The Bible, as the sacred text of Christianity, is composed of numerous books that have shaped the faith and beliefs of millions of people worldwide. However, not all Christian denominations agree on the precise list of books that should be included in the Bible. One area of divergence centers around the inclusion of the deuterocanonical books, a collection of seven Old Testament books accepted as canonical by the Catholic Church but excluded from the Protestant canon.
This article aims to delve into the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books, shedding light on their historical context, recognition by early Christian communities, and their place in the Catholic tradition. We will explore the reasons behind the Protestant rejection of these books, the role of key Church councils in affirming their canonicity, and the theological significance attributed to them.
To understand the origins of the deuterocanonical books, we will examine their inclusion in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament widely used in the early Christian community. We will explore the process of canonization, highlighting the discussions and criteria employed to discern inspired Scripture, particularly in relation to the deuterocanonical books.
Furthermore, we will consider references and allusions to these books within the New Testament, exploring how Jesus and the early Christians engaged with their teachings and themes. This examination will provide valuable insights into the interconnectedness of biblical texts and the continuity of theological concepts throughout Scripture.
Throughout the article, we will adopt a Catholic perspective, seeking to present a defense of the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books within the framework of Catholic theology. We will explore how the Council of Hippo and the Council of Carthage, among others, played significant roles in affirming these books as part of the official canon of Scripture.
In our analysis, it is important to note that the question of canonicity extends beyond individual passages or similarities with other biblical texts. It involves considering historical consensus, the authority of Church councils, and the principles used in the formation of the biblical canon.
By delving into the historical, theological, and textual aspects of the deuterocanonical books, this article seeks to provide a comprehensive exploration of their canonicity. It aims to foster understanding and dialogue among Christians, highlighting the richness and diversity of scriptural traditions while recognizing the nuances and differences that exist within the wider Christian community.
What are the Deuterocanonical books?
The Deuterocanonical books are a collection of seven Old Testament books that are recognized as canonical by the Catholic Church. These books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and First and Second Maccabees. In addition to these books, the Catholic Bible also includes additional sections to the books of Esther and Daniel, which contain material not found in the Protestant versions.
The term “Deuterocanonical” means “second canon” or “secondary canon” and refers to their status as books that were acknowledged and reaffirmed as part of the biblical canon at a later stage after the Reform. These books were widely accepted and used in the early Christian Church, and they were included in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was widely used in the early Christian community.
During the Reformation in the 16th century, Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther, questioned the canonicity of these books and chose to exclude them from their Bibles. They based this decision on several factors, including differences in content, language, and authorship. However, the Catholic Church maintained the traditional canon of the Septuagint and continued to recognize the Deuterocanonical books as inspired Scripture.
The process of canonization, or the official recognition and closure of the biblical canon, took place gradually over several centuries in the early history of the Christian Church. The exact timeline and specific criteria for canonization varied among different Christian communities and regions.
For the Old Testament, the Jewish canon was largely established by the time of Jesus Christ. The Jewish Scriptures, known as the Tanakh, consisted of the same books as the Protestant Old Testament but arranged in a slightly different order.
In the 4th century, various Church councils and leaders began to formally address the issue of canonization. The Council of Carthage in 397 AD and the Council of Hippo in 393 AD, both regional councils in North Africa, provided lists of canonical books that included the complete New Testament as recognized today. These lists were later confirmed and ratified by the third Council of Carthage in 419 AD and the ecumenical Council of Florence in 1442 AD.
The canon of the Bible recognized by the Catholic Church includes the Old Testament books (including the Deuterocanonical books) and the New Testament books that are commonly found in Christian Bibles today. These books were accepted as part of the biblical canon based on factors such as apostolic origin, consistent usage in the early Christian community, and conformity to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.
The councils that played a significant role in discussing and affirming the canon of the Bible include the Council of Carthage in 397 AD and the Council of Hippo in 393 AD. These regional councils, along with subsequent councils, provided lists of canonical books, particularly for the New Testament.
Council of Hippo
The Council of Hippo, held in 393 AD, was a regional council in North Africa that addressed various matters within the Catholic Church. One of the significant topics discussed at the council was the establishment of the biblical canon, specifically regarding the Old Testament.
The Council of Hippo confirmed and listed the books that were to be considered as part of the official canon of Scripture for the Catholic Church. The council’s decisions were later ratified by the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD. The following is a list of the books that were affirmed as part of the Old Testament canon:
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
- 1 Chronicles
- 2 Chronicles
- Esther (including the additions)
- Song of Solomon
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
- Daniel (including the additions)
These 44 books, including the deuterocanonical books like Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and the additions to Esther and Daniel, were recognized and accepted as divinely inspired and authoritative by the Council of Hippo. The council’s decisions on the canon were later affirmed by subsequent councils and became the basis for the Old Testament canon in the Catholic Church.
These councils sought to discern and affirm the books that were considered divinely inspired and authoritative for Christian belief and practice. The discussions centered around factors such as apostolic origin, consistent usage in Christian communities, and conformity to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles.
It’s important to note that the canon of the Bible was not determined by a single council or event but rather through a process of consensus over several centuries. The councils mentioned above, along with other discussions and writings of early Church fathers, played a crucial role in shaping the understanding and acceptance of the biblical canon.
Differences of languages on the Deuterocanonical books
The differences in language between the deuterocanonical books and the rest of the Old Testament played a role in the rejection of these books by Protestant reformers.
One of the key factors considered by the reformers was the language in which the books were written. The reformers, led by figures like Martin Luther, emphasized the importance of returning to the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible in their efforts to reform the Church. They believed that the Hebrew language held greater authority and authenticity, as it was the language in which the majority of the Old Testament was written. They claim that the deuterocanonical books, such as Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and First and Second Maccabees, were primarily written in Greek, whereas the rest of the Old Testament was predominantly written in Hebrew, with a few portions in Aramaic.
Moreover, the reformers questioned the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books based on their absence from the Hebrew canon recognized by the Jewish community. Since the Hebrew canon was established before the time of Jesus Christ and did not include these books, the reformers viewed them as having a lesser status and authority compared to the books accepted in the Jewish tradition.
Additionally, the reformers were influenced by the Jewish scholar and theologian Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin (known as the Vulgate) in the 4th century. Jerome classified the deuterocanonical books as apocryphal, meaning “hidden” or “doubtful,” and placed them in a separate section of his translation. This classification further contributed to the reformers’ skepticism regarding the canonicity of these books.
The rejection of the deuterocanonical books by the Protestant reformers was part of their broader aim to align Christian doctrine and practice with what they perceived as the teachings of the early Church and the original biblical texts. They sought to return to what they considered the pure, unadulterated Word of God as expressed in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
It is important to note that the Catholic Church, on the other hand, retained the deuterocanonical books as part of its canon. The Church’s decision to affirm the canonicity of these books was based on factors such as their acceptance and usage in the early Christian community, their inclusion in the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament widely used by early Christians), and their theological value in shaping Christian belief and practice.
The original language of the book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, was Hebrew. The book of Sirach is one of the few deuterocanonical books that has an existing Hebrew manuscript, discovered in the late 19th century.
The book of Tobit was likely originally written in Aramaic, as fragments of an Aramaic version were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, the surviving complete versions of Tobit are in Greek.
The book of Judith was also most likely composed in Hebrew or Aramaic, but the surviving versions are in Greek. Some fragments in Hebrew and Aramaic were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicating its existence in those languages.
The book of Baruch was originally composed in Hebrew, but the surviving versions are in Greek. It is important to note that the book of Baruch is often considered an appendix to the book of Jeremiah.
It’s worth mentioning that the translations and adaptations of these books into Greek were likely done to make them accessible to a broader Hellenistic audience and to ensure their preservation and circulation in the Greek-speaking world.
Overall, the deuterocanonical books exhibit a mixture of original languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, with the surviving versions primarily found in Greek.
Mentions of Deuterocanonical books in the New Testament
Jesus did make references or allusions to the texts of the deuterocanonical books. While these references may not be explicit quotations, there are instances where Jesus’ teachings align with themes or concepts found in the deuterocanonical books. Here are a few examples:
- Wisdom of Solomon: In Matthew 23:34-36, Jesus pronounces judgment upon the scribes and Pharisees, saying, “Therefore, I send you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city” (Matthew 23:34). This statement resembles the passage in Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which speaks of the persecution of the righteous by the ungodly.
- Sirach (Ecclesiasticus): In Matthew 6:7-14, Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, which includes the line, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). This concept of forgiveness of debts is similar to Sirach 28:2, which states, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.”
- Tobit: In Matthew 5:42, Jesus instructs his followers to give to those who ask of them, and not to turn away from borrowers. This teaching aligns with the instruction given by Tobit to his son Tobias in Tobit 4:16-17, where he says, “Give alms from your possessions, and do not turn your face away from any of the poor, so that God’s face may not be turned away from you.”
- Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:23-27: In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus extends an invitation to all who are weary and burdened to come to Him, promising rest for their souls. He presents Himself as the source of rest and refreshment, inviting people to take His yoke upon themselves and learn from Him. Jesus contrasts His yoke, which is easy, and His burden, which is light, with the heavy yoke of religious legalism imposed by the Pharisees. In Sirach 51:23-27, the author, believed to be Jesus Ben Sirach, invites those who are uneducated and thirsty for knowledge to draw near to him and lodge in the house of instruction.
- Wisdom 15:7 and Romans 9:21. In both passages, the imagery of a potter and clay is used to convey a similar message. In Wisdom 15:7, the focus is on God as the potter who skillfully molds each vessel, including human beings, according to their purpose. The passage emphasizes the divine craftsmanship and intention behind the creation of humanity. It highlights the idea that human beings are formed with the capacity to govern the world with holiness, righteousness, and integrity. In Romans 9:21, the emphasis is on the sovereignty of God as the potter. The passage addresses the relationship between God and His creation, particularly in the context of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. It suggests that God, as the potter, has the authority and right to fashion vessels for different purposes and uses. The passage emphasizes God’s freedom to choose and direct His creation according to His divine will.
- Baruch 3:38 John 1:14 (NIV) In both passages, there is a reference to a divine presence appearing or dwelling among humanity. In Baruch 3:38, the reference is to the personified Wisdom, often associated with divine wisdom and understanding. The passage suggests that Wisdom appeared on earth and lived among human beings. It emphasizes the intimate connection between Wisdom and humanity, highlighting the significance of divine wisdom in guiding and shaping human life. In John 1:14, the reference is to the Word, which refers to Jesus Christ. The passage speaks of the Incarnation, the belief that the eternal Word of God took on human flesh and dwelt among humanity. It emphasizes the profound act of God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ, embodying divine love, grace, and truth. While both passages contain the idea of divine presence with humanity, John 1:14 specifically refers to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, highlighting the unique nature of Christ’s coming into the world. It is a central theological concept in Christianity, emphasizing the divinity and humanity of Jesus and the redemptive purpose of His presence among us.
- Wisdom 7:25-26 and Hebrews 1:3 The similarity in the use of the word “radiance” in both passages points to a shared understanding of the luminous and glorious nature of the divine. It emphasizes the connection between Wisdom and Jesus Christ as channels through which the brilliance and splendor of God are revealed to humanity. Both passages highlight the significance of this radiance in illuminating the truth, imparting divine wisdom, and showcasing the divine attributes to humanity.
The passages mentioned demonstrate several similarities between the teachings and concepts found in the Deuterocanonical books and the New Testament. These similarities suggest a potential influence or resonance of the Deuterocanonical books on the teachings of Jesus and the early Christian community.
Overall, these comparisons between the Deuterocanonical books and the New Testament demonstrate thematic and conceptual parallels, suggesting a potential influence or shared theological perspectives. They highlight the interconnectedness of these texts and provide insights into the broader religious and theological milieu during the time of Jesus and the early Christian community.
In conclusion, the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books remains a topic of debate and divergence among Christian traditions. While the Catholic Church recognizes these books as an integral part of its canon, Protestant denominations have chosen to exclude them.
Throughout this article, we have explored the historical context and factors that influenced the acceptance or rejection of these books. We have seen how early Christian communities, including Jesus and the apostles, engaged with themes and concepts found in the deuterocanonical books, providing a basis for their theological significance.
The Council of Hippo, the Council of Carthage, and subsequent Church councils played a pivotal role in affirming the deuterocanonical books as inspired Scripture. These councils considered factors such as apostolic origin, consistent usage in Christian communities, and conformity to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in their deliberations.
While individual passages and similarities with other biblical texts provide points of resonance, the question of canonicity extends beyond these connections. It involves understanding the broader consensus of the Church, the criteria employed in the canonization process, and the theological perspectives that shape different Christian traditions.
The inclusion of the deuterocanonical books within the Catholic canon highlights the richness and diversity of scriptural traditions. These books offer unique insights into various aspects of faith, morality, and divine-human relationships. They contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of God’s revelation and the human experience of faith.
In recognizing the deuterocanonical books as canonical Scripture, the Catholic Church affirms the importance of these texts for its theological and liturgical traditions. They are valued for their spiritual and moral teachings, their reflection of the wisdom of God, and their contribution to the overall narrative of salvation history.
While differences regarding the canon exist, it is crucial for Christians to approach these discussions with respect, humility, and a willingness to engage in dialogue. Recognizing the shared faith in Jesus Christ, Christians can appreciate the diverse perspectives and scriptural traditions that have shaped their respective communities.
Ultimately, the exploration of canonicity invites us to delve deeper into the sacred texts, seeking to understand the historical, theological, and spiritual dimensions of Scripture. It is an ongoing journey of discovery, interpretation, and reflection that enriches our understanding of God’s revelation and nourishes our faith.
As Christians continue to navigate the complexities of scriptural interpretation and canon, may we be guided by a spirit of unity, humility, and a shared commitment to the pursuit of truth and the deepening of our relationship with God.