Deuterocanonical Musings

Last week, we read extensively from the Book of Wisdom.  This week we are reading from Maccabees.  These two Old Testament books, and five others (Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Baruch,  and Esther) appear in Catholic bibles, but are not found in Protestant bibles.  Do you know why?

The answer is rather simple … and rather complicated.

The simple explanation from the Protestant point of view is that these seven deuterocanonical (not originally written in Hebrew, but rather in Greek) books of the Old Testament were excised by Martin Luther when he translated the Bible into German in 1534.  Many scholars believe that Luther did so for that reason — that they were the only Old Testament books originally written in Greek, instead of Hebrew.  Others believe that Luther removed those books from the Protestant canon because the texts contained support for Catholic beliefs (such as prayers offered for the dead) that contradicted his “once and forever” belief in salvation by faith alone.  The truth is, we will never know if it was one, the other, or both.  It is interesting to note that Luther wrote that “these are books which are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.”

On the Catholic side, the deuterocanonical books have always been included in the biblical canon, given that they were contained (in whole or in part) in the Septuagint, the official Greek translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew, which came into wide usage in Palestine beginning in 100 BC.  Thus, those books were included in the “scriptures” that were used by Jesus, his followers and first century Christians.  Evidence for that can be found throughout the New Testament, in which there are numerous references (in Paul’s letters for instance) to passages and themes drawn from deuterocanonical sources. The Church, as noted by Origen in the middle of the third century, accepted the deuterocanonical books as part of the canon.  After the legalization of Christianity in 312 A.D., the Church went about finalizing the canon, including the deuterocanonical books at the synod of  Hippo in 393 A.D.

Just thought that you might like to know!

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2 Responses to Deuterocanonical Musings

  1. Will says:

    Thanks for the explanation.

  2. Harry Plack says:

    Great post. I’ve wondered about this question for many years. Thanks for explaining it.

    God Bless.

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