Why Are Catholic Bibles Different?

Why Are Catholic Bibles Different?

Our New Testament canon is identical to that of the Protestants other than some minor translation differences. The variance lies in the contents of the Old Testament where we have Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch and additions to Esther and Daniel. These books were called apocryphal by the Reformers and deuterocanonical (Second canon) by the Catholics. This has its roots among the Jews back in the three centuries before the beginnings of the Christian Church.

There were two groups of Jews in those days. The Palestinians who worshipped in the temple, using the Hebrew Scripture (Masoretic text), and maintaining a separatist religion in which contact with gentiles and Samaritans was prohibited. They had distilled 613 laws from the Torah which governed their way of life.

The other group, a majority, were the Hellenized Jews of the diaspora who lived away from Palestine. The largest centers were found in Rome, Babylon, and Alexandria, Egypt and other major cities of the Mediterranean basin. They were Greek-speaking, worshipping in synagogues, and had reduced the Torah into three requirements: circumcision, observing the Sabbath, and abstention from pork. However they also had developed a high moral code centered on the ten commandments.

Origin of the Septuagint (LXX)

During the second temple period more and more of the Diaspora had abandoned the use of Hebrew in their synagogues using Greek instead. Three centuries BCE the Jews at Alexandria received permission from the high priest in Jerusalem to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This was completed before the beginning of the Christian era and finally included the deuterocanonical books as well, which they revered and read in their synagogues.  This Greek Bible, used by the Jews of the diaspora, was called the Septuagint (LXX). It is most interesting that the codices of the LXX do not isolate the deuterocanonical books as a group, but mixes them in with the prophets and the writings indicating that there was no awareness that they were thought to be later or foreign to an already existing Hebrew canon. It is also significant that some of these books were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Church Adopts the Septuagint

When Christianity moved out of its Jewish matrix in Palestine into the Greekspeaking pagan world, the LXX became its Bible. Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings show quotes from the LXX. In the late first Christian century the LXX was, like the believers in Jesus, thrown out of the synagogues and Greek-speaking Jewish Orthodoxy was supplied with the Hebrew text which did not include the deuterocanonicals, and was subservient to the authority of the Hebrew text and the Pharisaic scribed and Rabbis.

In the fifth century when Jerome made his Latin translation (Vulgate) he noted that the deuterocanonical books were not used by the Jews. However the great doctor of the Church, Augustine, argued that on the basis of usage the majority of the Churches, including the most eminent ones, accepted the Greek additions as canonical. His great stature tended to close the discussion. This reaffirmed the canonical lists of the Western Councils of Hippo (393), Carthage III (397), and Carthage IV (419) and the letter of Pope Innocent I (405) which included the Deuterocanonical books.

The Reformation

Luther argued in his debates (1519) that the Bible was superior to the authority of the Church (sola Scriptura). It was while arguing against the doctrine of purgatory that this came back to haunt him. He was confronted with II Maccabees 12:45. “He made atonement for the dead that they may be delivered from their sins.”

Thus pressed he argued that the Church had no right to decide matters of canonicity.  He held that the internal worth of a book was the factor. He pointed out that Jerome had questioned the status of these books because the Jews didn’t use them. This was no valid argument because the Jews do not use the 27 Christian books either. He refused to accept that the Church, through usage and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, had selected them. In his German translation of the New Testament, he also relegated Hebrews, Revelation, Jude, and James which he called a “strawy” epistle to the appendix. His followers later restored these four to their proper place in the canon.

What Is the Value of These Books?

First of all, they are part of our Christian heritage. Our fore bearers used them for sixteen centuries. These books give us an in-depth view into the religious and secular culture of those times when they were written. Tobit and Judith are fascinating stories that enjoyed popularity among both Jews and Christians.  Maccabees give us the history of the war for freedom and the pious practice of prayers for the departed. Sirach or Ecclisiasticus meaning “Church Book” was widely used to give moral teaching to the catechumens in the early church.  Readings from Wisdom are used at funerals because of its clear teaching on immortality. This was in dispute among the first century Jews (Acts 23:06-08; Pharisees vs. Sadducees).

In response to the reformers the Council of Trent (1546) declared as inspired by the Holy spirit those 73 books with all their parts.

A Non-Catholic View of the LXX

The prestigious Anchor Bible Dictionary, an ecumenical publication, states that “scholars especially specialists in Christianity should consider the LXX as the bible of the early Christian Church.” It was not secondary to any other scripture. It was Scripture. When a New Testament writer allegedly urges his audience to consider that all scripture given by divine “inspiration” is also profitable for doctrine, it was to the LXX, not the Hebrew, that attention was being called. The LXX also provides the context in which many of the lexical and theological concepts in the New Testament can be best explained. Excellent syntheses between the LXX and the New Testament have been made (v. 1102).

The Textual Value of the LXX

It is the oldest translation of the Old Testament and as a result is invaluable to critics for understanding and correcting the Hebrew text (Massorah), such as it has come down to us, being the text established y the Massoretes of the sixth century A.D.  Many textual corruptions, additions, omissions, or transpostions must have crept into the Hebrew text between the second and third centuries B.C., and the sixth and seventh centuries of our era. In other words, because of its antiquity, the LXX is generally a more accurate translation. This is the source of the Catholic approved texts such versions as the New American, Revised Standard, and Jerusalem.

"Why Are Catholic Bibles Different?" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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