Dr. Michael Barber explains why Protestants exclude the Deuterocanonical books from their Bibles.
Host: With that, we go to Rockland, Maine, on The Presence Radio, Linda. Welcome to the show, you’re on the air with Dr. Michael Barber.
Caller: Hi. Thank you for taking my call.
Host: You’re welcome.
Caller: You sound so calm. I like when you’re on the radio.
Host: See, I’m just cuddly. I’m just soft and nerfy, I’ve got my cup of tea and my teddy bear…actually my teddy bear is Dr. Barber, but that’s a different story.
Caller: Well you’re doing a whole lot better than I am. What I wanted to ask was about, this doctor there said that the books that are in the Bible Canon are the ones that could be read in the liturgy.
Dr. Barber: That’s right.
Caller: Uh huh. All right. My question is more about the deuterocanonical books that are in our Bible–I’m Catholic, I didn’t say that, but I am–and they’re not in the Protestant Bible.
Host: So Linda, is the question “Why? Why does the Catholic Bible have the extra books?
Caller: I’ll make it as short as I can: why are they not in the Protestant Bible, Part A; Part B, how come only a couple of them are ever read in the liturgy? The majority of them are not. There’s just about two or three… yeah.
Host: Linda, let me use it a little hockey analogy: you’ve given a really good slap shot at the goalie, let me just put my stick up and tip the puck as it goes by me to ask Dr. Barber to define what Linda means by the deuterocanonical books.
Dr. Barber: Well sure. Certainly there are books in the Catholic Bible that are not in the Protestant Bible, or even in the modern Jewish Bible. That’s what she’s referring to.
Caller: That’s right, and not in the modern Jewish Bible either.
Dr. Barber: Right, and so why is that? Well, there have been books written on this, and I’ve done a lot on this myself, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time–I gotta be careful here because I can get lost in the weeds pretty quickly. But let’s just point out that, if you go back to the early Church fathers, you’ll see that they use these deuterocanonical books. And what’s even more interesting, I think, for non-Catholics is to find out that the Jews would use many of these deuterocanonical books, as they’re called, that are no longer in the Jewish Bible today; but, for example, in the Babylonian Talmud–which is a very authoritative source for Jewish tradition–actually, in the Babylonian Talmud, Sirach is actually quoted as Scripture, which is really remarkable. So this is really interesting.
So there’s a long history here where somehow, sometime, because the Talmud is dated to about the fifth century BC, so somewhere down the road these books are no longer read by the Jews as Scripture. Some people will point to a supposed council that happened in the 1st century, it’s called the Council of Jamia, but now we know that council never really existed. In fact, there’s a great book–I thought this might come up, so I thought I’d hold it up because we’ve got a camera here– called “The Canon Debate” by Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. There’s a whole article in here on the myth of Jamia, that it never actually took place. Very scholarly discussion written by Protestants, in fact.
And so many non-Catholic Christians will say, “Well, Jesus would have not read these books as Scripture!” Well the problem is, in the first century there wasn’t an official Bible that all Jews agreed upon, right? You have the Pharisees, you have the Sadducees, they disagreed on a lot of different things; the Pharisees believed in life after death, the Sadducees did not–that’s why they’re “sad, you see?” Right?
Dr. Barber: So we know that the early Jews were, you know, debating which books belong in the in the Bible. It wasn’t until the Church decided, “These are the books that are going to belong in the Bible.”
Now St. Jerome, who was tasked with putting together the official Latin version of the Bible, at first, because he was working with rabbis, said, “You know, I don’t think these books should be in the Old Testament, the rabbis don’t use them.” But he ended up changing his mind on that, and you can see in later letters he actually refers to books like Sirach as Scripture.
So what ends up happening with the Protestant Reformation is, Martin Luther doesn’t like certain things taught in some of those deuterocanonical books; like for example, in the book of Maccabees, in 2 Maccabees, we have a line that would seem to imply the existence of purgatory. Martin Luther didn’t like that, so he wanted to take those books out, and the fact that Jews weren’t using them in his day gave him a good reason to say, “Oh look, there’s been a lot of debate.” And there had been debate, some of the fathers, like I said, Jerome had doubts; but when the Church put the official list together, it included those books.
And what’s really interesting is, if you look at a Gutenberg Bible–do you know what that is? The Gutenberg Bible?
Caller: I sure do.
Dr. Barber: Yeah, if you look at the Gutenberg Bible, it came off the the printing press before the Protestant Reformation, you’ll see–
Caller: They had the deuterocanonical.
Dr. Barber: There you go.
Host: Early front editions of the King James Version as well?
Dr. Barber: Yeah, and you’ll actually see them in other Protestant translations–there are there debates among Protestants about, you know, this–in fact, what’s really interesting is, one of the arguments that the rabbis used for not including these books in the Canon later on was, “Well, we don’t have Hebrew copies of these books, and God only speaks Hebrew, you know!”
Host: Oy vey.
Dr. Barber: That would mean that none of the New Testament books could be Scripture, because of course they’re written in Greek–
Host: Yeah, that–talk about “proving too much.”
Dr. Barber: Right, exactly. Linda, does that help?
Caller: Yeah, I just…I wanted to find out…well, you had, you stated, a book that…I listen to the radio, they don’t have EWTN on television anymore where I live–our dirty cable company took it off–so I can’t see ya.
Dr. Barber: Can I recommend, Linda, I can’t say everything I’d like to say about this, but there’s a great book by Gary Michuta called “Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger.” Fantastic book.
Host: We sell it here at Catholic.com, by the way.
Dr. Barber: Excellent. And I encourage you to pick that up, because it is the best treatment of this at a popular level.
Caller: Thank you very much and God bless.