40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The Catholics Added Books to the Bible

To deal with this popular myth, we have to look at a little history.  In the early days of the Church, there was no Bible.  Everything was handed on by word-of-mouth.  Because the early Christians generally believed that Jesus was coming back sooner rather than later, nobody saw the need to write anything down.  As time passed the folks decided that maybe there should be some written documentation of Jesus’ life.  Unfortunately, many of the people who wrote about Jesus and His Church weren’t divinely inspired, kind of like bloggers today.

The Bible as we know it today is a collection of those writings that were divinely inspired.  This includes both Old Testament and New Testament books.  The books in question are all from the Old Testament.  It was the Catholic Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. that decided which books to include.  Without getting into a long-winded dissertation on what books came from where, suffice it to say that the Council of Trent confirmed the canon with the seven so-called deutercanonical books in 1543.    The seven books are:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Part of Esther
  • Wisdom
  • Sirach
  • Baruch
  • Part of Daniel
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees

Since it was the Catholic Church that originally declared what books make up the Bible, it’s hard to see how anyone could think the Church added books.  The fact is that the Church added all the books.  So, what happened?

It’s fairly simple.  The books in question didn’t support some of Martin Luther’s ideas.  So, when he published his protestant Bible he left them out.  It was the protestants who changed the books of the Bible, not the Catholics.  Biblical scholars can point out any number of New Testament passages that cite the seven books in question.  James Akin gives an excellent explanation of all this in his article, Defending the Deuterocanonicals.    I recommend it to anyone looking for a more in-depth explanation.

Remember that it wasn’t until 500 years ago that any of this became an issue.  From 393 A.D. until the 1500s, there was no question of what books belonged in the Bible.  It was those wacky protestants, particularly Martin Luther, who started the kerfuffle.

Coming up…Why do we need all those “man-made” rules?  Isn’t the Bible enough?
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40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #19 Scripture and the Mass

Some of our protestant brothers and sisters refer to themselves as “Bible Christians.”  I suppose they do that to differentiate themselves from “non-Bible Christians”.  That would be us.  There’s a wide-spread myth that Catholics are not Bible readers.  I’m sure you’ve heard some people criticize us saying that Catholics don’t own Bibles, or that we own them but don’t know where to find them.  On the surface, this myth may have some basis in truth.  But, lets look at the facts.

First and foremost, there’s the mass.  Just counting weekend masses, there are four selections from Scripture in the Liturgy of the World:  One Old Testament reading; a responsorial Psalm; a New Testament reading; and a reading from the Gospels.  Over 52 Sundays, that’s a total of more than 200 readings.  There is some duplication, and there are some Sundays when a second NT reading takes the place of the usual OT reading, but if you attend mass every weekend for three years, you’ve heard more than 600 Scripture readings.  Of course, if you attend daily mass, the total is much, much higher.  Because we’re a Church of structure, every Catholic Church in the world is supposed to be reading the same readings on any given Sunday.  Then there’s the homily where the priest or deacon, who is a student of the scriptures, relates the daily readings to our daily lives.  (Most of the time.  Nobody’s perfect.)

Some faith traditions give the minister the freedom to choose his own readings.  Face it, there are an awful lot of readings that nobody would use if they didn’t have to, so these ministers tend to focus on a limited selections of readings.

When you pass a lot of churches on Sunday morning, you’ll notice that the worshipers are carrying Bibles.  What’s up with that?  Since the Catholic mass has defined readings, we’re able to publish booklets containing each day’s readings called missalettes.  You don’t need a Bible because the readings are there for you in the pew.  Very convenient.  Of course, when you see a bunch of people walking around with Bibles in their hands, it’s not unreasonable to think of them as “Bible Christians.”

The prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are very Biblical.  The words of the Consecration are taken directly from Scripture.  The Our Father and the Lamb of God are straight out of the New Testament.  We’re constantly exposed to the depth and meaning of the Word of God.  Of course, we’re expected and encouraged to explore the Bible on our own through personal and group Bible studies.

You are likely to run into a couple of arguments from your “Bible Christian” friends about Catholics and the Bible.  1. ” Catholic Churches used to chain down the Bible so the people couldn’t read it.”  As I wrote just two days ago, prior to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, all books (including the Bible) were very rare and expensive.  Plus, there weren’t a lot of people who knew how to read.  If a church was lucky enough to have a copy of Sacred Scripture, the wanted to be sure they kept it.  Saying the Church discouraged Scripture study by chaining down the Bible is like saying the bank discourages financial transactions by chaining down the pens.

2.  “At one time Catholics were forbidden to read the Bible.”  Once Martin Luther opened the flood gates, there were a number of new, unauthorized translations of the Bible.  By this time more people were learning to read but they might not have had the education or the experience to discern whether something called “The Bible” was the real deal.  To protect the laity from being sold a bill of goods, the Church insisted that they get their Word of God from the Church.

The bottom line is that every Catholic should be familiar with the Bible.  We’re encouraged to dig into the Scriptures.  But if all you do is go to mass every Sunday and Holy Day, you will know what the Bible says.

That’s extremely cool!

Sidebar:  To be a “Bible Christian” you don’t have to know what Scripture says, you just have to know where everything is.  In a typical sermon, the minister will say, “Turn to the sixteenth paragraph of the third chapter of the Book of John (today’s Gospel, by the way).  Then he’ll read it to you.  If you haven’t been practicing, by the time you find your place, he will have moved on.  

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #22 We Have the WHOLE Bible

In 382 AD, Pope Damasus laid out the books of the Old and New Testament.  The same listing was promulgated at the Synod of Rome in 382, and again, at the regional councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419).  There were, and still are, 46 books in the Old Testament.  When Martin Luther published his German translation of the Bible in 1517, he left out seven books.  Why would he do that?  Because the books in question didn’t line up with his new theology.  At the Council of Trent in 1546 the Church reiterated her position on which books belonged in the Old Testament.  Some protestants will point to Trent and claim that the Church added books in 1546 which just isn’t true.

The books missing from Luther’s Bible were:  Baruch, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom.  There’s an excellent article at Catholic Answers that goes into more detail about who did what and when, but the bottom line is that many of our protestant brothers and sisters are missing some pretty good stuff.  Tobit is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament.

We Catholics refer to the seven books as deuterocanonical, a good word to know for trivia night.  It means books that weren’t included in Hebrew Scripture but that are part of the Septuagint (The Greek version of the OT).  Some of our non-Catholic brethren refer to them as apocryphal, a more negative term that means “of doubtful authenticity.

The Catholic Church has recognized all of the books of the Old Testament since at least 382.  Your Bible is complete.  Nothing is missing.

That’s very cool!