Who Stole Those Books?

Part 1

I wish I had a nickel for every time some defender of the Roman Catholic Church asked me, no doubt typing the words with a smirk on his face, “Who gave you your Bible?” If I did I would be able to take my wife to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town and then to the theater, or perhaps a concert. The intent behind the question is to drive home the idea that all Christianity is indebted to Mother Church for having given us the Bible, God's written revelation to mankind. After all, I have been informed; the Church (read Catholic Church) has been around a lot longer than has been the definitive Canon of Scripture.

Is it true? Did the Catholic Church give us the Bible? The answer depends on where one stands theologically. Ask a Catholic and he most likely will reply in the affirmative. Take the question to a non-Catholic and there is no telling what response you'll get. Folks affiliated with one of the semi-Catholic communions, such as the Episcopalian or some of the Lutherans, probably would support the RCC claim. Members of one of the churches that grew out of the Reformation probably would reply in the negative. I suspect that a great many non-Catholics haven't the foggiest idea, and that might be due to their not having been taught since childhood that when the Church (read Catholic Church) was born, not a word of the New Testament had been written. Therefore, the Bible is the book of the Church, not the other way around.

108. Still, the Christian faith is not a 'religion of the Book'. Christianity is the religion of the 'Word' of God, 'not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living'.[St. Bernard, S. missus est hom. 4, 11: PL 183, 86.] If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, 'open (our) minds to understand the Scriptures.'[Cf. Lk 24:45 .] -- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

Kinda like the chicken and the egg conundrum, isn't it? Which came first, the Canon of Scripture or the Catholic Church? The search for the answer takes one through the familiar jungles of interfaith linguistics. The experiences and presuppositions we bring to our interpretation of a word or phrase in very large measure determine how we understand that word.

For the Catholic, I suspect that “Canon of Scripture” calls to mind the lists of scrolls and writings that were determined by Church Councils to be divinely inspired and therefore canonical. The writings may have been around, intermingled with an uncountable number of less holy documents, but they weren't the Bible until the bishops assembled in Holy Synod determined them to be. Those who do not wear the yellow and white colors of Rome likely will say the Canon of Scripture was determined by God, Who inspired the writers of the sacred documents; all the bishops did was dawdle as they played fast and easy with the Canon, adding and subtracting pieces as it suited their fancy and doctrinal needs of the moment.

There are some who claim that the Jews determined the Old Testament canon before Christ was born. They will point to the incredible care Jewish scribes once took to shape each stroke as they formed the sacred words with great reverence, conscious that they were writing the words of God Himself. A slip of the brush, an off-size character or an incorrect total when the individual strokes were counted would require that the sacred scrolls be destroyed according to a strict ritual. The scribes washed their hands before setting to work, in a purification ritual. When they were called to write the name of their God, the scribes first went to the mikvah for ritual immersion and purification. This was Torah, the Five Books of Moses; the Law.

The Hebrew canon was not settled until well into the Church Age. At one time, scholars believed that the entire Jewish canon had been recognized by about 450 BC. This idea draws support from a passage in the Apocryphal 2 Esdras (14:44-48), which states that Ezra “made public” 24 books, which is the number of books in the Hebrew canon. This could not be, however, as some of the books considered canonical had yet to be written when Ezra lived. There is reason to believe that Esther and Daniel were not added to the canon until about 164 BC.

For the past century, many Bible scholars have believed that the Hebrew canon was not determined all at once. It is thought that the three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures – now known as the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – were determined not by some commonality of theme or style, but by when the books were accepted as canonical. The five books of the Law were accepted in the 5th century BC; the Prophets in the 3rd century BC and the Writings were entered into the canon about 90 AD, by a Jewish council in Jamnia. It is significant that rabbis continued to debate for a couple of centuries, but there were no changes.

And what were the 24 books of the Hebrew Canon of Scripture, the canon accepted by the Pharisees?

The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

The Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. (Minor Prophets) Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles.

By now, no doubt the reader has noticed there are a lot more than 24 books in the list. Not really. When the Hebrew canon was set, the “books” of the Tanakh (an acronym for the Hebrew names of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings) actually were scrolls. All the “books” of the canon were written on separate scrolls, except for the Minor Prophets, which were on a single scroll, and Ruth, which was prefixed to Psalms but counted separately. Understood that way, the total books indeed does come to 24. It is true that Flavius Josephus numbered the books of the Jewish canon at 22, but in order to do that, he appended Ruth to Judges and tacked Lamentations on to Jeremiah, thus reducing the number of scrolls by two.

The astute Catholic reader might be wondering why the Apocryphal books are not included in the list. The reason is simple, the Jews did not consider them to be canonical. I know, they are included in the Septuagent. Does this mean that the Jews had two canons; one for Jews in Israel and one for the Hellenistic Jews in Alexandria?

Naah. Philo, an Alexandrian Jew writing in the 1st century produced many documents that argue against this idea. We have no Jewish-produced transcripts of the Septuagent to examine in order to authenticate the claim that these deuterocanonical writings indeed were incorporated into the original Greek transcription of the Hebrew Scriptures produced by the legendary 72 Jewish scholars laboring for 72 days in the court of Ptolemy II. The texts extant were produced by Christian scribes at a time when knowledge of the Jewish canon was fading in Christian circles. Not that it matters, for early Christians seemed to regard these books as edifying reading, but not inspired.

“Whoa, Hoss,” I can almost hear the protests of a few Catholic apologists. “Who says the Apocrypha aren't canonical? They are quoted in the New Testament.”

And so “they” are. Well, at least a couple of lines from 1 Enoch are quoted by Jude in verses 14 and 15 of his epistle. Though this letter was accepted as authentic and quoted by the Fathers, there were a few doubts raised because of the inclusion of the apocryphal citation. Looking at the words from Enoch in context, it seems likely that Jude was using them as an ad hominem.

As long as we're looking at Jude, let's take a quick look at just who we are talking about. Catholic “Tradition” is that the author was the Apostle known as Jude the Zealot. That cannot be, however, for that Jude is spoken of as “Judas the son of James” in Luke 6:16 and in Acts 1:13. Besides, in verse 1 of his letter, he identifies himself as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” This all points to the traditional view that Jude was one of the Lord's brothers, called Judas in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. James, his older brother, was the famous leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13-21) and author of the epistle that bears his name. That works for me.

Given such miniscule mention of the Apocrypha in the New Testament, the claim that the books are validated by their use does not hold up. Again, there is no real evidence that the Jews, in Israel or in Alexandria, ever considered the Apocrypha to be canonical. Certainly Philo and Josephus knew of the Apocrypha but never quote it as Scripture. I do not doubt that Jesus and the Apostles all were aware of the Apocrypha, but they never cite it as authoritative. As a modern parallel, I read in Catholic documents just about every day, and I consider them to be interesting and informative, but certainly not authoritative.

Some of the Church Fathers, notably Melito of Sardis, Cyril of Jerusalem and Jerome, who were familiar with the Hebrew canon clearly distinguish between canonical and apocryphal writings. Melito, writing about 170 AD, provided the first Christian attempt to identify the Old Testament canon. His list included all the books of the Jewish canon, except Esther, arranged in the order of the Septuagint, but not a one of the apocryphal books.

I doubt many would deny that Eusebius Hieronymus, known to Catholics as St. Jerome, was one of the ancient church's leading authorities on the Scriptures. Pope Damasus commissioned him to produce a standard Latin Bible that could replace the assorted older Latin Bibles then in use. Jerome not only came up with revised versions of the Gospels based on a Greek manuscript; he translated the Psalms using the Septuagent text in Origen's Hexapla and then did Latin revisions the rest of the Old Testament, using Hebrew texts. Though he did work on some of the rest of the Vulgate, which includes the Apocrypha, at least part of it is drawn from older Latin versions and the work of other scholars.

Jerome made a clear distinction between the Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha and maintained it courageously. He took this stand, though his writings reveal that he knew the Council at Nicea had included the Book of Judith in the Canon

When reading the works of Jerome, the student frequently discovers special value in his prefaces. Sometimes they provide personal insights into his private feelings. Other times, they might mention particular events, such as difficulties he encountered in a translation, or statements that help us to understand his scholarly attainment and limitations. Of particular interest to this study are those occasional comments concerning his appreciation of the inspiration of Scripture that prompted him as translator or commentator. When one considers that Jerome's influence and that of the Vulgate Bible he produced was preponderant in Western Europe for 1000 years, these personal comments take on great importance.

Comments in his Preface to “Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs” provides a clear insight into Jerome's view of the Apocrypha:

As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church. If any one is better pleased with the edition of the Seventy, there it is, long since corrected by me. For it is not our aim in producing the new to destroy the old. And yet if our friend reads carefully, he will find that our version is the more intelligible, for it has not turned sour by being poured three times over into different vessels, but has been drawn straight from the press, and stored in a clean jar, and has thus preserved its own flavor.

In his Preface to “The Books of Samuel and Kings,” he again makes it clear that the Apocrypha have no place in the Old Testament canon.

And so there are also twenty-two books of the Old Testament; that is, five of Moses, eight of the prophets, nine of the Hagiographa, though some include Ruth and Kinoth (Lamentations) amongst the Hagiographa, and think that these books ought to be reckoned separately; we should thus have twenty-four book of the old law…This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a “helmeted” introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which finally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon. The first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style.

Athanasius likewise did not consider the Apocrypha to be canonical, as his list of the Canon of Scripture in the fragments of his 39th Festal Letter clearly reveal. His reckoning of the Old Testament canon came to 22 books, in the Alexandrian style. This count, of course, immediately excludes the Apocrypha.

4. There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

A Catholic apologist pointed out to me that the Bishops convened in the Council of Rome in 382 included the Apocrypha in their Canon of Scripture (Denzinger 84). She overlooked the earlier Council of Laodicea (360), which produced a canon similar to that of the Rome synod. In fact, for a few decades, it seemed as though every time a few bishops got together, they were sure to produce a Canon of Scripture among the products of their gathering. The Council of Hippo (393) came up with a canon, as did the Council of Carthage (397, Denzinger 92). For the most part, these local councils generated canons similar to that finalized at Trent a thousand or so years later. In 405 AD, Pope Innocent I, apparently not wishing to be left out of the canon making, published his own list of canonical books (Denzinger 96). Of course, this list was also said to be the same as that produced at Trent. I have read that another local council held in Carthage in 419 also published the same canon as later approved by Trent, but I have not been able to locate a copy of the proceedings of this council to verify that claim.

Then there was the 17th Ecumenical Council that ended up in Florence. The 11th session (1442) defined a Canon of Scripture in these terms:

[The Council] professes that one and the same God is the author of the old and the new Testament -- that is, the law and the prophets, and the gospel -- since the saints of both testaments spoke under the inspiration of the same Spirit. It accepts and venerates their books, whose titles are as follows.

Five books of Moses, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, Esdras, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalms of David, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, namely Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; two books of the Maccabees; the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; fourteen letters of Paul, to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, to the Colossians, two to Timothy, to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two letters of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; Acts of the Apostles; Apocalypse of John.

The Canon of Scripture defined in the 4th Session of Trent (1546, Denzinger 784) was essentially identical with the Florence canon, except for the separating of Lamentations from Jeremias and a few name changes. Throughout the struggle to identify an Old Testament canon, there had been general agreement on the 27 books of the New Testament canon. This really never was an issue.

And now to answer the question: Who stole those books--meaning the Apocrypha?

The answer? Perhaps they weren't removed from the Bible at all because they never really were a part of it, except in the imaginations and self-serving needs of some Catholic bishops gathered in councils. When one is free of the presupposition that ecumenical councils function as the Extraordinary Magisterium and, in so far as their definitions pertain to matters of faith and morals, are infallible, it is easy to question the authenticity of any canon that includes them.

Let's face it. Some pretty important folks in the early church did not accept the Apocrypha as canonical. People like Jerome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Melito of Sardis, Origen, Philo, Josephus and Athanasius. In that there are no contemporary copies of the Septuagent extant, there is no way to tell whether those ancient Jewish translators indeed did include the Apocryphal books in their canon, or whether they were included as supplemental reading. We have no way to know if some pious scriveners didn't simply add the books in a burst of religious enthusiasm.

I don't think anyone stole them after the Reformation. I believe the Scriptures simply were restored to their proper order and makeup in the Canon of Scripture established by the original author, the Lord God Himself.


Allen C. Myers, Ed., The Eerdman's Bible Dictionary, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987

Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol. 4, St. Athanasius, Select Works and Letters, AGES Software, Albany, Oregon © 1996, 1997

Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol., St. Jerome, Letters and Select Works, AGES Software, Albany, Oregon © 1996, 1997

Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, 30th Ed., Marian House, © Herder Book Co., 1957

Bruce M. Metzger & Michael D Coogan, Eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1993

Donald Attwater, Ed., A Catholic Dictionary, The Macmillan Company, 1942 w/Nihil Obstat & Imprimitur

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed, © 1994, 1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

William Whiston, The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, The John C. Winston Company, 1911

The Open Bible (NASB), Expanded Edition, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985

Norman P. Tanner, Ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Georgetown University Press, 1990

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