As Christians, the Bible is our doctrine – the written Word of God, and thus, the absolute law and guidebook on how to live our lives. It is a collection of books written by different people over more than a thousand years. But have you ever wondered how our Bible came to be and what “books” are exactly included?
The Roman Catholic Bible has 73 books. It has 46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. These books consist of history, poetry, prophecy, letters, and the stories of Jesus Christ’s believers of his passion and preachings – all meant to teach us the truths we need for our salvation.
Keep in mind that this only applies to the Roman Catholic Bible as other Christian denominations have different Bibles with different numbers of books. Let’s look into this closer below. But first, let’s discuss what makes up the Catholic Bible.
What are the Parts of the Catholic Bible?
The Catholic Bible has two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament, each divided into different sections. To help you understand better, here’s a quick overview of these categories and the books included in each one.
The Old Testament is the original Hebrew Bible and is considered to be the sacred scriptures of the Jewish faith. It was written at different times somewhere between around 1200 and 165 BC. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 122, the books of the Old Testament “bear witness to the whole divine pedagogy of God’s saving love”. They also contain teachings about God, life, prayers, and our salvation. Moreover, they speak of the coming of a Messiah.
The Pentateuch or Torah
These books lay the foundation for how God created the world and mankind. They talk about God’s laws and human’s early history as well as His chosen people.
The Historical Books
These are the books that talk about the history of Israel, including stories of the promised land and Kings David and Solomon. They also tell the story of the Babylonian exile and the struggle for freedom.
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
- 1 Chronicles
- 2 Chronicles
These books consist of stories told to entertain, encourage people during times of crisis, and teach the ways of God. While they may have some sort of historical fact, these stories are only told to show truths that go beyond history.
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
The Wisdom Books
These books contain prayers, insights, and various instructions on how to live a life according to God’s commandments. Except for the Book of Wisdom, they are all written in verse or poetry form.
- Song of Songs
The Prophetic Books
It is through “prophets” that God reveals His message of calling us back to hope, justice, and forgiveness. That said, it is through these books that God teaches us how to remain faithful and how to treat one another. They are divided into “major” and “minor” prophets not because some of them are more important than others but because the “major prophets” are simply longer.
The New Testament was written by Christians around 50 and 100 AD. Its books focus on Jesus Christ as God’s incarnate Son and the promised Messiah. These books tell stories about “his acts, teachings, Passion and glorification, and his Church’s beginnings under the Spirit’s guidance.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 124)
These books are the heart of all the Catholic scriptures as they talk about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
- Acts of the Apostles
The Epistles or Letters
These are books, or rather letters, that offer teachings and guidance on how to express one’s commitment to Jesus.
New Testament Letters or Pauline Epistles
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
Catholic Letters or Apostolic Letters
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 John
- 2 John
- 3 John
This book is apocalyptic literature, offering a visionary presentation of what everything means, from the creation to the end of the world.
Difference of the Catholic Bible to Other Christian Bibles
Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Churches, while all called Christians and share the same belief in Jesus Christ, have different Bibles. This is because we don’t consider the same books as canon – which simply means a list of books accepted in the Bible.
But since we are all followers of Jesus Christ, we follow the same teachings and scripture about him. Thus, these three branches of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) agree that the New Testament contains 27 books. What we don’t agree on is the books of the Old Testament.
This is why the Roman Catholic Bible has 73 books, with 46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament, while most Protestant Bibles have 66 books wherein 39 are in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. On the other hand, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has 81 books with 46 books in the Old and 35 in the New.
To make it clear, the Orthodox Bible contains everything the Catholic Church considers canon but with the addition of several books, such as the Prayer of Manasseh in Chronicles, 3 and 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151, and 1 Esdras. On the contrary, the Protestant Bible has fewer books than the Catholic Bible with the books of Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, and Baruch missing from its Old Testament. Such books, called the “Apocrypha” by Jews and Protestants, are properly known as “deuterocanonical books” in the Catholic Church.
Why Do Christian Bibles Have Different Old Testament Books?
During Jesus’ time when there was no official Old Testament canon yet, there were already various collections of Scripture going around among the Jews. Two of the widely accepted collections were the:
- Hebrew Scripture: only had 39 Old Testament books, omitting the deuterocanonical books as well as some chapters from the book of Esther and some sections from the book of Daniel.
- Septuagint: contains 46 books and included the deuterocanonical books. This was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture.
Because Greek became the dominant culture and language by the 1st century AD, the Septuagint also became the most used scripture. There is also sufficient evidence that it was the version adopted by the Jews during the time that Jesus was preaching his message of salvation. This is why you’ll find some authors of the New Testament books quoting directly from the Septuagint.
That said, we believe that this is the version most used and accepted by the early Church and this is precisely why the Catholic Church adapted it. Also, contrary to what others believe, the Catholic Church did not add books to the Bible.
However, the Septuagint was questioned by St. Jerome, who believed that it included inauthentic books, which are later known as deuterocanonical books. Then in the 1500s, Martin Luther embraced this argument and led the Protestant Reformation, wherein they returned to the original Hebrew Scripture. This is why the Protestant Bible only has 39 books in its Old Testament.
As for the Orthodox Church, they also based their Old Testament on the Septuagint and even accepted more writings as sacred, which is why they have more books in their Bible.