authority on the faith and practice of the Christians. As such, they started putting emphasis on the importance of referring to the original texts which meant going back to Hebrew and Greek which were the primary languages of the Bible. It was during this push that they started questioning the authority of the deuterocanonical books since they lacked any Jewish recognition. This resulted in the making of a new Bible that didn’t include the 7 Deuterocanonical books.
As a response to the Reformation movement, the Catholics convened the Council of Trent to discuss the way forward. As a result of this meeting, the official canon of Scripture for the Catholic Church was declared. The declaration denied the view of the leaders of the reformation and accepted the Bible as was. The council’s decision helped affirm the authority of the deuterocanonical books of the Catholic Bible and this resulted in the two distinct Bibles – catholic, and protestant.
The Canonization Process
The early Christians relied on several writings including the epistles, gospels, and other accounts of the ministry of Jesus. As the church continue to grow, there arose a need to have an authoritative and recognized collection of sacred texts.
One of the criteria used in canonizing the Catholic bible was the apostolic origin. This meant that the texts needed to be written by the apostles or have some form of direct connection to them. They also tried to look for the conformity of text with the apostolic teachings as well as widespread acceptance among the Christian community.
In the first couple of Centuries of the church, a number of synods and councils debated and discussed the inclusion of books in the canon. For instance, the council of Carthage (397 AD) gave a list of old testament books that correspond to the current catholic bible.
During the first few centuries, various regional councils and synods discussed and debated the inclusion of certain books in the canon. The Council of Carthage in 397 AD, for example, provided an influential list of books for the Old and New Testaments that corresponded closely to the current Catholic canon. However, the final affirmation of the catholic canon was by the Council of Trent which met between 1545-1563.
The canonization of the protestant Bible commenced during the Protestant Reformation movement. The reformers revisited and recessed the books of the Bible by checking for their origin and authenticity. They believed that the books of the Bible needed to be looked at through the lens of the original language (Greek and Hebrew). This led them to question the authenticity of all the books that didn’t have Greek (old testament) or Hebrew (new testament) connections. Seven books were identified in the Old Testament which did not pass this authenticity test and they were therefore rejected from the list of accepted books. Martin Luther, who was leading this initiative also questioned the relevance of some New Testament books including James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. He eventually included them in the Bible but argues that they are of lesser importance.
As we have established, the main difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles is the 7 deuterocanonical books. Catholics believe that these books are just as relevant as the other 39 books of the old testament. However, both Bibles have the same books and content in the new testament.