Books of the Catholic Bible: The Complete Scriptures

Some books of the Catholic Bible aren't in the Protestant Bible.

Did the Catholic Church add things to the Bible?

No! In fact, the opposite is true: Protestant reformers rejected some parts of the Bible.

When I was entering the Catholic Church, I was confused by the fact that Protestants used a slightly different Bible. Why wasn't there just one Bible?

This article looks at this issue of why the list of books of the Catholic Bible is slightly different. The answer... history!

The Old Testament canon

The accepted list of books in the Bible is called the "canon."

The canon of the Old Testament books of the Catholic Bible is based on history. We didn't make up the list!

At the time of Jesus, there was no official canon of the books of the Old Testament. The process of defining that canon was not yet complete, and there were a few different collections of Scripture in circulation among the Jews.

The two most widely accepted collections of Old Testament writings at that time were:

  • The Septuagint was an early Greek translation of the Old Testament. It contained 46 books:
    • Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi.
  • Another collection of the Old Testament in Hebrew contained just 39 books.
    • It omits Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees.
    • It also omits chapters 10-16 of Esther, and three sections of Daniel: Daniel 3:24-90, Daniel 13, and Daniel 14.
    • These books & chapters are called the deuterocanonical books, meaning "second canon."

Although Hebrew-speaking Jews at the time of Jesus would have used the Hebrew Old Testament, the Greek-speaking world around them used the Septuagint. The authors of the New Testament's books also quoted directly from the Septuagint most of the time, and this version was the most commonly used in the early Church.

Precisely because the Septuagint was the version most used and accepted in the Church's earliest days, the Catholic Church uses the Septuagint's canon of Old Testament books in the Roman Catholic Bible.

The list of the Old Testament books of the Catholic Bible is firmly grounded in history.

The New Testament canon

Defining the canon of the New Testament books of the Catholic Bible was a somewhat different story.

  • The question now wasn't what ancient books of Jewish Scripture should be in the canon.
  • Now it was a matter of what new books about Jesus and the Christian life were the accurate, inspired texts of Christianity.

Although the question was a little different, the process of deciding was the same as that used to decide the Old Testament canon.

Soon after Jesus's death, a number of books and letters circulated that claimed to contain the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. In the early Church, it fell to the bishops, as successors of the Apostles, to determine which books accurately contained the true teachings.

In fact, all of the New Testament books of the Catholic Bible were selected because the Church's bishops agreed that those books alone were divinely inspired, accurate teachers of the true faith received from Jesus and the Apostles.

Some of the books and letters quickly gained acceptance as being faithful, accurate, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The bishops quickly rejected other books circulating at the time because they contained obvious fabrications and inaccuracies.

A few books continued to be debated for some time. Although ultimately accepted into the canon of Scripture, these are also called deuterocanonical because they were accepted later (although written at the same time as the other canonical books). The deuterocanonical books of the New Testament are:

  • Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation (the Apocalypse).
  • Additionally, some parts of the Gospels are deuterocanonical because they weren't in all early manuscripts, and so were debated for longer than the rest of the Gospel sections. These are: Mark 16:19-20, Luke 22:43-44, John 5:4, and John 8:1-11.

Catholics hold that all of the books of the Catholic Bible — both Old and New Testament, both the deuterocanonical and "protocanonical" ones (first canon) — are the divinely inspired Word of God.

This is the full list of the New Testament books of the Catholic Bible:

  • The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  • The Acts of the Apostles
  • The Letters of St. Paul to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon
  • The Letter to the Hebrews, the Letters of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude
  • Revelation (the Apocalypse).

Defining the canon

It took a few hundred years to complete this process of officially defining the Christian canon of both the Old and Testament.

During that time, the bishops discussed and debated the matter with each other to determine whether the deuterocanonical texts accurately reflected the teachings of Christ, and whether they contained the inspired Word of God.

Although there was no official canon during this early period in the Church, the vast majority of the the books of the Catholic Bible were already recognized as being authentic Scripture.

The Church, through its bishops, verified and defined the canon of the Bible. In fact, Catholics see this as an outstanding illustration of the Catholic teaching that the Holy Spirit actively leads and guides the bishops of the Church in a special way: we can rely on the accuracy of the Bible only to the extent that we can rely on the divine guidance of the Church. (See the article on Church authority for more.)

Pope Damasus I gathered a representation of bishops from the Christian world (called a synod) in 382 A.D. to define the canon of Scripture for the whole Church. This canon was ratified by numerous other Popes, synods, and Church Councils.

That canon is what we use today — all the books of the Catholic Bible.

What books of the Catholic Bible
Do Protestants reject?

Protestants reject the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament as being not divinely inspired. Although Martin Luther and other Reformation leaders also rejected the New Testament deuterocanon, they ultimately retained these New Testament books in the Protestant version of the Bible.

Luther and other Protestant leaders rejected many Church teachings and Traditions. Their rejection of the deuterocanonical books allowed them to claim that the disputed doctrines had no basis in Scripture — their new canon of Scripture!

(A Catholic group called Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) has two excellent articles about this topic. The first describes how the canon of the books of the Catholic Bible was defined. The second article describes this history in more detail, including Luther's use of the term Apocrypha to cast a bad light on the Old Testament deuterocanon.)

The canon used by Christ

We Catholics don't think of the deuterocanon as "extra" books of the Catholic Bible!

To us, it's all "the Bible."

Our use of these books is historically based on the fact that the New Testament authors and the early Church used the Greek Septuagint most often. And it's ultimately determined by the Church's judgment that these books are all divinely inspired — a decision that we are confident was guided by the Holy Spirit during the first centuries of the Church.

The books of the Catholic Bible are the books that all Christians traditionally accepted. We can't change that historical fact just because some reformers rejected parts of the Bible during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.

See the main article on Catholic Questions for more issues, or check our home page for other articles about the Catholic faith!