The Bible; 73 books or 66?

When discussing the scriptures in the West one of the stumbling blocks that you inevitably run up against (as I did in my last blog post) is what constitutes the canon of scripture itself. The Catholic Church and the protestant communions of the west differ as to what books are included in the Old Testament canon – the disputed books are Tobit,Judith1 Maccabees2 MaccabeesWisdom of SolomonEcclesiasticus (also known asSirach) and Baruch along with parts of Esther (10:4-16:24) and Daniel (3:24-901314). The discrepancy fist arises in the 16th century with the birth of the reformation. The Catholic Church at the Council of Trent affirmed the traditional canon of scripture and included the books mentioned above whilst the newly formed protestant communions removed these books. Of course I fall one side of this debate and will present evidence as to why I believe these books to be canonical.

Firstly these books are all found in the Septuagint translation of the Bible but have no Hebrew equivalent. However the Septuagint was regarded as the standard form of the Old Testament among both Greek speaking Jews and Christians. The documents of the early Church quote profusely from these books without any reference to them as being in some way different from other books of the Bible. A few examples:


“You shall not waver with regard to your decisions [Ecclesiasticus 1:28]. Do not be someone who stretches out his hands to receive but withdraws them when it comes to giving [Ecclesiasticus 4:31]” Didache 4:5 [A.D. 70]


Since, therefore, [Christ] was about to be manifested and to suffer in the flesh, his suffering was foreshown. For the prophet speaks against evil, ‘Woe to their soul, because they have counselled an evil counsel against themselves’ [Is 3:9], saying, ‘Let us bind the righteous man because he is displeasing to us’ [Wisdom of Solomon 2:12.]” Letter of Barnabas 6:7 [A.D. 74]

“[It has been decided] that besides the canonical scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the canonical scriptures are as follows: Genesis,ExodusLeviticusNumbersDeuteronomyJoshua the Son of Nun, JudgesRuth, theKings, four books, the Chronicles, two books, Job, the Psalter [psalms], the five books of Solomon [ProverbsEcclesiastesSong of SongsWisdom, and a portion of the Psalms], the twelve books of the prophets, IsaiahJeremiahDanielEzekielTobitJudithEsther,Ezra, two books, Maccabees, two books . . .” Council of Hippo: canon 36 [A.D. 393]

As well as the above quote from the council of Hippo it is worth noting that there were two other councils, both held in Carthage at A.D. 397 and A.D. 419 that formed a general consensus as to the canon of scripture confirming the use of the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible as the inspired text of the Church (for example we have no prophesy of the virgin birth in the Hebrew, only in the Septuagint) and affirming many of the books used since the time of the Apostles including the seven later to be disputed in the 16th Century.

These disputed books appear in every bible up until the reformation, they are found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament and the first time they were ever gathered together separately from the rest of scripture in a bible was in 1520. The removal of these books was clearly a novel innovation of the 16th century and alien to the teaching and history of the Church up to that point.

It’s also worth noting that there are some striking similarities between some of the New Testament texts and these disputed books. In Rev 1:4 and Rev 8:3-5 there are clear illusions to Tobit 12:151 Cor 15:29 calls to mind 2 Maccabees 12:44 and Heb 11:35makes more sense in light of 2 Maccabees 7:29. Of course its wholly unsurprising given the New Testament writers would most likely have heard the Septuagint translation along with, or even instead of, the Hebrew all their lives.

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This blog is a forum for discussion of ideas from a faith-based perspective. The views expressed on it are those of the authors and cannot be held to represent those of the Diocese of Nottingham or the University of Nottingham Catholic Chaplaincy.